(Part 1 of a series on drugs in the Philippines)
IF there is one thing that the killing of Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. has revealed, it is the undeniable fact that we now have an incipient narco-state. Not yet a full-blown narco-state perhaps, but already on the way to becoming one, if we do not do something about it.
Mayor Espinosa, a local government official, has already been implicated in the drug trade, and was in police custody when he was killed.His death has become evidence of how the drug problem has inserted itself not only in slum areas where ordinary people end up dead, but inside a provincial jail where a mayor ended up lying in a pool of his own blood.
The imagery of this is so compelling for anyone to ignore. And it cannot easily be simplified either by just conveniently labeling it as an extra-judicial killing.
An alleged page from the mayor’s sworn affidavit became viral in social media, and if we assume that it is a faithful reproduction, it contains an explosive list that gives us a glimpse of the depth and the breadth of the drug problem in the country. The list allegedly starts with the name of the former justice secretary, who is now a senator, Leila de Lima, and from there it goes down to almost all levels of governance in the Eastern Visayas. What is damning is that the list does not end with scions of political dynasties that occupy seats of power in local government, from the provincial to the barangay level. It also contains the names of police officials, from top generals already mentioned by the President as involved in the drug trade, to mere SPOs and POs.It even includes names of people from the media.
Mayor Espinosa was already in police custody when he was killed. And the story behind the killing lends further evidence to the incipient narcotization of the Philippine state. It is the incredible narrative that raises some questions.
Why would agents of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), a branch of the Philippine National Police (PNP), still serve a search warrant on someone who is already in custody?
These questions only dramatize the suspicion that a brazen violation of procedures was committed by people who obviously appropriated the authority provided by the state to perform a highly irregular act.
And here, you are confronted by a shocking reality, one that someone who defends human rights, and who is against the President’s drug war, should take to heart and reflect on.
The drug problem in the country exists because there is a political nexus within which it thrives. The drug trade is the lifeblood of patronage politics that flows to the lowest barangay from the halls of power in the executive and legislative branches of government. It provides money to finance political careers, serving as the oil that makes political machineries run. To exist, it must be sustained by the patronage of collaborators from the very agencies of law, the police and the judiciary, so that they can escape, or undermine, its reach. In this context, the drug trade has infected politics and has nested comfortably in the inaction, even complicity, of previous governments.
It is in this context that those who oppose the President’s drug war have to recalibrate and rethink their confrontational stance against the President. Raising the specter of Espinosa’s death as a case of extra-judicial killing for which the President is blamed is just too convenient. This ignores the fact that the state could also become a victim of people who have nothing but contempt for the rule of law. In fact, they even corrupt it by operating under its ambit while exceeding its power.
How can the state go after the rogue elements that appropriate and corrupt its authority if you always automatically accuse it of complicity?
As it appears, the President is not the enemy here. He may have used a questionable strategy, aggravated by his colorful violent language, in his fight against the forces behind the incipient narco-state, but what choice does he have? These forces have already penetrated the whole arsenal of governance, at all levels and all branches.
The state is under attack from within. Espinosa’s death will not be the last.
Human rights advocacy, therefore, should negotiate the difficult challenge of protecting rights without becoming the unwilling pawn that enables an incipient narco-state.
Next: The challenge to recalibrate human rights advocacy in the face of an incipient narco-state