• Perspective


    EVER since the President won on a platform of ridding this country of drugs and crime, we have heard it said: this is not a war on drugs; it is a war on the poor. This is a violation of human rights, a violation of the rights of the poor to due process, their right to life, their right to live.

    Human rights are the soul of the country, said the Vice President. This President has no sense of what human rights are about, say critics. Media spins these deaths: they are all poor! The chairmen of Barangays Bel-Air, Dasmariñas, Forbes Park, San Lorenzo, and Urdaneta sign police certifications that state there are no drug users and pushers in posh villages.

    We read the spin and are angered: where’s the big fish? We post photos of the new Pieta. We post photos of the dead. We declare: this is not a war on drugs; this is a war on the poor.

    Earn from the dead
    I refrain from posting the photos of the dead, bloodied bodies sprawled on the streets, of the women clutching their dead and weeping. I keep from posting these images because they objectify the poor. They are dead, and mainstream media earns from every click, every share and every repost about their deaths.

    We insist that it is an injustice that they have died at all in this war against drugs. Yet we allow them to further be victimized by media, which has become so comfortable with these deaths that they do not bother anymore with backstories and contexts, no statements from the community about what these deaths mean. No one verifies these stories. So few ask questions.

    We demand so little of media when they serve our purpose.

    And what is our purpose? When we share images of the poor killed on the streets, what is the point? To gather support around this cause, yes. To fuel public outrage, sure. And steer it in what direction? I had hoped it would be in the direction of Batasang Pambansa on SONA day, in the form of a rally, no matter how small, against these killings and this drug war.

    But nothing. Instead, we continue with the sharing, we weep at the body count, we wax romantic about life. We take what we believe of the basic human right to life, and put it on a pedestal. We still only see the dead as numbers. An unverified, unquestioned, decontextualized body count. We click and share. Mainstream media laughs all the way to the bank. It’s no better than poverty porn.

    War on the poor
    Many post images of the dead and bewail what have we become?

    And what have we become, really, when it took this war on drugs for us to start caring about the poor dropping like flies?

    Because the war against the poor has been happening since time immemorial. It’s a war that is not about something as urgent as the drug crisis. Instead, it is a war happening in the name of the few who have stood to profit from the continued impoverishment of a majority in this country. It’s a war that is waged by the powerful and wealthy to ensure the status quo is maintained, their position in society cemented for generations. It’s a war that has as its prize the nation’s wealth—natural resources, basic services, cultural products—under the control and in the hands of the rich who get richer on the backs of the poor who become poorer.

    This is a war waged by oligarchs and capitalists who refuse to give workers just wages, regularization, and health benefits. This is the same war that privatizes public services, never mind that it will mean the poor will lose access to these. This is the same war that believes in the idea of dole-outs as poverty alleviation program—the better to keep the poor indebted and grateful. This is the same war waged by business interests and hacenderos—that justified land-grabbing and the murder of Lumad and farmers.

    Blind side
    Make no mistake: this war against the poor—the one waged by oligarchs and business interests alongside governments run by the elite and wealthy—this war kills the poor.

    The poor die from hunger and food poisoning, they die in the hands of the State police as they rally for rice to tide them over during El Niño; they die in the hands of the paramilitary who protects business interests instead of the Lumad. They die because there is no money for medical bills, they die because they get involved in crime. They are dead because there is impoverishment that renders people as good as dead.

    This state of the nation, this one that is about keeping the capitalists happy, and keeping the poor in their proper place of subservience and enslavement, this state of the nation has killed the poor all these years. And solely in the name of ensuring that the wealth remains with the few—never mind where that brings the poor.

    This state of nation has lived off the violation of the rights of the poor: their right to basic services, their right to food, shelter, clothing, health care; their children’s rights to education and play, their parents’ rights to safe employment and just wages. Make no mistake, we have watched it happen all these years: the death of the poor in the hands of the State.

    But there is no media mileage for this, no body count, no public rage.

    What have we become as a nation? we ask.

    But have we not been this nation all these years?


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    1. I think we (the people and institutions) are always the most comfortable with the images that we have created for ourselves. But growth and change is part of life. It seems that the Philippines is at a point of historic change. It is good to read articles that call for self-examination in these times of change. Rather than trying to fit the country into what we are, perhaps we should be asking what do we need to become for the good of our children tomorrow.

    2. The so called poor Pusher/Users are the easy targets coz they are the ones who are riding in tandems, akyat bahay, bag snatchings, extortions, noisy drunkards, nakaw motorsiklo/bisikleta among others. They are mainly the ones who creates crimes versus the ordinary people.

    3. You’re one level headed writer. Objective and independent minded. Let’s expose the ills of this hypocrite infested nation.more power to you!

    4. Amnata Pundit on

      Decontextualized body count? it looks like your journey through the grey area is becoming more interesting, at least to this observer. Keep going…

    5. Now your article is misguided . This is a war on drugs. It is not a war against the poor, the rich, or against the establishment. If what you are saying is true, how come the United States , a very rich country, has a very big problem on drugs ? We have another big problem, the corruption of the Judiciary. That is why drug pushers go in and out of prison. Only solution, death penalty.

    6. Amen.

      However the people has awaken. They are not falling for all the media spin. The noisy ones have no credibility. The people are applauding the drive. This is the time of reckoning and the war being waged by the oligarchs has zero chance.

    7. Dear Ms. Stuart-Santiago,

      Excellent articles which one ponders about after reading them.

      Thank you and more power,


    8. Your smiling picture belies everything in this column. Could you replace the smiling with some seriousness?

      • Ignacio Balbutin on

        it’s not about picture, its about article, have you read the article or you just focus on the face of the ladies hehehe

      • I read the column. How could I have related the laughing picture of the writer when her topic is about suffering and death of poor people if I had not read it? It is about the seriousness of the topic that does not match the laughter, kiddo.

      • chromaticfrog on

        why? because you said so? i don’t understand why people have to notice a woman’s face and criticize her appearance whenever she says something reasonable. amazing what people will say just to discredit an argument.

      • I have to wonder why a simple question is being turned into a controversy. The question/suggestion to appear serious would actually boost any writer’s columns that tend to always deal with serious matters anyway. I do not see how one would take it as only looking at the picture and not reading the article and another would take it as an insult to one’s appearance. Are we dealing with failure to know the meaning of “belie” and pinoys’ misogyny? After all things do get understood in the manner of the one doing the misunderstanding.