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.
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?