THE death penalty is unacceptable, however grave the crime of the convicted person. It is an offense to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person; it likewise contradicts God’s plan for individuals and society, and his merciful justice. Nor is it consonant with any just purpose of punishment. It does not render justice to victims, but instead fosters vengeance. The commandment “Thou shalt not kill” has absolute value and applies both to the innocent and to the guilty.— Pope Francis at the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty
LET’S call a spade a spade.
Since Rodrigo Duterte’s victory looked certain a day or so after the May 9 elections, police have killed more than 100 alleged drug pushers and users, purportedly after suspects resisted arrest and even grabbed law enforcers’ firearms.
In fact, most of the casualties were murdered.
After the first few headlined killings, every drug lord, pusher or user would know better than to fight against arresting officers and provide the pretext for his rubout. Hence, most
offenders would have just surrendered peacefully, if they could not hide or flee.
Yet incredibly, the Philippine National Police has accused all suspects killed of refusing to give up and even trying to harm PNP officers and men.
We should not believe that canard. The plain truth is that police encouraged by President Duterte’s tough talk against drug traffickers have been executing suspects with no legal or moral justification.
An alarming number of casualties were decimated to prevent them from identifying and testifying against their erstwhile protectors and drug suppliers in the PNP, as Duterte himself has pointed out.
With this unprecedented murder spree, drug traffickers and users have surrendered in huge groups to prevent their rubout, since the police could not possibly kill them in such numbers and claim they resisted arrest, grabbed guns, and fought to the death.
The two-month spate of suspect killings by law enforcers are the bloodiest in Philippine and probably Asian history. Legislators are right to call for investigations. Even the Palace is disturbed, while vainly explaining the deaths as a sign of how mammoth the drug menace is.
Yet what is most disturbing about the 100-something narco-deaths is that most Filipinos—85 percent of them Catholic and supposedly subscribing to Pope Francis’s above-quoted moral precepts—seem undisturbed by the carnage, and many cheer it.
Why we condone the killings
Have the Filipino faithful forgotten the Fifth Commandement? (If one doesn’t know what it forbids, then maybe there is some memory loss.) Why the seemingly widespread acceptance of death for drug offenders, and even torture and mutilation?
Well, for starters, the lawless scourge is unprecedented, indeed, enough to get Duterte elected mainly on his anti-crime drive as Davao City mayor and despite his profanity, womanizing, and kill-the-crooks record and rhetoric, which his regime now implements.
During the presidency of Benigno Aquino 3rd, lawless incidents tripled to more than a million a year since 2013, from 324,083 crimes in 2010. Drug trafficking and addiction also flourished, burdening millions of Filipino families. And crooks in government protected those on the street and even the ones in prison, who ran their syndicates from luxury cottages.
In the face of that explosion of lawlessness, one can understand why Filipinos may set aside moral strictures on killing just to stop the hoods. Criminals victimized an estimated 5 million people and addicts in the past three years (1.5 victims for each crime, plus addicts), and distressed 25 million of their close family and friends (five for every victim).
That’s about one-third of all citizens, close to Duterte’s 38 percent landslide. Most, if not all, are keen to eradicate criminals with or without due process, so that murder, rape, robbery, kidnapping, and other crimes never touch their families again.
With the mass surrender of drug traffickers and users, Filipinos are even more impressed with the extrajudicial methods. And the idea of capturing crooks, then seeing them manipulate the criminal justice system—that due-process policy seems not just dumb, but even immoral for failing to protect righteous, law-abiding communities.
Ask any crime victim or his close family and friends if Duterte should rein in the current bloodletting. Many will likely retort that he is right to put the people’s security above the rights of criminals.
Why we must denounce them
Understanding why crime-spooked Filipinos may favor the current bloodbath, however, does not mean agreeing with them.
Sure, we may not be able to stop the killing of criminal suspects, and we may even concede that the body count is slashing lawlessness and narcotics. But we must still express our moral revulsion at extrajudicial killings, and take steps to reduce them.
We must join Catholic bishops and other moral figures, as well as political and citizens’ bodies in denouncing the rubouts and demanding inquiries and safeguards. We must join independent, upright media in probing and exposing suspect assassinations.
And we must press all three branches of government to accelerate criminal justice reform, including the protection of judges and fiscals under threat, so that the police, the prosecution, the courts can ensure that crime doesn’t pay and criminals do.
Let us not silence our moral perspective, but speak up on the wrongs of denying rights and snuffing out lives. Otherwise, we help propagate the idea feeding lawlessness: that inviolable commandments, tenets and values can be violated for the “right” reasons.
If the government can justify executing suspects without trial to attain peace and order in the land, then what’s to stop drug syndicates from plying their trade to give jobs and a better life to the traffickers and their families and communities?
And if human needs and decisions count more than divine edicts on preserving life and enabling the wayward to repent and reform, then we open the door for the enemies of heaven to lead us to hell by promising paradise on earth if we just do things our way instead of God’s.