WHEN the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs conducts its inquiry today into the killing by the police of Kian Loyd de los Santos and 81 others, I urge our senators to view not only the grisly details of Kian’s killing, but the material circumstance that the police was exercising the state’s monopoly of legitimate violence when it took the lives of the victims.
On top of the monopoly, we subsidize the police in enforcing the law. Absent these factors, the hearing would be a simple matter of reconstructing what happened. There would be little consideration of responsibility and duty.
By admitting this broader perspective, the senators will grasp the nettle of their inquiry. They can measure or weigh the enormity of the crimes or abuses committed. They can determine whether this is a case of a few rotten apples or an entire barrel gone bad. Lastly, the chamber may be enabled to see better the way out of the predicament facing the nation.
82 killed in three days
The first matter for inquiry is why this horrible tragedy has happened in Bulacan province and Metro Manila—in the mere span of three days.
Were the police units involved in a contest with other units to record the most kills in the shortest time?
Why was Kian delos Santos targeted in the operations? After he had already been taken into custody, why was he virtually executed?
The questions cannot be evaded because there is incontrovertible evidence of police wrongdoing. A CCTV camera recorded what happened. After initial denial, the police have admitted that Kian is the person on the video. There are witnesses who saw what happened.
And then there are also the other victims. How were they slain? Were they killed at will? Were drugs similarly planted on them?
Compounding the crime are the attempts to cover it up. For days, the police lied and tried to smear Kian as a courier for the drug trade, and his family as also involved.
When the evidence piled up, President Duterte himself conceded wrongdoing in Kian’s killing.
As a result, the Northern Police District commander has been relieved, and four policemen have been arrested for the crime.
Entire drug war under question
On the principle that it is now the entire drug war that is under question, the inquiry must ask the questions that the earlier Senate inquiries did not dare to ask:
1. What is the justification for the drug war, which was launched in June last year? Where is the order that authorized the Philippine National Police to implement the war? Why was Congress not consulted or asked to provide the authority?
2. What are the facts of the national drug situation that impelled this deadly war? How many drug addicts are there really in the country? Why do the findings of world organizations contradict the administration‘s claim that the Philippines has a severe drug problem.
Who is the anti-drug or police official who will declare under oath that the country is now a narco- state?
State monopoly of violence
A related issue that the Senate must examine is the fact that the police units involved in these killings were exercising the State’s monopoly of legitimate violence when they perpetrated the crimes.
The killing of evidently helpless persons by the police in furtherance of the drug war corrodes the state‘s monopoly of the legitimate use of force in law enforcement.
State monopoly of violence comes in two forms:
1. In national security, monopoly of violence by the military to exercise its role as guardian of the nation’s security.
2. In law enforcement, monopoly of violence by the police to enforce the law and ensure public safety.
This is not the first time that I am writing on the state monopoly of violence. In an earlier column (“The death penalty and state monopoly of violence,” Manila Times, July 11, 2016), I discussed the subject in relation to the debate on the restoration of the death penalty. And I discussed briefly the history and meaning of the concept.
A fuller discussion of the concept is needed now because many of the mistakes and abuses of the drug war have been caused by a misunderstanding of the limits of state authority.
The government’s drug policy is disfigured by a berserk conception of state authority and police power. It runs roughshod over the cardinal principle of due process of law in the administration justice in the country.
State monopoly of violence is the concept that the state alone has the right to use or authorize the use of physical force. It is widely regarded as a defining characteristic of the modern state.
The concept does not imply that the state is the only actor actually using violence but, rather, that it is the only actor that can legitimately authorize its use.
The monopoly on violence is a core concept of modern public law.
This monopoly is limited to a certain geographical area. A necessary condition of statehood is the retention of such a monopoly.
The mindless menace of violence
The situation would not be so distressing if there is someone in our public life who can speak to this huge wound in our lives, and help us heal.
The American journalist Joe Klein tells the story of how Robert Kennedy addressed an all-black audience in Indianapolis, on the day the Reverend Martin Luther King was killed. The audience did not yet know of the tragedy.
Without a prepared text, for four minutes and 57 seconds, Robert Kennedy spoke to them from the heart. He said:
“Ladies and gentlemen, I have sad news for you, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee….
Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily—whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence—whenever we tear at the fabric of life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.
For all this there are no final answers.
Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is now what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of human purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.
Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land.
But we can perhaps remember—even if only for a time— that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek—as we do—nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.
At first, there were screams and wailing. Through them all, Kennedy spoke his words. Rather than indulging their anger, the crowd listened and was rapt. And then it fell into total silence.
They learned to cope with the tragedy from a man who knew about assassinations, because his own brother had been killed just four years earlier.
Four months later, on June 5, 1968, Robert Kennedy himself was the victim of an assassin—killed on the very day of his victory in the California Democratic primary.
His speech is memorialized today under the title,” The mindless menace of violence”.