THE images from Aleppo in Syria are just too horrifying. Children maimed, hospitals bombed, people dying. What we have there is a government killing its own people simply because of what they are.
We have seen so many like these in distant and recent history, in Armenia, in Rwanda, in Nazi Germany, in Bosnia. There, people were killed not for their political beliefs, but simply for their religion, their ethnicity, of who they were.
It is difficult not to recoil in disbelief, therefore, when the New York Times, in a piece of photographic journalism, with a write-up even translated into Filipino for maximum effect and echoed in an editorial piece, has painted our country as a place where people are slaughtered like animals.
A foreigner friend reminded me when I protested that the headline was simply restating President Duterte’s threat that he will slaughter drug addicts.
Perhaps we can blame the President for his exaggerations, and his hyperboles.
But the job of a journalist is to go beyond the speech of the President, and to scour all sides of the narrative that journalism wants to use as capital to write a story. A journalist should not just rely on the verbosity of the President, and then look for the story that would affirm whatever politics or biases that the story will nurture or feed.
Many people have been crying out for justice, and due process. But to achieve these, one has to give all narratives a fair hearing, and an equal opportunity to be imaged, and if so, such must be captioned authentically and truthfully. After all, it is not just about selling news.
But the business of imaging political regimes is no longer just about journalism, or truth-telling. It is now embedded in the whole enterprise of supporting or undermining regimes. And in the process, authenticity and truth fall victim to power and politics.
No one is denying the incidence of drug killings. Statistics show they exist.
But the real issue is how drug killings are represented.
Primarily, they are painted as drug addicts being felled by bullets of “ridings in tandem,” sprawled in their own blood in some dark corner. They are seen in bodies wrapped in duct tape in some grassy corner. They exist in coffins with wailing widows and orphaned children. All images are of people being painted as victims of the President’s drug war.
The New York Times was even bold enough to point out that while the President may not have had a direct hand in the killings, he would have supported these. This is the real politics of the images that are used to paint a country that has become an abattoir, where people are slaughtered like animals by a President who commands their murder.
However, drug killings also exist in a different narrative.
We also see them in a young student who was brutally stabbed to death by another minor who is addicted to shabu. We see them in the body of a 13-year-old who was raped, and whose head was smashed by a drug-crazed tricycle driver. We see them in the bodies of a family massacred inside their supposedly secure home by drug-crazed thieves.
Yet media does not image these as drug killings. They are simply considered crime stories. The image of their coffins and their wailing relatives will never be featured in the New York Times, bannered as compelling narratives of slaughter for which previous governments’ inaction could be condemned.
The hand of Rodrigo Roa Duterte in this war against drugs is being indicted in the slaughter of drug addicts. Yet nobody dared to image Benigno S. Aquino III as the hand that played video games as his citizens were being slaughtered like animals by drug addicts.
This is the deadly virus that infects this whole enterprise of reporting violence and human rights abuses. They are no longer about reporting truth and facts, but are now embedded in an industry of either destroying or propping up a political leader.
Hence, you leave in it a citizenry that is confused as to why media and human rights activists seem to be more concerned about the rights of those who chose a path of crime, and not about the rights of those innocent citizens who were victimized.
Killing is always condemnable, and without justification. But it becomes extremely difficult for someone who is victimized, or felt threatened by drug-related criminality, to even hear the argument that even criminals have rights too, if what they see in media, and what is being fought for by human rights advocates in congressional hearings and street protests, are images that cry out and lament the deaths of the criminal, but never of their loved ones.
Thus, in one sensational story and editorial, the New York Times has further made it difficult for human rights activists in the country to make their argument.