The series of killings of individuals who were supposedly trading in illegal drugs or who were drug users (we have only the Philippine National Police’s word for it) has “extrajudicial” written all over it in the sense of these killings’ being planned and deliberate.
Since Day One it has been more than obvious that the raids on poor communities which inevitably result in at least one death — although on average since May 10, four are being killed per day all over the country — are not meant to take alleged drug dealers into custody but to eliminate them, as anyone with a two-digit IQ can conclude from the fact that the police nearly always claim that the individual killed tried to grab a policeman’s service firearm and therefore had to be put down.
The killings have been explained by some progressive groups as driven by certain police officers’ determination to eliminate those who can implicate them in the drug trade. It sounds credible enough. The drug trade, after all, would not have reached its present epidemic levels without the connivance, protection, tolerance, or even direct involvement of the police, as President Rodrigo Duterte and Philippine National Police Director General Arnold de la Rosa have both declared.
But no one can deny that what gives the police the confidence to do what they love most is the fact that Duterte himself and even his underlings have given the police carte blanche to kill anyone involved in the drug trade — although there’s supposed to be the caveat that they can only kill those resisting arrest and/or who were trying to fight the police.
Duterte has several times not only announced that the police should kill those who resist arrest; he has also pledged to protect those policemen who do the deed. His newly appointed officials have taken the cue from him, among them the government’s number one lawyer, former Department of Justice Undersecretary and now Solicitor General Jose Calida. Calida has made the same promise of protection to the police, telling them not to fret over the possibility that Congress may look into the killings, and to, in effect, go on killing.
Calida is counting on the virtual impossibility of any congressional investigation on the killings because, thanks to defections from the former majority party, PDP-Laban now has the majority in the House of Representatives, and the support of the majority in the Senate. Rather than look at the killings as a disturbing sign of lawlessness, incoming Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has instead filed House Bill Number 1 which would restore the death penalty. The second bill introduced in the current House is related: HB 2 would reduce the age of legal liability from the already low 15 to an even lower nine (9).
If the killings are implicitly being promoted as the solution to the country’s drug problem, the restoration of the death penalty is being marketed to a mostly uncritical public as a deterrent to criminality. Lowering the age of legal liability to nine, on the other hand, is supposed to stop the use of children in the drug trade.
The key word is “use,” which even in the mouths of Calida and majority congressmen assumes that children have not reached the stage of discernment for which they can be held liable for criminal offenses, and that they would not have otherwise engaged in such acts had it not been for an adult or adults’ using them for the latter’s purposes. To punish children for acts whose implications and meaning they have no concept of would thus be purely punitive and would result in no social good.
No one seems to have noticed either that the punishment for such children could be death, in the likely possibility that the death penalty is restored, and should the offense belong to those categories defined by the Dangerous Drugs Act as mandating the death penalty. The Philippines would then have the distinction of being one of the few countries in the world not only to have restored the death penalty, but also to have killed children. (140 countries have abolished the death penalty. The UN and most civilized countries define children as individuals 17 years old and below.)
Meanwhile, numerous studies have found that not only does the death penalty not deter crime. As a form of State violence, it also foments further violence, as criminals aware that they could be executed for their offenses, for example, kill all potential witnesses to make sure no one can testify against them. The death penalty is also a violation of the fundamental right to life, and is premised on the absurd assumption that the judicial system is infallible in that it convicts only the guilty and always acquits the innocent.
Neither do extrajudicial killings achieve their supposed intention of putting an end to the drug problem. The experience of Thailand is instructive. In 2003, then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra launched a punitive campaign to do the exact same thing the Duterte administration is doing. By the time Thaksin was done, nearly 3,000 suspected drug traders and users had been killed. Not only did a subsequent investigation find that more than half of those killed were not involved in the drug trade in any way; the impact of the killings on the drug trade was also only temporary. The trade returned with a vengeance, to the extent that, in exasperation, the chief drug enforcement officer of Thailand proposed to remove methamphetamine (called shabu in the Philippines) from Thailand’s list of dangerous drugs.
The reality is that the drug problem has become an international phenomenon deeply embedded in a number of countries for a number of reasons, among them political (the involvement of powerful people in the trade, which Duterte has also revealed); economic (it is a billion-dollar, global enterprise that employs thousands of people, and run by groups with political and police protection); psychological (many individuals resort to drug use to enhance, or escape from, the realities of a meaningless, troubled and/or miserable existence, hence the market for it). The drug problem is a symptom of a much deeper malaise in far from perfect societies, and the only way it can be eliminated is through a multi-pronged, revolutionary approach that would address it not solely as a police problem.
In the meantime, what’s happening in the country of our despair is the rapid reversal of the human rights gains that have been painfully achieved from the Martial Law period, at the end of which the protection of human rights — at least officially, and despite the reservations of State security forces — was affirmed as a fundamental State responsibility.
What we’re currently witnessing is a return to the terrible past when human life officially and actually meant little and rights meant nothing. It’s a great leap backward — the beginning of a period during which bounties are offered for the heads of supposed dealers, the police are told they can kill with impunity and do so, and children have become the potential targets of State-sponsored reprisals. Worst of all is its enshrining as an acceptable risk the possibility that more and more innocent individuals, as in Thailand during Thaksin’s reign (2001-2006), will end up permanently, irredeemably dead.
Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro). The views expressed in Vantage Point are his own and do not represent the views of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.
Published in the Business World
July 15, 2016
Featured image grabbed from: https://thumbs.dreamstime.com/x/chalk-outline-man-4308267.jpg