To justify the restoration of the death penalty, President Duterte was quoted as saying that his intention for pushing for it is not for crime prevention but for retribution. The death penalty has not yet been restored but the dead bodies of suspected drug addicts and pushers have already been piling up at an alarming rate.
However, it is mostly the dead bodies of pedicab drivers, the jobless, or in other words poor folk suspected of being drug users or small time pushers that are being discovered daily.
During his State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Duterte said the reason that it is only the small time pushers who are being killed is that drug lords are out of the country, controlling the trade by GPS. But he also made a show of confronting and warning convicted big-time drug lords at the New Bilibid Prisons. Yesterday, August 3, the headlines of most dailies show Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. of Abuera, Leyte surrendering to PNP Chief Ronald de la Rosa. Today, August 4, it was reported that the Peter Lim who surrendered to President Duterte last July was confirmed to be the same person identified in the list of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) of suspects with links to the illegal drugs trade. PDEA Director General Isidro Lapeña said that Lim would now be the subject of a fact-finding probe by the National Bureau of Investigation. Good for them. Their rights to due process and to life were respected.
But what about the rights of poor people who are being found killed with a cardboard sign identifying them as drug pushers?
It has been reported by sources that in urban poor communities, the list of suspects linked to drugs are being drawn up by barangay officials, without the benefit of investigation and verification by higher authorities. In some communities, it was reported that barangay officials are making the rounds of suspected drug addicts and pushers to warn them to stop.
But why couldn’t their rights to due process and to life be respected as those imprisoned drug lords and those prominent suspects who have surrendered? They have the same rights as the others. In fact, their alleged involvement in the illegal drugs trade is several times less than the suspected drug lords.
Is it because the poor have no means to hire expensively good and influential lawyers? Is it because they do not have the means to have their rights protected?
Justice is not just about retribution. It is about fairness, equal application of the law, procedural justice, among others. It is about the less in life having more in law. It is about social justice.
Making an example of the poor by killing small time pushers and addicts would not stop the illegal drug trade nor would it result in justice. On the contrary, drug lords would just find other means and hire other pushers. And with poverty so prevalent, there would be people who would risk their lives just to put food on the table.
As for justice, the result would be the opposite: there would be more injustices. The killings are further fanning the flames of impunity.
The only way to solve the illegal drugs trade is through more efficient, effective, honest-to-goodness police work and the political will to arrest, prosecute and jail big-time drug lords, regardless of their connections in government, the police force and the military. The illegal drugs trade must be struck at its roots.
The problem with the Duterte administration is that it wanted to shortcut the process by piling up the body count in the hope of scaring away those involved in the illegal drug trade.
But there are no shortcuts in life. Shortcuts only result in injustices and running roughshod over the people’s rights without ever solving the problem. If we let the Duterte administration have its way, what would prevent it from applying the same deadly solution to other challenges that it would face? There is a name for this: impunity