The unstoppable killings
Around July of last year, just as President Duterte was going through his first month as chief Executive, the war on drugs was in already full swing. Tens of thousands of drug dependents, many among them also drug pushers, had surrendered. Also, there was an emerging pattern to unexplained drug-related killings.
I read a comment to an article I wrote then, from someone I respected, also a teacher, an environmentalist, a lawyer and a devoted Catholic. Even at that time, he was already decrying these drug-related killings now most popularly known as EJKs (extra judicial killings). I felt compelled to respond, and told him that, in my view, the killings would not stop, that there would be more before there would be less. In fact, we had dinner to discuss why I believed this would be so.
It is not gratifying to be right when what one knows to be true, and inevitable, is painful and horrible. It is like knowing that most stage 4 cancer patients will die soon. There are exceptions, but the vast majority will succumb. It matters little if we do not agree, if we are passionately against it – death comes soon enough, or too soon. And because I was no convinced the drug-related killings would not stop, and that these would most probably increase, I found myself in a corner where all I could do was keep imaging how the environment triggering these killings could be mitigated.
I then wrote a few more articles that touched on the dangerous situation we are in today, as a people, as a nation, and also said that we are almost a narco state. In a narco state, killings are an unavoidable feature. They are part of what makes a narco state. Yes, there is greed, there is corruption, there is the mandated response by a state to protect its citizens from the destructive impact of criminality, and putting these factors together, there is violence. This is a formula that is extremely difficult to dismantle because it is a simple consequence of a greater reality – the narco state itself.
The emotional turmoil that is caused by a narco state is something we are only tasting, only starting to imagine. The Filipino people have no idea about the hell that can yet unfold, not because of the killings alone, but because of being a narco state. If there is a war against drugs, and if there is surprising popular support for it despite the horror from the frequency of unexplained, execution-style killings, then there must be a worse terror that the killings somewhat mitigate. To those who think otherwise, and most especially to the families and friends of the victims of the killings, I know that many are deeply sympathetic with your pain. I also know that there is that nagging question and fear, “What if the future victims would be part of my own family?” Still, there hovers a greater terror, a personal and collective one, related to the tragic experience of those who have a family member or friend drowning in drug addiction.
It can seem cold, but numbers have a way of being colder than they want to be. If about 1,400,000 have surrendered, admitted they are drug dependents, and hundreds of thousands of them actually push to feed their addiction (and sometimes to earn income for their poor families), and a few million more are suspected to be in the same situation except that they have not yet surrendered, then it is easy to imagine where the greater terror lies. Using estimates that have been publicly articulated, there may be a total of 4 million drug dependents, and the vast majority are poor and most probably are small-time pushers. With each drug dependent belonging to a family, this can mean that 20% of Filipino families are directly affected.
That is the greater terror, already being experienced by 20% of Filipino families, and making the 80% fearful that they, too, would be similarly afflicted. This is the backdrop of 7,000 plus drug-related killings, explained and unexplained, that makes the killings, up to now, understandable and maybe necessary in the minds of the majority. This is the terror that must be dismantled before the killings will become totally unacceptable to most Filipinos.
How, then, do we ease the fear that drug addiction will infect one of our own? How, then, do we reverse the emerging reality of being a narco state? These questions must find answers, the kind of answers we will believe in, the kind of answers we will invest in as Filipinos who care for our families. This is the paramount challenge to those who are in favor, and those who are against, the war against drugs. Because, in fact, collateral damage exists only because a war has to be fought against the greater terror. In our case, this is the greater terror of having a family member becoming a drug user and pusher, the greater terror of being a narco state with all its dire implications.
What to me is most sad is that we as a people have to choose between two fears because we do not know of another option. The war against drugs is seen as a law enforcement matter. The war against drug addiction is seen as crime and health problems. It is the citizenry and our communities that are threatened but we seem to be out of the loop. Cheering or condemning EJKs is not the central issue, even if life is. The drug menace is against all life, in quantity and in quality, and it is natural to be against killing in any form. But when the environment that triggers fears worse than EJKs remains unattended, by our leaders and by us as together as a people, then the very killings that we all do not agree with will simply continue.
No one has all the answers, and we must have enough that can become a collective and integrated national effort. But it seems no one is looking either.