13,000 and (not) counting
Gone is the promise that the “drug problem” can be solved in six months, or the delusion that it is the “big time” drug pushers and traffickers — not the users nor the innocent — that would be targeted in the anti-drug campaign.
Gone, too, is the imagined righteousness of the police, who the President himself described as “rotten to the core” after a Korean businessman died in their custody.
But, despite its evident failures, abuses, and inconsistencies, the “war on drugs” continues today. Consummate in his obduracy, the President sends forth new marching orders: “The fight will be relentless.”
Informed that 32 people were killed in Bulacan, he nods in satisfaction. “Maganda ’yon,” he says, adding, “If we can kill another 32 every day, then maybe we can reduce what ails this country.”
Never mind that the 32 were not even proven to be drug users.
Never mind that witnesses and CCTV footage alike belie the overused refrain of “nanlaban” (they fought).
Never mind that just a few days before, a huge shipment of shabu, worth billions, elicited nary an ounce of the same disgust the President displays for those allegedly caught — or planted — with far smaller amounts. When his own son was reported to be involved, his men cries hearsay and invokes due process, the same due process not accorded the many dead.
“I will be able to solve the problem if I kill them all,” says the President. As if in response, 25 are killed in Manila the following day. One of them, 17-year-old Kian delos Santos, was recalled by witnesses to have been blindfolded, made to hold a gun, told to run — before being shot. “He was a bully and a drug dealer,” the police would later announce, as if the kid’s reputation would make the manner of his death any less reprehensible.
Have we really come to a point of moral bankruptcy, that these atrocities no longer suffice to elicit outrage?
Perhaps many still hold on to the false dichotomy between drug users and crime victims. Remind them that the dead were never proven to be drug users, but they will cite the police, as if their “intelligence reports” were infallible. Show them the example of Manny Pacquiao, who admitted to using drugs as a teenager — or Robin Padilla, who tested positive for shabu in 1992 — as proof that drug users are not beyond redemption, but again, it will fall on deaf ears.
Perhaps others feel sorry for the victims of the drug war, but they feel that as “collateral damage,” nothing can be done for them. “The end justifies the means,” they would say. Of course, they would sing a different tune when the killings hit home, when the victim is someone close to their heart.
But will it ever hit home for most of us? Probably not. Just as we do not experience the hunger that 3.1 million Filipino families experience, it is very possible for us to never feel the pain and fear of our countrymen whose loved ones were killed.
Finally, those of us who do feel outraged may also choose not to speak out. “Mahirap nang magsalita,” as people would say. The fact that even a senator can get jailed, her personal life laid bare after calling for an investigation, could certainly give many of us great pause.
Thus the killings continue. By the latest estimates, 13,000 and counting. Or not counting; not anymore. Some have stopped tallying out of fear, others out of indifference. Or perhaps accepting that 13,000 have died is too much of an inconvenient truth for a nation that still thinks of itself as a democracy.
There will be a debate over these figures. But even if we accept the Philippine National Police’s claim that there are “only” 3,000, that’s still a reprehensible number. Unless we no longer care. Unless, like Orwell’s Winston Smith, we have come to accept terror as peace, falsehood as truth, tyranny as freedom.
For enabling this culture of impunity and violence, our leaders must be held to account. But so must our nation if we fail to reject it.
“Tama na po! Tama na po!” cried Kian delos Santos before they killed him. Nothing can bring him back to life, but we can still echo his (un)dying words, not as a helpless plea, but as a cry of resistance.
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