Wednesday, September 26, 2018
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Sisyphus’ Lament

Who has Kian’s blood on his hands?

Anger. Outrage. Fury. These were our reactions to 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos’ tragic death. But it would be an even greater tragedy if Kian’s death polarizes us further instead of finally uniting us.

Kian provoked some of the Inquirer’s finest, most powerful, most insightful columns. Randy David expounded on “Dutertismo” and warned of “demonization of an imagined enemy” as the first step. Dr. Kay Rivera recounted her dying mother’s last three days in intensive care, and how even this agony paled beside murder. John Nery’s headline was simply: “Tama na!”


But other voices are heard only in whispers.

Ozamiz City Mayor Reynaldo “Aldong” Parojinog Sr. and 11 others were killed by police in his home last month, in the dead of night. A friend confided that, away from the TV cameras, Ozamiz residents rejoiced.

“Parang martial law,” he described his city. “Mabilis lang mamatay sa Ozamis (One can die quickly in Ozamiz).”

Law is meaningless there, he felt. Order is maintained by a hierarchy of armed gangs, with the mayor at its apex. If someone stole something, ask a gang or even Mayor Aldong nicely and it would be returned.

Mayor Aldong styled himself as a Robin Hood who clamped down on petty crime, he said, but the cost was severe. My friend watched Ozamiz stay mired in poverty, despite its bustling port.

And the last time police tried a secret raid on Mayor Aldong, he claimed, they were welcomed complete with food already prepared.

I have no personal knowledge of Mayor Aldong’s alleged crimes. I narrate this solely to demonstrate why my friend was overjoyed. And he was gravely afraid of being killed if caught retelling Ozamiz’s open secrets.

Should I denounce my friend as complicit in murder? Pull out my Constitutional Law syllabus and recite human rights chapter and verse? Cry himagsikan (revolution)?

Unfortunately, our public discourse has been far from as authentic and sincere as my glimpse of the war on drugs through my friend’s eyes. Our echo chambers even have their own signature buzzwords, from “narcopolitics” and “dilawan” to “blind follower” and “Dutertard,” superficial euphemisms that obscure complex emotions.


Anyone would be horrified by CCTV footage of a boy in boxer shorts dragged away by three policemen, and the black humor in Kian protesting he had school the next day. But watch perceptions change with Kian accused of being a drug runner.

One may see one’s own brothers or sons as future victims, not of out-of-control policemen but of crazed drug addicts, and desperately embrace even the most tenuous forensic evidence of Kian’s alleged sins. Or, cruel as it may be, one may dismiss Kian as collateral damage or an “isolated case” in a grand crusade.

One may thus rejoice in a death, like my friend from Ozamiz. One may blame the Commission on Human Rights for investigating policemen but not drug-crazed murderers, despite knowing how irrational this is. One may embrace a leader’s promise of both harsh action and, in Manuel L. Quezon III’s words, “full absolution for whatever transpires in their name.”

All these mix into the enigmatic emotional cocktail that was last April’s SWS poll: 78 percent of Filipinos support the war on drugs; 73 percent fear someone they know will be extrajudicially killed; 92 percent want drug suspects captured alive.

Is it evil to be afraid? To be frustrated? To be insecure?
No — it is only human.

The glimmer of hope is how Kian’s brutal death jolts us away from euphemism and into speaking like human beings again. Even my most “die hard,” fake news-sharing friends now guardedly speak of the value of life.

Kian presents a long overdue opportunity for a real discussion of the fears and frustrations that led millions to cheer the war on drugs. We have seen anger and indignation for over a year now. We have seen intellectual articulations of human rights. We have seen calls for our president to resign, even before he was sworn in.

Perhaps it is time for empathy instead of condemnation, if we hope to ensure that Kian’s is the last tragic death.

React:, Twitter @oscarfbtan,

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TAGS: drug killings, extrajudicial killings, Kian Loyd delos Santos, Oscar Franklin Tan, Reynaldo Parojinog Sr., Rodrigo Duterte, Sisyphus’ Lament, war on drugs
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