Silence not an option
During World War I, a young German naval officer, Martin Niemoller, became one of his country’s most successful submarine captains. He was awarded the Iron Cross (First Class) in recognition of his accomplishments during the conflict.
After the war, he became known for his work as a Lutheran pastor and theologian who, after first supporting Adolf Hitler, turned against him and became the leader of German clergymen opposing Hitler.
Niemoller achieved much fame for a speech, sometimes presented as a poem, pointing out the dangers of political apathy. There are many versions of the poem but this one is found in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — And there was no one left to speak for me.
Let me use the poem as a framework for expressing some thoughts on the killing of Kian delos Santos in the current war on drugs.
When I was 17 preparing to take the exams for the Philippine Military Academy, I sought out my cousin, UP professor Josefina Fonacier, for some tutoring in math. I had no clear idea what lay ahead except that it was a step toward a possible military career.
Kian delos Santos was 17. He was a Grade 12 student in Caloocan and his dream was to become a policeman which meant that he needed a college degree.
When my sons were 17, they were on their way to college in preparation for careers in law and medicine.
Kian delos Santos at age 17 was abducted by plainclothes policemen who grabbed him at home and dragged him out without a warrant of arrest. The policemen later claimed that Kian was a runner or courier for drug-related activities. How convenient!
When my grandchildren were 17, they too, were headed for college, with their parents making certain they had the means and the skills for higher education.
Kian delos Santos, at age 17, was pulled away from his home, taken to a nearby pigsty, and shot in the head at close range. A gun was supposedly found on him presumably to support the theory that “nanlaban siya.” The gun was in his left hand. Kian delos Santos was right-handed.
At the start of the war on drugs, hundreds — maybe thousands — of suspected drug addicts, users, or pushers, were rounded up by the police. At that time, my mind and my heart agreed that it was about time something drastic was done by the authorities. For so many years, past administrations had neglected or conveniently set aside the growing menace even in the face of killings and robberies perpetrated by drug-crazed addicts.
As the number of killings and arrests rose, my mind and my heart continued to support this war on drugs, believing that in any kind of conflict, there was bound to be collateral damage
involving innocent parties.
When Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte, was killed inside a jail by policemen supposedly trying to serve a warrant of arrest, I felt that justice had been served, given the weak and twisted judicial system that we have in place in our country.
I had the same feeling when other drug lords like the Odictas and Parojinogs were taken down by police elements.
But after more than a year of a war that seems to have no end and no clear road to ultimate success, and with the death of young Kian delos Santos under the worst possible circumstances, it is time to say:
We must stop the killings.
Instead of caring for, nurturing and educating our children, we are killing them.
Instead of building and uniting the country, we are dividing it since mainly the poor, the powerless, the marginalized, are the victims of this war.
Instead of building a police force worthy of the people’s trust and confidence, we are helping to create a monster that one day could get out of control, threatening the safety and security of all, not just the poor.
We support the continuing effort to eliminate illegal drugs from our society. There are other methods that will yield more positive results other than the use of violence and death. For example, we have a 10,000-bed capacity for patients in a drug rehabilitation facility in Nueva Ecija that, until now, is underutilized. Why not help, rather than kill?
If we remain silent on this issue, we become part of the problem. Silence is no longer an option.
Next Thursday, the nation marks the 110th birth anniversary of one of its most beloved presidents, Ramon Magsaysay. Contrary to popular belief that Magsaysay came from the working class, he actually was not poor. The family was well-off, with the parents owning substantial pieces of riceland and a flourishing dry goods store. He finished at the Jose Rizal College with an AB in Commerce.
The first president to be sworn into office wearing a barong Tagalog, Ramon Magsaysay was charismatic, action-oriented, and intuitive. He preferred direct contact with the people and was ultrasensitive to public opinion. “Can we defend it before the people at Plaza Miranda?” was a yardstick he often used when undertaking bold initiatives.
Can we defend the war on drugs in its present form at Plaza Miranda?
One of the most important parts of his credo as president was his belief that “he who has less in life, should have more in law” and “that the little man is fundamentally entitled to a little more food in his stomach, a little more clothing on his back, and a little more roof over his head.”
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