Beyond the outrage
Finally, there’s outrage — or at least a semblance of it. Just as the killing in 2013 of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin brought Americans to the reality of police violence in the United States, the killing of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos is reminding us of the human toll of the war on drugs. “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” then US President Barack Obama said. It doesn’t seem like President Duterte, whose own son is being linked to drug smuggling, would say those words, but even he promised due process for Kian.
Moreover, the fact that the senators who shut down an inquiry into EJKs last year are now crying foul means that even the trapo are hedging their bets, acknowledging that their previous recalcitrance is no longer tenable.
But is this a turning point, one that will make the administration finally back down from its failed war on drugs?
Perhaps we shouldn’t raise our hopes too high. Filipinos, after all, have a very short attention span: Korean Jee Ick-joo’s gruesome murder inside Camp Crame has been largely forgotten; so has the killing of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa in, of all places, a jail. Alas, the outrageous has brought us, not to a boiling point, but to a reset of our moral thermostat.
But at the same time, there is reason for optimism. Kian, whose dying words were about the next day’s exam, is far more relatable than a Korean businessman or a suspected narcopolitician. Moreover, the unimpeachable CCTV footage of a boy being dragged away by two men in the middle of the night is something that no Mocha Uson can talk away.
Still, the question remains: How can we turn outrage into something meaningful and lasting?
First of all, I think now is the time to more forcefully call on the government to change its approach to the drug problem. The innocent must be spared, and drug users should be given a chance to reintegrate into society through treatment, rehabilitation and community-based programs. Indeed, the government should act on scientific evidence and view drug use as a public health and socioeconomic problem — not a criminal one.
Of course, drug trafficking and narcopolitics are grave issues that must be addressed, starting with that P6-billion shabu shipment that astoundingly got through the Bureau of Customs. Of utmost importance here is impartiality: One cannot invoke due process for some and condone the summary killing of others. The finger-pointing at Iloilo Mayor Jed Mabilog should lead to the filing of charges, not to a death threat that also threatens to erode our justice system.
Another challenge is to find common ground: Surely, calling for an end to the killings is something behind which most Filipinos can rally. The same can be said of reforming the police and the judiciary. But as in storytelling, the challenge is to show—not tell—people the need for these things, and the incongruity between Mr. Duterte’s values and those of our country.
Finding common ground also involves accepting that no one has a monopoly on outrage and that voter blaming will not lead to a coalition, only to a hardening of people’s stances. Yes, we should hold to account those in positions of power for their action—or inaction. But for the general public, we have to be more of evangelists, not Pharisees.
The third challenge is to keep the message alive, even when others have moved away from it. Soon, most of us will forget Kian, much as we have forgotten Gerry Ortega or Dreyfuss Perlas: The labor of remembrance is much more difficult than we think, especially when there are too many names to remember.
Nonetheless, we need to keep invoking their memory, in whatever platforms we have: in print or online, literature or art, music, photography, or film. Or even just in our everyday engagements with our peers — with a mindfulness that we are also doing so to prevent future historical revisionism.
By reaching for these goals and holding them up against the culture of impunity and violence that led to Kian’s killing, perhaps we can still convince enough people that an inclusive democracy, built on human rights and the rule of law, can work for everyone. And that however imperfect, it is still infinitely preferable to authoritarian rule.
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