In cold blood
The murder in cold blood of Kian delos Santos has brought us to a moral crossroads that will test our very soul. How we address the raging issues surrounding this tragedy could very well impact on the administration’s war on drugs which President Duterte says is necessary because drugs constitute an existential threat.
No one disputes that the first duty of a state is to survive. Mr. Duterte justifies the use of the state’s monopoly of violence as a legal and even moral imperative. But the huge flaw of this rationale is that in the Philippine context, the police force tasked with the application of that awesome power and license (to kill people, in the national interest) is riddled with corruption and is notorious for its incompetence.
In Singapore, the founding leader Lee Kuan Yew was as tough as they come in terms of law and order. His draconian National Security Act and drug laws are among the strictest in the world. But there is no record of extrajudicial killing in Singapore. In fact, only 315 people were executed (after a reasonable trial in court) for drug-related crimes during Lee’s watch up to the present day. Thus, not a “reign of terror” but strict, impartial application of the law is the best deterrent to crime.
Lee recognized that in the necessary tradeoff between freedom and order, as he brought his once-backwater nation to First World status, he had to make sure his people were confident that their present and their future would be safer and brighter.
Crucial to Lee’s success was the institutionalization of his security apparatus into a model of meritocracy, efficiency, and professionalism. In Lee’s Singapore, the likes of Kian would not have met such a horrible fate.
The killing of Kian happened when it was least expected, on a seemingly ordinary evening, with the usual banter of residents of Barangay 160, Caloocan City, enjoying a break in the monsoon weather. The 17-year-old had just finished helping his father clean up house, which was a stone’s throw away from a makeshift court where kids were playing basketball. Suddenly policemen in plainclothes arrived, snatched him from his home, dragged him to a dark, dingy alley, and pumped him with bullets.
When it was over, the boy who dreamed of becoming a policeman became another corpse in the administration’s unrelenting war on drugs. The police said he had fired at the lawmen with a .45-caliber pistol. An autopsy would show that he was shot in the back and in the head.
People were outraged by the callousness of the police in killing the boy who was heard begging, “Tama na po (Enough, please)!” The killing cut to the very bone of a people’s sense of morality and conscience. It’s one thing to see warlord politicians known for their links to the trade in illegal drugs being gunned down, execution-style, like Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog of Ozamiz City. The violence that ended his life seemed predictable. But Kian’s murder is quite another thing: He was so young, with the refreshing, innocent smile of youth; he had yet to live life to the full. He didn’t deserve such a brutal end.
Was the boy a drug runner, as the police claim? Even if we suspend reason and disbelief and buy the police yarn, it cannot justify the cold-blooded barbarity of his murder.
In grieving for Kian, the people, particularly the poor and marginalized who bear the brunt of the administration’s centerpiece war, are also grieving for themselves. The moral center of their little world seems to be collapsing: If their children can be killed like Kian, they reason, then no one is safe from agents of the law who are sworn to protect them.
Kian’s killing cannot be trivialized as “isolated and blown out of proportion” because the trail of blood from the thousands of fatalities of the war on drugs, many of them probably innocent, is too fresh and too long to be swept aside in doublethink and doublespeak terms.
Narciso Reyes Jr. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an international book author and former diplomat. He lived in Beijing in 1978-81 as bureau chief of the Philippine News Agency.
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