We must open our eyes | Inquirer Opinion
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Glimpses

We must open our eyes

/ 12:16 AM September 23, 2016

The hearings conducted by the justice committees of the Senate and House of Representatives are affording the people glimpses of the rot eating away at our collective soul. I say “glimpses” not because it is the name of my column but because glimpses are all we are getting now. Corruption cannot be a cancer if it is not ugly. Remember the photos being used to describe how cancer was devouring the lungs?

It is like the cancer of illegal drugs. We used to get glimpses, too, of the horror it inflicted on its victim, able to transform a normal person to a groveling addict, a liar, a thief, and even a killer. We only caught glimpses unless we were close enough to the addicted, or the families they hounded to desperation or bankruptcy, or worse, to other families with members murdered by drug dependents. We caught only glimpses because these sorry cases and sordid details were either kept relatively private or were not of great interest to mainstream society.

Until Rodrigo R. Duterte, that is. It may be that his being mayor for two decades gave him a deep insight of the scourge we know as illegal drugs. His own campaign against drugs in Davao City must have imprinted in him the full impact of the scourge, not only on the physical and mental health of the drug dependent but the terrible consequences on the family and neighborhood—and its ultimate power to corrupt.

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Any government leadership that wants to wage a war against drugs knows that it is waging a war against many of its own components. In that respect, it is the same as a war against corruption, a war against one’s own. The same but more vicious, more insidious, and directly infects and affects a greater number of people. It is this human cost that makes a drug was far worse than any other.

The Senate hearing used a self-confessed killer. On live television, he said he personally killed about 50 persons, allegedly on orders of then Mayor Duterte. The House hearing had one witness currently serving in Bilibid for the massacre of about persons in a bank robbery. So it seems that a popular saying about “it takes a thief to know a thief” is not only a cliché but more of a truism. And fortunately or unfortunately, governments have used killers as witnesses against their own overlords, granted them immunity and even new identities.

It is no wonder, then, that a self-confessed killer was used to implicate Duterte as having ordered extrajudicial killings just as convicted criminals are also used to implicate officials, Sen. Leila de Lima among them, who are alleged to have protected elements of the drug trade. The people of the Philippines must not take all these lightly even if it seems funny to some to see on television a number of convicted killers and thieves in the same company as congressmen and senators.

Did Duterte when he was mayor order the killing of a thousand people, presumably criminals who refused to leave Davao City? Did he himself kill one or some of these alleged victims of extrajudicial killings?

Did De Lima as Secretary of Justice protect drug lords so she could personally profit by doing so? Did she manipulate arrangements in the New Bilibid Prison so that there would be pay-offs to her from convicted felons who were still doing business even behind bars?

Who is guilty or who is innocent? I do not know. At this point, I do not know. And neither do most Filipinos except for maybe a few who do from firsthand knowledge or participation. I also do not know if any guilt from these two personalities will ever be proven, or punished.

What I do know is this—that illegal drugs have catapulted from a societal nuisance to a national cancer. And what I am truly sorry about is why I, and most other Filipinos, never realized just how deadly the problem of illegal drugs had become. How could we have millions of drug dependents in our midst yet never saw the magnitude? How could an illegal drug trade be estimated in the hundreds of billions when just 50 million in dirty money is already considered plunder?

We have had corruption in government for a long, long time. We have had warlords, vote-buying, and illegal gambling. But now that we have a full-blown drug problem, it makes the rest look quite insignificant. One reason is the killings, the killings as we know them today, and the same killings we were not that aware of yesterday. I believe, however, that the past drug-related killings we did not mind enough are already in the tens of thousands by now.

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Until Duterte came along and insisted that a war against drugs will be the centerpiece of his presidency, we did not know enough, we did not care enough. When the initial war against drugs makes crime levels drastically dive, then it is easy to understand just how much illegal drugs dominated the whole crime scene of the country. A big percentage of those in jails and prisons are there because of illegal drugs, and that is why even there the buying, selling and using drugs are evident. Even in Hong Kong, 40 percent of OFWs who are in prison are there because of drugs.

There is much noise in media, especially social media. Before that, there had always been a lot of noise in politics, in religion. But I can say with great conviction that if any of us are confronted with drug-related enemies, whether we are lawmakers or law enforcers, judges, policemen or soldiers, teachers or engineers, or whatever, we will fear for our lives and the lives of our families. But by then, it would have been too late.

We have few options left. Duterte and De Lima are most transient in our lives, but drugs can stay for generations. We deal with the problem now when it is bad, or deal with it later when it is worse.

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TAGS: Davao Death Squad, Edgar Matobato, hearing, House of Representatives, Leila de Lima, Rodrigo Duterte, Senate
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