Sleight of hand | Inquirer Opinion
Young Blood

Sleight of hand

/ 05:02 AM September 03, 2017

President Duterte is on a spree. He is having his men track down small-time drug pushers and users, and the numbers are at an all-time high. In Manila alone, at least 26 were dead in a raid; in Bulacan, the number shot up to 32. Time magazine called it the bloodiest night yet of Mr. Duterte’s brutal war on drugs.

Besides the normalization of these scenarios, the deaths even seem to be a cause for celebration, the high numbers signifying development and a promise foretold. If we can kill 32 every day, then maybe we can reduce what ails this country, the President was quoted as saying at an event marking the anniversary of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption. This is apparently how the logic goes: Small-time drug users and sellers living near the poverty line and in the cramped, polluted streets of Manila are the cause of this country’s problems. The war on drugs is once again justified, the end of the stick reversed.


We have been told that history is written by the victors. But with the advent of social media, fake news and propaganda, the domination of the justification of the war on drugs as well as Mr. Duterte’s encouraging words already wins half the war. But wars always have another side: one where actual human lives exist and suffer from these violent wars. The public turns a blind eye and flips the coin to the side where lives are reduced to cold numbers. This side of the coin is easier to keep face up. Easier still when the head of the nation sugarcoats the killings as a necessary cost for the common good.

But somewhere after breaking stories and headlines are passed around and shared on social media, an 11-year-old girl is left orphaned. This girl witnessed her parents beg for their lives before the fateful clicks of the trigger of a gun. A man cornered in a dark alley pleads for his life before being shot at close range. A woman cleans up the spilled blood and is left with six children to raise and feed. Highways cleared of the usual day traffic become sites of blood and murder once the night sinks in. A Grade 12 student, a young man of 17 who dreamed of becoming a cop, was shot dead in Caloocan. Police and eyewitness accounts vary greatly. But a side of the coin must remain face up. They choose the account that justifies the killing. The bodies of the once-living who used to do the same things we did are now lined up on the floor, helping stack the numbers higher for the latest achievement report of the police and the administration.


Two weeks earlier, Mr. Duterte signed with clean hands a bill promising universal access to tertiary education. With the impossible capacity known only to the President, the war on drugs looks like it can be put alongside universal access to education. After killing the parents who were mainly responsible for their children gaining access to institutions for the better future they never had, after shooting down senior high school students, after bringing the bloody war on drugs to the youth by automatically suspecting them of crimes and consequently stripping down the first layer of trust and decency, the administration passes a policy marked with two important words: “universal access,” as if in satire. Just like PNP Director General Ronald dela Rosa dressing up as Santa Claus to entertain and give charity to children orphaned by the war on drugs.

The sleight of hand is cunning, the hypocrisy unnerving. With his left hand he administers the death blow to the children, the poor, and the defenseless. With his right hand he pats the backs of the relatives and the remaining people alive. With both hands he masterfully balances his fascism and war, and the palliatives designed to silence the living and to trot out justifications for his support base.

This administration’s dexterity is remarkable. Not only is it busy with its flagship war on drugs, it is also balancing other wars. The budget for the military and police is increased, Mr. Duterte goes around calling North Korean leader Kim Jong-un a madman, martial law in Mindanao is extended until December, a “more perfect” society is in the works, foreshadowing the possibility of the rise of local elites and regional wars.

We only have the present bloody state of war and the foreshadowing of other wars planned to be waged. The aftermath will be something familiar. The aftermath will consist of what we have now: the cold numbers to count the dead, the breaking story of the victors of the war. the names of the important splashed on the papers, the names of the small and unimportant forgotten by history.

Yet the aftermath will be something that will feel distant. It is an understandable knee-jerk reaction of the human person to distance him/herself from the horrors of war. But most importantly, the war will simultaneously feel personal and familiar but detached and distant, because the war will be like a gun fired at close range — the defenseless cornered, begging fervently for mercy and not one bit asking for this war, the superior holding the gun, on a spree and in control, firing without a moment’s notice, with sleight of hand.

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Iya Gozum, 18, is a comparative literature student at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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TAGS: Iya Gozum, Rodrigo Duterte, war on drugs, Young Blood
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