Sunday, September 23, 2018
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At Large

Skyler and the Wild Boars

People the world over, including here in this country, rejoiced over the rescue of the 12 boys and their football coach from a flooded cave in Thailand. But there were some compatriots who wondered how Filipinos could be so concerned about the fate of 13 young men in Thailand while seeming to turn a blind eye on the deaths of thousands in drug-related killings, including a number of children.

Indeed, even as we all waited with bated breath about word of the last boys to be rescued, another boy in Cebu was shot dead when a bullet entered his chest as police were conducting a drug sweep in the neighborhood.

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The boy was identified as Bladen Skyler Abatayo, 4, who suddenly collapsed while inside his home. Skyler was rushed to a nearby hospital, but was declared dead on arrival. Later, TV footage showed bullet holes in the walls of the family’s shanty. Cebu police denied responsibility for Skyler’s death.

It may be possible that the fatal bullet(s) were fired from guns wielded by “drug personalities” in the neighborhood, to where police rushed after receiving reports that there was an ongoing shabu sniffing and repacking operation. But still, are we going to continue dismissing the killings of innocent bystanders during antidrug operations as just “collateral damage”? Should not law enforcers take greater care when they go after drug pushers and users, like warning neighbors and bystanders that an operation was going on? And isn’t it time to rethink the armed approach to the drug scourge?

Public anger and mourning over the killing of innocents—either as unfortunate bystanders or as mistaken suspects—are easily dissipated because they take place discretely, while the stories behind their deaths remain untold, their lives unsung.

But, what if Skyler joined the hundreds of children and teenagers killed as part of antidrug operations of police, such as 11th grader Kian delos Santos, or in extrajudicial killings by assassins? What if they had all been bunched together inside a cave, fearing for their lives? Would their sheer number give us all pause, their youth tugging at our hearts?

Indeed, the algorithm of news can be brutal—13 lives weighed against the drug-related killings of hundreds. But it is no excuse for us to forget our humanity or lose sight of context. Skyler is “just” one child, but his death deserves the same attention and concern as the “Wild Boars” trapped in a flooded cave.

In the ongoing kerfuffle over the draft constitution recently turned over to Malacañang, debate seems to focus on the shift to a federal system of government and the changes in distribution of political power and economic resources that it will require.

But, as things stand, the federalism issue seems more like a smokescreen, concealing far more pressing and alarming possibilities.

Despite President Duterte’s declaration that he is not interested in extending his stay in Malacañang, the transitory provisions seem to be opening the door to an extension of his term. We also know from experience how Mr. Duterte’s promises can so easily be forgotten or abandoned. Worse comes to worst, he can always say he was “just kidding.”

And if he is so eager to step down even before his term ends, why on earth is he so adamant that his legal and constitutional successor, Vice President Leni Robredo, should not take over? What does he plan to do? And, more important, who does he want to succeed him?

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Survey findings indicate that approval and trust ratings of the President are falling precipitously. Mr. Duterte has no one to blame but himself, since his anti-God ranting has antagonized the majority Catholic Filipinos. Couple these with an economy in “doldrums,” as he himself put it, manifested in the rising prices of commodities, fuel and power that have disheartened (to say the least) many of us.
Recall that it was about at this failing stage of his administration that the fallen dictator Marcos put it in his mind to rush ratification of a new constitution and then declare martial law. That’s the scenario lurking behind the curtain of the “federalism” debate.

rdavid@inquirer.com.ph

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TAGS: Bladen Skyler Abatayo, federalism, Illegal drugs, Killings, Rodrigo Duterte
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