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The other new normal

The “drug war” took another child’s life.

On June 16, a minor, 16-year-old Johndy Maglinte, was killed along with his companion in an anti-illegal drugs operation in Biñan City, Laguna. This incident comes on the heels of what many of us saw as a glimmer of hope: former International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s recommendation to investigate the architects of the “drug war” for crimes against humanityʍmurder, torture, and the infliction of serious physical injury and mental harm.

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Yet here we are, with another case that is already familiar to everyone who has been following the news for years: one more alleged case of “nanlaban.” Eyewitness accounts by Johndy’s kin dispute this template police narrative; they say Johndy was handcuffed and had begged for his life before the police killed him.

One would think there would be universal outrage and condemnation when it comes to the murder of children. But the government has for years thrived on normalizing the bloody drug crackdown and has desensitized many citizens to the killings.

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We’ve heard it all before: News of police brutality are just isolated cases, and a few police scalawags are the ones to blame. But state forces are intentionally and conveniently leaving out a fact: President Duterte himself promised bloodshed in his administration’s “drug war.” He and other senior officials dehumanized people living with addiction and used populist rhetoric to justify the killing of drug suspects. In his interview with Al Jazeera in 2016, he referred to children killed in his “drug war” as just “collateral damage.”

As child rights advocates, we do not believe that the government’s indiscriminate anti-illegal drugs campaign preserves and upholds the next generation’s interests. On the contrary, it is blind in its aim and is injurious in its consequences. Beyond the death count of 122 children killed in the name of the “drug war,” this bloody and unnecessary campaign of violence has resulted in a generation of orphans and traumatized children robbed of loving parents and kin. Instead of saving lives, the “drug war” wantonly disregards human life.

There are numerous reasons to support the impending ICC investigation. For one, it is a step forward in our quest for justice, even if a belated one. Second, it will help uncover facts of cases that authorities have long concealed. Finally, with the spotlight now on the grim human rights situation in the Philippines, advocates, and most especially the families of victims, have reason once again to hope that the day of reckoning will come for perpetrators and their enablers. Justice may be elusive, but we still believe that, inevitably, the gavel will fall in the right direction.

Amid the incessant killings perpetrated in the name of the “drug war” that unfortunately takes the lives of children, it is worthwhile for us to ask: Are we protecting the future generation? Or are we condoning the killing of children?

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Romeo Dongeto is the executive director of the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development and convenor of Child Rights Network, the largest alliance of children’s rights groups in the country engaged in legislative advocacy.

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TAGS: Commentary, drug war, drug war killings, new normal, police brutality, Romeo Dongeto
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