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They shoot journalists, don’t they?

12:03 AM June 14, 2016

PRESIDENT-ELECT Rodrigo Duterte’s recent remark that murdered journalists “deserved what they got” and had it coming to them because they were corrupt has sparked outrage and disbelief from media quarters here and abroad.

His off-the-cuff remark seemed to be an invitation to take hostile acts against media persons who stood out in the practice of their craft, for one man’s hero could be another man’s heel—particularly in a country already perceived as exceedingly dangerous for journalists seriously practicing their profession.

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Though there are journalists who make a dubious living by breaking their professional code of ethics, under no circumstances can one justify bypassing the rule of law to kill another without considering the presumption of innocence and recourse to the courts.

Diverse experiences in conflict countries such as Colombia and Mexico, where at one time “narcopolitics” ruled, provide ample early warning against embarking on short-term campaigns (with emphasis on the “made-for-dramatic effect” dimension) largely seeking to cultivate a “culture of fear” that often leads to a vicious spiral of violence.

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Anticrime initiatives are bound to fail unless a comprehensive program accompanies the efforts dealing with the underlying causes of criminality. They need to take into account root causes such as poverty, social inequality, and lack of education and basic services like health and housing, as well as other critical factors such as more effective administration of justice, better community policing, thorough understanding of deviant behavior, and promotion of what Pope Francis calls a “culture of compassion.”

In countries confronting internal armed conflicts, moreover, pursuing a durable peace provides a parallel path that will reduce the levels of violence. But this quest requires a marathon mentality.

To make people believe that thoroughgoing changes can take place overnight is downright irresponsible; the work involves a long and laborious process. Admittedly, the decisive first steps must be taken without pretensions, one step at a time to undertake the tough task ahead.

Shortcuts can create illusions, and the quick-fix promise of eliminating crime and illegal drugs within three to six months is both illusory and dangerous. It may promote more drama than durable solutions.

What is important is that the campaign to eliminate criminality is both effective and lasting. It is thus imperative to push back against the threats of “shoot to kill,” the loose talk about eliminating so-called “enemies of society,” and the recourse to the reimposition of the death penalty, thus taking away life that at the same time cheapens its value.

The package of drastic short-term actions now being contemplated by the incoming Congress in compliance with the President-elect’s agenda, I believe, would lead to the promotion of a “culture of death” and deepen the pernicious practice of impunity.

Drawing on global experience and, in particular, that of Amnesty International (AI), one can gain insights into the wisdom of placing the campaign against crime in the context of the prior struggle to protect the human rights of all.

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AI, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977, has worked in the Philippines since the imposition of martial law in 1972. It has produced reports indicting the Marcos regime for its appalling human rights record.

Its researchers have compiled case studies of people who were tortured, “salvaged,” or made to disappear during the Marcos years, including the brutal torture of Marsman Alvarez, the painful agony suffered by the teenaged son of Primitivo Mijares (author of the book “The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos”), and the ordeal suffered by the Quimpo family, to name a few.

AI has provided the most compelling argument why burying the corpse of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani defies logic and presents a veritable contradiction. How can one who ordered or allowed the killing of heroes be himself considered a hero and worthy of emulation? Is not the best way to deter crime to demonstrate that crime does not pay?  Is it not more effective to show that the author of crimes can be convicted and made to pay for his deeds even beyond death—particularly if there is no remorse and acknowledgment of guilt? Or forgiveness sought or pardon given?

What message will be conveyed to the public, and especially the youth, if a failed leader —one who was corrupt and stole billions from his own people and whose dictatorship jailed, tortured and murdered people because they were considered dissidents—will now be laid to rest alongside real heroes?

The basic contradiction lies in the compartmentalized mind-set that betrays a lack of logic: to argue that it is not only all right but desirable to “shoot to kill” criminals on sight, and in the same breath allow a dictator charged with countless crimes to be reburied at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Is this not the height of contradiction and an act of folly?

How can one, even a president, demand that we move on for the sake of unity, without taking into account the essential preconditions of authentic reconciliation—the acknowledgment of atrocities that took place in the painful past, the pardon sought and forgiveness given, and the healing that may come from the restitution mandated by the courts and the compensation to victims and their families?

People cry out for answers, and the heavens are besieged by prayers.

Ed Garcia is a veteran of the First Quarter Storm, one of the founding members of the nonviolent movement Lakasdiwa, and a teacher by profession. He worked at Amnesty International’s London secretariat in the late 1970s. He is a principal author of the provision abolishing the death penalty in the 1987 Constitution and worked as peace envoy of International Alert.

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TAGS: Commentary, crime, death penalty, Duterte, Journalism, journalist, Media, opinion, Rodrigo Duterte
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