Legal, intelligent, systemic approach needed
Even criminals have a right to a day in court. We are a nation of laws. Rejecting vigilante killing does not mean we want to protect drug lords, or that we are ourselves drug addicts, so we do not want President Duterte to succeed. This is a fallacy non sequitur and a false dichotomy, which has become a mantra in the often brutal and “below the belt” attacks of Duterte supporters on those opposed to vigilante killing, which is unconstitutional, illegal and immoral.
The chief of the United Nations is the highest global leader to condemn Mr. Duterte’s support of extrajudicial killing as uncivilized. Extrajudicial killing is not accepted in any civilized society. The President should realize that we are not an island. We belong to an international community, and we are bound by laws that protect the fundamental rights to due process and fair trial. Our standing as a country on the global stage depends on our adherence to laws that uphold human rights and justice. In a highly globalized world, we are called to be true citizens not only of our country but also of the world.
New York was a city of crime and drugs in the 1970s and 1980s. But it is now one of the 10 safest cities in the world because of the legal, intelligent and systemic approach to crime fighting that it undertook. It did not engage in vigilante killing. We should do the same in our country: Fortify police presence and visibility on the streets, like what they do in New York. There are police almost everywhere in Manhattan, especially at the train stations and other critical spots. Intensify police intervention by deploying more mobile and foot patrols in cities and towns. Strengthen intelligence-driven operations, so law enforcers are able to create crime maps to target places with the highest incidence of crime.
This is a systemic, strategic and intelligent approach, instead of the bara-bara killing on mere suspicion. The modern crime-fighting approach is to get communities involved by making citizens partners of law enforcers. They become the “eyes and ears” in the community, to alert law enforcers where critical crime spots are, but they are not given license to kill on mere suspicion.
What I am describing is the “Oplan Lambat Sibat,” the brainchild of Mar Roxas, which, according to the Philippine National Police, was effective in reducing crime in Metro Manila by 50-60 percent in 2014: The number of crime cases dropped from 900 to 300, and 146 of the 440 most-wanted drug suspects were arrested in just six weeks. Per reports, 1,300 cops were deployed to areas covered by 15 police stations which registered the highest number of crimes as reflected in the PNP’s audited records. They were told to put up police checkpoints, serve arrest warrants, and take part in the PNP’s “Oplan Bakal/Sita,” “Oplan Katok,” and “Oplan Bulabog.” Also, 1,300 policemen, some of whom were previously doing only clerical or administrative work in Camp Crame, were deployed to do patrol work.
We cannot solve crime in three to six months by blitzkrieg vigilante killing. It is not the solution to crime. Vigilante killing is antipoor. It is often the poorest among us who are the victims of false accusations and wrong executions. Unlike the rich, the poor cannot buy guns to arm themselves, they cannot hire lawyers to defend them, they cannot employ security to provide 24-hour protection. This explains why drug lords have escaped vigilante killing, and why poor drug addicts have been arrested or executed.
And when the justice system is eroded, no one is safe. Even a law-abiding citizen can be falsely accused of drug crime, and has no recourse to due process and fair trial, to defend himself or herself.
We ask President Duterte to look into the initial success of Oplan Lambat Sibat, and see where he can improve it, intensify and broaden it, and replicate it in cities and towns nationwide. We urge him to build an A-1, world-class police force instead of turning its members into vigilantes who violate their professional codes in their rush to receive the bounty offered as incentive for them to kill alleged criminals. We urge him to repair and strengthen the flawed and broken justice system.
Furthermore, the roots of crimes must be critically addressed: poverty, lack of education, family dysfunction, lack of employment, mental and emotional illness. Unless these roots are addressed, 100 criminals may be accosted and arrested today, but another 100 criminals will emerge tomorrow. It will be a vicious cycle.
What we need is a comprehensive and systemic approach to crime fighting that addresses the roots of the problem, and at the same time engages in legal, intelligent and systemic strategies that are kept within the bounds of law and justice. President Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo can work as a team: While he focuses on the elimination of crime, she pursues her poverty and empowerment advocacy that addresses the root social problems of crime.
We want to reduce crime in our country, and we want to support our President in his fight against the trade in illegal drugs and other crimes. But we oppose vigilante killing because it is another crime.
Christina A. Astorga ([email protected]) is chair and full professor at the Theology Department of the University of Portland, former chair of the Theology Department of Ateneo de Manila University, and member of The Silent Majority, Philippines.
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