A crisis of faith
“Let us not allow violence to rule us but in every circumstance be vigilant and zealous in upholding the dignity and rights of all as befit responsible citizens and followers of Christ” is the plea in a “pastoral letter” issued by La Sallian Br. Jose Mari Jimenez FSC (no relation, as far as I know). Jimenez, who is president of De La Salle Philippines and auxiliary visitor (a regional supervisory post) for the De La Salle Brothers, thus joined other voices raised in concern over the number of people killed as part of the Duterte administration’s deadly and bloody antidrug campaign.
True, these voices have been muted so far, largely ignored, drowned out by contrary views and official encouragement of extrajudicial killings (no formal charges, no trials). But while alarming, the 408 casualties counted in a mere five days (May 10-15) so far, said Jimenez, are not the biggest reason for his concern. Rather, he says, “what troubles me even more as an educator is the absence of a significant public outcry against the blatant contempt for human life and the rule of law that these extrajudicial killings represent.”
Without naming names, Jimenez says he is “deeply disturbed” by the killings, since this “disregard for the inalienable value of human life and the public silence that gives tacit support for such disregard does not bode well for the vision of a just and humane society enshrined in our Constitution.”
What the killings demonstrate, he adds, “is how desperate many people have become in the face of the issues of drugs and criminality. The approval of so-called solutions that deny the sanctity of human life and respect for each person’s right to due process amounts to a crisis of faith in the possibility of governing our nation by reason and the rule of law.”
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Immediately, though it’s not clear if President Duterte had already read the letter when he spoke in Maguindanao, Jimenez’s and others’ criticisms of the deadly toll taken by the antidrug campaign were met by official anger and ire.
Reacting to observations that so far no “big fish” had been hauled in by the campaign, Mr. Duterte asked rhetorically: “Where will I get the big fish?” Indeed, many had observed that the great majority of the dead—some wrapped methodically with packing tape and even bearing placards proclaiming their guilt, or else left to fester under the hot sun out on the streets—belong to the poorest sectors of society. I even saw a photo on social media showing the body of a suspect lying in a pool of blood in a busy city street with children looking on passively, if not indifferently.
“These people,” said the President, referring to his critics, “keep on writing [about the small-time haul]. They think they know a lot. They keep asking why only the small fish are being arrested.” The reason, he implied, is that “I have to invade a country to arrest the drug lords,” without naming the country that allegedly coddles the drug dealers, though he added that “obviously, it is known to you.”
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As if on cue, earlier Friday, PNP Director General Ronald dela Rosa announced that a “big-time” drug lord and shabu laboratory operator had been killed in a shoot-out with police in Valenzuela City. The alleged “big fish” was identified as Meco Tan, who was said to be a “high-value” target of the police force and who had been operating in the country for almost eight years. “He was responsible for putting up drug laboratories, shabu laboratories here in Metro Manila,” “Bato” dela Rosa told the media.
In an account that has become eerily familiar these days, the police were about to serve a search warrant on Tan when he fled his home and exchanged fire with the raiding party. Seven other Chinese were arrested in the same operation, caught inside a drug laboratory.
And of course the PNP chief was ready with the declaration that Tan’s killing was “proof” that the police also go after high-value targets, lamenting how the police were being criticized for going after the “low-hanging fruit” of the drug trade: dealers, pushers and users.
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Instead of showing remorse for the hundreds of deaths, or even cautioning police against too reckless use of firearms, the President seems to have hardened his resolve.
“That’s the problem with Filipinos,” he told his audience in Maguindanao. “Many pretend to be bright when they are not.”
Two years ago, the President noted, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency placed the number of drug users and pushers in the country at 2 million. That number has since risen to 3.7 million, he said.
So what is the President’s message? That he and the law enforcement agencies under his command will not stop the bloodbath until all 3.7 million of these druggies are eliminated?
The PNP has even noted with pride that crime rates have gone down even during the antidrug campaign. But, sure, petty crimes may have been reduced. But matching the decline in thievery, bag snatchings and street fights has been an incredible rise in the number of murders, shootings and executions.
Dela Rosa has even suggested that many of the killings were part of “internal” rivalries among the drug networks, with bosses going after small-time snitches. But if so, then why haven’t any hit men or goons been arrested or questioned? And will they get their day in court, or be simply executed on the streets, too?
Let me give Jimenez the final word: “We need to remind everyone that if we want a just and peaceful society, our means must partake of our ends. You cannot build a culture that respects life while relying principally on the instruments of death.”
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