Preventive detention as an alternative
LAST WEEK marked the 47th anniversary of the first lunar landing by human beings. Apollo 11 was commanded by Neil Armstrong, a civilian research pilot with Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins, both military pilots as team members. Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon, and as he took his first step, he spoke this now famous line, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
The Apollo 11 mission took place eight years after President John F. Kennedy, speaking before a special joint session of Congress, announced a national goal of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.” The Apollo program was a hugely expensive endeavor involving 400,000 engineers and scientists, and costing $24 billion (close to $100 billion in today’s dollar).
The moon landing wiped out earlier successes of the Russian space program and lifted the pride and confidence of the American people just as the Vietnam war was beginning to divide the nation. It showcased America’s technical expertise and skills at their very best.
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The statistics are staggering.
Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency figures show that we have some 3.7 million drug users and pushers nationwide. As of the latest count, more than 100,000 have been arrested by or have surrendered to police authorities, while the “kill list” is about 330. Of the 330, some 90 bodies remain unclaimed. And the numbers continue to rise. This situation did not come about overnight. It must have taken several years to reach these figures.
What were Gloria Arroyo and Noynoy Aquino doing during their presidency? It appears that they had no understanding or completely neglected the drug problem or lacked the determination and strength to combat the growing proliferation of illegal drugs. Certainly, had they paid some serious attention to the menace, we would not be in the difficult situation that we now find ourselves in.
During the last administration, the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa became the de facto headquarters of the various drug lords, even after several high-profile raids led by the secretary of justice herself. The problem was never solved. What we saw was a change of command in the prison system that failed to address the problem but only provided cosmetic relief and a semblance of reform.
Now that President Duterte is taking decisive action on the matter—just as he promised during his election campaign—some senators are calling for a probe on the recent spate of killings. They want to investigate the police to find out if in their operations, due process was observed or human rights were violated. Such a probe may highlight some police abuses but it will not solve or diminish the greater problem—the proliferation of drugs affecting millions of our people, the youth in particular.
In an earlier column, I asked if these thousands of surrenderees would have done the same had any of the other presidential candidates been elected last May. The fact is, only the iron-fisted approach of President Duterte brought about the present cleanup effort that we are witnessing nationwide.
I am willing to concede that salvaging of alleged drug users and dealers may have included innocent people. In any conflict, there are always wrongful killings. In war, it is not only the combatants but also the civilians who suffer and perish. This is regrettable. But it we look at the broader picture, more innocent lives are saved by a government that takes firm action on the problem than by do-nothing administrations that lack resolve and only offer soothing words and promises that are easily forgotten.
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In a way, some police methods, as well as the public reaction to these methods, are an indictment of the criminal justice system in the country. How many times have police arrested suspected robbers, car thieves or drug pushers, only to see them bailed out and committing the same offenses? How often have persons, charged with nonbailable offenses, been allowed freedom on bail because of corrupt judges or prosecutors?
People are not just tired with the slow pace of justice but are also not convinced of the effectiveness of the system such that they are willing to accept extrajudicial measures to help improve the peace and order climate in the community. Of course, this kind of thinking does not sit well with human rights activists who will always make sure that even well-known criminals get due process although it means putting the rest of society at risk.
Perhaps, we can minimize the frustrations about our criminal justice system and, in the process, get rid of the problem of salvaging. We should consider adopting preventive detention measures as practiced in Singapore and Malaysia.
Preventive detention means keeping suspected criminals, particularly drug pushers, under tight restrictions without the benefit of trial. The period of restriction will be determined by the highest authority and would be subject to review every six months or a year, depending on the individual’s behavior or on any information that may indicate some error by police authorities. Singapore and Malaysia credit preventive detention as one of the major reasons for the low level of crime in both nations. Instead of sticking to old, worn-out formulas, let us have an open mind about other methods.
Of course, there is no perfect system. Preventive detention could also be subject to abuse. But if the implementation of the system is entrusted to reputable individuals of the highest integrity, with review proceedings carried out periodically as some form of check and balance, we might be able to avoid some of the more serious abuses of today.
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My dear friend Antonio Gozum passed away last Thursday—a casualty of colon cancer. A product of UP Los Baños, Tony was a longtime executive of Usiphil before he decided to return to Masbate, his home province, where with his own hands, he developed and created a lovely resort on a hill overlooking the sea. He named the place “Villa Gloria,” after his wife Gloria Balmaceda, daughter of former commerce and industry secretary Cornelio Balmaceda. Tony’s cremated remains will be flown to Masbate, and scattered over the land that provided him much joy and serenity.
Last Saturday, family members joined in an evening of his favorite songs in celebration of a life that will be missed by all.
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