An almost narco state
Duterte and drugs, drugs and surrenderees, drugs and killings, drugs and helplessness—these are the features of today’s ongoing drama. For almost three months, this has been the talk of the town that, instead of fading, is picking up more steam. Day by day, with each related report from media and the rumor mill, the reality of how nearly the Philippines has become a narco state is hitting home.
At first, when fear began to grip the illegal drug industry, greater society cheered. A few individuals who were largely known to be involved in the illegal drug trade were killed or arrested. This was happening even before the formal swearing in of Rodrigo Roa Duterte as President, and cemented early in the view of the public that he meant to do in the Philippines what he had been doing in Davao City. Those directly concerned, whether they were drug dealers, pushers or dependents, apparently believed that, for the first time in decades, they were in actual danger.
Fear can be so compelling that it disrupts established patterns. The fear of Duterte and the new behavior of the authorities, particularly the PNP, caused drug dependents and small-time pushers to surrender. It was a strange reaction to fear, so strange that even those responsible for putting that fear in the hearts of the concerned individuals did not expect these people to surrender. In fact, there was no call for them to surrender in the first place. So when they did, the first hundreds, the first thousands, a phenomenon emerged, and the general public began to realize how bad a cancer illegal drugs had grown in the whole country.
I had written two weeks ago that Philippine society was simply shocked, and I suspect that even the worst suspicions now turn out to be well below the ugly truth. When Duterte himself, either in his exasperation or intent to sow fear, had said that drug dependents who cannot be rehabilitated are better off dead, I do not think that he himself realized just how many drug addicts there are in the country. Only through the shocking volume of surrenderees who do not stop surrendering up to this day is society beginning to imagine just how bad it is.
Because the number keeps growing, estimates on how many have surrendered cannot be fixed. However, it should be safe to assume that more than 200,000 already have, and that hundreds of thousands more may do so in the months to come. Even if Duterte literally meant what he said about drug dependents being better off dead, and I do not believe he did, he will be in a deep quandary imagining how millions would have to die. As I said, I do not believe he meant it more than to send a message, to impress on everyone how serious he was in his promise to confront the illegal drug trade. But I also believe that he and everybody else do not know what to do with those who have surrendered and those anticipated to follow suit.
Meanwhile, killings continue, killings related to drugs, killings by the PNP in what they report as the result of suspects giving armed resistance to being arrested, and killings by nobody knows who, by vigilantes without names and faces, killings of alleged pushers, and innocent lives as well—what is better known as collateral damage.
How, then, can this kind of killings stop?
First, let many understand that the drug-related killings are not new, that, in fact, it had been a constant feature of the illegal drug trade. If the authorities had not been able to keep accurate count and these killings have just been largely included in the unsolved crimes category, it might be easier to go through the records of those in jail or prison today and determine how many of them are drug-related. It might shock us to know that the biggest number will be because of illegal drugs. And that is why the Philippines is almost a narco state.
I keep saying “almost” a narco state. The truth is I do not know if we already are because I am just as shocked at the numbers that are emerging. If the hundreds who have been killed so far, as part of police operations or simply from death squads, are an indication and thousands more will follow, then the growing numbers will bring us closer to being an actual narco state. Remember, it is not Duterte ordering the killings, it is simply the fear that Duterte is deadly serious. This fear is causing thousands to surrender, and this same fear is driving drug lords, drug syndicate members, and drug protectors, from barangay level all the way to high political positions, to kill those who can pin them down. In other words, those directly involved in a narco state are trying to make sure there will be no living witnesses against them.
How close we are to being a narco state is what will determine if the killings will go on and how many these will be. It is as simple as that. Duterte is not ordering the killings, but he has opened Pandora’s box. Will he try to close the box, or even want to? I do not believe so. To do so means he will have to give up on his dream to cleanse the Philippine society of the illegal drug scourge, a cancer now eating away at our body politic. I do not believe he will want to do this at all.
If we believe President Duterte will wage his campaign relentlessly, then expect more of the same—including the killings that are beginning to upset our sensibilities. If nothing new and substantial is introduced in this emerging pattern of a presidential resolve and the consequential killings, then there is no reason why the pattern will change.
What, then, can be done, and by whom?
There must be a way, and we must find it. I believe there is, and hope to share it in coming articles.
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