Leila’s 3 questions
Sen. Leila de Lima took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to denounce what she described as the “well-oiled social media operation” to destroy her reputation and, more consequentially, to try to stem the wave of extrajudicial killings that started after Rodrigo Duterte was elected to the presidency.
It was a powerful privilege speech, in part because she was speaking from personal anguish.
“I have been vilified and attacked, not only in social media but also by the President’s men, as a drug lord coddler and protector. I have been ridiculed and called names in social media. Photos are photoshopped, videos are spliced, lies are manufactured …. But the truth is I was the only justice secretary since the 1986 Edsa Revolution who dared to eradicate the dominion of the drug lords inside Bilibid,” the national penitentiary.
But the real impact of the speech came from its impassioned appeal to the conscience of the nation. “We cannot go on being indifferent to the daily executions, without ultimately becoming a nation bound by a collective sociopathy. The day has already come when we can no longer tell who is morally wrong among us: the 9-year-old street child sniffing rugby, or the policeman who shoots the child in the head for sniffing rugby. This is our descent as a nation into the darkness that these men have created for us.”
She spent a considerable amount of time professing her support for President Duterte’s ambitious campaign promise: “I am with President Duterte every step of the way in his war on drugs.” She made a distinction between the President and the men who she said were behind the demolition job: “It is possible that they are merely being peddled these lies about me by agents of vengeance.” And she made her case as antidrugs crusader repeatedly: “On Dec. 15, 2014, I personally led the raid on the drug lords’ dens and took away their power over the rest of the prisoners.”
But it was the dehumanizing effect of about 500 extrajudicial killings in a month that she was most worried about, because of the role vigilantes played in dispensing “cardboard justice.” She said: “My concern is not only the killings tallied by the PNP as the formal law enforcement agency. At least we can put the PNP to task in our official legislative investigations. My gravest concern lies with the vigilantes of the night now operating almost all over the country, those harbingers of death spreading the apocalypse of our dehumanization.”
In the course of an hour-long interview she did that same night on INQ&A—the new Inquirer question-and-interview program that airs on dzIQ 990, Inquirer 990 Television, and Facebook Live—she raised three questions which not only summarize the new crisis but provide a focus to our ethical concerns over the spate of killings.
First: “What is the threshold?” That is, at what point do we say enough? We have not seen this number of killings since at least the Second World War. There is growing evidence that several of the dead were in fact not connected at all to the illegal drugs trade. De Lima used her privilege speech to reference a few of them. Is the threshold a question of the number of innocent lives, or the sheer total?
Second: “What will we say, when future generations ask us?” That is, when our grandchildren ask, what did you do in the time of the killings, what do we say? Do we say we cheered the hundreds killed, because thousands of self-described drug addicts had surrendered and, without any program of rehabilitation, are thereby classified as “saved”? Do we say, well, we made the sign of the cross every time we saw a dead body on the streets? Do we say, we campaigned against the killing spree by clicking on a button on Facebook?
Third: “What if ‘inosente’?” That is, what if the police or the vigilantes who have emerged from the shadows killed the wrong person? The dead cannot come back to life; the grief that visits the innocent victim’s family cannot be undone; the stain on society’s honor cannot be washed away.
The three questions, in other words, define the fundamental issue: How can true justice be served when the accusation is unproven and written on a piece of cardboard, and the accused can no longer plead his case?
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