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In my ‘burgis’ opinion

It was in December 1948, in Paris, after World War II, when the Universal Declaration on Human Rights was proclaimed. Recently, Paris tremendously suffered. Orlando, too, because of gays. Pakistan, because of feminism. Now the Philippines, because of drugs.

At this writing, our country has a death toll of more than 400 because of antidrug operations. And that’s just in a span of two months. Many Filipinos are not even concerned, or interested in looking up the names of the slain. In fact, only a handful will bother to look up the names on the “kill list.” Many just hail the killings the way we hail saints to bring us peace.

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Reports detail how our police storm into unknowing areas. Student activists plaster cardboard signs on their chests and protest spread-eagled on the sidewalks. Senators oppose the killings in privilege speeches. University heads protest. Commentators criticize how police target the poor but do not go into the elite communities, and how they shoot without investigation. They put the public in danger, making communities feel unsafe.

And unsafe it was when I took a taxi on the way home one very late working night. Conversations with cabbies are something I look forward to, because they take me to places. But what I anticipate more are their different takes on issues, because I like conducting social experiments.

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So I brought up the killings and asked if they were of any use. “Kuya, effective bang pinapatay nila ang mga adik?”

He exclaimed in agreement: “Oo naman!”

“Papano po, kuya, ’yung inosenteng binabaril?” I asked. What if they were innocent?

He laughed, said the killings were good and made drivers like him safe. Said that I wouldn’t know, that I hadn’t seen enough, that bourgeois youth like me are unaware of the danger drivers face. “Buti nga ’yun mapatay na lang sila lahat. Para safe kaming mga driver. Hindi mo alam ’yung nadulot na mabuti nyan, hindi mo naman naiikot ang Maynila. Kayong mga batang burgis, hindi naman kayo naglalakad kaya hindi nyo alam ’pag kami ang nasa panganib.”

I had to stop at that tangent response. Not only because it had too much prejudice and selfishness, but also because he rejoiced at the death of other people. I knew the conversation would get nowhere. It angered me, how he said it so simply, and even with mixed amusement.

But his comment isn’t unfamiliar. We turn on our smartphones today and we see headlines on extrajudicial killings and human rights violations on any news feed. “Comment sections are the worst,” said a journalist-friend, because people vilify those who mention human rights. There are petty reactions that ridicule death. I keep wondering if they would say the same without the mask of a Facebook account.

So I’ve tried to engage in conversations with Duterte supporters—educated people with PhDs, fish-ball vendors, students, grocery baggers, workers in the development sector—just to hear their views on human rights. But I still get tangents, not responses, to the core issue. Not one has been able to give sound counterarguments on the topic. When you bring it up, you get template replies such as “Burgis ka kasi ,” “It’s not the first time this is happening here,” “How much were you paid by the Aquinos?” and “So you would prefer that our drug lords run rampant and ruin lives by making more addicts?”

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The absence of logic is insulting. My lifestyle or wealth may influence my opinion, but why in the world would I condone the perils of what drug lords have created? When I speak about human rights, I am immediately branded as prodrugs, or someone who worships the Liberal Party. It isn’t the first time human rights are violated in the country, but we should ask ourselves why it is encouraged today, and why many turn a blind eye to the bloodshed. The violations of Filipinos’ rights are splattered across the pages of our history books, and yet, here we are on a new battleground, adding many more names to the desaparecidos.

You know why there hasn’t been a logical take on supporting extrajudicial killings? Because there is none. Because beyond the stubborn answers and the below-the-belt bashing, we know that murder is plainly wrong.

This isn’t about politics, as many Filipinos see it, or prefer to believe. If Mar Roxas or Grace Poe were the ones ordering the killings with an iron fist, I’d be writing with an even harsher tone. In fact, political parties should be set aside in dealing with a drug war. It’s not about the color of the flag we wave, it’s about being human. Before we back any political party, we are Filipinos, and before we are Filipinos, we are human beings. We can demand safety. It is everyone’s right. But many need the reminder that rights come with responsibilities, and there is a responsibility of vigilance for the right to life. This justice of having a trial, and that right to life, should be equally shared by all of us, even by those who do drugs, and even if they’ve ruined other people’s lives.

I do not like it when people pose on the rest of us the Duterte religion into which many seem to have been baptized since the campaign period. Put him on a pedestal all you want, and praise the good actions that he is doing, but also be a discerning citizen. He is not infallible. I admire his political will and some of his motives, and I agree that change has to come to the Philippines in many ways. But never in my heart can I agree that people should be killed without evidence and trial.

Do me a favor, fellow Pinoy, and read what Latin American presidents have said about their own drug wars, and how they started down a path where violence begets violence. They admit their failure and are troubled on what to do. In fact, they are warning the rest of the world not to make the same mistake. To quote Fernando Cardoso, former president of Brazil: “The war on drugs is an unmitigated disaster… Drugs are not first and foremost a matter for the criminal justice system.” Read the cases on drug-addict criminalization in Colombia and Peru, and how their leaders conclude it should never have been that way. Drugs were never the root problem. Read, just so we’ll have informed opinions in the comments section.

I do not want a similar endless cycle of violence for my country, and I stand against the heinous crimes of a point-to-blame, point-to kill mentality. There are still those who recognize the due process of proving guilt or innocence as a shield against the violation of human rights. There are still those who can be called “humane” because of discernment, before resorting to the solution of randomly held gunpoint.

And while we’re speaking of informed opinions, look up the UN Declaration on Human Rights. The Preamble says enough. It speaks of rights to freedom, justice and peace in the first paragraph. Many claim this is why the Philippines has the drug war, in the first place. But the Declaration also speaks of how ALL members of the human family equally share those rights. And that includes the people who have been killed without the due process of law. But that cannot be said to at least 400 Filipinos now laid in coffins or now cold and rotting 6 feet under. They never got that chance.

Just my burgis opinion.

Ragene Andrea L. Palma, 25, is a master’s student at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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