Danica May, 5 years old
MORE THAN 1,800 deaths so far, and counting. That’s the number provided by Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa himself at the Senate inquiry into the surge of extrajudicial killings since July 1, when President Duterte took office with a vow to rid this country of drugs and crime by whatever means.
How many of these deaths involved minors? The government numbers do not indicate that information. And so the death of Danica May Garcia will eventually be lumped along with the rest—one more negligible statistic in the administration’s brutal war against the drug menace that it has declared as the country’s No. 1 problem today.
But there is nothing ordinary or negligible about the story of Danica May. Only five years old, the girl that her grandmother said was always excited to attend kindergarten at a nearby school was hit in the head by a stray bullet when her grandfather Maximo Garcia was shot by a gunman at the back of their house. The grandfather, a tricycle driver, survived with a wound in the stomach; the child died in hospital, becoming the youngest fatality so far in the ongoing bloodbath.
When is the death of a human being one too many? Is there even a just measure for it? Dela Rosa said 756 persons in the PNP list died because they resisted arrest.
“Nanlaban.” If they had not done so, he said, they would be alive today. “Buhay sila.” And yet, in a recent viral video, a drug suspect already wounded and shouting surrender still ended up peppered with bullets by the Pasay City police.
And these are the adult ones, who, peremptorily declared suspects under lists drawn up in secret by police and barangay officials and, by that unproven accusation, without benefit of any formal investigation that would
allow them to clear their name, may find themselves summarily killed. Take Danica May’s grandfather, who had earlier presented himself to the police after learning that he was on a drug watch list. That act appears to have only exposed him further to harm, leading to the attempt on his life three days later. But his young apo got shot and bled to death in the process.
“Collateral damage,” the defenders of this campaign would say—the banal wording meant to carve a comfortable distance from the unnerving wails of those mourning dead loved ones. Besides, the same defenders would say, it wasn’t the administration that pulled the trigger.
This kind of response is appalling, and misses the point. Whatever one’s position in this war, the current apparently state-sanctioned climate of impunity where people under mere suspicion of crime are killed without compunction is already a tragedy—a violation of the fundamental presumption of innocence enshrined in the Constitution. But the death of children—whether by unfortunate accident or as the targets themselves, as in the well-documented case of three brothers, all minors, summarily executed by the so-called Davao Death Squad years ago—brings the tragedy to another level.
President Duterte’s war is now claiming many more unintended victims. Can it be because of the official endorsements of extrajudicial means emanating from, or abetted by, Malacañang? Earlier, the top cop himself has said he thinks the spiraling vigilante deaths are welcome because they mean that the drug syndicates are eliminating each other; now, he has taken to goading admitted addicts who have surrendered to police to commit arson on the houses of their alleged drug suppliers.
The apparent effect of these extraordinary exhortations is to open the environment to greater bloodshed and a wider field of combat—and with it, the possibility of many more civilians, including children, dying in the crossfire.
While Danica May’s death made the headlines, no significant public outcry attended the news. Contrast that with the shock and outrage expressed by many Filipinos on social media over the video of a shell-shocked boy in Aleppo, covered in dust and blood, uncomprehending and rendered mute by the carnage around him. Children are indeed the most vulnerable victims of any war, but one need not look to Syria or other countries for confirmation of that distressing truth. The out-of-control
violence in our streets is racking up the same victims; Danica May will not be the last of them.
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