Law enforcement and human rights under the Duterte Administration (First of Two parts)
CRITICS of President Duterte are quick to compare the more than 8,000 victims of extrajudicial killings (EJK) under his watch with the victims of martial law under the Marcos regime. They noticed how so much more swiftly bodies of dead people piled up in the eleven months of Duterte presidency than in the almost ten-year period of martial rule which history books said could only account for a total number of 3,257 killed, majority of which were tortured, mutilated, and dumped in the streets for public display.
Duterte’s war on drugs is the clear catalyst for today’s sporadic killings that have victimized mostly the poor. The President’s bevy of supporters has seen nothing wrong with the death of alleged drug users and peddlers, claiming it is a strategy in the right direction, an effective means to cleanse our society of the evils of illegal drugs.
Unfortunately, even the innocent became victims of this cleansing. They are referred to as collateral damages whose deaths could only move the President to say “sorry” and nothing more to protect their kind. Unsympathetic, he declared stoically that for as long as there are illegal drug users, pushers, manufacturers, and protectors of drug syndicates, killings will continue relentlessly and without let-up. Clearly, the President is not deterred from employing this approach even if threatened with cases of human rights violations and crimes against humanity and at the cost of many lives.
The President’s rhetoric couldn’t be nobler to those who look at the whole thing from the point of view of the goal which his strategy seeks to achieve. Duterte wants a country free of misfits, crooks, and criminals. Filipinos are not foolish to not want a country like that. Problem is, he employs dubious means to achieve a societal goal. To his critics, these are means that are not only illegal but also immoral.
Brushing off such arguments for being simply ethical or conceptual is to miss a key point in our discourse about law enforcement and human rights. We are dealing here with life, which unfortunately has been reduced to mere statistics under the present administration. Life has now merely been categorized as victims of extrajudicial killings (EJK); those whose death are under investigation (DUI); and those killed during legitimate police operations.
Life has a story of its own. It is sacred not only in the eyes of the Church; even the State with its laws recognize its value. The Constitution and our civil laws have provisions that seek to protect it. Unfortunately, we understand life today simply from the point of view of drug use and criminality, such that drug dependents must die and criminals ought to be killed too. The necessity of redemption is not applicable to them for they will no longer change or at the very least, be converted. Criminals and drug dependents don’t have humanity, hence, laws that uphold a human being’s dignity, regardless of its status and quality, do not apply to them.
So, the barbarity and impunity with which killings are carried out no longer affect our society’s moral consciousness. We are slowly losing that sense of right and wrong simply because the State insists that killing criminals will stave off our society’s collapse. In true Kantian fashion, Duterte insists that he is duty-bound to save our country from utter destruction, hence, he is justified to use any means just to avert it. Therefore, swift elimination of alleged criminals is right regardless of civil law provisions and moral norms that say the contrary.
While Duterte believers applaud each and every killing in the streets, his critics, including the Church and adherents of human rights, continue to insist on following at least the “letters of the law” which visibly spell out the need for due process, equal protection, right to life, and the upholding of human dignity.
Duterte’s penchant for eliminating the “scum’’ of society is legendary. While he won’t directly admit it, the hushed chatter from those in the know has constantly identified him as the “chapo” behind this national catastrophe. These killings have visibly weakened our democratic institutions and processes such that very few have shown the audacity to cross him. Those who tried were either eliminated or incarcerated and rendered terribly helpless.
Much like during Marcos’ martial law, fear has now creepily reared its ugly head in our national consciousness because of Duterte’s policy on law enforcement and human rights. Many say we have nothing to fear, especially if we’re not into drugs. From the looks of it though, anybody can be a target. Once hit, law enforcers will make the audacious claim that you are into drugs even though you’re not. This irrational justification demonizes innocent victims who are now lifeless to defend themselves. Sadly, this has become the norm under the Duterte administration.
Martial law (ML) has only been declared in Mindanao. Under the circumstances that we have right now, will it be worse than Marcos’ martial law if and when it is declared in the whole country? Let us first examine in depth how this administration treated human rights and law enforcement for the last eleven months in the second part of this series.