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Monday, April 22, 2019

Wenceslao: In fairness to Duterte

MONTHS ago, our neighborhood was disturbed by the midnight visit of a group of people riding in motorcycles. Nobody could say if they were armed but they were looking for the girlfriend of an alleged drug pusher who was killed by a rival the night before in another barangay. The story was that the girl was also the lover of the suspected killer and the suspicion was that she squealed on the whereabouts of the victim. The girl was not around when the motorcycle-riding people came.

When I heard about the “visit,” what concerned me was not the possibility that violence would erupt because of the killing but the rising capability of people involved in the illegal drugs trade. If the “visitors,” who probably included relatives of the victim, were out for revenge then some of them may have been armed. That had me asking whether my decision to raise my family in the said neighborhood instead of in the city was correct.

I bought the lot where my house now stands based on sentimentalism and on a hunch. I told my wife that the place reminded me of the old sitio in the city where I grew up as a child, with vacant lots full of green dotting the surrounding. That sitio is now cramped with people, including the few who are engaged in the illegal drugs trade. I thought that raising our children in a suburban setting and away from the hairy hands of the illegal drugs trade would be better for them.

I was wrong because years after I bought the lot the distribution of illegal drugs was already everywhere, including in our community. That was why I was worried about that “visit” by motorcycle-riding people, thinking that things could get worse before they get better. But since the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte waged an intense drive against the illegal drugs trade, things seem to be headed for the better. Whether that will hold or not is another matter, though.

In fairness to the Duterte administration, its campaign and the method used “shocked and awed” those involved in the “trade.” I am not saying the distribution of illegal drugs in our place has stopped, after all I only see the problem on its surface. But the daring with which drug addicts and pushers are engaged in it before is no longer there. The trading has been driven back to the underground. Addicts and pushers have also lost their swagger, which is good.

Of course, what is happening in our place may not be happening in other places. I talked recently with someone who had a relative arrested for physically abusing his live-in partner during a quarrel. The couple eventually reached an amicable settlement but that did not prevent the relative from deciding to have the couple transfer to the house of another relative in the city. His reason? In the place where the couple is currently residing, illegal drugs can still be procured.

So the jury is not yet out as far as the campaign against illegal drugs by the Duterte administration is concerned. The “shock and awe” strategy may have an effect on the illegal drugs trade in the country but how deep is that effect is the question. Also, it is highly possible that the capacity of the government to “shock and awe” those involved in the illegal drugs trade would weaken so that months after those involved will again acquire the daring to go back to their old ways.

But that still remains to be seen. So while I am one of those critical of the rising incidents of extrajudicial killings attributed to the campaign against the illegal drugs trade, it would not also be fair to say--for now-- that the drive does not have an effect. If only this was done in a less messy way.

(khanwens@gmail.com/ twitter: @khanwens)
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