Briones: Too early to tell

I DON'T know why, but when I heard that President Rodrigo Duterte named the five police generals who are “drug protectors” I automatically thought of L'Affaire Dreyfus.

It was a political scandal that rocked and divided France at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.

Alfred Dreyfus was an artillery captain in the French army, who was accused of passing military secrets to the Germans. A French spy at the German Embassy in Paris had found a ripped-up letter in a wastebasket with handwriting said to resemble that of Dreyfus.

Because of that, Dreyfus was court-martialed, convicted of treason and shipped off to the Devil's Island, a penal colony off the coast of French Guiana in 1894.

The French army then would not admit that it had found Dreyfus guilty on the flimsiest of evidence because he was a Jew.

Anti-Semitism during this period was on the resurgence in certain parts of Europe, and France was not immune despite its claims to enlightenment and tolerance.

Two years later, an intelligence officer uncovered new evidence pointing to the real traitor, but he was discouraged from continuing with his investigation. He ended up behind bars.

As for the real traitor, he was court-martialed only to be found not guilty. He then fled France. Word of his exoneration got around, prompting influential French writer Emile Zola to write the essay, “J'accuse,” a letter to the French president, which was published in the newspaper L'Aurore. In it, he accused the French government of falsely convicting Dreyfus and of anti-Semitism.

Zola was charged with libel and was convicted. He fled to England, where he continued to defend Dreyfus. His ruse worked, though. He got people talking about l'Affaire both at home and abroad. He also forced the government to reopen the case. Although Dreyfus was found guilty in another court-martial in 1899, the president immediately pardoned him a few days later. He had to wait until 1906 for his exoneration and his reinstatement to the French army.

So what have Dreyfus and Zola got to do with the Philippine sociopolitical milieu today?

First of all, the men Duterte named are not Jewish, so it's not about anti-Semitism. But it is about looking for a scapegoat, someone to blame for the scourge that is the illegal drug menace that has permeated every sector of our society.

Duterte had warned that he would reveal the names of high-ranking police officials who are allegedly involved in the illegal drugs trade. And he did. Without proof. Not yet, anyway.

Still, the internet is abuzz with people lauding Duterte's move, although I don't consider the posts on Twitter or Facebook, no matter how many, to truly reflect what the more than 100 million Filipinos think about the matter.

So it's too early to say if we, as a society, have become polarized between those who believe in bringing down drug personalities at all costs and those who believe in letting justice run its course.

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