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Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Editorial: Sleeping sickness

VIOLENCE would breed violence,” warns Sen. Leila de Lima, who recently called for a Senate inquiry into the summary killings of alleged drug pushers and pushers.

There is no official count of the death toll in the war against drugs, pointed out the former justice secretary and former chair of the Commission on Human Rights.

According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer Group’s “Kill List” (http://inq.news/kill-list), the body count, as of noon of July 7, stood at 72 killed since June 30: 43 shot while “resisting” during police operations, and 29 whose bodies were found after their vigilante-style executions.

The Kill List begins on June 30, when President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office. An average of 10 was killed every day during the first week of the Duterte administration (June 30-July 7). If the Kill List went back as early as May 9, Election Day, the tally would stand at 119 drug-related killings.

Good riddance

During a recent christening party, guests partaking of a hearty feast found nothing disconcerting about the lunch topic: the killing of a “police drug pusher” whose body was found, with a placard bearing this label, in Bulacan.

Gory news photos of the executed have returned to newspaper front pages, along with headlines and reports dripping with details about the drug-related killings. The difference between contemporary news coverage and that of the 1970s-1980s of the Marcos years is that the former has not stirred any uproar from the public.

What’s striking now is that those who denounce the drug-related killings for violating human rights and the rule of law have been denounced in turn for their “twisted perceptions.” As a grandmother pointed out to her family, vigilantism is now “just” because it is directed against “the rotten” and shields the “innocent.”

Duterte’s landslide victory came after a promise to wipe out crime in “three to six months.” For many citizens, frustrated by the pervasiveness of crime and the ineptness of authorities to uphold peace and order, there is vindication in the daily spectacles of criminals surrendering or ending up as bodies and crime statistics.

“Frankenstein”

For others, the summary killings are “too contrived” and “the madness must stop.” According to Edre Olalia, secretary-general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), “quick fix savagery and abuse of powers by law enforcers supposedly to quell criminality and drugs… is a Frankenstein that will haunt us over time.”

Sen. De Lima has urged a Senate inquiry that will “institutionalize the current operational procedures” of law enforcement bodies to uphold human rights even in the fight against crime. De Lima warns that vigilantism will turn the country into a “killing fields” and a “really messy society.”

For the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), the creeping return of the culture of death also resurrects the specter of public apathy to the abuse of power and impunity. In its report, “Censorship by the Gun,” the media advocacy group corrected the misperception that the media workers were killed because they were corrupt.

President Duterte added to this misperception when he warned journalists that, “You won’t be killed if you did nothing wrong.” In its monitoring, the CMFR established that only eight cases of the 84 media workers killed since 2000 were “alleged to have been involved in corrupt practices, such as bribe-taking.”

Fifty-one of the 152 journalists killed since 1986 were exposing graft and corruption in their work. Forty-four “covered local politics and elections” (which includes the 32 media workers killed in the 2009 Ampatuan Massacre); 29 “reported on criminality;” 19 “tracked war and insurgency;” and eight “campaigned for the environment,” reported the CMFR.

Never right

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) called out for a Church committed “to stand up for the moral right and resist the moral wrong.”

A similar call was made by martial law survivor and artist Roy Lumagbas, after his performance before fellow artists, students and teachers at the University of the Philippines Cebu on June 30. Lumagbas, dressed in a checkered polo similar to the one worn by Duterte during his campaign sorties, alternated between brushing his teeth and issuing “kill orders” through a megaphone.

In an essay written to answer questions if his performance was alluding to the President’s war against crime, Lumagbas wrote, “The performance was (also) about the rest of us… Us, who know fully well that the genie once released is forever out there, getting worse by the day. Not better. It might become normal. The new normal… But better? Never.”
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