Pubdate: Tue, 30 Aug 2016
Source: Manila Bulletin (The Philippines)
Column: Finding Answers
Author: Joey D. Lina, Former Senator


THERE seems to be no doubt on the unwavering commitment of the 
administration of President Rodrigo Duterte to fulfill his campaign 
promise of going all-out against the drug menace, come hell or high water.

The campaign rhetoric had hinted how bloody the war against illegal 
drugs and criminality might be-like when then presidential candidate 
Duterte impressed upon the electorate that 100,000 criminals could 
die and their bodies dumped into Manila Bay to fatten the fish 
there-but the actual number of fatalities can still be very alarming, 
particularly to human rights advocates.

And equally alarming is how extensive the drug menace has become. The 
immensity of the drug situation that currently pervades various 
echelons of society all over the country has been repeatedly 
described by the President as not merely an epidemic but of 
"pandemic" proportions.

Indeed, there's no escaping the fact that more than half a million 
confessed drug users and pushers have already surrendered to 
authorities in the first few weeks of the drug war, and the total 
number of addicts range from 1.8 million to 3.7 million, as estimated 
by the Dangerous Drugs Board and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.

With such pandemic proportions, supporters of Duterte truly believe 
he's right in making the current allout war against illegal drugs a 
top priority. He has vowed there will be no letup in the campaign 
until the entire apparatus of the drug trade is destroyed.

And Duterte seems unstoppable in his avowed mission. Not even Chief 
Justice Lourdes Sereno who is greatly concerned about rule of law 
could stop him. Not even Sen. Leila de Lima and top officials of the 
United Nations alarmed over extrajudicial killings could slow him down.

But many lament that those who must do the dying are mostly the poor, 
the small-time pushers and addicts whose ultimate fate ended in body 
bags, cardboard tags and packing tape, or in fiery shootouts with 
police as they purportedly resisted arrest.

Yet the killings have not ignited any collective uproar or massive 
protests. It might even seem there is strong public support for the 
extrajudicial killings, gauging from posts flooding social media. But 
not so in international media, as growing apprehensions over the many 
deaths have hugged the headlines in prestigious news organizations 
abroad-from the New York Times to CNN and BBC.

So far, more than 1,800 deaths have been counted since the Duterte 
administration took over the reins of government, according to the 
Philippine National Police. Of that figure, 756 died in encounters 
with police because they resisted arrest, PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa 
said in last Tuesday's Senate inquiry. The rest are victims of 
unknown assailants and their cases are called by police as DUIs or 
deaths under investigation, instead of what media reports as summary 
executions or suspected vigilante killings.

Among the DUIs is that of a 5-year-old girl named Danica May who got 
hit in the head by a stray bullet on August 23 when a gunman shot and 
wounded her grandfather in Pangasinan. Her being the youngest 
fatality in the brutal drug war merited news headlines, yet no 
widespread public uproar was ignited.

Has the public somehow accepted the killings as collateral damage or 
what Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia termed as "necessary 
evil" to win the drug war? Have most people really become 
desensitized and unable to feel horrified by gross violations of 
human rights and rule of law? Or is support for the killings prompted 
by deep frustration over a flawed criminal justice system?

While the President's men have stressed the point that the 
extrajudicial killings are not the work of government forces because 
the Chief Executive adheres to the rule of law and due process, the 
Duterte administration continues to get flak especially in international media.

Do the criticisms and negative perception show that the Presidential 
Communications Office is failing miserably to express the good points 
and highlight positive accomplishments that have been overshadowed by 
the drug war killings? Are Duterte's spokespersons and communication 
team doing enough to get his message across and avoid putting him in 
a bad light? Or, are the frequent outbursts of Dela Rosa-like when he 
encouraged addicts to burn the houses of drug lords-sending mixed 
signals or eroding his credibility?

Summary executions, whether by lawmen or lawless elements, are no 
different from murders and assassinations which are heinous crimes. 
If government is indeed bent on curbing criminality and the 
disastrous effects of the drug menace, law enforcers ought to exert 
the same zealousness used against drug pushers and users in going 
after those responsible for extrajudicial killings. Otherwise, 
pronouncements on adherence to rule of law will be viewed as mere lip service.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom