THEY WERE HUMAN. They had families, people who loved them and depended on them. People who cared if they lived or died.
They made wrong choices. They hurt people. They hurt themselves. There were among them those who killed and raped and abused others in indescribably gruesome ways. Perhaps. Most likely. Certainly. But there is now no way of knowing who they were among the 7,080 killed since July 1, 2016.
Surely not 5-year old Danica Mae Garcia, who was fatally hit by a gunman targeting her grandfather; nor 19-year old Roman “Oman” Manaois, the family breadwinner, who was shot at close range on his way to the market; nor 26-year old Lauren Rosales, an ebullient K-pop fan and rising fast-food executive who was executed on her way to work; nor 22 -year old Rowena Tiamson, a choir member and graduating honor student, who was shot en route to school; nor 17-year old Erica Fernandez, a grade 8 student who was killed holding her Barbie doll; nor 55-year old Bonifacio Antonio, a father of two who had just celebrated his 30th wedding anniversary.
None of these were the “creatures” Rodrigo Duterte says he is hunting in his war on drugs. No, he has another name for them: “collateral damage.” And he says he is “sorry,” but they were “caught in a crossfire.”
Only they weren’t caught in the crossfire. For there to be crossfire, there must be a gunfight, and in many of these cases, only one side was armed – the killer. Testimonies abound from the victims’ relatives who say these unfortunates were unarmed, asleep, or suddenly taken from the family home before they were killed. Who in officialdom is listening to their stories?
We are being fed a daily dose of tripe and manufactured “truths” by President Duterte and his alternative fact factory. Duterte has justified the encroachment on individual rights and freedoms in the name of this war, and has scoffed at the call to respect the humanity of its victims. Humans? he sneers, they are not humans. They are criminals!
Many share his bigotry. They not only believe him; they defend him. This is alarming.
We are all of us human and equally bear the tendencies for good and evil that humanity is heir to. Scripture tells us that we all fall short of the glory of God, though we are made in His image; yet God graciously grants us opportunities for repentance and reform. If He dispenses second chances, who are we to deny them?
It is when we play God that humans enter risky terrain. That is not our turf; it’s best to leave life and death to the One who has the wisdom to control them. But Duterte and his followers believe otherwise. They equate criminals with brutes who do not deserve dignity or compassion and must be treated like livestock or, better, wiped out en masse. Duterte acts as if by doing this he is granting society a favor, and that he should be hailed like some kind of hero for taking responsibility for these deaths.
It is not heroic. It is barbaric and inhumane. The “collateral damage” are dead because of the morbid culture of arbitrary justice incited by this self-professed “Punisher.”
Sting’s trenchant phrase, “We share the same biology regardless of ideology,” is playing in my head as I write this. Would that we all understand that. We preserve ourselves when we protect the rights of others; we defend our race when we validate our shared humanity. Yes, even criminals have rights, and they remain human despite their grave offenses. Human dignity is inherent, equal, and inalienable.
None of us, by our innate wisdom, can judge perfectly; we are, in fact, horribly prone to error. We know this and often excuse ourselves for being “only human.” This is why we depend on the rule of law, which is founded on wisdom greater than our own individual portions.
The Constitution declares we are “innocent until proven guilty.” In the eyes of the law, all those killed in Duterte’s war on drugs are presumed innocent, no matter what they did. They were never given their day in court, never convicted of guilt. A death sentence was illegally imposed on them. If there were truly criminals among them, we will never know, and their victims will never have closure. Is that justice?
And the “collateral damage” – will there be justice for them? Not likely under the present dispensation. Duterte counts them as casualties in a war of his own making, waged against the very people he professes to protect.
We are none of us safe if we empower a tyrant in the mistaken notion that he will honor us for doing so. No – a tyrant honors only himself; that is the nature of the beast.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.