Is it better to be loved or feared? “The answer is that one would like to be both the one and the other; but because it is difficult to combine them, it is far safer to be feared than loved if you cannot be both.”
– Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince
I WAS TALKING with a dear friend a few days ago when the conversation turned to Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. My friend, who is a Duterte supporter, said that the President-elect’s menacing style had begun beating dealers and users out of the bushes, and the drug lords were bound to follow. Truly, change is coming. While respecting her view, I rejoined that the tough talk had had unfortunate results as well. I cited the increase in summary police executions of drug suspects and some vigilante killings of those mistakenly thought to be druggies. My friend responded with a lengthy argument that boiled down to two points:  collateral damage is inevitable in a war, and  the end justifies the means. It was sad that innocents had died but the low-lifes have to understand that Duterte means business and should rightly fear him.
I can’t agree.
While I support the goal – who doesn’t want to solve the drug problem? – I don’t believe we should pursue it by any means.
I value life. I fear God. I believe only God can give and take away life. I realize that this is fast becoming a minority view and that most folks will dismiss (and possibly snipe at) such idealism. I am appalled at the cynicism that dominates society today, and the bloodthirst I see on social media. How easy it is to say “Kill them all!” “They deserve to die!” “Isang bala ka lang!” and other cowboy lines. But the reality is far more difficult to confront, and I cannot help but think of the bereaved who wish their loved ones had at least been offered a second chance.
There has been an upsurge in violent deaths lately. The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that the PNP has officially declared 29 drug suspects were killed by police between May 9 and June 19, as opposed to 39 killed from January to April this year. This doesn’t yet include the 8 deaths at police hands over the last weekend and the spate of vigilante killings nationwide that have not yet been officially numbered.
I cannot stop thinking about Efren Macalintal, the 75-year old farmer who was walking to the Zamboanga Public Market to buy some corn seedlings on June 19 with his 13-year old grandson Daryl. Two gunmen came from nowhere and shot him twice in the head in front of Daryl. The assailants fled on a motorcycle, shouting, “Bawal ang bentahan ng droga dito sa Zamboanga!” (Selling drugs is prohibited here in Zamboanga). In a chilling video taken right after the murder, we see a bewildered Daryl kneel and embrace the corpse of his grandfather, his face contorted in grief and confusion. Daryl maintains that it was a case of mistaken identity.
Old Man Macalintal’s murder occurred five days after a woman and her brother-in-law, both suspected drug pushers, were killed in front of her three children in Talavera, Nueva Ecija. No investigation, no trial, no law. Just death.
The narrow-minded insist that such drastic measures are necessary to protect the millions who may one day be drawn to suicide-by-drug abuse whose lives matter too. The problem has been going on for ages. The lives of the leeches who prey on the young and weak are well worth sacrificing to save the youth of our country. I see the point. I will weep no tears for the leeches; they deserve to be brought to justice for their crimes. But, I insist, to justice! For if we do not uphold justice and stand under the law then we work outside it and become no more than the criminals we would eliminate. Perhaps not cut from the same fabric, but criminals nevertheless.
It is the vogue these days to engage in dualistic reasoning: if you are not for Duterte, then you are for Mar and therefore, you are a reactionary yellowtard basher; if you are not in favor of Duterte’s Draconian style, then you support the drug lords and all crime; if you are not for Duterte and his out of the box methods, then you are not for change…ad infinitum. It is well-nigh impossible to speak reasonably with folks who think this way.
Well, I don’t see the world as black and white, I see the penumbra between. It is possible to affirm Duterte’s goals without approving his methods; it is possible to appreciate his strengths without losing one’s objective; it is possible to criticize his errors without undermining his leadership. I will insist on this: it is possible to hate crime and prosecute it without committing crime in the process.
My friend believes that the fear of Duterte is key to purging this country of drugs. What I fear is the arbitrary confiscation of life and liberty that may run rampant if we are not vigilant now. People may think summary executions are all right, until they hit close to home. We must all understand that the rights that are denied suspected criminals are denied us all. If we surrender these constitutional guarantees, we expose ourselves to all sorts of manipulation and abuse. We cannot allow this. We still live in a democracy, last I heard, and Duterte is the President, not the Prince.
“You shall not murder.” – Exodus 20:13
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. – Matthew 10:28