Tuesday, October 11, 2016

BWorld 85, Drugs war morphed into war on critics of President Duterte?

* This is my article in BusinessWorld last September 27, 2016.

One of my friends, a respected economist and a fellow UP School of Economics (UPSE) alumni, has criticized some policies of President Duterte by posting her misgivings on her Facebook account.

Past 12 noon of Aug. 20, she was threatened with murder while inside her car, together with her mother.

As she was struggling with traffic at the Holy Spirit Drive in Quezon City, a man on foot whose head was covered by a jacket suddenly appeared on her side. The man tapped his finger on her car window and shouted, “Ma’am putang ina mo! Papatayin ka na namin!”

Shocked and scared, my friend put pedal to the metal and hightailed it to UP Diliman, where she informed her friends and officemates. She also wanted to report the incident that day to the police but did not, since she knew no one personally there.

Take note that not all of her Facebook updates are critical of the President.

Besides offering good words for the President’s past TV and newspaper interviews, she also produced an international article supporting his proposal to access Chinese official development assistance (ODA) but improved on the proposal by de-emphasizing the bilateral mode and advising the use of the multilateral Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB).

On the day she was threatened, she chose to deactivate her Facebook account, which contained her critical comments regarding the decision to allow Marcos to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, the violent narcotics war, and extrajudicial killings.

My friend says that she and her family thought of the threat as random “trip,” a prank; and that she and her mother were probably at the wrong place and at the wrong time.

But they still took precautions and remained open to the possibility that it was a serious and direct threat.

She did not use her car for several days and took Uber or a taxi and changed her route almost daily, if only to try to avoid the area where the threat was made.

Since she was never been into drugs, just a studious student at UPSE (undergrad and graduate), the threat against her cannot be viewed as anti-drugs but possibly as a threat against the critics of Duterte policies.

Can we possibly conclude that this dirty “war on drugs” has morphed into something more sinister like a “war on some critiques of the government and its narco war policy?”

Here are some possibilities or conspiracy hypothesis that can be derived from the above circumstances.

1. It was just a prank threat/attack on her by some mentally unstable minds in the streets.

2. It was a serious threat, not from the government but from some civilian fanatics of the President who dislike the idea that he is being criticized.

3. It was a threat from the President’s political opponents and/or drug cartels to target and scare civilians, to make the people be scared of the Duterte government.

If it was #1, it remains scary because the President’s mantra about the drug war -- that “it will be bloody” -- has been hanging upon us since he won the May elections. Many of his supporters smell blood, they want to see blood, more blood on the streets. Even the soldiers were recently ordered by the President to kill by the dozens, to “massacre” a group of drug criminals, whether guilty or suspected.

If it was #2, the more that she -- and others who take an independent view of the President and his policies -- should be alarmed.

If it was #3, then the President’s warning has been hijacked by various groups. Whether politically-motivated or just crime-inspired. A theft-murderer can shoot and kill his victim/s that would resist giving their valuables voluntarily, with a ready placard to be thrown at the lifeless body saying “Pusher ako, ‘wag tularan.”

There is a common denominator to all the three (or more) possibilities mentioned above. And that is the violent and bloody “war on drugs” has become a “war on nerves” against many ordinary citizens. It is confusing and is meant to confuse.

It does not matter now if the person who curses you and says that he/they will murder you is a deranged man or not. The PNP is either deep into drugs murder cases itself or unable to solve hundreds of such murders from self-proclaimed vigilantes and fanatics, or plain criminal attacks. Intolerance is acquiring its own momentum.

Another friend, a solid supporter of the President, commented when I posted this incident in my Facebook wall.

He said: “Why can we not support him in his “war on drugs” and do something about his crazy supporters instead? Why can we not help address the flaws in his style of governance to help him succeed instead? Do we not succeed too if we help him do so?”

Some good points there but I argued and commented the following.

First, I do not believe in continued criminalization of drugs. I believe that drugs, like alcohol, jueteng and other gambling, should be legalized and decriminalized; allowed but regulated. It is the act of murder, rape, theft, etc. -- whether the person is sober or under the influence of drugs or alcohol -- that should be penalized. Also consider that a number of violent crimes and murders occur when people are sober, like road rage, disputes in parking, personal and clan disputes, and so on.

Second, keeping the “war on drugs” should be guided by existing laws, the rule of law should prevail.

The police should first gather evidence, arrest drug pushers and addicts on the basis of evidence, charge them in court and lock them in jails if proven guilty. Drug possession of certain quantities is non-bailable so the arrested pushers will be off the streets while due process is ongoing.

The Filipina accused and convicted of being a drug mule/courier in Indonesia, Mary Jane Veloso, got due process. She went through trial, her side was heard and written, she was not killed and murdered outright. That is the due process that the PNP is not known to be consistently doing.

So has the “war on drugs” morphed into “war on critics of President Duterte?” It seems that the answer is No. There are no big evidence to prove this statement yet. And that is a good news. The bad news is that the “war on drugs” remains a messy and violent one and created a new uncertainty, the “war on nerves” on the people.

Assuring due process of all accused, respecting the rule of law, that is the only assurance we have to remove these uncertainties and fear in the hearts of ordinary citizens.

Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr. is the head of Minimal Government Thinkers, and a Fellow of SEANET.

See also: 
BWorld 74, Pres. Duterte's anti-corruption programs and Transparency Intl., July 30, 2016
BWorld 82, No FIT for geothermal and other renewables, please, October 02, 2016 
BWorld 83, Climate change, the UN and 'Clexit', October 05, 2016 
BWorld 84, Eliminate red tape in the Philippine energy sector, October 08, 2016

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