Drugs destroy lives, but do we need to destroy lives to destroy drugs?

Thursday August 11, 2016 ()

Espinosa's house raided for shabu
(Police seize shabu, high-powered firearms and bomb-making materials from the house of Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa.)

If drugs indeed kill, will killing the suspects remove the menace? Are we providing our children a safe haven, by teaching them by our tolerance of murders, that killing suspected criminals without fair hearing is a morally acceptable way to eradicate crime? - Catholic Bishops Conference President Archbishop Socrates Villegas

Mr. President, drugs destroy lives, but we need not destroy lives to destroy drugs. ... The war on drugs can be waged without sacrificing the sacredness of life, obedience to the rule of law and adherence to human rights. - Senator and former Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.

Drugs destroy lives, but do we need to destroy lives to destroy drugs?

Before discussing the headline topic, allow this writer to endorse the inspiring film "Ignacio de Loyola," dramatizing the intense life of the 16th Century soldier years before he founded the Society of Jesus, the largest order of consecrated men in the world, who include Pope Francis.

St. Ignatius' transformation from a vainglorious soldier of the Spanish monarch to a spiritual warrior of the King of Heaven should be seen by anyone seeking meaning in life and goodness in our world.

Which happens to be what the above-quoted personages, one each from the Church and the State, are ultimately expounding on: life and goodness.

Both Archbishop Socrates Villegas and Senator Leila de Lima rightly assert that establishing goodness cannot be done by inhumanly decimating lives.

This writer agrees. In our July 10 column, weeks before the current flood of criticism, our article "Thou shalt not kill — not even drug lords" labeled as murder most of the 100-odd killings then, and urged:

"We must join Catholic bishops and other moral figures, as well as political and citizens' bodies in denouncing the rubouts and demanding inquiries and safeguards. We must join independent, upright media in probing and exposing suspect assassinations."

Listen to the victims

On the other hand, with the anti-killing chorus rising to a crescendo, the debate over Duterte's methods must now include one group of voices hardly heard so far: crime and drug victims — the families and communities scarred by the tripling of crime under then-President Benigno Aquino 3rd.

Crime tripled? You bet. Incidents leapt from 324,083 in 2010 to more than 1 million every year since 2013 (see "The SONA you didn't hear" ).

That's more than 3 million crimes in the last three years. Assuming 1.5 victims per crime on average, that's around 5 million victims. Add at least 1 million drug addicts. Plus three close family and three close friends for every victim or addict, totaling 36 million.

Thus, 42 million Filipinos — two out of five — want to end lawlessness by any means, the same share of voters Duterte got. But pro-Aquino media have concealed the crime explosion, leading many today to wonder why Duterte has to take extreme measures.

Clearly, both crime victims and numbers must be heard and headlined, for the nation and its moralizing figures to properly assess the bloody war against lawnessness.

The despicable choice we face

If we restrain the campaign, as many urge, there is a nasty tradeoff. There would be more murders, rapes, thefts, robberies, kidnappings, carnappings, drug trafficking and other crimes.

Imagine if the killings never happened. Instead of surrendering, 600,000 offenders would still be selling and shooting drugs, plus funding and spurring murderers, rapists, robbers, kidnappers, carnappers, snatchers, pickpockets and the like.

How much more lawlessness could there be?

If the 50 percent leap in first-semester crime last year continued till December, then 1.6 million incidents were recorded in 2015. (The Philippine Statistics Authority's yearbook should have come out around the May elections. Go figure why it didn't.)

If Duterte's campaign can cut lawlessness by just one-fifth, that's 300,000 crimes prevented. But if his war stops, along with his naming and shaming of corrupt officials and police, more hoods stay on the streets and in office.

Then the 10,000-plus annual murder rate would not drop by 2,000, but far less — or even continue its Aquino-era surge. The 12,000 rapes a year would not fall by 2,400, and the quarter-million in physical injury cases decline by 50,000. Robberies would not be much below its 60,000 annual hold-ups, and theft would stay close to 170,000 a year.

Sadly, due to our broken criminal justice system, hobbled by incompetence, corruption, and lack of resources, due process and the rule of law often allow the lawless to rule.

Or as Duterte fumed after Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno demanded arrest warrants: "You must be joking. … You're asking for warrants of arrest for 600,000 Filipinos. In the meantime … we let them stay put to resume their criminal activity?"

The Punisher's extreme measures or unbridled lawlessness and eventual narco-statehood — that's the ugly choice we face until we take back our law enforcement and judicial system from the clutches of the criminal and corrupt.

What should we do?

Many disagree. Sen. de Lima contends: "The war on drugs can be waged without sacrificing the sacredness of life, obedience to the rule of law and adherence to human rights." But it's hard to believe a former Justice Secretary under whose watch crime and drugs went through the roof.

More to the point, those who insist there's a better way should spell it out — along with what they themselves would do to fight crime and drugs.

Will the Church devote more sermons to denouncing lawlessness? Will it use parish facilities for drug rehab?

Will Congress fund more programs to interdict drugs and reform criminals? Will it increase penalties against officials, police and judges in cahoots with crooks?

Will parents and educators work together more intensively to address problems leading youth to drugs and crime?

It is a painful and winding road for the Filipino nation from today's killing fields to the land of the living, where all are protected, the law-abiding as well as the lawless.

Just like St. Ignatius' journey from killing for glory to finding joy in saving souls.


  1. The drug war killings are wrong – but ... by Recardo Saludo, The Manila Times, August 10, 2016
  2. Photo credit: Shabu, bombs seized from Espinosa's house, Manila Standard, August 11, 2016 (http://goo.gl/cy7rLX)

(Most of this article is adapted from the source listed above. We are unable to grant permission for any kind of reproduction of this article other than social media shares.)


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