Just recently, my friends and I watched The Purge: Election Year. It is an action and horror film that features an American society embracing the culture of violence. By “embracing” I meant making legal all forms of violence for a span of 12 hours. This movie reminded me of our society – the currently evolving Philippine society.
I’ve been following the news since President Rody Duterte assumed the Presidency. Perhaps, the most remarkable promise he has given us is the war against drugs and crimes. I laud him for this agenda. As a health professional and advocate of public health, I find the use of prohibited and addictive drugs a pressing issue that affects the country both in a macro and micro scale.
Days into his office, I began to hear news about Filipinos suspected to be drug users and / or pushers being killed by unknown men. Most of the bodies were left lying on the streets with card boards taped to their bodies and marked with: “Drug pusher/user ako. Huwag tularan” (I am a drug pusher/user. Do not imitate). Every day we hear the same news – men being killed by other men or men suspected to be drug users and / or pushers surrendering to law enforcers.
I am more than happy because people are surrendering themselves to the authorities. This could be a sign that people are beginning to embrace change. But this, I suppose, is primarily due to the fear brought about by news headlines declaring murder incidents that involved alleged drug users and / or pushers, and not the genuine desire to change one’s way of life.
Indeed, times have changed. People I’ve talked to expressed their delight in hearing these headlines about multiple killings (about 10 in a day). I was shocked and surprised to hear this knowing well that most Filipinos do not approve death penalty. Most of us even condemn death penalty being imposed in other countries especially when a fellow Filipino is in the line of death.
Just this Monday during a flag ceremony, PNP Director General Roland Dela Rosa, as cited by the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Read: Bato on fight vs drugs: Many have already died, do we stop now?), mentioned this:
“Sulong! The momentum is on our side; we cannot afford to waste this momentum. Marami na po, libu-libo na po ang nagsu-surrender. Marami na po ang namamatay, so ano pa, hihinto tayo?”
No, sir. We won’t and must not stop the war against drugs. But, should we stop looking at this countless acts of violence as crimes? Should we also stop looking at our people as human beings much like ourselves? Humans who also deserve understanding, care, and justice? The law gives anyone, even a person who committed a heinous crime, the right to due process. Killing a person suspected of being a drug user and / or pusher isn’t due process. It isn’t even something humane or moral, maybe not in our culture.
Lest we forget that these alleged drug users and / or pushers are victims, too. They are victims of a society that reeks of corruption, violence, and dishonesty. They are victims of a society that permits inequality, and violation of human rights. They are victims of a government that fails to see the real root cause of the problem: poverty.
Most of my days in UP were spent building diagrams and problem trees that aided us to understand the society we live in. These diagrams and problem trees allowed us to see the bigger picture and realize that everything boils down to poverty; that almost all of our problems could be linked to poverty. This is not surprising because it has been identified decades ago. What’s surprising is the fact that we’ve not gone far, not far enough to bring all those in the outskirts of the society a little above the poverty line.
Times like this challenge us, Filipinos, to adapt to the changing society. However, times like this also call us to go back to our Filipino values; values that have defined us and our true Filipino identity.
Let us not forget that these men are humans, too. They are humans equally capable of becoming good citizens. Let us not deprive them of the chance to find meaning in their lives, and to make use of all the abilities that they have into something useful and productive. Doing for and being with our fellow Filipinos no matter what the circumstance is, will bring us closer to reaching our vision of a better, healthier, safer, and peaceful Philippines.
Truth be told, we are starting to create a culture of fear and violence. A culture of fear and violence leaves nothing but scars. Violence isn’t the answer to (any other form of) violence. Indeed, change is coming. I am afraid that we do not have the will or even the courage to enact positive change. We are often left with merely choosing the easy way out. And sometimes, it isn’t the best one.