War on Drugs or War Against the Poor?

Since Duterte’s inauguration as President of the Philippines in 2016, the country has been bombarded by news about extrajudicial killings and human rights violations. Duterte himself, in a number of speeches, encouraged policemen and his allies to track and kill drug users and pushers. More recently, he has advocated lowering the age of criminal liability – a setback in reforming the juvenile justice system. Clearly, this administration shows an extreme obsession with crimes. Thus, one can say that the central theme of this administration’s governance is anchored on crime, both prevention and promotion.

Though the information gathered by the Philippine Human Rights Information Center (Read: PhilRights) is limited to cases in the Greater Manila Area and Bulacan, the findings of PhilRights provide an extensive documentation and presentation of human rights violations and extrajudicial killings committed under the so-called War-on-Drugs of Duterte’s Administration.

Duterte’s War-on-Drugs literally painted the town red. As documented by PhilRights, majority of the victims of EJKs are in their productive ages and many are primary breadwinners of their families. Many of them are minimum wage earners; some are unemployed and/or earn way below the minimum wage. Majority of the victims lived in urban poor communities, mostly in informal settlements and relocation sites. Many of them had low educational attainment which limited their access to better work opportunities.

These findings suggest that the current ‘war on drugs’ targets the poor, vulnerable, and disadvantaged members of our society. No matter how and where the killings took place, the fact that all these documented victims come from poor families is alarming. As most of these victims are breadwinners of their (usually extended) families, killing them added a burden to their families already suffering from the effects and consequences of the unending cycle of poverty.

What is the motivation of this war against drugs? Why is the poor often the target of these operations? It seems that the government and its allies are merely scratching the surface, targeting the most vulnerable instead of capturing the mastermind and drug lords. Why is this government resorting to killing its citizens instead of pushing for a healthier community conducive for rehabilitation? More importantly, where in this scenario can we say, “buhay ay langit sa piling mo”?

This bloody war against the poor has to stop. It is cruel, unjust, and detrimental to a society that is barely inching towards sustainable development. It is in no way reflective of the values of the country. The war on drugs is not “maka-diyos”. No religion, even spiritual beliefs, encourages the killing of other people. The war on drugs is not “maka-tao”. We deprive the victims (or accused) of due process, and in essence punish them for crimes that they might not have even committed. The war on drugs is not “makabansa”. It perpetrates hatred and abuse of authority. It divides the nation. It pushes our countrymen further below the poverty line. It breeds a society where the poor remains poor and the helpless becomes more powerless.

Will there be an end to this? Let our dying declaration be “ang mamatay ng dahil sa’yo”. To die not because of the country, but to die for the country.

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