Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Tough balancing act on the part of the Duterte administration vis-à-vis the anti-drug war---combatting criminality while upholding human rights. Just how tough or how gentle should the campaign be? Whatever happens, it won’t be pretty

Hi folks, I’m back in my blog, engaged once again in the burning issues of the day. Since I disappeared from this space for about three weeks, friends have been texting, emailing and querying on FaceBook if I would ever return to my blog. It was difficult to do so. What happened was that Google had bought Yahoo out and adjustments had to be made the world over. But now I’m back and happy to do so, as there are so many burning issues here at home.


Headlines and articles from some of the most significant media outlets around the world in recent weeks, most notably Time Magazine, confirm gripping international attention on President Duterte’s brutal war on illegal drugs which has already taken the lives of more than 1,800 Filipinos as its bloody toll. First-World countries cannot seem to comprehend the urgency of Mr. Duterte’s declared war, which is understandable as the latter has run roughshod over human rights in some occasions. Our embassy in Washington, D.C. and consulates in New York City and San Francisco have been targeted by protesters, even as various UN agencies have hammered that ignoring human rights has not succeeded as a policy in the battle against illegal drugs in various countries.

The clash between the  authoritative will to combat this societal menace vs. the sanctity of human rights is reflected as well in debates among our leaders and in local media. Note the recent statement of CBCP President Socrates Villegas as well as the admonition of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno last Thursday that adherence to the rule of law “will allow us to survive as a nation…keep the social fabric intact, address people’s cry for justice, and thereby prevent society’s descent to anarchy.”  

Japan Times echoed CJ Sereno's view in an opinion titled "Duterte's Threat to Democracy." Said the Times: "Duterte is only the most recent in a long line of autocrats who have been irritated by the inefficiencies of a democratically elected government...But the solution to that problem is rigid and neutral application of the law---not its disregard."


Every opinion writer is confronted with this problem and I try my best to see the dynamics of this issue clearly. On the one hand there is the need to protect human rights as ignoring them would, as CJ Sereno warns, lead to anarchy, which would be a far more serious problem.

On the other hand, the Filipino people have been lulled into complacency during the regime of ex-President Noynoy Aquino about the illegal drug problem. Our people were overly concerned about problems right under their noses---from the day-to-day battling of traffic and commuters’ struggle for rides, as well as such insanities as the tanim-bala and tax on OFWs' balikbayan boxes, that no one really realized how monstrous the drug menace has become, corrupting even a good number of the police force as well as some top civil officials. 

It took President Duterte to bring the realization to the Filipino people of the magnitude of this problem. 

If one talks to the ordinary Filipino, he or she remains very supportive of Duterte’s all-out war vs. drugs;  yet it also remains awfully frightening that so far 1,800 people have been acknowledged as collateral damage in this brutal war (exactly how many more is anyone's guess). I suspect that perhaps more than half are the results of clashes within the drug world itself---not of law-enforcers vs. drug addicts and peddlers, but of drug addicts killed by pushers who, in turn were killed by henchmen of the drug lords---as all of them seek to avoid being caught by the lawmen.


In the fight vs. the underworld, draconian measures are being invoked and interestingly, in the past few days, comparison has been made by various local commentators between Mr. Duterte and the late PM Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, notably Lito Banayo of Manila Standard and Wilson Lee Flores of Star. It will be recalled that the late tough-talking Oxford-trained LKY, who ruled over the Garden State with an iron hand from the time it was severed from the Malaysian Federation, clashed routinely with Western media from the very beginning, as he enforced his vision of his city-state.

Just how draconian the steps Mr. Duterte would be allowed to take by the people he leads remains to be seen. The business community would doubtless approve of his “LKY style,” as businessmen have historically been pragmatic and favoring strongman-rule. There is no question that the fight against illegal drugs would be difficult---a tough balancing act between following the 1987 Constitution---which was a reaction against the Marcos dictatorship---and its emphasis on respect for human rights on the one hand, and the need to suppress what appears to have run wild, the crime syndicates.


The drug war calls for a tough balancing act on the part of the Duterte administration---between what ought to be respected and what ought to be done urgently. There seems to be nothing gentle or pretty about it. This balancing act, however,  is complicated by several factors. There’s our flawed justice system where court decisions often can be bought and some judges and justices are perceived to be corrupt.

The recent photos of inhumanly congested jails in Metro Manila, reflected around the country, are grim reminders of this terrible flaw in our justice system, where people convicted of even petty crimes remain in jail for a good number of years. Then there was Mr. Duterte’s  recent  expose of a supposed “matrix” allegedly involving a high-ranking justice official of the past administration and some members of drug syndicates, some already behind bars but still said to be operating with impunity.


In the battle vs. illegal drugs and its resultant criminality, the citizenry and various institutions have to be involved. Local officials---mayors, vice-mayors and councilors---have to get into the fight, to motivate the youth. Many youths are listless and adrift because of poor education and lack of gainful opportunities for involvement. They could be motivated and guided back through activities that make them feel involved and needed, e.g., sports and arts competitions, meaningful skills-training workshops; etc. 

Experts in the anti-drug fight point out that the targets of drug syndicates are both the very poor and the very rich---the classes most alienated from society.
The very poor, as President Duterte points out, are victimized by shabu, which is most harmful to the brain, while the very rich go for cocaine and high-end stuff which are less damaging. 

The various  churches and civic organizations have to also get into the act, not just to preach against drugs and criminality, but also to help in the rehabilitation of the wayward. So do schools have a big role to play in keeping a keen eye on their students.

Just how gentle do the law-enforcers have to be vs. the victims of the drug war, with regard to their human rights? Or how tough so as to crack the syndicates open and bring errant manipulators of impoverished youths to justice? 

Mr. Duterte needs the wisdom of Solomon  and the grim determination of an Eliot Ness.  Above all, he needs our prayers.

1 comment: