Dindo Manhit, President of the Stratbase ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies
In the latest development in the escalating series of events since the murder of Kian delos Santos, the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs held a hearing on Thursday afternoon to question the Philippine National Police on its responsibility for his death and those of others in recent “big” operations that resulted in dozens dead almost overnight. Kian’s death has become the latest example of how the war on drugs has turned out to be a wayward approach to solving the drug problem.
The heinous killing of Kian and of thousands of mostly nameless victims highlights the difficult process of providing justice to all people allegedly engaged in drug-related activities. The truth of the matter is that solving the drug problem entails a more programmatic approach than simply executing drug pushers and users. We need reforms to restore trust in our judicial system and to give people faith that it works better than the bloody alternative.
From the onset, granting seemingly blanket authority to an unreformed police institution was almost sure to result in abuse. Even if the victims of the war on drugs were truly engaged in drug-related activities, the execution of Filipinos was, is and will not be the answer. If we are to be a truly law-abiding society, then we have criminal law to follow and a justice system to render punitive measures.
Based on what we have seen from the war on drugs, institutional reforms must be implemented before granting the police a blanket “license to kill.” For so long as abusive elements among the police are not removed, brutality will persist. Above and beyond the tragic consequences for victims and their families, this continuing policy and remorseless brutality only encourage more citizens to lose their trust in the police. Without this trust, the overall environment of law and order will only continue to deteriorate.
A better solution would entail measures that target important nodes in the narcotics supply chain. The government should likewise move to arrest the smuggling problem. As long as illegal drugs are pouring into the streets through domestic and international production, there will always be thousands that engage in peddling. Given the lack of opportunities and livelihood for many of our citizens, there is a continuing supply of people who can be lured into illegal activities.
The streets are supposedly safer today, but not in the poor communities. The extrajudicial killing of alleged drug pushers and users is just a Band Aid applied to a social wound that needs a surgical operation. The year-old presidency needs to recognize that even another 10,000 killings will not stop drug use and peddling and surely will not solve the drug problem.
We all want a drug-free society. But we cannot just eliminate or kill people without due process. Procedures ensure accountability, and accountability leads to responsible delivery of public services. The absence of procedure breeds chaos and undermines social order. We will not at all feel safe in our homes and in the streets if the same people obligated to protect us could simply pull the trigger with impunity.