DDS (Duterte's Death Squad)
Ironically, the fear conjured up by the drug menace—that half-demented drug addicts might commit all sorts of crimes in our otherwise peaceful society—pales in comparison to the very real atrocities resulting from actions of policemen tasked to carry out Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs”. Mothers howl in unbearable grief finding the lifeless bodies of their sons laying in pools of cold blood, on streets they once thought were safe and familiar. Daughters lament in silence while still unable to grasp the images of their brutally gunned down fathers. Neighbors and kin are shocked and traumatized by the sudden and violent deaths of people they knew were either innocent, or at least did not deserve such a barbaric end. Children of the slain sob in despair, clueless of a sudden new fate dealt upon them where they have to face life as orphans.
With casualties of the anti-drug initiative already amounting to several thousands, many have more reason today to fear the police than any drug-crazed schmuck toting a knife or a gun. The people feel terrorized, and understandably so.
The Real Menace
Witnesses to the bloody dragnet have reported armed men in plain clothes grabbing hapless suspects from their homes before suspects were found dead, and then later findings point to the armed men being connected to the local police or the local government. There were drug suspects who were shot after they had surrendered, their remains discovered days later in an alley, or in a grassy area somewhere, when all the while people who knew the suspects believed they were in police custody, as even some CCTV footages suggest. A Korean national was allegedly kidnapped by cops in a “Tokhang” operation, killed in Camp Crame, his ashes flushed down a toilet afterwards. Also, a considerable number of drug suspects were killed by supposed masked vigilantes “riding in tandem” on motorcycles who—in the few instances that these masked killers have been stopped or caught—were later revealed to be policemen.
Anyone who expresses alarm or concern over the killings would automatically be tagged as anti-Duterte or, worse, a drug addict by Duterte Die-hard Supporters (DDS). Those who actually take to the streets to protest the violence are suddenly called communists or bitter pro-Aquino destabilizers. It does not matter if, in carrying out Duterte’s war on drugs, the government has resorted to tactics that are nothing short of the gestapo’s—publicizing unvalidated lists of drug suspects; using anonymous “drop boxes” in precincts and barangay halls to determine probable “targets”; house to house random drug testing and warrantless search and arrest of suspects; and the imposition of self-incriminating surrender forms in drug-related cases. Victimized families claim that foul activities, like planting and tampering with evidence and even robbery by the police (hulidap), have become commonplace in drug busts. Obviously, such claims need to be thoroughly investigated in order to correct whatever is going wrong with the anti-drug effort, but no. It’s either you go along with the killings, or you’re against progress. Options have become that narrowed under Duterte’s regime. You can’t just be a concerned citizen anymore, or a patriot who guards the public’s interest against abusive bureaucrats.
Some whistle blowers have come forward describing a “reward and quota” system enforced within the PNP, where anti-drug operatives are given a monthly quota for “number of kills”, with the “reward” for each kill placed from Php10,000 up to Php50,000, or even higher for what they call HVTs (High Value Targets). There are cases of mistaken identities where the shooters simply shrugged as it were nothing…like, “Oops, wrong guy. Let’s get out of here, go find the right one.” But nobody in the Duterte administration seems to care. For as long they are aligned with the Dutere administration—whether it’s a corrupt mayor who is taking drugs himself and once included in Duterte’s drug list, or a famous actor who cannot stop his drug-use—they couldn’t give any damn less if poor people from the slums are murdered and turned into some insignificant statistic by the cruel, unjust methods of rule.
The designated lead agency for the anti-drug initiative has vacillated from the PDEA (Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency) to PNP, to the PDEA then back to the PNP again, and then back to PDEA, though there’s recent talk about putting the PNP back in the saddle again. The estimated time to solve the drug problem has been pegged from 3 months, to 6 months, to 1 year, to 6 years, to indefinitely. Duterte and his officials could not even agree on the estimated number of drug addicts nationwide, as the the Dangerous Drugs Board pointed to a range of about 1.8 million in September of 2016, which went up to 4 million by May of 2017, as per the president himself, while Alan Peter Cayetano told the U.N. General Assembly in September 2017 that the number was about 7 million.
With such uncertainty around the drug war’s estimates, strategy and its targets, the government would still rather push through head strong in this haphazardly conducted drug war. And it's really curious how the government institutions entrusted to check and balance an erring or abusive presidency are letting Duterte have his way.
Duterte’s cabinet of minions, the super coalition in the legislature and judiciary, its allied businesses and cronies, along with the belligerent horde of fanatic supporters—are all proclaiming to high heaven that there is nothing wrong with the violent war on drugs, despite the ambivalence surrounding it. There is an obvious and concerted effort to legitimize the pandemic disregard for the human and constitutional rights of Filipinos, in support of Duterte. And it is not merely a case of loyalty to a political party, as one might initially suppose, for many of these are veteran turncoats who’d change their colors any day if only to remain in power. It seems more like a cabal of self-serving public officials bent on establishing an invulnerable tyranny in order to stay in power and do as they please undisrupted and indefinitely. This is the real menace.
An evil conspiracy, emboldened by their apparent invincibility, is rearing its head out in the open and forcing Philippine society to condone the lynching and killing of drug suspects who may or may not be guilty. More than the street peddlers of drugs or the addicts, it is these Duterte-empowered hypocrites whom we should fear…those who are OK with Duterte’s bloody pet peeve, those who so easily turn a blind eye at the atrocities because of their bias, bigotry or simply for their selfish convenience. This is Duterte’s Death Squad—the legitimizers of the killings; the promoters of the lies about the “war on drugs”; and the officials who broadly and purposefully dismiss the questionable deaths of thousands of Filipino citizens, as if it were all fake news.
Conspiracy to Commit Mass Murder
That thousands of poor citizens (mostly urban slum dwellers) were felled by policemen under dubious circumstances in the name of Duterte’s “war on drugs” is not fake news. The authorities involved must be held accountable, whether or not these killings were justified, through a thorough investigation. The burden of proof must be imposed upon the killers, that indeed they had no other choice but to kill the suspects. If we are indeed a nation of good people, we shouldn’t just be contented with a lame scapegoat like “nanlaban” in the face of the numerous silenced dead who cannot plea their cases in court. So why is accountability absent amidst savagery of such magnitude?
In reality, what seems more fake is the ‘war on drugs’ itself, as it appears to be more and more of a sham, concocted perhaps to distract people from whatever thievery is going on in the upper echelons of government like what has happened in past administrations. Or perhaps to sow terror among those who might resist an erring and crooked government, should the hypocritical facade fail to hold. Whatever the real reasons are behind the government’s insistence to wage a faulty, bloody anti-drug initiative that bans criticism and refuses to be kept in check, it is important to realize that allowing the violence to continue is not simply a case of criminal neglect or people just following orders, but a concerted and conscious denial of truth and justice, and a willful connivance to prevent the correction of something that’s so terribly, terribly wrong.
*Published in print version (Voice of the South, Volume 13, No. 8)