Opinion Opinion Feature

12,833 human lives and counting

With just a single bullet to the head, all that a person ever knows, all that they ever value in their life, ends. It’s been a year since the war on drugs started, but the very causes of it, such as the systematic trade and supply chain of illegal drugs, have not been confidently identified by government agencies. Instead, the relentless campaign has focused on small-time dealers, while the masterminds are largely unknown and at large.

As of June 2017, the Presidential Communications Office reports that the war on drugs has resulted in around 12,833 homicide cases, 2,098 of which are drug-related, 2,535 of which are not, and 8,200 of which are “homicide cases under investigation”. This is a big jump from the Philippine National Police’s report from March 2017 which cited 9,432 homicide cases. It’s painful, however, that we had to undermine the relevance of 12,833 individual human lives to mere statistics and points for discussions as to the direction this country is ultimately taking.

Talks on the government’s war on drugs have probably desensitized you already. Even worse, some people have chosen to simply not care anymore, possibly as an escape and defense mechanism from all the frustrations brought about by this “war”. What’s dangerous, however, is that this war instills a culture of violence that has already become a norm in Philippine society. For instance, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez recently urged ASEAN lawmakers to support and emulate the Philippine government’s war on drugs. “With political will and cooperation, we will dismantle the massive illegal drug trade apparatus,” he asserts.

The problem is that the illegal drug trade apparatus itself is not the one being directly addressed. We’ve heard many stories of innocent people being killed due to absurd reasons: they look like a suspected drug dealer, they’re allegedly drug users, or they have someone related to them who is a drug user. How will this barbarism ever tackle the illegal drug trade apparatus head-on when practically anyone who’s at least alleged or related to a drug user can easily be killed? What’s the deeper and more detailed corruption behind the rich drug lords who manage to escape the relentless campaign against drugs? The one question, however, that puzzles me the most is, why do many Filipinos still support this dehumanizing campaign? Is this how low we have become?

These are just some recurring questions that may have possibly crossed your minds. In the next five years or so, will this campaign continue? How many people will have died by then? Looking ahead, will those affected foster so much animosity against the government that they potentially unleash this rage by engaging in more ruthless, systematic crimes?

Truth be told, I don’t like the culture of Filipinos wherein we focus on a particular social issue at one opportune time or moment, then when discourse on it somewhat dies down, we either no longer entertain the thought of it, result to petty jokes, or become mum on the issue. The number of deaths caused by the war on drugs increases every night, and whether we’re prepared or not, we may be the next victim, simply because we look like a suspected drug dealer.

As for us college students in DLSU, we don’t necessarily feel this tension because we’re well-protected in our own homes and pampered within the walls of the University. But when you go out to the slum areas and the places where people struggle every day, the tension of being the next victim is very real. Rather than the government and police attacking the illegal drug trade apparatus, which was the main agenda of the campaign in the first place, it’s becoming an act of terrorizing poor communities and worsening the very lawlessness it was meant to address.

Needless to say, it doesn’t feel safe anymore when walking outside, especially at night. A survey by the Social Weather Stations cites that of those polled, majority have become afraid to venture out at night. The same sentiments were recorded even during the start of the campaign, showing that the increased crackdown against illegal drugs never really guarantees one’s safety at night. For instance, whenever I commute late at night, I find myself worried about will happen next. When I walk along the streets with only a few people in sight, I grow anxious that someone, somewhere could suddenly shoot me point blank at the head and just run away with it like nothing happened. Others might have felt the same feeling, and this is not at all pleasant. It has become a norm.

In every issue of national relevance such as this, there is an underlying cause, and in this case, it’s the very mindset of power and violence instigated by the president. You may have read many opinion pieces before about the president and his character, demeanor, and general disregard for human sensibilities. But out of all those pieces, one thing comes into mind: there is no stopping this, so the very least we can do is to keep talking about it, breaking preconceived notions of how we should be treating people involved with illegal drugs. At the end of the day, the war on drugs may look good for the supporters in terms of its façade, but slowly, it’s been destroying the country from the inside.


Ian Benedict Mia

By Ian Benedict Mia

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