Welcome to the Philippines, where giving a damn is the new taboo. Where joy meets each dirty dead body that is found. Where a woman holding her murdered husband is mocked for her "drama," as if spectators determine if we are entitled to mourn.
Hello there! Here is my homeland, where the evening news proudly announces body counts. Where the daily number of casualties now equals great success. It's the only place in the world where death means winning a war, the only country whose people are fine with civilians being killed on the spot.
The majority is all for it as long as it doesn't involve them because they are good people, unlike those whose names are on a kill list of supposed thugs. Apparently, being named by someone must mean one is guilty, and for that there is simply no recourse but to die.
Yes, this is our democracy, where speaking about the slaughter of Filipinos makes one a target online. Where supporters of the killings feel the need to attack those who worry about the loss of life. The ones who question the murder of their neighbors are accused of loving drugs, coddling rapists, or being unpatriotic because they refuse to validate the violence. How ironic that to be deemed patriotic, one must now be consumed with hatred and disrespect for human life. How unfortunate that wanting people to stay alive is now taken to mean that one must love crime.
Greetings from my countrymen, once known to the world as a loving, hospitable people. We are great to foreigners but our kindness does not extend to the poorest among us. They are thought to be dispensable, treated as sacrifices to a god who claims that the more people die, the faster a problem is solved. That to cure the disease of addiction, one must kill the patients, their suppliers, and anyone beside them, inside their house, or riding their jeepney at that time.
"There are thousands who 'surrendered,'" we are told, as if raising one's hand to promise a life away from drugs guarantees sudden freedom from chemical dependence or a quick departure from the drug trade. Innocent bystanders are tagged "collateral damage," necessary costs of a war whose victory is undefined. It is the first time in the history of our nation that an increasing death toll is perceived as an excellent sign. It's flabbergasting that the measure of progress is tied to the number of people who have been killed simply because they are suspected of committing crimes.
People who care are the new minority
Are you horrified by these murders? If you are, you've become part of a new minority. Those who are saddened by the news of deaths are now few and far between. Though we were once known as a nation that followed its Catholic leaders, a bishop's message of concern was deemed ridiculous, with the killings being considered "heaven-sent" by Catholics themselves in solving the country's problem of drugs.
All around us we are told to just be quiet about the deaths, that speaking about summary executions is counterproductive to this most beautiful purge at hand. The remaining media outlets that still discuss it are urged to stop announcing news of the dead. They are pressured by the President to stop being melodramatic about victims' pathetic weeping wives.
I am accused of being a traitor to my country for being horrified by mass murder. I've been told I don't understand it because I'm from Manila and murder is the language of the South. I am called elitist for my concern for poor people (go figure). I am questioned about my absence during past murders, and called a hypocrite as if one's horror about current killings is invalidated by one's lack of information about previous events. I am mocked and called a "social justice warrior" as an insult, as if advocating for human rights is now a laughable act.
To be very clear: the difference between past murders and this current government-sanctioned extermination lies in the fact that no leader in our nation's history has ever condoned death without due process. No public official in the world has ever ordered civilians to kill fellow civilians simply suspected of illegal acts.
We have never had a president release one of our country's worst plunderers, or allow the burial of the biggest thief and cruel dictator in sacred heroes' grounds, yet at the same time send what will be thousands of powerless people to their deaths via death squads for petty offenses without even an arrest or a documented crime.
I now belong to a country where worrying about street executions means I must support a different political party. "Move on," they urge me, as if I've ever leaned towards anyone other than the protection of Filipino lives. I wonder what makes it so easy to move on from murders that are happening right in front of our eyes. When did the sanctity of life become a political stance instead of a universal belief and a basic human right?
Where is the uprising? Where are the protests? It seems that believing in the preservation of all life is now something to be frowned upon.
"Let the president do his job," my lawyer acquaintances tell me, making me wonder if the president's job excludes protecting all Filipino lives. If even those who practice law are fine without due process, who else will stand against extrajudicial deaths? If our justice system is flawed, is skipping it all together a more efficient process? Never mind the investigations, just shoot them on the spot! That's all fine and good for most people – until it's one of your kind.
Devoid of empathy
We are creating a society devoid of empathy, a mass of people who cannot see that they themselves could be killed or lose loved ones this way. We speak as if we're not humans with our own frailties and obsessions, our own addictions we have yet to escape.
We condemn others as if our children do not experiment with drugs, or as if we never tried illegal substances ourselves. By how we justify the murders we act like we're so clean, so sinless, so deserving of life. All because we haven't been put on the list or been around someone scheduled to be shot. At least not yet, but you know – there's still plenty of time.
I am asked repeatedly – if not summary executions, what is your solution? What is your proposal to revamp an inefficient justice system? It has been proven that violent wars against drugs have never been effective anywhere in the world. I'm not sure how to solve most of the problems of our nation, but I am 100% certain it should not cost us our lives.
But again, welcome to the Philippines, where our leaders have given up on their own laws and policies to eradicate defenseless Filipinos, "cleaning" the streets in a way that saves so much time.
Meanwhile, the taped-up bodies only pepper the slums and deserted city streets, but no corpses will be found in BGC, Bel-Air, or Ayala Alabang. Exclusive villages are allowed to issue certifications so vigilantes and police forces don't do their killing inside.
Despite the constant barrage of bloodied bodies and scribbled verdicts in cardboard signs, I'm not as scared of death or my would-be murderers than I am worried about what we are creating in our country right now.
I am more afraid of what these deaths are doing to our sense of compassion, to our conscience, and to our decency as a people.
I am most afraid of the increasing majority who truly believe that death is the only way to change lives.
It has often been said that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Right now we are surrounded by friends, family members, and leaders who will make sure that the evil of violent deaths will go on. – Rappler.com
Shakira Andrea Sison is a two-time Palanca-winning essayist. She currently works in finance and spends her non-working hours writing stories in subway trains. She is a veterinarian by education and was managing a retail corporation in Manila before relocating to New York in 2002....