Vigilantism: What have we become?

Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino
Vigilantism: What have we become?
Whether he accepts the role or not, Mayor Duterte is the principal educator of the nation

A disturbingly increasing number of bodies have washed ashore, or have been discovered in sewers and manholes, all, apparently victims of summary executions. Some, bearing placards announcing their supposed crimes.  

Vigilantism is on the rise. Even the police are apparently less fastidious now about warning first, and firing as a last resort. Reports are more frequent now of suspected drug lords and habitués of drives and dens gunned down for supposedly fighting it out with arresting officers.  

Why should these things not happen considering that the the President-elect offers a bounty for the apprehension and even execution of drug lords, corrupt policemen and others he considers lowly by comparison to his tough, upright and unflappable self?

But what really floored me were posts on social media about Mayor Digong’s refusal to support a budgetary proposal for the construction of an execution chamber – as if that were not macabre enough.  

He is reported to have brushed aside lethal injection as being too kind on the condemned man. And very like Hitler, he would like the doomed man writhing on the gallows until life is snuffed from him.

This to me is just diabolic — to bring about the death of another human being, no matter how despicable a character he might be, in a manner calculated to be extremely agonizing and painfully lingering. 

What kind of perversity does it require to conjure that, after advocating the return of that barbarism that the death penalty is?

Alarming social media posts

But more portentous still is the reaction these posts get on social media. There are some who reject the proposal for what it is: state-sanctioned barbarism. But most others laud the the plan to execute the convicted by as frightening and as cruel a means as possible. 

Is this what we have come to, the supposedly only Christian nation in the Far East, standing tall because of all the steps it has thus far taken in the direction of upholding human rights? One lackey gleefully proposes the firing squad so that all may see – and be frightened. This is his vision of a progressive society: a frightened nation.

It is like all the cursing, the unbridled coarse language, the vulgarity, the direct and unabashed threat of death to those considered scum of society have let the lid off over a box of barbarism, primeval impulses of revenge – everything dark and sepulchral that centuries of Christianity and of maturation in the law, as well as a growing public awareness of the inalienability of human rights have managed to stash away, sealed it seems in a box.

But the present dispensation that has scant regard for decency, and for which, human rights refer to the rights of some humans to which some others are not entitled has managed to pry open!

Principal educator

Whether he accepts the role or not, Mayor Digong is the principal educator of the nation – and so far, his arrant use of shameful expletives, his coarse language and his often questionable demeanor have made many thoughtful parents ask whether their children should be listening to the President of the Republic. 

No, Mayor, it is not the nation that must adjust to you. It is you who must truly be President, not principally through the exercise of despotic powers but in speech, demeanor, deportment.  

And what it comes to categorizing low-life forms that can be disposed of without much ceremony, slit in the throat by vigilante groups, their deaths unlamented, not condemned by government, the business of consigning some to low-life category is tricky.

Many think that those who make of others’ lives easily disposable commodities are themselves of hardly any worth. One who perversely goes back on the laborious evolution of human consciousness that has made us more sensitive to the demands of human dignity, that has resulted in past methods of retribution that we now are convinced are clearly barbaric seem to be, for good reason, purveyors of retrogressive thinking, impediments towards a more humane society. Such people do not really lead. They are only feared.

But bullying can only go so far. From what we hope is only a temporary spate of lawlessness and the marginalizing of the Rule of Law, we still hope to have a leadership that responds to the indefeasible summons of the more noble values, that only a truly noble government of truly noble officials can bring to fruition. –


The author is Dean, Graduate School of Law, San Beda College.


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