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So has the criticism of the extrajudicial killings of late hardly made a dent on the public mind? Why are approbation and apathy toward these brutalities at their all-time high? Why is President Rodrigo Duterte’s promotion of what are illegal acts receiving the same widespread positive response as these acts of killing themselves? (READ: Duterte’s marching orders for war on drugs, crime, corruption)
These are just 3 of the questions that have stumped anti-Duterte forces, from the politicians to the human rights groups, and among intellectuals and pundits who claim to speak for the middle class and even the elite. These groups continue to lose ground in the political arena in the light of widespread backlash, many nasty, to their condemnation of the killings and associating these with Duterte. And already the Liberal Party, once the congressional majority, has folded and meekly joined the President’s party.
So how, indeed, can we explain this collective slide into ruthlessness? Allow me to venture a couple of explanations that, hopefully, can generate some decent discussion.
First, we have to understand the fact that these crimes are mainly community-level felonies. The overall statistics may suggest that the percentage of addicts to the general population is small. However, viewed from below, their presence on the streets of villages, towns, communities, and even cities show that the number of addicts appears to be increasing. Together with their drug pushers, they have maintained and expanded their networks and bring in new users.
Communities feel helpless in preventing the spread of addiction for two reasons. First, the market is often the young in the village, the children that many a parent try to prevent from turning into addicts. This is a stable market for the networks because youthful curiosity and the pressures of poverty make the neighborhood teenagers easy to lure.
Second, even if people band together to force drug pushers and users out of their communities, their actions will be severely constrained by policemen and politicians in the drug lords’ pockets, if not the drug lords themselves.
Neither is the court system sympathetic. Trials are lengthy and the moneyed drug lord could outspend complainants. Witnesses can be bribed, and, when necessary, threatened with death, while judges and prosecutors can be paid enough to slow down the proceedings. And we are not even talking about the appeals process yet.
Duterte’s “if-you-deal-in-drugs-I-will-kill-you” approach cuts through this mishmash. It is simple, goes immediately for the jugular, eliminates the community threat with some finality, and considerably weakens the corrupted power of politicians and police.
For residents of these blighted communities, already exposed for long duration to different types of violence, the assassination of addicts and pushers can easily be justified as either a part of everyday life or a further confirmation of the adage “what-goes-around-comes-around.” Nakikinig pa rin si Lord (The Lord still answers prayers), as one born-again friend supportive of these measures put to me. (READ: War vs drugs: Cops kills nearly 300 suspects in 24 days)
So, for many Filipinos, if Davao can transform Agdao and Ma-a into two of the safest districts of the city, they see no reason why Manileños cannot do it with Tondo and certain portions of Commonwealth. Cebuanos can turn Junquira, and even my fellow Ozamiznons can turn Lawis, into prosperous barangays. With Duterte, they think it can be done. Hence, the considerable leeway granted these executions.
This is the popular sentiment that critics of the killings and Duterte’s policy need to face and challenge if they want Filipinos to believe their message. Even if some of the major media outlets and academic institutions are sympathetic to their cause, they still face a major challenge in devising new and creative ways of reaching the ordinary Pinoy. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, even talk radio, will not be enough to win the public to the opposition’s side. (READ: ‘Narconomics’: Lessons for the Philippines’ war against drugs)
But this is only the first wall that they have to breach. Critics of Duterte will also have to deal with the social forces that support, sympathize, and are complicit in this state-sanctioned violence.
What adds to the Duterte administration potency is the unusual coterie of political forces that joined his coalition: communists and caciques, wealthy and poor, literate and illiterate, chicos de calle and conyo boys. The communists, famous for their vitriol against former President Aquino III’s purported horrible human rights records, have kept quiet today. Even Karapatan has scaled down its condemnation of the state.
Every politico who (re)joined the President’s party has suddenly proclaimed himself as the vanguard of the anti-corruption campaign. Even the Liberal Party has thrown in the towel; it has joined the majority. And it is not just the Davao rich who is giving Duterte the thumbs up (and opened their wallets), the elites from the two imperial capitals – Manila and Cebu – have also been known to believe the mayor and his crusade.
The opposition has not (could not?) match this formidable alliance. The anti-Duterte force only has Akbayan, 3 senators at best, a couple of congressmen and city mayors, and the non-communist human rights groups as its vanguards.
The larger context is the final barrier for an anti-Duterte group to make itself effectively visible. The economy continues to grow, and while poverty is still part of the landscape, there are also signs of class mobility. There is no capital flight and big business – local and foreign – believe Duterte’s economic ministers when they promised to continue with the more successful economic policies of the Aquino administration.
The “balance of power,” as the communists are wont to say, is not in the favor of Duterte’s critics. And their befuddled reaction to the killings merely accentuates their quandary. – Rappler.com
Patricio N. Abinales teaches Food and Culture in Asia.