War on drugs: A spurious disjunction between firmness and due process

Ranhilio Callangan Aquino
War on drugs: A spurious disjunction between firmness and due process
'No real gain is made when the law is sacrificed. It is precisely because trafficking in drugs offends the law that there is legitimacy in the full application of the State’s reserve of force against those who engage in it with impunity.'

President Rodrigo Duterte delivered what many thought to be a “rambling” SONA. It was. He extemporized, and what the President’s men had forecast to take only 35 or so minutes took all of an hour and a half. 

But I do not mind. For the first time, after having purposely avoided the SONA the past 5 years, I listened, and I was not disappointed. It was not oratory that I wanted to hear, after all, but a President addressing the legislature and telling the nation what he intended to do. We got that, in Digong’s characteristic way, thankfully, without the expletives and the otherwise colorful language. 

He was very presidential, in fact, though with cuffs rolled up, and whistling his way into the plenary hall like he was in no hurry, and like he was looking forward to meeting Leila de Lima. He came across indeed as “the people’s president” – no frills, no flourish of trumpets! 

When he read his first lines, the nation heaved a collective sigh of relief. After 6 years of a president who held himself out as the Teacher of Righteousness for whom a SONA meant an opportunity to excoriate his predecessor although she far excelled him in intellectual capability and achievement, here was a president who announced that he had no time dwelling with the shortcomings of the past, who would not allow himself to be a captive of what has been! It was a pity PNoy was absent. He could have learned valuable lessons in statesmanship!

Human rights watchers and those who had sounded the alarm over the rising body-count found no small solace in his assurance that the demands of the law mattered to him and that his resoluteness about ridding the country of the drug menace would be heedful of the law’s demands. 

CAMPAIGN VS DRUGS. A suspected drug pusher lies dead on the ground as a police crime scene operative gathers forensic evidence after 3 suspected drug pushers were killed when a drug bust operation ended in a shootout with authorities on June 25, 2016. Photo by Noel Celis/AFP

 

Lately the relentless assault on narco-lords and peddlers has been mishandled. A spurious disjunction is offered the nation: either we abide by the law, and the menace continues unabated, or we set aside the niceties of law, and go after the peddlers of death with all that we have got!

It is bad enough that the media peddles this false disjunction. It is even more dangerous when law enforcers assume the disjunction to be true. It is not. It cannot be a matter of choosing between extirpating the plague and the observance of the law. No real gain is made when the law is sacrificed. It is precisely because trafficking in drugs offends the law that there is legitimacy in the full application of the State’s reserve of force against those who engage in it with impunity. 

Shorn of a legal warrant, the war against drug traffickers and peddlers is simply nothing more than a contest between two factions – those who want to sell, and those who do not want them to, hardly any different from the gangster wars that make neighborhoods hellish and uninhabitable! It is the law that makes the difference. It is because of the law that we can affirm the “right” of law enforcers to go after the malefactors with full force! It cannot then be one of our options to set aside the law, even if only provisionally!

So that the constitutional and legal guarantees, however, do not become a refuge of scoundrels from reckoning, the resoluteness of law enforcement must be coupled with the studiousness by which prosecutors and judges insulate due process from abuse, especially by wily lawyers who many drug lords and peddlers can so easily afford. 

At the Philippine Judicial Academy, judges are always reminded: “At all stages of the proceedings, the judge must be in firm control, and must not allow the lawyers to set the pace.” A needed admonition, indeed. Allowing endless replies and rejoinders, granting extended motions for postponement or deferment, giving deference to every dilatory trick – all these make proceedings appear like luxuries we can ill afford in the face of so urgent a task and so real a threat.

The point, I think, is to see to it that we all reject the disjunction – firmness and due process – as false, and see to it that it remains false! – Rappler.com

Father Ranhilio Callangan Aquino is dean of the Graduate School of Law of San Beda College. He chairs the Department of Jurisprudence and Legal Philosophy of the Philippine Judicial Academy.

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