The ‘war on drugs’ initiated by President Rodrigo Duterte on 1 July 2016 has made headlines around the world. The 5th commandment ‘Thou shall not kill’ has been widely ignored. Most of the extrajudicial killings take place among the poor. Even women are killed and sometimes children are caught in the crossfire.
I celebrate Mass in a shantytown each Sunday morning. After Mass recently, I was invited to bless a house. Filipinos will not sleep in a house where a murder has taken place until it is blessed. We proceeded along the narrow pathways in the shantytown. Towards the end of the pathway I was led through a narrow passageway which then led to very narrow stairs up to a small room. The couple living there told me their brother, who had slept on plywood in a corner of the shack, had been shot dead at close range by a policeman who had made his way up the narrow stairs. Such incidents are all too common especially in poor areas in this ongoing war against drugs. Since the new government took over in July 2016 some 4,000 people have been summarily executed. They are suspected drug dealers and addicts denied the due process that is their right. This is despite many concerns raised by prominent human rights advocates. Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial and summary executions has highlighted, “The State has a legally binding obligation to ensure the right to life and security of every person in the country, whether suspected of criminal offences or not.”
I was asked to bless another home where the man of the house had been shot dead as he rested. It was a two-storey rickety shack. His wife showed me their small baby. Afterwards, the woman living downstairs asked me to bless her room. She pointed out to me the ceiling boards where the victim’s blood had trickled down. The wake was held on the street because the shack was too small for the coffin.
Another woman talked about how her husband had been shot in front of their children. He pleaded to be allowed to kiss his children goodbye. That was denied to him and he was taken outside and summarily executed. Even when people surrender they are shot dead in this sustained ‘war on drugs’. To add insult to injury the poor people have to raise funds to bury their murdered loved ones. In the Year of Mercy the killing went on without mercy. The appeals of human rights groups, the US, EU, the International Criminal Court, to end the summary executions are ignored. The aim is to kill three million. President Duterte has made his intentions clear as a GMA News report revealed. “If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have...,” he said, pausing and pointing to himself... “There are three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them.”
The root cause of drug addiction is poverty. Many children cannot go to school so they are illiterate and can find no employment; then they become involved in the drugs trade to survive. Some live on the streets, others in one-roomed shacks in inhumane conditions. They sniff glue and the solvent shabu to assuage the pangs of hunger. There are no concrete programmes to address the problems of unemployment, inadequate housing, subsidised food and education for the poor.
The human cost of the ‘war on drugs’ is enormous. Families are devastated. Communities are infiltrated by spies and informers. Many become widows and orphans. Even women are being killed by the police or vigilante groups. One woman was hired by her husband to become a killer; as no one would have suspected her to be an assassin, she was able to move in and kill at close range. She has already killed six. She regrets what she has done as she herself has children. But if she quits this bloody ‘job’ she fears that she too will be killed.
In theory, suspected drug users are given the choice of surrendering or being shot. Often those who surrender are still shot dead. If not, they are imprisoned in inhumane over-crowded jails in terrible conditions. They are supposed to go to a rehabilitation centre but these are few and far between. There is a serious shortage of doctors, nurses and trained counsellors to help addicts to recover. They are sick people in need of healing from their addiction not criminals to be shot at sight.
Church people are being asked to help in the rehabilitation process but they are unprepared for the huge numbers. The killing must stop and the victims of drug addiction must be given a chance to recover and rebuild their lives. That is their basic human right. Unless the Government changes its policy, the killing will continue and we’ll have many more destitute widows and orphans. There must be another way to deal with the drugs menace. The people deserve better. •
Fr John A. Keenan is from Scardaune, Claremorris, Co Mayo. He has served in the Manila area of the Philippines since 1966, apart from ten years spent in Ireland, England and Scotland.
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