TURNING POINT: Individual versus Collective Rights of Human Beings

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews/30 August) — In the current, popularly-backed crusade to end the drug menace in a tight timeframe of six months, apologists of the campaign have argued that Individual human rights need to be sacrificed, in favor of the rights of the collective or the majority in society, because in a democracy the interest of the majority is, accordingly, more important than that of the individual.

But is one really more important than the other so as to prioritize or sacrifice one over the other? No such thing, especially in the realm of the rights to life and liberty. What threatens individual rights threatens majority or collective rights of citizens.

Consider, for instance the killing of mere suspected criminals, this at first glance threatens only the right to life of the individual, but in the current finger-pointing justice system that is making a stronghold at the barangay or village level up, anybody can be a suspect sooner or later. Hence, eventually what threatens the individual threatens the majority as well.

(Incidentally, in the finger-pointing method of identifying drug criminals, the poor and defenseless are pointing at each other and suffer for their fear and perceived life-saving decision. How many would dare rant on their barangay chair or top town and police officials who could be their main local suppliers of the prohibited drugs?)

Lest we forget the majority is not an abstraction but is comprised of individual human beings? One might say the threat to the majority is not imminent or is not going to happen very soon. This is because it is uncommon for the majority to be a suspect, all at the same time. But at one time or another everyone in the majority will be affected directly or indirectly. It’s just a matter of time. Right thinking men should avoid not wait for that time to come.

One day, how would you feel if your teenage son is gunned down on his way home from school and left with a cardboard inscription (ADIK, HUWAG TULARAN) with no reason or basis at all except that he is thin with reddish bulging eyes because of a thyroid problem? Can you simply shrug your shoulders accepting the plight of your child as another statistic in collateral damage in behalf of the interest of the majority?
Meanwhile, the exercise of justice, however justice is construed by those in power ought to apply to all and not discriminate a certain class. In the current drug war the poor are generally the victims of summary execution. The rich, influential and well-connected are simply named, advised to clear themselves with the authorities, and thus given due process, a day in court.

In a democratic society supposedly governed by law and not by men due process cannot simply be dispensed with or just accorded to a particular class. Once done away with or applied with brazen discrimination, the human rights of the entire people in that society are compromised and put at great risk.
Human rights are about human life, the most valuable commodity, the highest value in a human community to uphold, secure and protect. As the late senator Jose W. Diokno immortally said:

“No cause is more worthy than the cause of human rights… they are what makes a man human. Deny them and you deny man’s humanity.” (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan is retired professor and former chancellor of the Mindanao State University Naawan campus, Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)