COMMENTARY: President Duterte and the Drug War

ARAKAN, North Cotabato (MindaNews/15 Sept) – A Filipino Priest said that President Duterte is the only president he knows with a heart for the ordinary people. He has exposed the drug syndicate as ‘the mother of all crimes’ from murders, rapes, hold-ups, etc. to the system of corruption involving some policemen, politicians, business people and entertainers, and even some of the most respected personalities.

Pres. Duterte repeats “I Love the Filipino People, I must protect them, especially the young…” The passionate call of the president has aroused alarm about the proliferation of drugs and other related vices, from drinking to pornography, prostitution and criminalities. All of these have become big business and enjoy protection and impunity with the tacit consent of public opinion because of the culture of permissiveness and the culture of death. Can we allow the gradual killing of many, mostly young people, who are destroying their health, and become unproductive and destructive in their families and in society, until they are actually killing themselves?

Pres. Duterte has launched an all-out war on drugs. The Police now claim that those who do not surrender can be killed, and the vigilantes are thirsty for blood. Any war dehumanizes killers, especially when civilians become targets. Duterte has declared that he respects the laws of war for the protection of civilians or even unarmed enemies.

Killing can also become a drug. Killing sick people may be easy, the killers may feel unlimited power, but they may also feel deep guilt, often subconscious, which may cause disturbances in a person, leading to various forms of violence, then drinking and even drugs… Killers are dangerous even to their own families. Therefore the war on drugs should also limit killings, particularly by vigilantes or even by police acting as vigilantes. They may also become addicts to violence.

Pres. Duterte may resent unsolicited advice by self-righteous people who have failed to face their own failures to deal with the drug problem or even with greater problems. He may call church people hypocrites and blame foreign advisers for failing to stop the greatest crimes, like the economic system that allows the rich to become richer but causes countless deaths among the poor, the business of armaments and war that feeds terrorisms etc.

Yes, we should all face our responsibilities. Pope Francis denounces the globalization of indifference and the throw-away culture which allows millions to starve, millions to abandon their countries, millions to become victims of war, thousands to drown at sea or be enslaved by human traffickers… We may mumble that these problems are too big for us to solve, but Pres. Duterte can challenge us to wake up from our complacency.

I wish that our president may pursue the war on drugs while avoiding the ‘drug of killings’. I wish that he may convince more people to support a clean war, not a dirty war against drugs and corruption.

What would Jesus say about this? Jesus likes to make people reflect through parables, like the parable of Prodigal Son who wasted everything, even his own life and the family property. When he mustered the courage to surrender to his father, he was not put to shame, but was overwhelmed with loving care… However his older brother refused to share his Father’s joy for the brother who caused shame to their family…

We may share the resentment of the older brother and we may also think that it is easier to kill addicts rather than rehabilitate them. Many of them surrendered, I suppose with the advice of their loved ones and their friends. This is a positive indicator that so many of them are determined to become free from drug dependency. They need help for rehabilitation, which is a health problem. Can the government, churches and civil society provide an all-out effort for rehabilitation like the all-out war on drugs? Can each one of us help in some way?

Can we help also those who refuse to surrender? Can we help the government to stop the supply of drugs and to isolate and expose the drug lords? Can more suspects be arrested rather than killed? Can we avoid the ‘drug of killing’?

May the Father of Mercy and Compassion show us how to love our own people and help them become free from the slavery of drugs and corruption, while avoiding becoming addicted to the drug of violence. (Fr. Peter Geremia, PIME, assistant parish priest of Arakan in North Cotabato wrote this piece on 13 September 2016. It was first posted in on September 15, 2016. Permission to reprint granted by the Foundation’s secretariat).