PAGDARO SA KALINAW: Democratizing Justice (Part 1)

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 13 Oct) – The police are not the problem, as much as some will paint the PNP black with the blood of over 3,000 killed in counter-drug operations. The jails and prisons are not the problem, as much as they have become inhumane repositories of humanity discarded by society. The courts are not the problem, where up to 70 cases are filed for hearing in a single day though only 5 can be handled in a day, thus justice delayed is justice denied. Drugs are not the problem, for we randomly declare by legislation that some deadly and crime inducing drugs are legal (alcohol and tobacco), while for others we mete out the death penalty. Human Rights are not the problem, though it seems that the few with power and position are given more “rights” than the vast majority in poverty and obscurity. The International Criminal Court is not the problem, though we should pause and consider the perspectives of outsiders who might notice things we miss from the inside.

We are the problem because at the core, we have lost our vision of what it means to live realistically, responsively, and restoratively with the reality of conflict and violence in our lives. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish and American, accountability mechanisms were lead by community elders who mediated conflict and violence while protecting the dignity and honor of individuals, families and communities. Remnants of these collaborative systems remain, preserved in the lived tradition of the Philippines Indigenous Peoples. Meanwhile, a colonial legal system was foisted on us based on adversarial process (lawyers arguing with lawyers) and the needs of the colonial overlords. This imposition converted violence and wrongdoing from a community and social problem into a legal abstraction, criminalizing Filipinos as lawbreakers of the Spanish king’s Codigo Penal, which is until today, the basis of the revised penal code. In the process, we lost faith in our indigenous and Malay-rooted collaborative cultural processes.

With basic community accountability processes weakened and coopted by the colonists, and later the modern state itself, we became afraid of conflict and susceptible to injustice. Our fear was manipulated by governors and warlords, and later, by politicians, who overpowered the cultural wisdom needed to transform conflict and work for justice. Once afraid, we were easily tricked into thinking that we needed professionals to handle the problem ­­– lawyers, police, judges, prison guards, social workers, hired guns – rather than believing in our own capacity to make peace. So we locked up and ignored-to-death anyone associated with crime in the vain hope that if we could not see them, the professionals must be doing their job, and the problem would go away. Those we couldn’t ignore, we killed off, scapegoating the presumed guilty, justifying the collateral damage of the innocent since it was unclear who was really guilty.

We have not demanded efficient and fair justice from our justice system, allowing the rich and powerful to manipulate “due process” to their advantage. We have overlooked our own creativity to innovate and popularize humane systems of accountability and dispute resolution that restore the relationships of those affected by crime and conflict. And we have become lazy, allowing the suffering of those languishing in jails not to trouble our conscience. We glamorize police shooting their way out of a drug war rather than cheering on the tedious, meticulous, and inherently un-sexy, but essential, work of a majority of law enforcement.

But we are also the solution….(to be continued).

(Jeremy Simons has lived in the Philippines for over 21 years, the past 7, in Davao City. He works as a peacebuilding trainer and consultant with various academic institutions, NGOs, government programs, as well as partnering with Lumad communities for conflict transformation. Prior to coming to Davao, he lived for 6 years in an urban poor community that was severely affected by drugs, working as a community organizer in neighborhood justice programs, engaging in community policing and transformative justice initiatives. He can be reached at [email protected])