by Patrick Samm Lacia

The war on drugs was a campaign promise that brought millions of Filipinos to vote for the tough-talking former mayor of Davao City, Rodrigo Duterte, as the new head of state. But, with this promise came a devastating number of alleged “state-sponsored killing” which ended the lives of men, women, government officials, and even youths who were suspected to be participating on drug-related acts. Now, the question: is the alleged “Extra-Judicial Killing” really state-sponsored?

Extrajudicial killing is already present for the longest time; this is an act of slaughtering constituents of a state by their own government authorities without using sanctions of any juridical process. This is viewed to be unscrupulous since this involves a complete disregard of due process of the legal jurisdiction. The concept of state violence corresponds to coercive face of power which then result to physical violence used by the state amongst its constituents. With this, activists from all over the globe expressed alarm over the rising number of body count and, not to mention, the ones responsible for the killings were still unidentified up to this point in time.

“We all agree that the war on drugs won’t be won over through extrajudicial killings, or even death penalty, or even legitimate encounters. The war against drugs is also a war on poverty, war on powerlessness,” said Antonio La Viña, former Ateneo School of Governance Dean. He pointed out that most of those killed in this war on drugs belonged to low socio-economic status. He also addressed that the way to achieve national peace and to decrease the poverty rate is through the administration’s planned peace talks and agreements. While the figures show the coherence of such avowal to the current issue, the quest is still on for who really is responsible for these massive slaughter.

It would also be right to indicate that there is the existence of legal police operations and vigilante killings. Both contribute to the rising number of dead bodies amidst war on drugs but they do not necessarily imply the connection of both operations. The former is legitimate, while the latter is operating in anonymity. While the president declared a “shoot-to-kill” order, this does not mean the entitlement of just anybody to conduct such action nor does this pronouncement by the president make these killings “state-sponsored”.

According to Russell P. Gremel in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, an officer of the law may use deadly force if a felon or suspected criminal, who is aware of the fact that he is being arrested by an officer of the law, resists arrest, and there is no other way to subdue the criminal and make the arrest without using such force. This statement is coherent with the drug operations conducted by police officers. Most of the suspected offenders were said to be “nanlaban” which in turn resulted to a bloody encounter; thereby adding to the number of dead bodies in this war on drugs.

Now what about the said vigilante killings? These are acts of killing people, allegedly participating in drug-related activities, anonymously. While police have killed a significant number of people, most of the killings appear to have been carried out by vigilantes and other civilians, some pressed into service as contract killers. The assailants left cardboard signs declaring the dead people to be “drug pushers,” a common practice that stoked anger in this instance.

The war on drugs had opened the eyes and minds of Filipinos and even the people living in this world about the widespread abusive use of illegal drugs especially here in the Philippines. Even political personalities with high positions in the government participate in this activity, therefore, corrupting the citizens. The ease of passage of illegal drugs in the Philippines is brought about by officials who are more concerned on wealth rather than the welfare of their constituents.

Again, the question is: are these killings “state-sanctioned”? “The lawlessness that has erupted over this is opening up political space for any kind of killing now,” said Sanho Tree, a drug-policy expert at the Washington, DC-based Institute for Policy Studies. Criminals and civilians in the country could be using Duterte’s crackdown as cover for settling scores, and competing drug gangs could use the wave of violence to attack their rivals and expand their turf. Some people have turned themselves into authorities, many of whom were likely prompted to do so by the bloodshed. While it could be that the police or the president himself has an internal control and knowledge on these happenings, maybe these violence could be just a result of drug suspects being threatened by means of killing those whom they think would possibly speak of themselves and expose their identities.

As this war continues to happen in our premise, as citizens of this country, we are solely responsible for the resolution of this matter. If we value life, then never use or push drugs in the first place. We should instead work hand in hand together with the administration in totally wiping out this illegal substance that poisoned the minds of our fellow Filipinos. The challenge now lies in the society, and our responsibility to exercise our ability to remain informed, vigilant, and supportive of the new administration’s efforts to meet its goals and thrusts.