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No winners in war

“Go ahead and kill them.”

Terror is being raised in the name of “change” as headlines of vigilantes and “inhuman” drug users dominate the news. Dead set on eradicating these pushers to cleanse the country, Duterte is in full force initiating this brutal war on drugs as people are being found dead on the streets left and right. In this bloodbath that has consumed us all, we will all eventually realize the reality that there are no winners in war.  

Imposing fear in Filipino drug dealers and users, Duterte’s mission has skyrocketed the number of extrajudicial killings after he gave consent to the police, barangay officials, and even civilians to use violence against drug users. Tracking the numbers, Philippine National Police (PNP) confirmed that there have already been more than 3,526 killed in the war on drugs as of September 14 in which 1,491 were executed by police officials and 2,035 deaths are still under investigation including those who were found covered in tape and killed by vigilantes.  

This isn’t unexpected. During his reign as the Davao mayor, Duterte admitted that he was (or still is) associated with the Davao Death Squad, a vigilante group of 1000 criminals strong since the 1990’s in Davao alone. At his oath taking in Malacañang last June, Duterte told the people to do their part in eradicating drug users by saying, “Please feel free to call us, the police, or do it yourself if you have the gun—you have my support… If you know of any (drug) addicts, go ahead and kill them.” Shortly after the speech, the news was filled with reports of extrajudicial killings of alleged drug pushers around the country—and the scenario was always the same: corpses covered in tape and labeled with phrases like “Pusher ako, ‘wag tularan.” These were the same words that appeared next to the now-iconic Pieta-like photo of a weeping woman holding her dead husband in her arms.

The same thing happened to graduating college student, Rowena Tiamson, who was gunned down by a vigilante for being an alleged drug user. She was not.

Even as institutions like the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and Commission on Human Rights (CHR) relentlessly call to stop the killings, words of opposition go unheeded by the people already under Duterte’s spell. In the words of CBCP Archbishop Socrates Villegas, “are we providing our children a safe haven, by teaching them by our tolerance of murders? From a generation of drug addicts shall we become a generation of street murderers?” Adding fuel to the fire, Deputy Director in Asia for the US-based Human Rights Watch Phelim Kine said “as long as President Duterte turns a blind eye to—or implicitly or explicitly encourages—summary killings, the fundamental right to life of all Filipinos is at risk from potentially random extrajudicial violence.”

Thankfully in our own community, President of De La Salle Philippines Brother Jose Mari Jimenez, FSC, stood his ground to reverberate his call to action to the entire Lasallian community as this state of society has made “the young and the poor become vulnerable to the machinations of corrupt and criminal elements.”

With a moving letter condemning the extrajudicial killings as a result of this war, Brother Jimenez reminds us that for us Filipinos, this warfare is a choice—a choice of whether we are willing to give up our morality and dignity as payment for this battle we’ll never win. Whether all the drug pushers are dead or not by the end of this war, it’ll end in the same way—a lose-lose scenario that’ll kill our humanity as well if we decide to carry on with this culture of death.

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Although many have spoken, few have taken action—change starts with words and is completed with deeds. As Lasallians, as humans, we made a contract—a promise—with ourselves and the universe to do everything we could to make our country a place of peace, free of unnecessary brutality.

That’s why you can’t really fault Duterte. His vowed that “change is coming.” We’ve seen that change is here, and it’s been just as bloody as he said it would be. He kept his promise.

Now let’s keep ours.