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The killing fields and traumatised people

MANILA (SE): “Three people died today. They were shot. Brutally killed. We don’t know why. We are scared. It is so dangerous,” a note received on July 6 from Pagadian in Zamboanga del Sur reads.

The note goes on to describe the fear of going to sleep at night, of walking in the street and the memory of the mutilated, defaced and bloodied bodies.

The side of public extrajudicial executions that is not spoken about is their traumatising effect on the innocent who are forced to witness the the killings and shiver in their fear.

If indeed the murders are aimed at cleaning up crime, is inspiring fear and trauma in the wider population the ultimate tactic?

With the new president of The Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, in office for less than two weeks, media had reported that at least 103 people, believed to be petty drug users or couriers, had died violent deaths across the whole country.

The deaths are being connected with the promise of the new president to kill drug users and their suppliers in what he says is his way of ending the drug scourge in Philippine society.

While few would disagree with his ambition, increasingly more are taking umbrage at his method.

But what about the witnesses? Who speaks for them? Where is their voice in this ugly blight on Philippine society?

“The drug menace must stop,” a human rights lawyer, Edre Olalia, from the National Union of People’s Lawyers, was reported by UCAN as saying.

“But the apparent serial summary executions of alleged drug users or petty drug lords, which appears too contrived and predictable, must also stop,” he continued.

“The cure may turn out to be worse than the illness,” he commented, adding that there should be no shortcuts in the fight against crime.

“It is alarming that these incidents happened after Duterte was elected president,” Father Robert Reyes commented.

Renato Reyes, from the New Patriotic Alliance, has praised Duterte’s anti-crime and anti-drug campaign, especially against officials in the police who protect criminal syndicates, but believes that the recent spate of killing is over the top.

MindaNews reported Ronald Dela Rosa, the chief of the Philippine National Police, as saying that Duterte has a long hit list, which includes not only names of high-ranking police officers, but also rank-and-file personnel as part of the measure to clean out the force.

“For all we know, the president’s list includes not only star rank, not only senior superintendents but also PO1 (recruits). I don’t know how many pages, but there’s a lot,” Dela Rosa told a press conference at Camp Crame in Manila on July 6.

Duterte once named 10 “sons of bitches who deserve to die” on Davao City television. Most were dead within two weeks. On July 6, he publicly named five top officers from the Philippine Air Force, two retired, as being involved in drug syndicates.

Is this an historical throwback to the insidious antics of the Roman consul, Lucius Cinna, and Marcus Crassus reading out their famed proscriptions in the senate in 60BC, which removed all right to life,  property and family from the persons named and inspired fear in those forced to watch the drama?

“We, however, express grave concern over the spate of extrajudicial killings of alleged drug dealers over the past few weeks,” Reyes, from the New Patriotic Alliance, said.

A spokesperson for Duterte, Ernesto Abella, said the new president is aware of the spate of killings, saying that it could be an indication of the depth of the drug menace in the country.

“I’m sure his ear is on the ground and he’s listening,” Abella told reporters on July 4.

Father Reyes, meanwhile, urged the bishops not to keep silent, but to continue their role as a moral compass of society.

“If you keep quiet and you are talking seasonal and perhaps situational, or if it becomes inconvenient, we shut up, that is very dangerous,” the Running Priest told UCAN.

Father Reyes described Luis Cardinal Tagle as “very seasonal and very occasional.”

He said, “Let us not sacrifice morality for lesser values like peaceful coexistence, (as) moral principles are not seasonal concerns.”

He called the reduction of criminals to the level of pests immoral.

The Franciscan priest said the government should address the root cause of the problem and eradicate criminality at the source, not just the small-time drug offenders.

Nardy Sabino, the secretary-general of the Promotion of Church People’s Response, stressed, “The president who promised to fight injustice must also look at how law enforcement in the country is being implemented.”

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