[Right-Up] The social costs, perils, and lack of depth of the Duterte approach in addressing crime and drugs-iDEFEND

The social costs, perils, and lack of depth of the Duterte approach in addressing crime and drugs
A paper for iDEFEND
Ellecer Ebro Carlos
July 2016

The social backdrop of the “war” against crime and drugs

Photo by Rommel Yamzon

Photo by Rommel Yamzon

The EDSA Revolution never ushered in the radical social reforms it promised, the redistribution of the nation’s wealth never took place and essential services were never democratized. Actual political and economic power was merely transferred from Marcos and his cronies to another small group coming from the Philippines’ privileged class, becoming the oligarchy we know today. It is true that some space was then produced which enabled some reclaiming of institutions, a struggle still being fought today.

30 years after EDSA I, Philippine Politics and Economy remains captured by 40 families and their affiliates who have since treated their public posts as profit making ventures effectively denying the vast majority the essential services such as quality, free and accessible education, universal access to health services, decent housing and access to the commons like water, electricity and transportation. All these essentials to a life of dignity remain commodified. Most basic services are made available for a profit rather than delivered for human need. The departure from the Marcos Dictatorship never actually translated into the lifting of economic conditions for most Filipinos of the most basic opportunities and needs.

Apart from fraudulent exploits at high levels of governance, corruption and impunity has also become pervasive at bureaucratic levels owing to the fact that most Filipinos do not have the ability to challenge the behavior of authorities. It is clear that the survival of this oppressive and exploitative system system is dependent on keeping the vast majority poor and uninformed. President Duterte acknowledges that past administrations denied the people chances to better living conditions.

President Duterte won though a platform that promised to stop the pervasiveness of crime, ending extensive drug influx, sale and abuse, and stamping out corruption. These are problems which Filipinos from all social classes are directly troubled with making such promises most attractive and enticing.  On top of such public order and safety issues, the Philippine public has lost patience with, and even become infuriated by inefficient and fraudulent governance making PresidentDuterte’s vow to end corruption another appealing pledge.

As it turns out, corruption is directly related to the root cause of the two other featured social ills in his platform. The high crime rate and pervasiveness of the drug trade and dependency are merely consequences of this corrupt and poverty-inducing system. Conscientized citizens and groups must call on the Duterte administration to act with prudence and address these problems at their roots.

Identifying the roots of the pervasiveness of crime and drug trade & rampant drug abuse

1.    People who live in brutalizing and insufferable settings are susceptible and predisposed to a life of crime, drug peddling and drug abuse.

The most impoverished countries in the world are also those with the highest crime rates and the most extensive drug trades and abuse. There is no denying the link between poverty and these social ills and thatinhuman living conditions produces a society with plentiful misguided individuals. A person’s behavior, attitudes, life outlook and even concepts of right and wrong is shaped by his or her social environment.  Idle people without opportunities, those who are denied an education or the capacity to become productive are most prone and vulnerable to dysfunctional behavior. Harsh living conditions and social vulnerabilityhave eroded and compromised the core values of many Filipinos. Profiles of most of those who commit crimes in the Philippines come from the most impoverished sections of our society.

A government that serves the people well by providing everyone access to quality essential services, the requirements of a life of dignity, enabling everyone to be productive and fulfill their human potential, leads to amilieu  where people are able conduct themselves well toward others. Societies where all citizens enjoy a life of dignity do not shape numerous criminals or persons predisposed to drug abuse.There is a direct relationship between the decline of crime incidents with the rise of standard of living.

Pervasive corruption leads to capital starvation reducing government’s inability to provide quality services which should enable the vast majority to grow, develop and become productive members of society. The overarching reason for the prevalence crime and drug abuse stems fromthis corruption-engenderedand opportunity-starving system and its failure to uplift economic & social conditions.Government’s inability to usher in opportunities for all Filipinos to acquire a decent standard of living also accounts for the frequency of heinous crimes and the large number of children in conflict with the law.It is important to note that statistically speaking, societies with decent living conditions, heinous crimes are exceptional.

The bottom-line is that no human being, child or adult would waste their time on illegal acts or harming others if they are able to play, study, work and develop their full human potentials and participate in life productively. For the few who still do, the State must have reformation institutions which rehabilitate persons into society.Social order and natural discipline is dependent on decent living conditions, not a climate of fear.Given that the State has been unable and/or unwilling to eradicate poverty and dehumanizing living conditions, it has no place and no right to further dehumanize and assault the very people it has failed to support.To permanently end pervasive crime and the rampant drug trade, the Duterte government must invest in uplifting social and economic conditions.

2.    Dysfunctional, ineffective and corrupt criminal justice system pillars
Having hadarticulated that the Philippines has a huge and ripe market of poor people predisposed/susceptible to entering into crime and drug abuse, there are aggravating factors to and beyondpoverty as theorigin of these ills.

On paper, the Philippines has institutional establishments which are mandated to uphold the law and public order and safety. Under the Criminal Justice System, we have the PNP, the prosecution, courts and the correctional system. Due to endemic corruption in these institutions and mechanisms, the mainstays and backbone of syndicated crime and drug trade have the facility to circumvent the law. It is no secret that prosecutors, judges and police officers can be bought.

What exacerbatesbribery isthe direct involvement ofthe police, local government officials and other public authorities, the very people tasked to uphold these institutional processes, in criminal activities and the drug trade. It is the extensive and entrenched unlawful involvement and complicity of persons in authoritythat preservesa system incapableof holding to account elevated personalities, a must in dismantling the structures of syndicated crime and drug trade.

The relative few big time crime and drug lords who go to prison continue to operate within, protected by elements of the correspondingly corruption-wracked Bureau of Corrections. The slow grind of justiceand inaction to capture all lawbreakers is precisely why so many law abiding Filipinos, losing patience with and infuriated by the ineffectual criminal justice system, support and rejoice alternate ruthless and inhuman methods outside the legal procedures in dealing with crime and drug related activities.

Had we an efficient and genuinely functioning criminal justice system which ensures that all those who commit illegal acts, including leveraged personalities, are caught, tried and jailed, crime and the propagation of drugs in communities would have been much less extensive.

3.    Misplaced policy on drug abuse and absence of rehabilitation programs for the poor that work

Like many poor countries, the Philippines trails behind in the state’s opinion and view of drug abuse. Both in policy and action, drug abuse is treated as a crime rather than an illness. This fact is clear cut in government drug rehabilitation programs being integrated into criminal justice institutions such as the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, the Bureau of Corrections and the NBI. It is undesirable and unwise to mix those who need to be cured from addiction with those who need social reform. Since drug addiction is a public health concern,the Department of Health and its counterpart units at the LGU level should be tasked administer public drug rehabilitation centers. Most specialized and effective treatment centers for drug addiction are private and accessible only to those who have the means. Such programs are not available to the majority of drug dependents who come from the poor except for a few being piloted by correctional system institutions.

The social costs and dangers of using extra-legal methods in waging a war against crime and the proliferation of drugs

Killing of suspected criminals, drug peddlers and drug dependents

The surge and “creeping normality” of killings of suspected drug pushers and drug dependents committed by law enforcement officials, a group claiming to be an armed left faction and more than a few unknown assailants is too alarming to be ignored. From January 1 to May 9 this year (129 days), reported deaths from drug-related violence was 39. But the death count suddenly swelled after May 10. In a matter of 64 days, 251 deaths have already been reported.At least one woman and a child has been sexually harassed in the course of operations.Most of the victims come from the poor and the lowest standings in the drug trade. Some even, were mere drug dependents. These figures of gross violations of the right to life reveal an organized and extensive assault on the underprivileged sections of Philippine society, victims of the very system the President has vowed to change.

What makes these spate of executions most worrisome is that this was prompted by President Duterte’s pronouncements, made even before his assumption into office, that urged the police, ordinary citizens and later, the New Peoples Army to kill all those involved in the illegal drug trade, with the promise that he would shield them against any legal consequences.  This is just a step away from legitimizing entoto armed non-State actors to become, de facto, part of the State’s armed enforcement machinery.

Coming from the Chief Executive himself, this   declarationlegitimizes  a system of crime response where the police and regular citizens become prosecutors, judges and executioners.Many of these killings are incidents when police officers claim that the arrested fought back and thus had to be brought down. The regularity of such incidents are suspicious to say the least. The foremost violation in such course of actions is the arbitrary deprivation of life. The Criminal Justice System provides safeguards to protect suspected offenders and all citizens against arbitrary acts through transparency and checks and balances. The arbitrary killing of suspects bypasses this system altogether,infringes on fundamental due process tenets and denies people the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The social costs and dangers of arbitrary methods should not be underestimated. The disregard of safeguards endangers everyone in Philippine society: anyone can now be accused of any crime or involvement in illegal drugs and be executed before and without having a chance to publicly defend themselves in court.There is no reason why these violations will not extend to law abiding citizens and human rights and environmental defenders.

This is the fear that arises in the killing on July 1, 2016, the first day after President Duterte’s inauguration, of Gloria Capitan, grandmother and Human Rights Defender (HRD) of economic and social rights against the ill-effects of coal to their community in Mariveles, Bataan by two unidentified motorcycle-riding gunmen.

The culture of disregard for the rule of law, polices, procedures, rules of engagement and safeguards and other extra legal shortcuts in crime prevention and solving was already common among police officers working in the shadows before the Duterte presidency. Nonetheless, while unable and/or unwilling to do anything to stop police excesses, the State never encouraged or made such methods official. These extra-legal routines carried out expansively and incessantly while perceived as being State authorized threatens to transfigure the mindsets of the whole PNP, changing even decent, law abiding police officers who were once in the majority into ruthless individuals.

Human Rights organizations and the CHR have spent over three decades sensitizing security forces on Human Rights values and ideals which are in danger of going to waste. We are still dealing with PNP and AFP’s culture of excesses, habitual traces and vestiges from the Martial Law heyday. We walk down a treacherous path should we allow such methods to replace our legal institutions. The inertia of such imprinted and entrenched practice may haunt us far beyond the Duterte administration.  We all want reliable law abiding public servants, law enforcers and military as well as institutions our children can trust in the future. Realizing this is dependent on bringing to justice and helping reform those who go legally astray without any excesses.

PNP and PDEA backed Shame Campaigns of LGUs

Besides, Extra Judicial Executions, the Duterte administration’s war on drugs has inspired other excesses. These are within the context of local government campaigns against drugs which have sprouted in several cities and municipalities throughout the Philippines. Like the killings, these methods circumvent legal processes. Barangay, Municipal and City administrations produce a list of drug peddlers and users generated by community surveys. Based on this list, LGU representatives, the police and citizens go to the front of houses of suspects and publicly request them to surrender. This method, like the killings, side steps legal processes and tenets of due process.

On many occasions, captured suspected drug peddlers and drug dependents, before having their day in court are paraded in public places ceremoniously “flores de mayo” style to arouse peoples curiosity and interest as punishment and “so that the community will know who to avoid”. Some of these LGUs have organized and commissioned private citizens forming “Civilian Security Units” which arrest suspected drug peddlers and dependents through “Citizen’s Arrest”.  Again, the LGU usurps the role of the judiciary and corrections system by acting as jury and punisher. Rehabilitation programs and even corrections programs of the Bureau of Corrections may restore the wellbeing and uprightness of persons but the stigma which such acts creates will make the return to their communities difficult for these individuals. Such cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and even torture not only impacts the psychological well-being of those who endure the experience but also creates psychological distress among their family members.

Apart from being an affront to the dignity of persons and their loved ones, Shame Campaigns also undermine the well-being of communities and Philippine society in general. These acts, categorized as psychological torture is prohibited by the Anti-Torture Act of 2009 or RA 9745. By allowing such illegal acts by authorities,the ones who should be the first to uphold the law and the last ones to break them, we contribute to the culture haphazard, harmful and arbitrary dispensation of justice.Local Executives should treat drug dependents with compassion and facilitate their rehabilitation while ensuring that those involved in the drug trade are brought to justice through legitimate processes.

It is clear that these methods which deliberately violate the right to life, right to dignity and due process,  willnot solve the country’s crime and illegal drugs problem. In fact, the social costs and dangers of employing extra-legal methods are high.

The just, prudent and forward looking attitude and approach to stamping out crime, the drug trade and drug abuse.

Corruption at various levels of governance hinders the eradication of poverty and obstructs the effective functioning of our public institutions, like the criminal justice system. We commend the fact that the fight against corruption is a priority of the Duterte administration. A serious and impactful anti-corruption drive must complement an alternative, well founded and rights based program in dealing with the high crime rate, the rampant drug trade and drug abuse.

In order to appropriately addresscrime and the extensive drug trade, theDuterte government should:

1.    Immediately stop the killings of  suspected criminals and drug related offenders
Law enforcement authorities and government officials should abide by our criminal justice system, by securing warrants prior to arrest, strict observance of police rules of engagement and maximum tolerance in the arrest of suspects, filing of  appropriate cases and bringing them to the BJMP without harm and allowing them to stand trial. The killing of suspects outside the rule of law is palliative and does not tackle the core of the crime and drug problems.

2.    Strictly prohibit LGU Executives and law enforcement units from implementing torture and dehumanizing methods in the fight against crime and drugs.
The listing of and knocking on houses of persons suspected of peddling and using drugs to as well as the “walks of shame” destroy the humanity of persons and their families. These individuals are also deprived of their right to due process and to reintegrate with their communities with dignity.

3.    Professionalize and raise the human rights and respect for the rule of law standards of the PNP, PDEA, NBI and other law enforcement agencies and rid their ranks of those involved in corruption and syndicated crime.

The most professional and efficient law enforcement agencies in the world are those which have solid human rights foundations and those that strictly adhere to the very laws they are tasked to uphold. Strict adherence to the Rule of Law, institutional safeguards and respect for human rights must be the cornerstones of Philippine law enforcement modernization and professionalization.

4.    Review and reform the criminal justice system and root out corruption in the prosecution service, courts, the BJMP and the Bucor as soon as possible with the view of making the whole system prompt and efficient in dispensing justice and reforming persons.
The ability of drug lords and drug trade protectors to evade and sidestep the law is dependent on corruption cracks in law enforcement and justice system. Hence, the ability to stop the drug trade at its source depends on, not the killing of poor people down the line, but ridding law enforcement and the justice system institutions of corruption so that they can effectively hold drug lords and trade protectors to account and render them incapable to continue their activities.

5.    Institute complaints mechanisms widely accessible to ordinary Filipinos so that corruption, involvement in crime, violations to the rule of law and due process as well as extra judicial killings and other grave excesses can be promptly reported to relevant institutions.

6.    Review and revise state policyon drug addictionincluding the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 (RA9165), and make available and accessible proper drug rehabilitation programs and facilities to the majority of drug dependents who come from the poor.
Drug dependents are persons who are ill and are victims of addictive substances. While the manufacture and sale of drugs are crimes, drug addiction is not. Drug abuse is a public health issue and it should be the DOH and its counterpart units at the LGU handling drug rehabilitation programs and facilities, not corrections officials. 60% of those in Philippine jails and penal institutions are incarcerated due to drug offenses under the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2009 or RA 9165; these are people who need proper treatment. Jail and prison facilities are undermanned overburdened and overcrowded giving rise to a host of inhuman complications and deplorable conditions. Most jails and prisons are environments without capacity to provide drug rehabilitation services and some of them are even centers of national drug syndicates and operations such as the Bucor’s New Bilibid Prison Maximum Security Prison where it is said that the larger part of drug operations in the Philippines is conducted from. Drug dependents who become incarcerated in such places continue to be exposed to dangerous substances.

7.    Invest in the realization of a life of dignity for all.
Essential services such as education, health, housing, food and the commons such as water and electricity and other basic needs which people need to get out of poverty and become productive members of Philippine society, should be democratized. These requirements of a life of dignity provide people with economic and social opportunities, enabling them to pave their way out of often unbearable conditions which engender anti-social values and behavior. We should address the roots of rampant crime and extensive drug trade and abuse as well as many other social problems by stamping out poverty and social idleness. These social levelers include a good public education which exists for the benefit of public order. Currently, we waste human resources because so many in poor communities are unskilled, when they could contribute to nation building. When all in Philippine society enjoy a productive life of dignity, there will be few left who are prone and vulnerable to dysfunctional behavior or predisposed to a life of crime and drugs.

8.    End the corrupt and poverty inducing system
End the rule of the 40 families which have captured Philippine politics and economy and treat their public posts as profit making ventures.Large scale corruption in the highest places causes blocks to effective wealth distribution andcapital starvation. Capital starvation compromises the delivery of the most basic services which people need to develop and provide for their needs and contribute to nation building. Corruption impinges on the opportunities of many to get out of poverty. Corruption in high levels of government also spawns corruption at all the other levels including the law enforcement sector, criminal justice institutions, service providing agencies and the LGUs.

9.    Halt all actions toward the re-establishment of the Death Penalty and the lowering of the age of discernment.

10.    Investigate and prosecute the authorities responsible for human rights violations in the course of the drug war implementation.  Justice must be served to the families of those killed, tortured and to those who suffered from sexual harassment.

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