[A response to John Nery’s, “‘Are they human?’ is a dangerous doctrine” (PDI, 9.6.16)]
I am moved by the pain with which you respond to my series of tweets. I respond with similar pain. Where we once thought that the President, elected by such a convincing majority, could bring about change for this country with relative ease, we now know this is not the case. All over today: division and disagreement. But disagreement can also lead to dialogue. It is in this spirit that I respond to your article, “‘Are they human?’ is a dangerous doctrine” (PDI, 9.6.16).
You describe the President responding to human rights critics of his war on drugs. That is the context of the PDI front-page news article which bannered on Sunday, Aug. 28: “Junkies are not human.” The banner was a categorical, indicative statement enclosed in quotation marks, indicating a direct quote. I read the article of Mr. Marlon Ramos. Nowhere in the article did he report a categorical statement of the President. There was none. You said the banner was “editor provided.” That’s what I thought it was. But it wrongly attributed a categorical statement to the President. PDI has no license to do that. If it thinks it does, it ought not.
Therefore my first tweet: “Du30 didn’t say, ‘Junkies are not humans.’ He asked, “Are drug users human?’ to provoke thought.” It was a rhetorical question, a turn of speech, to provoke thought. That’s what rhetorical questions do. It is premised on the war on drugs not being out to take lives but to save lives. The rhetorical question is not asked in the vacuum of academia, as you decry. The rhetorical question is posed to the human rights advocate whose attacks tend historically to paralyze the warriors and suspend the war – precisely why the drug situation in the Philippines today has become so serious. If the response is no, the drug user is not human, he is not human because of the drug abuse that has been inflicted on him; that too is a crime against humanity. If the response is yes, then the war on drugs is justified to liberate the users from their victimizers, no mean group if we are to understand the power of the international drug cartels. Of course the rhetorical question is provocative. But it is not a thoughtless statement that the junkie is inhuman and so deserves to be killed.
It is not “because drug users are less than human anyway” that taking their lives can be rationalized, but because the drug users, their families, and Philippine society are human that the war on drugs is justified.
Therefore, my second tweet: “Du30 was pointing out the one-sided human rights critique on the war on drugs.” His critics repeatedly decry the cost in human lives of the war on drugs, and especially extra-judicial killing. The President, in fact, had always warmed that the war on drugs would be bloody. But equally to be decried are the lives of individuals lost to illegal drugs. Even the conservative PDEA figure of 1.3 million hooked on drugs in the Philippines is too high. When one counts the numbers affected through the families of the users, the actual number affected by illegal drugs increases dramatically.
“Du30’s war on drugs based on an ultimate respect for the dignity of all Filipinos.” The President wishes not only to stop the hold of the drug cartels on the millions of Filipino users, he wishes to prevent the rest of Philippine society from being victimized by illegal drug use. “No society can be built,” he once said, “by taking the lives of its citizens.
“The cost of today’s war on drugs is the price of our past collective neglect.” It wasn’t always like this. The number of drug users grew through the years and law enforcers failed to arrest their growth. Law enforcement failed to support efforts to stamp out illegal drug use. People allowed policemen, soldiers, and politicians to thrive in their illegal drug activities.
I am happy that President Duterte is addressing the problem, as he said he would. I am not saying there are no problems with his approach. There are. It is driven far too exclusive by security forces; it should be complemented more and more by government and citizens’ organizations that care. Therefore my fifth tweet: “Based on human dignity, Du30’s anger against drug use is a virtue. Not caring is the vice.” It is real anger based on his having personally witnessed the inhumane acts that that drugs engender.
My last tweet was a general statement President’s general commitment to the human common good: “Du30’s respect for human life underpins his stand vs. corruption, environmental destruction, poverty.”
Certainly caring about the victims of illegal drug use is not incompatible with caring about the human rights of users and pushers. Human rights are inalienable. But human rights also belong to the victims of drug abuse. It would be a vice to let their cancer grow till it kills our human culture and our national heritage.
“Are they human?” is a dangerous question. They are. That is the salutary doctrine. Draw the conclusions.