Do we really have a war on drugs?

Do we really have a war on drugs?

- in Opinion

Nicole Curato wrote a very thoughtful piece on Rappler early this week. Sociologist that she is, she delved into Goffman so well we thought well to respond.

Before we go any further, we would like to state some statistics on this so called “war”:

  • 120,000 so far surrendered
  • more than 3,000 arrests
  • 300 “kills”

No need to give exact figures as the number may go up even before we finish writing this.

The arrests and surrenders are numbers we can verify and document, as they come with affidavits and records. The “kills,” however, are something that cannot be attributed to the effort since we cannot honestly be sure that these are actual “drug kills,” having been quoted by the media that has so far sensationalized every homicide and insinuated that each dumped body is a drug pusher, even if indeed they have a cardboard sign on them. I can pick up a street child, kill her, and hang a sign on her calling her a drug runner and I’m sure the inquirer will list her as a “vigilante kill” and rhetorically wonder why. Duterte’s detractors will all join the condemning chorus.

The flawed premise 
Just like the dwindling Yellow army, some elements of the Catholic Church hierarchy, and a group of Student Council presidents, Curato unfortunately makes statements that allude to and assumes that the declared War on Drugs and anti-drug vigilantes are what killed the 300 or so “casualties” of this “war.” The remnants of the noisy Manila-based supporters of the once formidable yellow political machine have been screaming their lungs out blaming Duterte.

Duterte. Duterte. Duterte!

But did he really start the war? Is there a war to begin with? This is where Curato and the plethora of Manila’s “investigative” journalists failed. They fell into the premise and assumption and continue to attribute the war to Duterte.

They need to start ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS. Fast. They need to use their research skills and dig deep!

The real story: We are a few sniffs away from being a narco state
The elements of a narco state are all present, mirroring Mexico and Colombia — a strong Church and civil society that disdains state sanctioned violence, yet probably benefits from the benevolence of drug lords. We have weak law enforcement institutions and justice systems, and, like these Latin American countries, we have an overactive and rent-seeking “prensa” (press) whose pockets are filled with illegal money.

Another of Curato’s premises is that the lack of public outcry over the “extrajudicial killings “ is due to the frustration of the public with a slow justice system. That she gave a passing mention to this cause is noted, because Nicole is wrong. Many branches of our justice system are not slow, they are coopted and captured by these evil interests.

At the highest levels, these justice-dispensing institutions are politicized. Just look at the media portray Supreme Court justices on the basis of their “loyalties” to the appointing power. Listen to Justice Marvic Leonen give public statements and comments on his colleagues’ decisions and I wonder if he is a Senator or a member of the bench.

With the fall of the Roxas generals and the bilibid drug lords come the large pieces of evidence waiting to get into pleadings for their prosecution. Theirs may very well be the trial of the century, since with it will unravel the entire network of narco corruption that has captured our institutions.

That the public, even Duterte’s detractors, are wondering why these big fish have yet to be killed has only cemented the belief that the lords, and not the poor drug runners, deserve death. By itself, it is a painful yet tacit approval of Duterte’s methods.

The reality of the narco structure in the Philippines
Along with its capture of our law enforcement and judicial institutions comes the ability to hide behind the Yellow army’s favorite phrase: due process. How many drug runners and lords have been released due to loopholes in these? That they have captured and made a mockery out of human rights advocacies is clear. However, has anyone ever bothered to do a lifestyle check among these advocates?

The fact is that after six years of yellow, the due process requirement has been abused by these criminal syndicates as a big part of the large scale corruption of our justice and penal system.

Narco politics is already embedded in the criminal justice and corrections structure all under the Department of Justice, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), and the Philippine National Police (PNP). This cannot be denied by Duterte’s detractors. Even the mainstream media cannot deny these realities as they can only provide cover for these evil elements to thrive and enslave their mainly poor underlings.

Media’s role in the “drug war”: Benefactor or beneficiary?
The outcome of the recent elections has shown how superfluous traditional media have become, and perhaps how inept they have been when faced with rival social media. Traditional media outlets like radio and TV networks and large newspapers cannot cope with the speed with which social media actors and agencies deliver the news. They have developed their ecosystems of news production and consumption that has become their market base or engagement. Rappler has now become the news source of choice for many, beating the inquirer and other broadsheets. It has an online engagement ecosystem (regular readers) of about 3 million per day, almost as much as the Inquirer’s, and way beyond the 300,000 daily print circulation.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer, therefore, has to build its own “engagement ecosystem” if it wants to compete with Rappler and the emerging crop of news websites that are now feeding the hunger of an estimated 50 million Filipinos who log on daily to Facebook through their smartphones. It needs a good number of regular viewers daily to sell ads on its site. The more people log on, the better. How to do that? Get their pains and laughter, curiosity and anger hooked to your site. Let it be a regular feeding trough to nourish these emotions. Emotional virality is the game. Emotionally charged content is key. Having shown itself to be an anti-Duterte paper with the disdain of its late editor Letty Jimenez Magsanoc, PDI has cultivated an ecosystem of malcontent with Duterte, the bulk of which include the Yellow army and the cynical.

The balance of this are the pro-Duterte “Dutertards “ who will stop at nothing to defend their idol. In the maelstrom of these two opposing forces is a large ecosystem. Feed their conflict and you have your audience.

It therefore needs to keep this emotionality high with Duterte content to throw at each other. Audience=ads=revenue=profit. It’s that simple. The cost structure of an online paper is 20 percent of a daily printed broadsheet. This is what the Inquirer wants to be. Otherwise, reporters will lose their jobs. The large web presses can find new businesses printing receipts.

Thus, its rushed desire to needle Duterte and paint him as an evil vigilante keeps this ecosystem intact. The false assumption peddled by the Inquirer keeps the audience strong.

The truth, however, suffers when no one from the Inquirer, Rappler, or other mainstream media outlets bothered to probe beyond Duterte’s strong words. They took his word and every gesture as a sign of truth, and allowed the public to presume, and assume, in order to retain the emotional virality of their articles on the internet. Yes, without validating. The whole world now believes that “extrajudicial killings“ are the handiwork of “vigilantes” operating under the “inspiration” of Duterte.

The script is so simple and probably true so long as the real facts behind it remain hidden. People will look for a plausible and credible reason for phenomena. Duterte simply gave in to the public’s curiosity and desire by admitting he is the reason for the ”war.” He benefits from that assumption peddled by his enemies and those, like the inquirer, who profit from his presence. Confluence. confluence. confluence. Duterte need not pay for media attention. His mystique will impress his supporters and confuse his enemies.

Here’s something for enterprising reporters, though: why do you think no “vigilante” names have ever been floated? Where is the connection between the Roxas generals and de Lima’s drug lords? The names being heard from Duterte’s mouth have been in the watch list for almost 20 years, and probably have thousands in their networks. Its just odd that none of these reports can go beyond blaming Duterte.

They haven’t dug into the issue like they do other issues. We wonder why.

That Duterte benefits, however, is a foregone conclusion
The Yellow army’s remnants have only succeeded in solidifying Duterte as a strongman and helped him consolidate his power and increase the number of his followers. Read the moves of the Philippine Left, the columns of Emil Jurado and Bobi Tiglao and you’ll see how many have swung to his side. Even Cardinals Tagle and Vidal have paid him courtesy visits.

Moreover, he now has a “supermajority” in Congress and has taken control even of the Liberal Party. He can do impromptu meriendas with the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan. The Yellows and their hatred for him have only succeeded in strengthening his hold.

Easily, they fell into the Binay trap, whereby the louder they cried, the more credible Duterte became. He knows that his audience among the D class that comprise 70% of voters want his reforms and admire his toughness because they deal with crime, drugs, and corruption daily. Most of the Yellows live in their gated subdivisions and can afford Ateneo. That is not HIS audience. His masa cheered his SONA speech as an authentic, refreshing change from the stiff and complicated scripts of his predecessors.

Because he knows how to calculate his political math better than La Salle Brother JJ Jimenez can teach College Algebra, his constituency and support base is growing by the day as the number of arrests and surrenders, and yes, “kills” increases.

We need not worry too much about this “war.” When the heads roll and lords fall, it will be over sooner than we think. The signs: two cops have been killed in the line of duty. It only means that the lords are fighting back and that they who are left are those with guns, ammo, and real dough, after the lower level operatives have surrendered or been “terminated” by their higher ups, which include, you guessed it, real live police officers.

The possibility of rubouts by these drug lords in uniform will go down as they have eliminated their downlines. It will be up do the drug network protectors and their families to pursue justice through the courts, if they so choose, though I doubt that they will. Most will just walk away as those left have pasts to conceal as the last of their possible snitches are gone.

The way forward
Whether you like it or not, Duterte has consolidated power and will now start redefining our institutions to make them more effective. All our immediate neighbors except Cambodia have a death penalty, and Singapore’s age of criminal liability is 7 years old. Governments in other ASEAN countries have lauded his efforts, if Rommel Banlaoi is to be believed. Which governments are more effective in building the institutions?

Our only way out is a page from Curato’s set of solutions: Helping each other and rebuilding this fragmented society reeling from the divisiveness of our elite centered political culture. Help rehabilitate the surrendered. Volunteer to build new rehabilitation centers. Grow more food, ensure the participation of the marginalized, both in the city’s ghettos and the hinterlands. Encourage people to follow rules, for whatever rights they enjoy or desire to defend are only products of the strength of the institutions and rules that uphold them to make sure everyone can enjoy them. For in the chaos that was PNoy, only those who can afford to express themselves enjoyed these rights. He pandered to the hypercritical elite at the expense of those who had no value to him: the Kidapawan farmers, the displaced Lumads, the SAF 44.

Teddy Locsin is right. Duterte is a thinking President and invites us to think with him. He thinks better and faster than many of us, and executes like a seasoned Chinese general — a thunderbolt. Curato and the rest of Philippine media are hard pressed to catch up with him.

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