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Opinion | National

MARIE YUVIENCO | In What He Has Failed to Do: Duterte, the war on drugs and the law
The online news portal of TV5

Judging from his style of leadership, Rodrigo Duterte could not have come from any other fraternity except Lex Talionis

The name says it all:  lex talionis, after all, is that system of law which prescribes “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”  It sounds harsh, which it is, harking back to the Old Testament days when it used to prevail, but when things got too literal, someone thought that there had to be something better, something that showed more compassion, something that would not leave everyone blind and toothless.  Lex Talionis is great as the name of a fraternity, but as legal infrastructure, everyone, I think, agrees that it is best left as a relic of the past.

No law exists, says the President, which makes it a crime for him to threaten criminals with death.  To put that claim in context, he made that in assertion in light of his war on illegal drugs. That war, during the first six months of his administration, has claimed the lives of nearly 6,000 of his countrymen. 

Six thousand dead, at the rate of about a thousand per month, is a huge number by any measure; if you break it down further, 1,000 killed per month is equivalent to 33 cadavers every day. If that rate is maintained -- God forbid it should escalate -- by June 2022, when President Duterte completes his term, his anti-drug campaign would have resulted in 72,270 casualties, all Filipinos, not a single one of them accorded the benefits of due process and the presumption of innocence recognized by the Constitution that any president, before taking office, swears to defend and uphold.

Lest anyone should be left in any doubt, the government we have now is not a kinder, gentler, more tolerant administration. The President promises death to criminals, and for him, the equation is simple: if you commit a crime, you will get the punishment you deserve. 

This may sound logical and therefore appealing, but the implicit assumption of this assurance is that punishment will be meted out only after an accused is given his day in court and only after the State proves his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. This is why extrajudicial killings are so problematic -- they dispense with and bypass the safeguards the law has put in place to prevent the undue taking of life.

The government we have now is also regressive. After abolishing the death penalty, moves are afoot in Congress to restore it. Any society that calls itself civilized now recognizes that the death penalty never was, is not, and will never be the solution to crime. It does not deter criminals, it does not restore society and the injured party to where they were ante, it does not compensate for the harm done to the people and to the victim. All it does is answer the call to blood; revenge is what it is, and if that isn’t lex talionis, then I don’t know what is. 

This is definitely not an administration that believes in restorative justice.

That human rights activists are rightly concerned about official disregard for the rule of law ideally provides good ballast to ensure that the ship of state doesn’t list, but it is a precarious balance. As far as Malacañang is concerned, any concern for human rights, particularly for those involved in illegal drugs, is a non-starter. The reason is that, supposedly, drug addicts are no longer human because long-time drug use addles the brain. 

Do you concur? 

Equally to the point, assuming they are no longer human, are they Filipinos still? 

I have always assumed that all Filipinos, drug-addled or not, are entitled to the protection of their own Bill of Rights. If parsed carefully enough, this is the same reasoning that permitted the burial of Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani because “hero” is another word beginning with the letter “h” whose proper usage we can agree to disagree with.

Actually, threatening someone with death is a felony called, appropriately enough, grave threats. The President skirts just shy of getting into trouble by threatening no one in particular, just “criminals,” and lately I have not seen anyone standing up and confessing he or she is the criminal the President is alluding to. His words are just that -- words. 

It is when words shade into action, however, that words become actionable. So if the police start shooting suspected drug pushers dead instead of arresting them, shooting them dead on the basis of mere suspicion, executing them without the benefit of trial and in the absence of a law authorizing the imposition of the death penalty, then we have the makings of a Problem.

The challenge lies in making the connection between official words and official actions. But assuming that a connection cannot be made, assuming that the highest official of the land did not order extrajudicial killings, the question that must now be asked is: what has he done to stop them? 

Six thousand extrajudicial killings is not a statistic to brag about. In law, failure to act is termed a nonfeasance and under certain circumstances is defined as an offense. Failing to rein in a trigger-happy police force is as grave an omission as sanctioning police abuse is as grave a commission.

From lex talionis, we are moving toward dura lex, sed lex.  The law may be harsh, but it is still the law.