Saturday, August 06, 2016

Cardboard justice

THE CORPSE had clean feet.

The body was deposited beside a highway that would soon be crawling with motorists getting away for the weekend to Tagaytay and Batangas, favorite watering holes for Manila’s middle class and affluent.

On a weekend, the site would have been risky for an execution or a disposal. There are nearby malls, arcades, and the restaurants and excursion sites of Tagaytay and the beaches of Batangas.

But late Thursday evening or Friday dawn? A few meters from a university and situated beside an open clearing, the spot is located along a stretch of road that is unlighted and uninhabited.

The body wore denim pants and a white shirt. Any onlooker could see the packaging tape winding around the head, the hands tied behind the back, and the ankles.

All during the ride to Metro Manila, I wondered if the theft of the shoes was an afterthought of the crime. A man’s life was negligible; his shoes were not.

“Bloody PH drug war catches eye of int’l media” was the title of a Philippine Daily Inquirer page-one story on Aug. 6.

After I searched “death toll in PH,” Google turned up 1.7 million references in 0.61 seconds. The first page of the Google search contained only two references to the Typhoon Haiyan casualties; all the rest were about the body count of President Rodrigo Duterte’s War on Drugs.

The extrajudicial killings have been condemned by the Church, media, and human rights organizations, here and overseas.

“Will the human rights people still be noisy when their rights or their loved ones’ lives are violated?” That’s the reaction of Boni, a taxi driver in Lapu-Lapu City who voted for Duterte primarily because of his tough stance on drugs. He said only Duterte is capable of taking on the rich and powerful who are preying on the common people.

Yet, there is a pronounced class slant in the profile of victims falling in the War on Drugs. In photo after photo, the victims shot down in the streets or abandoned in gutters, dumps and grassy lots seemingly come from the lower socio-economic brackets.

The news photos show not just the cocooned faces and the blood bath but also the dead men’s feet in slippers. If bare, the soles are dirty, as these would be if the men had earned their living, shod only in slippers, out on the streets or had just run for their lives.

While drug financiers and narco-politicians are paraded in news conferences or given a presidential face-to-face castigation, the men sharing their crime but not their status end up as statistics. According to another Inquirer report, Oplan Tokhang was not carried out in a gated village after the homeowners’ president certified in writing that no resident was engaged in drugs.

Jennelyn Olayres, widow of a slain drug user, protested against this form of cardboard justice. In an Aug. 1 Inquirer report, she asked President Duterte to look into the deaths of those “judged by a cardboard”.

Beside the body of her partner and many other victims of extrajudicial killings were pieces of cardboard, labelling the body as a “drug pusher” or repeating a moral: “Don’t do drugs”.

To the homeless, discarded grocery boxes have infinite use, whether as a sleeping mat, temporary roof or kindling. Thanks to the War on Drugs, we have another use for cardboard.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s August 1, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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