The Volatilian™ View

Time for the critics to remove their blinkers

The Volatilian™ makes no apology for its support of the law-and-order policies being pursued by the administration of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. We will not be joining the bleating chorus of protest and indignation being expressed by the foreign media and so-called liberty groups from Australia to Alaska who place the rights of drug gangs and criminals above the wretched lives of those who have to live among them.

These critics, mostly, live in safe, comfortable environments; their daughters are not routinely raped – as one is every 54 minutes in the Philippines; their young children don’t need to be protected 24/7 from drug peddlers who prowl their neighbourhoods; neither are they either mugged or their homes broken into every 16 minutes. Nor are they murdered every 57 minutes.

It is easy for rights groups and op-ed writers in London and Los Angeles to display their self-righteous anger over what is happening in the Philippines, re-echoing the populist shout for “due process”. But pitifully few have ever witnessed first hand the price that ordinary Filipinos pay daily to survive in the living hell that is their home – few, if any, have ever had to pay that price.

And where were the editorials prior to Duterte’s crackdown – the ones that should have exposed the plight of the people and the extent of this scourge? They were never written; most of the coverage over the past eight years has been about how well the economy was doing and the stellar performances of the Philippine stock market. Where were the human-rights advocates who should have been railing at the terror and the indignity to which those in these neighbourhoods are subjected day in and day out? They were silent. After all governments, not criminals, have always been their preferred soft target of choice.

We also hear a great deal from these quarters about the overcrowding in the country’s prisons and the city jails, but these constitute the extent of the Philippines’ custodial facilities. Successive governments failed to address the need for greater prisoner accommodation. Quezon City Jail, the main detention centre for those recently arrested for drug offences, was built 60-plus years ago; New Bilibid Prison, the country’s main penitentiary, was new in 1940. These are not problem’s of Duterte’s making, like the drugs pandemic they are part of his inheritance. And part of what he is desperately trying to clean up.

Moreover, dishonest coverage which takes the photograph of a young woman cradling the lifeless body of her lover in a dirty Manila street after a gun battle with police – an image that brings to mind Michelangelo’s iconic Pietà, in which the Virgin Mary holds her son, Jesus, after his crucifixion – is nothing more than agenda-driven journalism. It may sell papers but it does not address the real and present greater horror of life in a Philippine barangay – a place where a 12-year-old girl sells her body to earn money so her elder brother can buy drugs. Where’s that photograph? Where’s the breast-beating over that child’s life?

If you want an image of a blighted Metro Manila barangay in 2016, pictures of the Victorian slums of London come close. It’s the same crime, the same violence, the same addiction even though the drug of choice has switched from cheap gin to shabu, or crystal meth. The lives of the residents are no better and up until now they had no one in their corner fighting for them. The foreign media never has, nor have those groups who profess to care for society’s oppressed and disadvantaged.

The cold hard facts of life are these. The Philippines is faced with a drug plague which is bringing society to its knees. And unless it’s tackled now, this economy – forget the stock market, it’s an irrelevance – and its people will ebb ever closer towards a failed state that can only then be resuscitated by even greater law-enforcement intervention, and probably martial law. And we don’t dismiss that possibility even now. It is a war, and as in all wars collateral damage is inevitable. But regrettable though that is, it should not be used to undermine the government’s real purpose of freeing its people from the grip of an industry that continues to kill their aspirations, their hopes and their children – not to mention the true economic potential of the country.

And so for our part, we will not be criticising President Duterte, nor efforts by the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency to use whatever means they have to in order to rescue their country and its people from a pestilence that has already claimed vast multiples of the up to 700 lives that have fallen in the past five weeks of this crackdown.

The results of doing nothing are plain for anyone to see if they care to look. Duterte was swept to power on a promise that the drug gangs would be driven out. That is the people’s will and he is now honouring it by fulfilling his promise to them.