Doubts on the competence of the police to conduct drug operations persist as the government’s war on drugs recently claimed the life of another innocent victim. Three-year-old Myka Ulpina, one of four persons killed in a drug-bust police operation in Rodriguez, Rizal last June 29, became one of the latest additions to a growing list of victims government operatives say they did not mean to hurt.
Public outcry for an end to this kind of carelessness must have prompted Senator and former top cop Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa to defend the Philippine National Police (PNP) by saying “shit happens.” The vulgar slang did not sit well with his fans, including fellow Senators. He corrected himself, saying he meant accidents do happen.
“I will recall my word. Instead of ‘shit’ let us change it to ‘unfortunate incident’ (happens),” he told his audience in a TV program. He also added: “I just said incidents like that happen and that does not happen only now. It has happened many times in the past.”
People may find it easy to understand the justification for the likelihood of stepping on shit (for those who watched Forrest Gump, the movie) when he explained that “every policeman wants his operation to be perfect but if you do not have complete control of the operational environment, shit really happens. Something bad will always happen.”
But people may find it hard to understand that government, with all its wherewithal, will be so useless and helpless to control the conditions that would allow too many incidents, or accidents, to happen.
Basic among those that government can control are the reports that document the 4Ws (Why, Where, When, and Why) of each step taken by its war on drugs. Whatever happened to those deaths under investigation? The public hardly knows what came out of those cases. If reports of this kind do exist, people would want to know where to access them and, more importantly, know the lessons and the means by which they can help law enforcers control the “operational environment” to prevent shit from happening.
Killing drug suspects as a last resort, where the police have to defend themselves from hostile subjects, is a story that has been told too often it now sounds like coming from the boy who cried wolf. That way unintentional killing becomes more of an accident; the large number of casualties—whether it is 27,000 or 6,000 is immaterial—shows patterns of normality in every which way police operations are conducted.
That many law enforcers have themselves died in the course of performing their duties is proof of the risks they face in the field, as PNP Chief Oscar Albayalde puts it. This should amplify the need for a thorough investigation and documentation by his office of all drug-related deaths, which until now appears wanting, otherwise solid work by the police is blighted by doubts in the eyes of the public.
To claim that shit happens is a convenient way to go around the rule of law. Convenience of course is the need of present. It disregards what can happen in the future. Thousands of kids that have been orphaned today will be a peace and order nightmare tomorrow. If we do not arrest this growing culture of impunity now and re-establish the rule of law, we will reach a point where the only option left for anyone is to kill each other.
The lessons of history are handy (the rebels multiplied during the oppressive martial law era), but military reports as recent as the Sulu suicide bombing case that points to a battered son as one of the suicide bombers, should be enough to make us pause and think hard if the things that have gone wrong in our country, like most of those damning drug war accidents, could have really been prevented.
While at this, I know it is easy—especially for critics of President Rodrigo Duterte—to blame his administration for these killings. But the fact is there are a hundred million Filipinos who are ultimately responsible for what happens to us. When surveys show that there is overwhelming support for this administration, it simply means government is under obligation to continue what it has done in the past three years. It seems to me that killing suspects—regardless of whether or not due process and human rights have been respected—perfectly responds to what people feel as key to clearing the streets of criminals and thereby promote their own peace of mind and security.
Under this scheme of things, government simply gives people what they want. We have seen during the past three years a government that performs. Coming up, then: for believers, three more years of solid work; for unbelievers, three years of more shit.