Vigilantes

By Stephen D. Capillas |August 04,2016 - 08:54 PM

There was one interesting metaphor that Sen. William Gatchalian used in asking the Philippine National Police (PNP) to stop the vigilante killings that have swept the country last month, and it’s not just because it referred to a popular comic book superhero.

Gatchalian said the vigilantes seem to be acting like they were “Batman,” thinking that they were noble wh en they kill the criminal suspects when they are not. In Cebu, Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, Police Regional Office chief, ordered the police to crack down on the vigilantes, some of whom had chosen to identify themselves as being part of a so-called death squad.

That label alone should contradict Gatchalian’s Batman metaphor since the vigilantes in question, who usually come “like a thief in the night” to use a biblical reference, pounce on their hapless victims who are usually unaware of being the target, shooting them down either at night or in broad daylight — usually at night — and then speed away on their motorcycles, never to be seen until the next kill.

Vigilantes, according to Wikipedia, is a Spanish or Portuguese term referring to either an organization that acts in a law enforcement capacity without being issued any legal authority by the state whatsoever.

The keywords are “law enforcement capacity without legal authority.” The Batman himself, to use Gatchalian’s metaphor, acknowledged this definition of the vigilante by bluntly telling his other distinguished compatriot, Superman, that he and other superheroes including him, are “criminals.”

A conversation between these two superhero icons was taken from that Frank Miller classic “The Dark Knight Returns” in which an aging Batman came out of retirement to battle criminals anew.

As every comic book geek/nerd knows by heart, the Batman’s return to action attracted the US government’s attention enough for them to send in the last Son of Krypton who secured deputization from the White House in order to continue his superhero career following the passage of the law banning vigilantes.

That comic book, which became the basis of those Batman films and animated movies in the mid 2000s, isn’t what vigilante justice is all about in reality, though it strives to be as gritty as it can be.

But as much as I can discuss about things geeky and nerdy for a good part of the day, the reality of the situation is this: there are unidentified persons out there, armed and dangerous, who are being funded to go after suspected illegal drug dealers and users and the police have so far failed to catch one of them and bring them to justice.

In this context, vigilantes aren’t like Batman who goes out at night and beats criminals to a bloody pulp.

They are executioners who pick their targets from the police’s watch list either because they are paid to do so or they believe they’re doing a service to the Filipinos or both. But the police have other theories, some of which may be plausible if one can accept their reasoning.

One of their theories is that the killings are also done by hired hitmen of drug syndicates who want to divert attention away from themselves and pin the blame on the police, who are only doing their jobs.

But it could be one of many possibilities because the hammer and tongs campaign against illegal drugs isn’t just done on the streets. It is also being played out in Congress and in the national as well as socio-political landscape.

President Duterte justified the relentless, sustained war on illegal drugs and chided media for criticizing his campaign by saying that the real masterminds are operating outside the country, out of reach of government forces.

But anyone watching CNN, BBC and other international media as well as any avid fan of action films can tell you, drug syndicates are a lot more sophisticated now and have enough resources to post a formidable challenge to governments around the world.

President Rodrigo Duterte is scheduled to arrive in Cebu today, and he has yet to name the top mayors who are supposedly protectors of drug lords.

While there is something being done about that — as evidenced by Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa — the summary executions of low level, dirt poor pushers and users will continue.

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