Lethal metaphor

By: JASON BAGUIA August 25,2017 - 10:49 PM


The noble goal of saving our people from the evil of drug addiction calls for rescue from the inhuman discourse in which it has been imprisoned by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his devotees.

The phrase “war on drugs” has been swallowed hook, line and sinker by most Filipinos. In doing so, we have essentially capitulated to Malacañang in its militaristic framing of a challenge that medical and psychological experts have at the outset asserted is a health issue.

The uninterrogated construct of a “war on drugs” conjures bombastic images of battlefields and guns, of heroic commandos and loathsome villains, of a zero-sum game in which the entire machinery of the state is weaponized to eliminate the enemy.

The immediate result of this deployment of a language of war is a mentality of division and of destruction. People are divided into allies and enemies.

Anyone who questions the government’s use of force is labeled a foe, along with drug dependents who need medical intervention and our brothers and sisters caught in the narcotics web whose circumstances may very well diminish their culpability. The vilified are ignored or silenced, and worse, killed.

Educators, barangay leaders, mayors, journalists, academics, even church leaders, among others, fall all over themselves saying that of course, they support the banalized “war on drugs” if only to avoid being marginalized from the national conversation by Duterte’s juggernaut of fanatics and instead be counted as friends of a government with a mandate to dismantle the narco-state.

Never mind that the chief executive has no qualms about interpreting his popularity as a mandate to spill blood.

Others have been pushed into intellectual dishonesty, underscoring that while they support the “war against drugs,” they should not be held accountable for the accompanying carnage because they condemn it. Does not this line of argument conveniently ignore the fact that to perpetrators, the summary killings draw whatever semblance of legitimacy they possess from any support for the “war” regardless of qualification by the supporter?

Apart from savaging individual integrity, the word of war has rent society and compelled it to surrender responsibility for confronting the plague to those who wield arms instead of forging peaceful remedies to the illness. War, after all, must be waged with guns and bullets. War must see corpses pile up.

The rumor of war has left most people scampering for individualistic or tribalistic ways to escape both rhetorical and literal crossfires. No wonder

Filipinos seem paralyzed in response to mass addiction.

War as a metaphor for addressing the drug problem has led to what communication scholars call the otherization of victims. By now, most of us already know that Duterte refers to children who perished in his “war on drugs” as “collateral damage” and that his spokesperson, Ernesto Abella, initially labeled the questionable killing of teenager Kian delos Santos as an “isolated case.”

These, however, are not the only instances of dehumanization occasioned by bellicose verbiage. Such words as “addict,” “dealer,” “runner,” “pusher,” (conveniently severed from the modifier “suspected”), and “surrenderer” have been used as differentiating names under the class “enemy” in the “war on drugs” and turned by bloodthirsty people into permanent identifiers from being temporary descriptors of human beings.

From this verbal obscuring of the neighbor, this distortion of his name and blurring of his face, the slip into regarding him as no more than a statistic has been swift.

Thus works the spell of enemy-making and warfare: estrange, otherize, de-personalize, eliminate.

For a leader like Duterte to place his country on permanent war footing is ironic, to say the least. The Charter that he swore to uphold and defend verbalizes the Filipino rejection of war as an instrument of national policy. Duterte’s war rhetoric, in contrast, justifies unjust defense spending.

Warriors must be equipped. Guns must stay loaded. This lexicon, upon closer reading, bids us to ask: Who is profiting from a militaristic approach to a civilian problem that was initially projected to last for up to six months but has lately been predicted to continue all the way to 2022?

The “war on drugs” is being waged against the Filipino whom the warriors claim is the beneficiary. But you do not go to war against the sick. Post-war reconstruction may turn around an obliterated city, but nothing after a war can resuscitate the dead. The answer is found in corporal works of mercy, not in agitated soldiery.

Police head Ronald dela Rosa proudly cites the hundreds of thousands who “surrendered” after cops knocked on their doors and pleaded with them to cease and desist.

Unwritten is the rule that these operations offer their objects no second chances. The operations called “Tokhang,” a portmanteau of Cebuano words for “knock” and “plead” in effect feature ultimatums preparatory to punishment, not pleas. You do not give the sick an ultimatum to heal themselves else they be killed upon relapse. Ultimatums are issued by war freaks who cannot fathom the real need of addicts and their co-dependents for healthcare that facilitates their recovery and journey towards self-actualization.

People of good will, the construct naturalizes the bloodshed. Please be highly circumspect in using the phrase “war on drugs.”

To use it uncritically is to be an accomplice to propaganda that compels surrender or steals lives but does nothing to rehabilitate addicts, nothing to stem the flow of harmful narcotics into the archipelago, nothing to reverse the blindness of drug dealers, nothing to shield the predisposed from the lure of the drug trade.

To live in a world shaped by the phrase “war on drugs” is to risk being a Pontius Pilate of our time, one who washes hands of responsibility for building a society where the weak can lean on our love until he can stand again, whenever that may be.

To support a “war on drugs” is to pretend that our consciences will be silenced and that God will pat our backs the moment we outsource to the jurisdiction of the trigger-happy what are verily appeals to our charity.

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TAGS: corpses, drug suspects, Ernesto Labella, human beings, President Rodrigo Duterte, War on drugs

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