No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
—John Donne, “Meditation XVII”
For nine days last August, many of the church bells in the Philippines tolled. The tolling of the church bells came several days after a 17-year-old high school student was killed by the police in what they claimed to be a legal drug clearing operation.
The Death of Kian Delos Santos
On the night of August 16th, Kian Delos Santos was accosted by three policemen near his house. The reports of the police indicated that when they arrived near the house of Kian, he immediately fled. This prompted the police to go after him and, in the ensuing chase, they were forced to shoot Kian because they claimed that the boy shot at them first.
Days after the incident, police officials admitted that Kian was not the target of the operation nor was he ever on the drug watch list of the city police. However, officials would later claim that they had a witness who said that Kian was indeed a known drug runner in the community.
Several witnesses have disputed the police version. They claimed that a few minutes before the incident, Kian was actually just outside their house and was helping to close their family owned mini-grocery store. The witnesses said that the policemen approached Kian and dragged him away from the view of the neighborhood. CCTV footage even showed the three policemen holding the boy tightly and dragging him away. A witness also claimed to hear Kian, before he was shot, begging the policemen to let him go because he still had classes the next day.
The Tolling of the Bells
The tolling of the Church bells came several days after Kian’s death. For many of us here in the Philippines, the tolling of the bells has become a symbol of a nation that is slowly waking up to the harsh reality that we cannot make “killing” suspected drug addicts on the streets “the new normal”. The drug war that President Rodrigo Duterte has unleashed has already claimed more than 3,000 victims. While the government has always claimed that many of those deaths came from legitimate operations, quite a number have been put into question.
What is sad is that ours is a nation that has become divided into two extremes. Immediately after Kian’s death, for instance, social media became alive with comments that he truly deserved to die because he was into drugs anyway. Some even went to the extent into claiming that they were Kian’s neighbors and that they knew him to be a trouble maker.
Granted that he indeed was a drug runner and a neighborhood toughie, did that give the policemen the freedom just to shoot him in cold blood?
Why the Bells Ring
The bells in our churches toll for a nation in anger. In anger towards, the spiraling violence in our streets. They toll for all the victims of the so-called war against drugs. They toll not only for those who have been left dead but also for the many victims of the drug users themselves. Those whose lives have been abruptly cut short because they came across a drug-crazed person.
The bells in our churches toll for the families that those who have died have left behind. They toll most especially for the mothers and the fathers of the young people whose lives have been cut short by the war and the evils of drug use. I cannot claim to understand how a father or a mother would feel seeing their child dead on the streets or seeing the children that they have strived to really take care of suddenly taken away from them because their house was invaded by a drug user.
The bells in our churches toll for the poor. Many of the victims of the war against drugs have been the poor. The war has not really targeted the producers, the suppliers and the financiers of illegal drugs. If there is something that is totally wrong with this policy is that it simply kills the end user of the drug. Nobody seems to be interested in putting in place a system where the very proliferation of drugs by suppliers and producers is stopped.
The bells in our churches toll for the Church community herself. While many of Catholic leaders have been vocal in attacking the growing number of lives lost, there is still silence among many Catholics. We know that sin comes in two forms. There is the sin of commission, i.e. the sin of the person who actively does or partakes in the sinful act. Then there is also the sin of omission; i.e. the sin that comes when one chooses to look the other way and not do anything in the face of a growing evil.
Send Not to Know …
Finally, the bells of our churches also toll for me. In the words of John Dunne, “each death diminishes me.” Every time a person meets death in a violent and an unjustified way, part of my humanity is diminished.
If one of these days you hear the tolling of the church bells in your different communities, dear readers, do say a prayer for the Church in this part of the world. May the tolling of the bells awaken in us a sense of moral outrage against the lives continually being lost either because they have been killed unjustly or because they have crossed paths with someone high into illegal drugs.