One of my favorite TV shows is the Netflix series about the Marvel Comics superhero Daredevil. What I truly like about the series is how it attempts to capture the moral dilemma that Matt Murdoch faces concerning justice every time he wears his red suit and is transformed from the blind lawyer to the hard-hitting Daredevil.
Murdoch’s Catholic faith, his profession as a lawyer, and his superhero abilities often bring a sense of conflict in him. Knowing the crimes and the violence happening around his city, he often has to restrain himself when fighting criminals. Will he go to the extreme of killing them in payment for their crimes, or will he just make them physically incapable of committing another one and allow the slow-moving wheels of justice to take care of them? I believe that Murdoch calls his superhero persona “Daredevil” because his dilemma can be considered as a dare from the devil himself. In the face of criminality and injustice, the devil dares him to choose between taking justice into his own hands or to taking the path of allowing the established norms of society to mete out justice.
Duterte’s War on Drugs
Although this TV series happens in the fictional world of the Marvel Comic Universe, Matt Murdoch’s dilemma is as real and concrete in our society’s everyday life. In particular, this is the dilemma that faces most of my countrymen here in the Philippines today.
When Rodrigo Duterte, the 16th president of our country, assumed the presidency on June 30th of this year, he vowed that he would pursue all means to end the growing menace of drug abuse in our cities. He said that the war against drug abuse would be bloody. True enough; from the day he assumed office to August 4th, there have been a total of 461 persons who were killed because of their suspected connections to the drug trade, either as users, pushers, or drug lords.
The number of those killed can further be divided into two groups. Around 300 of them have died at the hands of our policemen. What is troubling is that, whenever a suspected drug addict is killed, the story has been more or less the same. The police say that these people were on their suspected drug list. When they went to arrest these people, these addicts decided to shoot it out with the police; hence, they get killed in the crossfire. Another version of the story is that most of these addicts, once caught and already handcuffed, still decide to fight it out with the arresting officers. They still attempt to grab the policemen’s guns. Hence, the police are left with no choice but to fight back and kill them.
The second group of those who have been killed brings more disturbing thoughts. Every day, we wake up to the news that people are found lying dead on the streets, some of them hog-tied and blindfolded. People have started calling these deaths “cardboard” justice, in reference to the cardboard signs usually placed on top of the corpses, declaring that these people should not be imitated because they are drug addicts. There are no suspects behind these killings. And every day, the number of dead bodies just keep on rising.
“Philippine Society Has Grown Impatient”
The disturbing thing about this rise in vigilantism and extra-judicial killings is that majority of my countrymen either approve of it or have become immune to it. There is no growing public clamor or sense of alarm to the rise of the numbers of drug suspects killed every day. There have been sporadic attempts by some civil society groups, members of the various religious faith-based organizations, and some senators to have these murders investigated. Yet, once a suggestion for an investigation comes up or a statement from the Church is printed, a vicious cycle of attacks and comments against these people will be printed, read, and seen in various social media circles.
It seems that most people have already equated the call for an investigation into extra-judicial killings with allowing drug users roam the streets. Even human rights advocates have been told to shut up. To be a human rights advocate, in my country these days, is considered to be a coddler of drug users and pushers.
Philippine society has grown impatient with the way the law has been applied all these years. We have seen how our country has allowed the drug menace to grow. It is general knowledge that even those who have already been caught and are languishing in prisons are still able to control their drug operations while in the confines of their prison cells. Some political leaders, soldiers, and policemen are known protectors of drug lords. Judges are bribed and corrupted.
The Catholic Church, for her part, launched the Huwag kang Papatay (“Thou Shalt Not Kill”) Campaign on July 24. It is a campaign directed to condemn the rise of vigilantism in the country, a call to respect the rights even of those suspected of criminal activities, and also a call to respect the due process of law. More importantly, this campaign actually seeks to awaken the consciousness of my countrymen to the value of human life, the power of rehabilitation and second chances.
We all want the drug issue to be solved and stop it from further destroying the lives of so many people. However, we have also witnessed how adherence to the basic principles of the law makes it possible for some people to take advantage of the slow process of justice. We all want tangible proof that criminals are really made answerable for the things that they have committed.
The Value of Human Life
With such a situation, coupled with anger, I am afraid that we are slowly becoming a society immune to the death and killings that we see, read, and hear about every day. Life has lost its value. Redemption has been made impossible. Values have been set aside and have been replaced with the power of the gun. Like Matt Murdoch, my country as a whole has been thrust into the dilemma between seeing criminals make fun of the law because of a corrupted system or taking action by silencing criminals even before those tasked of upholding the law get hold of them.
In face of such a situation, what does my faith tell me to do? How can one avoid the pitfalls of becoming desensitized by the senseless killings that happen every day?
It is important to take hold and really believe in the value of human life. While almost everyone agrees that life has a value, the basis of such a value could become a source of conflict. For some, the value of life depends on one’s usefulness to society in general. For others, the value of life depends on the goodness of a person; hence, rotten people deserve to be treated with no value at all.
It is imperative at this point to ground once again the basis of human value in the solid teachings of our faith. Human life does not become valuable because of usefulness, or moral goodness or richness. Human life is valuable because it is God’s gift. Life does not become valuable from without; it becomes valuable from within.
Now is also the time to believe in the power of redemption and of second chances. Salvation history is actually a story of second chances and of God giving his people the chance to change. Dead bodies do not have the power to choose redemption. Living persons can still choose. Christian faith is itself based on a God who chose to give his people another shot at life rather than condemning them to the gutters of hell.
This is also the time to put faith in God’s sense of justice. While, it is true that He is merciful, we also believe that He is just. Scriptures are full of references to the fact that God is not blind to injustice. In His time, He will take action and put things right.
Returning to Justice
These principles of faith, however, must also be put into concrete actions by means of a collective action towards systemic change. The Church as a community cannot remain silent at this point. Nor, is she also called merely to blurt out dogmatic statements and criticize without suggesting concrete plans of action.
The inherent belief in the value of human life, the power of redemption, and the sense of justice should also be accompanied by a strong drive to overhaul the whole justice system, including the prisons and rehabilitation centers. While it may be true that the wheels of justice are slow, we can work to make sure that it turns towards the right direction.
The belief in the power of the community to act towards the common good can also be made concrete by initiating its own plan towards a sensible and effective community drug prevention plan, and even a community-based rehabilitation plan for those who are at the beginning stages of drug dependence and addiction. While the hardened criminals can be left at the hands of law enforcement agencies, there is still quite a number who are still within the power of an involved community.
There is always the temptation to take the shorter course in our pursuit of justice and the end of drug criminality. Ours is a nation that has grown tired of slow action and bumbling government officials. It is at this point of our country’s history that perhaps the devil himself is daring us to choose. Will we come out of this drug crisis choosing the road to violence and extra-judicial killings? Or will we as a nation choose the path of giving people a chance at redemption by respecting the value of even the most hardened criminal’s life, even while making sure he is brought to justice and made accountable for his crimes?
May we have the power to choose the latter.