Column: “Tama na!”

082117 Protest

On my way home from the August 21, 2017 protest action at the People Power Monument, I snapped one more photo of a single lit candle (there were many, scattered around the monument like luminous seeds)—lit in memory of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos.

This on-again, off-again blog is on again—even if only to serve a much more modest aim, as an archive of columns (I’m about 30 behind) and speeches (only a handful, since I don’t write everything down). As it happens, this first instalment was personally important; it was a turning point in my own column-writing, centering my criticism of the continuing calamity that is the Duterte government. It was published on August 22, 2017—six days after Kian delos Santos was killed.

The killing of 17-year-old Kian D. delos Santos has stirred us out of our intimidation-induced stupor and shaken an administration built, built, built on fear. From his initials (how do you like them, mga ka-DDS?) to his surname (the same as that of the thoroughfare that birthed a revolution), from the circumstances of his life (a boy with the simple dream of becoming a policeman) to the circumstances of his death (a cynical, cruel dance of death choreographed by policemen), from the courage of the witnesses (who have taken considerable risks to speak in detail) to the character of his parents (who have spoken boldly and with utmost candor), Kian has struck fear among the very people for whom fear is a strategy.

How do we know this? Because even some of the administration’s stalwart allies have publicly condemned the killing. Because the trolls as well as the blogger-defenders of the administration, after a lull that recalled their studied silence when President Duterte went missing in June, have returned with prepared scripts and attacking themes. Because the police has belatedly sought to paint Kian as a runner in the illegal drugs trade. (The former solicitor general, Florin Hilbay, has a term for what the police are doing: the “After Murder Identification of Suspects.”)

Kian is not the first innocent to die in the human rights catastrophe that is the President’s so-called war on drugs; tragically, he won’t be the last. But his killing disturbed the consciences of many Filipinos (even, as anyone with a social media account knows by now, remorseful Duterte voters) because the circumstances that led to his death were caught on camera.

To my knowledge, none of the senators who voted in favor of a committee report dismissing the existence of extrajudicial killings ever went out at night (when most of the extrajudicial killings happen) to look at the dead bodies that continue to pile up day after violent day. That made it possible to compartmentalize the problem. But the CCTV clip, which shows Kian being led away by nonuniformed men moments before he was shot dead, cannot be wished away.

Recovering from their shock, Duterte supporters are now demonizing a mere boy, or inventing stories using their creative imagination, or (the telltale sign of what is really going on) preemptively defending the President from any liability or responsibility — because they suspect the controversy over Kian’s killing can be a tipping point in the supposed ouster plot against the President. As I have written before, I do not believe there is any such plot. But as I have also argued before, the need exists for a countervailing power to check the Duterte administration’s excesses.

Some who have seen the kill list grow have given up on a spineless Senate, or a Supreme Court with a plurality of practical-minded justices, or a professional but distracted military, or a Catholic church without enough courageous pastors worthy of their calling. Kian’s killing has the potential to change all that. That is why the Duterte administration is, as kids say these days, shookt.

Its officials know that the battle cry against the dictator Ferdinand Marcos was a series of escalating demands: “Tama na, sobra na, palitan na.” (Enough is enough. This is too much. Replace him.)

I do not think that the momentum of outrage over Kian’s killing — and by extension the thousands of EJKs perpetrated since last year — is enough to bring the country to the third stage. And it isn’t necessary. This administration reads and responds to the surveys, is in fact highly sensitive to public opinion. If public opinion will be galvanized by Kian’s killing, it can create the conditions for countervailing powers to emerge again.

Many of the people I follow on social media are skeptical, to say the least, about the Senate majority; they see the resolution to investigate Kian’s killing as a desperate public relations initiative, to distance the senators from the public outrage. I hold a different view. Without diminishing the majority’s role as enabler or deodorant of state violence, we can hope that Kian’s killing has moved enough of them — or two or three more justices, or the professionals in the military, or more leaders of the Church — to say, Enough. Tama na.

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