Friday, June 5, 2009

Prologue: Silence Kills!

Max Soliven once described Davao City as an "Oasis of Tranquility and law and order in troubled Mindanao." But from this oasis of tranquility and law and order emanates a stench, that being extrajudicial killings.

Here many have been killed without the benefit of the law. The culprit? Reports after reports point to the bonnet-less, leather jacket clad, motorcycle riding men, as the ones responsible for all of this. This ghostly group is called the Davao Death Squad (DDS).

The statistics of those killed by the DDS is steadily rising. According to Fr. Amado Picardal, spokesperson of Coalition Against Summary Execution (CASE), "For over 10 years, the number of victims of the so-called DDS has reached 890 (from 1998 to March 2009). “Most victims of death squad killings,” the New York-based Human Rights Watch says, “have been alleged drug dealers, petty criminals, and street children. Mistaken identity victims, bystanders, and family members or friends of intended targets have also been killed in death squad attacks.”

But where is the outrage?

More than two decades ago, while in Davao reporting on the carnage waged by the vigilante group Alsa Masa, Sheila Coronel made an acute observation on the public’s response towards the killings. “Often in Davao,” Coronel wrote, “when one asks why certain things are allowed to happen, the queries are shrugged off with a curt “You don’t live here, you don’t know what it is like.””

Again, as Davao City is enthralled by another vigilante group, this time by the DDS, the same thing can be said of the public's response. Amidst everything, you cannot find the outrage. Instead, when you try to raise this issue, the protests are shrugged off with such remarks as: “They’re out there taking care of the criminality. I personally don't have anything against what they're doing,” “These people have been warned before, but they are stubborn, so they have to pay the price.”

But there's a more common response, which is no response at all—silence. When someone’s killed, there are those who might say it’s all right since the one killed is a plague to society anyway. But also there are those who simply keep quiet. They neither accept nor reject the killing. If others express their disgust or support over the killings, there are those who simply don’t say a word. They are just silent.

There lies the problem. Silence may not be the only reason why extrajudicial killings continue, but it does contribute to its perpetuation, for it might be mistaken by the culprits for approval and thus embolden them to kill wantonly.

To reverse the situation, this blog has been put up. The idea of enlisting a blog in this cause is partly inspired by Sheril Kirshenbaum’s movement in the Web, Silence Is The Enemy. Kirshenbaum, a marine biologist at Duke University, said she was “sexually assaulted” in 2006. Too horrified, she neither screamed nor fought back. But she was able to “break away before it escalated to rape.” It wasn’t the first time that it happened in their neighborhood. “I was the third women in the neighborhood to report a similar story to police in two weeks–also the luckiest,” she wrote. Has she remained silent? No. Since then, she vowed not to be “a silent witness to rape.”

Thus, she set up Silence Is The Enemy “to help a generation of young women half a world away.” “The movement,” she said, “began a couple weeks ago after I was feeling particularly outraged after reading Kristof’s terrific NYTimes piece.”

Meanwhile, this blog is called Silence Kills!—so named to impress upon the people that being silent only brings more harm than good, that the more this problem is ignored, the worse the situation will become. Silence kills!

In Davao City, many things go by unnoticed, including extrajudicial killings. But here it won’t. Here we’ll talk about it. Here we’ll speak up against it.

Ultimately, we must ask ourselves: Why must we care? We must care because while extrajudicial killings put a spurious order on the streets, as the oft-cited exchange in the play A Man For All Seasons reminds us, we can’t cut a great road through the law just to get after the Devil, for when the last law was down, and the Devil turned on us — where would we hide, the laws all being flat.

“This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down,” St. Thomas More intoned, “and you’re just the man to do it, d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”

For our own safety’s sake, break the silence. Speak out.

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