That was the question around which Elie Wiesel’s speech, “The Perils Indifference,” revolves. “The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees —not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory…,” Elie Wiesel said at a Millennium series lecture held in White House and hosted by then US first couple Mr. and Mrs. Bill Clinton.
When Wiesel, a 1986 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, spoke those words, he had in mind the victims of the tragic episode in humanity’s history that was the Holocaust.
But it is not too far off the mark to include Clarita Alia among those exiles from “human memory.” Call it inflated, but that is where Clarita Alia is right now: Gone from the memory of the people. Her cries remain unheeded; her demands seemed to fall on deaf ears. Over the years, Clarita Alia has been clamoring that justice be served for the death of her four children: Richard, 18; Christopher, 16; Bobby, 14; Fernando, 15—all were knifed to death. But she seemed clamoring in vain.
Already in her 50s and now a widow, she single-handedly raised her eight children by selling vegetables at Bankerohan, one of Davao City’s largest public markets. Like all mother, she dreamed of giving her children a bright future. But the environment Mayor Rodrigo Duterte created would make that dream just that: a dream.
Duterte, son of former Governor Vicente Duterte, figured prominently both here and abroad as a no nonsense mayor. Here, Davaoeños admired him for bringing this city out of perdition and into progress. Outside the city, his has become a template for effective local governance.
A former prosecutor, Duterte was first elected as mayor in 1987. At the time, his single biggest challenge was the rebel New People’s Army, which sowed terror in the metropolis. Duterte succeeded in his campaign to cripple the NPA.
And one can already see the marked contrast between today’s Davao City and the Davao City two decades ago. It became a business hub in an otherwise conflict-infested island, Mindanao. Investments continue to come in. Tourists can roam the city anytime, anywhere. Davao City has been reaping awards left and right.
Duterte attributed all of these to his administration’s relentless effort to bring—you guess it right—peace and order. These made Duterte and this city well known.
Duterte has, however, one inescapable sore point: He can be so tough on crminals that many feel he is going beyond the ambit of the law. The prominent Time magazine, for instance, called him “The Punisher,” describing him as someone who is “unapologetic about his willingness to venture beyond what legal niceties might permit.” From the moment he first sat down as mayor of Davao City, Duterte never departed from his campaign promise. Up to today, it’s still peace and order he is peddling.
But in what form did his campaign for peace and order take? In order to deliver peace and order, one crucial step is for him to take a hard stance against criminals menacing the city. To Duterte, it’s the criminals who disrupt investments, scare away tourists, and hamper progress. Hence, the city must get rid of them. Purge the criminals and peace, progress, and prosperity will follow suit.
Even before he became a mayor, he never endeared himself to outlaws. For as long as Duterte is in charge, no criminals, petty or otherwise, can ever do anything in this city without paying for it. And the payment usually comes at a high price. It may mean losing their lives. “Don’t f*** with my city,” Duterte used to warn thugs. Or else, “they should be prepared to die.”
It is in this hostile climate in which the Alia family lived, as do many Davaoeños. And it is a climate that proved to be dangerous, at least to the four of the Alia children who, at some point their lives, have been involved in criminal activities.
Yet with four of her children lost to the DDS and justice remains as elusive as ever, her plight does not seem to grind Davaoeños to a halt. Indeed, the silence on the killings is deafening; the dominant mode disturbing. If one goes around and asks ordinary people in the street about the killings, the most common responses are: “The killings would be a good example to other would be criminals,” or “They deserve it.”
Today we may turn indifferent to the clamor of the families of DDS victims. But surely in the coming years, we’re going to come to terms with it. The sooner we do it, the better. As Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, reminds us, “it’s not only wrong to summarily take someone’s life; it’s also extraordinarily dangerous.”
If the DDS wills to expand their class of victims, they can. And no one will be safe anymore, not even those whose criminal records are clean.