Kian Loyd Delos Santos was probably at the wrong place at the wrong time.
If his relatives and friends are to be believed, rogue Caloocan policemen shoved him in a corner Wednesday night, put a caliber .45 and two sachets of shabu in his hand, ordered him to fire the pistol, and run for his life.
The cops were in the middle of a drug raid in a barangay in Caloocan. When the smoke cleared, a dozen alleged suspects were killed, delos Santos among them. He was only 17.
Despite the absence of his name on any watchlist, the boy was tagged as a “runner” by police authorities. That has not sat well with his kin, who vouch for his innocence and claim he was framed.
The story, so far reported sketchily at best, has sparked impassioned opinions from otherwise well-educated netizens. And inevitably, delos Santos has become the new poster boy, albeit posthumously, of citizens waiting for the next chance to pounce on the President and his war on drugs.
A Facebook user wrote that Duterte ought to address the matter squarely, lest he would altogether lose respect for the President. In a less presumptuous but more pointed tone, another one wrote that anyone who didn’t condemn the killing was just as responsible for the alleged murder. Yet another netizen went so far as to write that he hoped the killers and the President’s supporters die a painful death. Others have been vile in their description of Duterte and his supporters, from “gago” to “idiots,” from “fanatics” to “madmen.”
It appears that Duterte doesn’t have the sole franchise for uncouthness, after all. But that aside, the online vitriol is uncalled for.
For one, the incident ought to be appraised for what it is: a police procedural matter. At least three policemen involved in the incident have been relieved, pending the start of an internal probe. Delos Santos’s family is also within its constitutional right to hail the cops to court. If found guilty, then the law takes its course. And only then, not before, should public censure be in order.
For another, politicising the incident cheapens, rather than respects, delos Santos’s shortened life. Justice will be served if his killers are made to pay for their crime, not if a sitting president abandons his crusade against a universally-abhorred drug scourge.
Only five months ago, despite all of the raids and killings, eighty-one percent of Filipinos said they felt safer than they ever were before, according to Pulse Asia. That alone says a mouthful, to say nothing about the economy picking up by a significant 6.5 percent this second quarter, a milestone unheard of if businessmen big and small didn’t feel secure in their vicinities.
Duterte can’t walk away from what he started. But the boy’s kin will be assuaged of their grief if they know the real story: Was Kian, in fact, a drug runner? Or was he a victim of circumstance? If it's the former, it's the proverbial bitter pill all parents must swallow. But if it's the latter, then his family and friends should rest their case when his killers have been caught and jailed, and if the authorities put on their human faces, apologize for what happened, indemnify the family, and institute stiffer measures to curb abuse or incompetence.
For all of this may go either way: A young gofer killed in the drug-infested streets, or the prospects of over-zealous law enforcers taking the law into their hands, or skirting the proper procedures, in pursuit of the legitimate enemy that is the pernicious drug trade.
Hence, a reminder is apropos: All wars have collateral damage. Even the State’s own troops in Marawi mistakenly shot and killed their own. It is a sad and ugly truth, but such is the nature of any battle against a perceived evil. The key, it would now appear, is not to be waylaid into romanticism and deny such a fact, but to keep focused on the pragmatic and existential benefits of a drug-free society.