COMMENTARY: Universal Human Rights? State-building under the Duterte Administration

Political modernity and rise of modern states is marked by the establishment of a system of rights as the basis of laws in a country. Political struggles since the 19th century revolved around the definition and redefinition of human rights within nation-states and today we are currently witnessing our own conflict between two different perspectives; that of Universal Human Rights and the embryo of a Qualified Human Rights.

The former is already the incumbent system satisfying international standards while the latter is currently being advocated and explicated under the heading of the current “War against Drugs and Criminality” called for by President Duterte. The conflict is embodied in the current debate provoked by the chain of killings in the name of the war against drugs and the persistence of the campaign that straddles the realms of illegality, legality, and mass publicity. At its root is how we, the current administration, is practically redefining humanity in accordance with its state-building project anchored upon the goal of restoring public trust towards the government through the strict implementation of the law.

Now, I will be frank in saying that I am not in favor of these killings; not because of the loss of human lives but because these are contradictory to the primary thrust of the administration; one cannot uphold the law if laws are broken in the process.

Yes, our president condemned the killings but the illegal bloodbath can only stop through two things, namely, (1) strengthening the judicial system so that due process can achieve a level of efficiency and effectiveness that is aligned with the demands of this campaign against criminality, and (2) re-instituting the Death Penalty.

For the latter, we return to the Qualified Human Rights that the president advocated when he declared that it should not be used as a refuge for criminal elements; that is, Human Rights must serve the public good and the security of the State and its citizens. Simply put, what is being implied and should be made explicit through Death Penalty is that human rights should only be enjoyed by those who can, and are willing to respect the rights of others and the welfare of the public. Thus, crimes against the economy, against workers and peasants, against the dignity and integrity of government institutions, and against ordinary and law-abiding citizens must be placed under this principle.

In other words, the dead bodies of drug pushers and drug lords responsible for the descent of many Filipinos into drug dependency must be placed alongside the dead bodies of corrupt politicians creating public insecurities by robbing our public funds, and of abusive businessmen and landlords burdening the lives of workers and farmers through unfair and exploitative practices.

For this reason, if this administration wants to be engraved in the annals of history, it must take Death Penalty as its primary weapon against the mass of crimes against the state and the public.

Dear reader, I hope that through social media we can call upon the current administration to consider the possibilities and potentials of re-instituting capital punishment against economic crimes (ranging from abuses against labor to unfair practices leading to distortions in the market) and political-administrative crimes (graft and corruption) in order to put the law at the heart of our society. The death of hundreds of drug pushers will never be enough; the death of drug lords will never be enough; death penalty must be utilized as one of the mechanisms to cure the ailments of our society and the cancer within the halls of government.

If Thomas Jefferson said that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants”, it is apt to say now that a strong state can only grow with the blood of criminals against the public good.