Rising crime, anti-EJK advocates and the death penalty
The Manila Times
THERE cannot be any other way to react but with incredulity when people who were hardcore critics of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs are now criticizing President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for his alleged softness on crime as the driver for the spate of criminal activities. Alleged kidnappings, albeit unreported, among Chinese are reportedly on the rise. It does not help that the president’s stance on the death penalty is more nuanced than many right-wing advocates who dominate his political base would tolerate. It can safely be said that the vast majority of the 31 million who voted for him are firm believers in the hard approach to crime and the reinstatement of capital punishment. Actually, President Marcos’ discomfort with the death penalty was never a secret. He already made his position known before, and it stems from the fact that studies have shown that capital punishment is not an effective deterrent to crime. In the United States, states that execute criminals have a higher crime rate than those where the death penalty is banned. In addition, death is an irreversible penalty once imposed, and in the face of an imperfect justice system where many people, usually the poor, have very little access to quality legal defense, then the specter of executing a wrongly and unjustly convicted person becomes very real. But considering that elections in the Philippines are won not on issues but on the basis of narratives and optics, the stance of the President on the reinstatement of the death penalty did not figure in the calculations of many of those who voted for him. There is no empirical evidence to show any causality between President Marcos’ ascension to office and the alleged rise in crime. Police authorities are even claiming that crime rates are not actually increasing. There is also the possibility that crime rates may not have actually increased but that media coverage has amplified the social media chatter that peddles allegations of kidnappings and white vans roaming around to abduct young women and girls. There is no systematic data as to the sources of these allegations. Some may actually be legitimate, while others are only conjured and shared by people so used to spreading fake news. Others may even have motives, and here there may be two kinds. There are those who would amplify the rise of criminality to pressure the Marcos government to adopt the strongarm policy of the previous Duterte administration. Included in this cohort are those who push for the reinstatement of the death penalty. And then there are those who would amplify the perception of rising criminality and count this as an opportunity to attack and criticize President Marcos. Included here are those who cannot help but remind those who voted for him as being hoodwinked in choosing a weak president. Others would even maliciously suggest that criminal groups are emboldened by the Marcos presidency which they consider to be providing an enabling environment. It is most bizarre when we hear lustful criticisms of the President for being not tough enough coming from people who vigorously opposed ex-president Duterte’s strong-arm policy on criminality. These are people who criticized the killing of drug suspects and who attacked extrajudicial killings and the war on drugs. They fought for the protection of human rights even of criminals and convicts. In the face of these diminutions of a strong state approach to crime, it therefore appears puzzling how they can consider President Marcos’ perceived softness toward criminals, even if just alleged, as a liability. But only the naive can be truly perplexed. It is obvious that these people would say anything detrimental to and derogatory toward President Marcos even if they would contradict themselves. This is aptly embodied in those who opposed Duterte’s war on drugs and the proposed reinstatement of the death penalty, but in the face of the President’s discomfort with the death penalty would support imposing it for plunder. Their reasoning is just too obvious. They support the execution of plunderers not as a principled stance, but as a political taunt at the Marcoses whom they accuse of plunder. Thus, we see the spectacle of people taking sides and voicing opinions not born out of principle, but out of political partisanship. People’s positions on issues are no longer dictated by the political values they hold close to their hearts but by sheer political convenience and that which is consistent with their political interests. We see voters who choose not on the basis of issues and the position of candidates on matters that divide us. And then we witness the spectacle of citizens supporting a particular side that is inconsistent with their positions as long as it negates the position of a political leader they hate. They are willing to contradict themselves if only to contradict those leaders. One of the banes of representative democracy is when irrationality takes over the shaping of political discourse. Many political theorists have located the foundation of democracy in the rationality of political institutions and in the high quality of citizens who inhabit these institutions. There is no rationality when citizens are governed merely by political expediency and what is convenient to their partisan interests. Accusing Marcos as being soft on crime on the basis of unverified crime statistics if only to advance a political agenda is not the best way to solve criminality. Peddling fake news about the incidence of crime to pressure the government to take a hard-line position will not stop criminality but simply amplify it as political fiction. Supporting the death penalty even if it does not deter crime will only turn the punishment into a collective form of revenge embodied in the bloodlust of a mob in a coliseum egging the emperor to feed the prisoners to the lions. We cannot force the President to become like the Roman emperor. We should not be a mob overcome by our lust for blood and revenge.