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Philippines

Dignity is being killed in a city of sudden death

The soul of Manila and the nation is being eaten away by the Philippine war on drugs

Dignity is being killed in a city of sudden death

Police look into the deaths of two unidentified men, suspected of being drug pushers, who were shot in a Manila street early on Oct. 29. Killings of suspected drug users and pushers have become a daily occurrence in the Philippines in recent months. (Photo by Vincent Go)

There was Jonathan, a 16-year old teenager. He was from a broken home where love no longer held together a family. There was poverty that kept food from the table and from the mouths of his brother and sisters.

Jonathan saw the last of his father as he stormed out of their shanty by a river in the Philippine capital, drunk on cheap liquor to numb the pain of failure. He was a jobless man fired by a corrupt boss and he had no food for his family. He was a useless, broken man, with his dignity taken from him.

So Jonathan dropped out of school to find work. But there was no job without a high school diploma. There was nothing for him but to go to the local drug pusher and sell the illegal stuff for him.

A little of the crystal grains could give the body a lift from depression and misery, banish hunger in an empty stomach and alleviate the pain of the poor in dire and deprecated slums. Poverty is the best drug pusher of all time.

Jonathan was a distributor of a medication that could alienate the pain and suffering of some of the poverty-stricken and misery-filled people of the slums. Crystal meth, called shabu, brings a short-lived hour or so of happiness and total forgetfulness for many. It brings a spurt of energy to others so they can work longer and ease their body pains.   

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The addicted have fleeting moments of paradise that give away to a worse misery they endured before they turned to the crystal grains to smoke and inhale. They crave the bliss of forgetfulness once the desire that ruined their already wretched lives comes again. They are more helpless than ever. They are the ones needing help and recovery and a chance at life again.  

There are others who use crystal meth like the coca leaf chewing natives of Bolivia do — to help them endure the hardship of mountain living and exhausting work. It is necessary for them.

For the poor and slum dwellers the ruling elite provides no escape, no hope no future or salvation from the scrapheap of sadness. The poor have no help to ease the pain or heal the wounds of a life without purpose.

The rich and the rising middle class sniff and inhale crystal meth and other illegal drugs in the luxury of their plush homes and high-rise apartments. The filth and wretchedness they leave far below and they see no need to pity the poor struggling to survive.

For the irresponsible rich, the poor are the no-bodies of this world. Jobless, hungry and sick people are looked upon as the wretched of the earth and the dirt of humanity.

The ruling class ignores them and does not reach out a hand of mercy or open a way for escape. For some poor, crystal meth is their only escape. It gives moments of ease from the burden of their struggle to survive.

Jonathan saw meager earnings. They were enough to buy a kilogram of rice, a can of sardines, and a handful of vegetables. It was food for the fatherless family.

His customers were equally poor as he was. There was Benny, a pedi-cab cyclist who pedaled 50 kilometers a day it seemed for a pittance. He didn't own anything besides his T-shirt and shorts and worn down flip-flops he found on a garbage tip.

He needed a sniff of shabu to keep going that extra hour to bring home his half-kilo of rice and vegetables for the family and stop the crying of the little one.  

And then it started. The word went out that they were useless criminals with shrunken brains without rights or dignity. They were to be eliminated, eradicated, massacred. The killers, dressed in hoods, came in cars and hit the hovels with guns drawn and ordered the pedi-cab drivers to lie face down. They shot them dead and Benny was one of them. Now there is no one to bring the rice and vegetables and the baby cries all the time with hunger.

Then the motorbikes came roaring down a narrow alley and Jonathan was the target. They killed him too with an assassin's shot to the head. His mother screamed and all his brothers and sisters cried for a week and still do when they have no rice.

In the hovel beside the stinking smell of the Pasig River, a cesspool of filth and dirt, he lay in a plywood box. The river flowed on through the city of death where 4,000 have been killed and the death toll is still rising. Jonathan was just one more gunned down on suspicion of a crime. He had no chance to plead his case.

It was always a hard life in the city's slums where death came slowly with malnutrition and disease, but now it is a city of sudden death. A relief say some. As each body is carried away in a plastic bag somewhere well-fed citizens applaud and cheer the killing spree and say well done. There is blood upon their hands.

Now we see the death of the dignity of this once proud nation that stood as best it could for rights and freedom. The nation's dignity is being killed day by day and lost in the fog of a war-on-drugs, which is another way to rule by fear.

Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse.

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