On ‘salvaging’

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By Tibs Palasan, Jr

Spark of Law

Monday, July 21, 2014

I HAVE seen it with my two eyes: two teens shot and dumped near my residence. Last week, another body was thrown in the same area.

There is a popular word for it: “salvaging.” Salvaging, as the online dictionary defines it means “prevent being ruined, destroyed, lost, or harmed.” In a word, it simply means to save.

Obviously, “salvaging,” the act of killing hardened criminals, does not in any way fit the dictionary definition of the word. In fact, “salvaging” is the complete opposite. Instead of saving, criminals are killed, disposed of, ruined.


The spate of extra-judicial killings in the city is now on the rise.

Who are killing these criminals? What we have are only speculations, rumors without verifiable proofs. The vigilantes are actually a group of policemen directed to kill the recidivists, those who make the jails as their abode. That too is a speculation. Of course, the police are denying it.

Still the rumor mills have it that a group of wealthy businessmen are funding the vigilantes who are rewarded for every kill.

We can only postulate that it’s either the police or the wealthy funding the extra-judicial killings. A one man army out to avenge is out of the picture. These killings have been perpetrated by different hooded men. Of course, the poor does not have the time and the funds to execute the criminals. Their daily issue of survival will take them out as usual suspects.

If these killings are done by the police, with the blessing perhaps of the city dads, then it is admission of weakness rather than strength. We have a legal process to arrest, convict, and eventually jail these criminals so they cannot harm anymore the society. Killing the criminals, punishing them as it were, in a meta-legal way, is an admission that the police force does know how to discharge their functions.

The policemen are equipped with the legal ammunitions to weed out the criminals. Working beyond the legal framework endangers the very purpose of its existence: to uphold the rule of law, to keep order in society.

If the wealthy is funding the vigilantes, that too is doubly dangerous. It is an admission that the police force is inutile to curb rising criminality. If this is the prevailing thought, then we can change the police force, and recruit new ones who are competent, credible, and dedicated enforcers.

But for the wealthy funding the killings, however, is chilling. There is apparently a recognition that the law is inadequate to weed out the criminals. Theirs is not simply the lack of belief that the police force is capable. Theirs is the belief that they must take the law unto their hands because the rule of law does not work anymore.

Vigilantism is a tempting route. The people who are disgruntled with the slow grind of justice applaud in silence every time a hardened criminal is “salvaged.” Just observe the hushed comments of the people gathered around the dead body of the victim of salvaging.

Vigilantism must be stopped. It does more harm than good to society. When people exact justice beyond the legal framework, the strands that bind our society together loosen, and God forbid, disintegrate.

If the police are not the culprit of vigilantism, then they should run after the vigilantes. Killing, beyond the legal framework, no matter how “righteous” the intentions are, is still murder. You cannot simply sugarcoat murder with “good intentions.” It is the duty of the policemen to run after these perpetrators of extra-judicial killings.

Otherwise, we may have to surmise that the killers carry the police badges.

Our social contract is to work within the rule of law. Rights and obligations are established by laws. The criminals must be punished accordingly. Anything beyond this concept invites the people taking the laws into their hands, and the force of the law becomes equal to the power of the sword.

The danger with vigilantism is that it operates not based on accepted system but on the influence of a person or group of persons. Vigilantism by its nature is “leader”-centered. It has the guise of righteousness depending on the “leader.”

What will now prevent the “leader” from engaging in purely act of salvaging the scums of the earth to other illegal acts? In fact, if we may ask, what will happen if the “leader” dies?

Can you imagine what the members of the Davao death squads will do when Mayor Duterte dies? You will have potential criminals wreaking havoc to the society they once pledged to protect.

That is the danger of working beyond the system.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on July 21, 2014.


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