Collateral damage


AS EASY AS ABC By Atty. Alex B. Cabrera (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 10, 2017 – 12:00am

I remember my son’s story more than a year ago. His high school classmate borrowed his urine sample, fearing that he would fail the school’s random drug test if he submitted his own. It is a very reputable school but it has no force field. The kid is from a reputable family but that doesn’t count. He is a minor, but this anecdote is not a horror story only because it is not unique – not at all.

Curiosity makes youngsters experiment, especially with cannabis, because it’s like cigarette, and it’s available. I must attest not everyone did it, and most of those who tried were able to kick their experimentations early, and went on to have successful careers and happy families.

They don’t seem to be shameful memories – some even funny – all packaged in the fairy tale of growing up and learning about the world. Well, it is a fairy tale, because now we are awakened to the reality that this menace is not benign and is quite pervasive. Youngsters fall to the wayside, their lives taken from them. And to wash off some guilt or as some form of justification, they are called collateral damage.

The summary executions, a few caught on CCTV, and the rest in pitch darkness, bear heavily on the heart and conscience of anyone who prides himself to be living in a democratic society. Put that in the bin of collateral damage if they wish. But that collateral damage is someone’s son, or daughter, or sibling, or parent. It can happen to anyone, by innocent association, or by being in the wrong party or company.

I am disheartened to talk about the rules because there should be no lack of knowledge about them. Yet those rules are thoroughly ignored by those who are overly empowered. But then, we need to remind ourselves of the rules because “due process” is the only antidote to “collateral damage.” Securing a search or arrest warrant from a judge, and following the exceptions to a warrantless search or arrest, are the backbone of due process in law enforcement.

From decided cases by the Supreme Court:

Catch them in the act. This is where I now appreciate the tedious intelligent work of law enforcers who orchestrate a buy-bust operation to secure solid evidence. This is worlds apart from shooting a suspect standing by his house window.

Looking suspicious is not a crime. Applying a stop-and-frisk on someone with darting eyes, or who looks suspicious while standing still near police officers, is an invasion of that person’s privacy because looking weird is not a felony. And circumstances can show if the evidence is planted.

The apprehending officers must act on their personal knowledge, and not solely on an informant’s tip. Otherwise, without pre-work before acting, anyone can be searched and picked up. After receiving the tip and validating such, a warrant must be secured unless, under exceptional circumstances, there is no time.

The officer can only pull the trigger when there is real danger to his life. Even a suspect who’s running away should not be shot to his death, unless he is an escaped prisoner.

The above rules will also explain why a house-to-house drug testing is illegal. People inside their homes who are not committing a crime, or who are not subject of a search warrant, should be left alone because they have privacy rights.

I cannot miss the other side of the coin here – the one that’s most overlooked as well. As we dwell on our silent outrage about due process in the country going to the dogs, there is much obligation on us to help the government fight this menace. Sorry to say, but the exercise of parental monitoring and tough love can save the family from tragedies. Schools should do more, considering that consumptions happen in campuses or school parties. Teens and adults alike should start telling on their peers or acquaintances involved in drugs or the drug trade as this can save lives. Avoiding people who are users or those involved in drug-related activities can save your own life.

To him who says “full speed ahead” with the war, we say: slow down for the sake of avoiding harm to the innocents. If those guns must be pointed, veer them away from the seduced and the pawns. And start putting behind bars those who are bigger monsters than the problem we are trying to solve- whether they are caught on CCTV or not.

As sure as police power is flexed for public welfare, we can argue about how to apply the bill of rights, which is of man. But there can be no argument how to respect the Bill of Life, which is of God.

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Alexander B. Cabrera is the chairman and senior partner of Isla Lipana & Co./PwC Philippines. He also chairs the Tax Committee of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP). Email your comments and questions to This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

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