In the Philippines today there is the war against illegal drugs. The drug lords are the main violators of social well-being. What do we do with them in this war? First we need to answer the question of the possibility of taking arms. Is it ok to take arms? There are possible answers.
1. There is pacifism. This says that we should never take arms. We should never kill or harm anyone.
2. There is “just war”. This says that war/violence is never good but there can be war/violence that can still be justified. So it is alright to take arms but with conditions and limits.
3. There is cynicism. In cynicism we say, “I do not care”. It is indifference to whatever happens.
4. There is the “holy war”. Here we say that God sends us to war and violence.
The Church accepts the just war response and with a bit of pacifism. It took many centuries of discernment and experiences to take this stand. The experiences during World War II have led the Church to ask the question about response to aggression. We cannot just absorb the violence of other nations. We have to respond to that aggression. So the question is: how to actively respond without violence to the violence being done to us?
The notion of “active non violence” showed to be an appropriate response. Already in the Vatican II council this was a position taken. Pope Paul VI and the other Popes after him mentioned this notion of non-violence.
Non-violence includes an active search for winning over evil—over violence—with using good. Note then what active non-violence is: it is a response we can make effectively in front of violence without ourselves doing violence.
The “just war” theory today includes this sense of non-violence. It is inspired by the ideas of St. Thomas Aquinas.
The “just war” theory answers two questions: When is it ok to take arms? What are the limits in using arms?
When is it ok to take arms?
1. We take arms for defense and for defense only. There is no other valid reason. If we take arms for revenge or for wanting to control another and own the possessions of the aggressor, then we are not in just war. We can take arms in defending others. But note that it is still about defense.
· When we say defense, we must see it in the way the Church understands it. The idea of defense is to make sure that the aggressor is incapable of aggression and threat and violence. So defense means disarming and disabling the aggressor. This is all. We take arms to disable the aggressor. We do not go beyond this. Our intention is not to kill the aggressor. Our intention is to disable the aggressor. The final goal is to re-establish peace.
2. Next, we take arms if other possible ways are not available. If we have exhausted all alternatives—like dialogue, conventions, etc.—then we can take arms.
3. Next, we have to make sure that the situation after our intervention does not worsen. If the fruit of our intervention will not improve the actual situation and will only make things worse, then we do not take arms.
4. Next, we have to give the responsibility to take arms to legitimate authority. Taking arms is not an option of everyone. We need to seek for the proper legitimate authority who will take arms. This is the government, or more precisely the army/police. In the international scene, this can be the U.N.
5. Finally, we take arms if there is a hope of success. This is similar to number 3. We avoid making the situation worse and we evaluate if we can have success. We do not pick up arms if we will only make the situation worse.
What limit do we give in taking up arms?
When there is aggression and violence we still cannot just do what we want. We need to be aware of “collateral damage”. Remember that the defense is against the aggressor and nobody else. In war we distinguish between combatants and civilians. Civilians remain innocent. They are not to be harmed. Harming them is considered “war crime”.
In actual combat situations it is never easy. Today the strategy of many is to mix soldiers with civilians to the point that even civilians become combatants. Still, we need to always be vigilant about the limits, as best as we can.
When taking up arms aim only to those who will be disabled. Others remain innocent.
In the case of the war against illegal drugs
The drug lord remains a human person with dignity and with human rights. Remember that human dignity is not a title we give to ourselves. It is from God. All humans are persons with dignity because of being image of God and being honored by Christ’s Incarnation.
If we follow then what we say above, the drug lord id to be disabled and disarmed. The drug lord is to be prevented from continuing the destruction of people’s lives and prevented from killing. That is all. (Of course we bring the drug lord to jail and let the drug lord face proper legal processes.) There is no further intention of wanting to revenge against the drug lord. There is no further intention of wanting to kill the drug lord. The main intention is to protect society from the threat of illegal drugs by disabling the drug lord. Extra judicial killing is immoral. Its intention is to kill and it refuses the human right to due legal procedures.
Another point we need to consider is that the battle against the drug lord is to be done by legitimate authority. Vigilantes, for example, are not legitimate authority. Taking up arms to fight the drug lord is not the option of just anyone.
A final word must be given to collateral damage. Fighting the drug lord may include harming and killing the innocent. This is immoral. Disable and disarm only the drug lord.