The Performative Aspect of Extrajudicial Killings in the Philippines’ War on Drugs

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by guest blogger Katrina Pineda, a junior undergraduate student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) pursuing a degree in Science, Technology, and Society. She is the co-president of the Philippine American League, RPI’s cultural Filipino club. This post was submitted at the end of Filipino American History Month (October) and in time for Araw ng mga Patay—Day of the Dead in the Philippines—in remembrance of those who have died in President Duterte’s war on drugs.

"La Pieta" photo by Raffy Lerma
“La Pieta” photograph by Raffy Lerma: Jennilyn Olayres holds her partner Michael Siaron, 30, a pedicab driver who was shot and killed by unidentified anti-drug motorcycle riding vigilantes along Pasay Rotonda, EDSA on July 23, 2016. According to Olayres, Siaron was not a drug pusher.

Pusher ako. Wag tularan.

“I am a [drug] pusher.  Don’t do what I did.”

The crudely drawn message on a cardboard sign beside a man just killed in the street is posed as a warning to the living. The sign appeared next to the body of Michael Siaron, a 30-year-old pedicab driver killed by a vigilante group in 2016. A famous photo of his bereaved partner cradling his body echoes “The Pieta,” also known as “The Lamentation of Christ.”

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Review of A Drunkard’s Defense

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Michael Brownrigg. Michael recently received his PhD in US history from Northwestern University, where he studied the relationship between emotion, white masculinity, and capitalism to explain the emergence of an antinarcotic consensus in America at the turn of the twentieth century. 

In A Drunkard’s Defense: Alcohol, Murder, and Medical Jurisprudence in Nineteenth-Century America (University of Massachusetts Press, 2021), Michele Rotunda has written a significant contribution about the history of alcohol consumption that will appeal to students of numerous fields, most notably scholars engaged in legal, medical, and cultural studies. Drawing from an impressive array of primary sources, Rotunda’s taut narrative, tracing the complex evolution of juridical precedents beginning in the colonial era that established the culpability of defendants accused of often gruesome crimes while intoxicated, is revelatory.

Rotunda’s extensive use of court documents, in particular, illuminates in exquisite detail the highly contested nature of judicial concepts like intention and responsibility, and how they considerably influenced verdicts in cases of alcohol-induced criminality. Did murder commissioned under the influence of alcohol constitute a deliberate, voluntary, and premeditated crime? If not, was the accused nevertheless at fault for willfully partaking in a vice that could disorder the mind and facilitate the perpetration of murder—an idea resting on deeply entrenched beliefs in American society about the immorality of drunken indulgence that knowingly caused mental derangement? Or, as physicians who were increasingly concerned with the physiology and psychology of intoxication proclaimed, was the impetus for murderous behavior exhibited by defendants vastly more complicated, requiring nuanced diagnoses that only practitioners’ scientific expertise and empiricism could provide?

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Points on Blogs: Drugs, Law and Conflict

Good blogs are hard to find.  Literally. One of the weird quirks of our marvelously interconnected age is how challenging it remains to locate good blogs in one’s field of interest.  They’re out there, but existing methods of web searching aren’t particularly helpful in locating them.  Sure, we can use basic search engines to find bits and pieces of language–“opium” “moral panic” “Quaalude”–but more often than not, there’s no efficient mechanism for finding tone, point of view, organization, or quality.  Those are the things that matter, and it is in that spirit that this ongoing series takes a closer look at some blogs of interest.

The first of these is a sole-authored blog called Drugs, Law and Conflict.  The blog’s author is Nina Catalano, currently of Harvard Law School.  If you head over to the blog, you’ll notice that Drugs, Law and Conflict has been on hiatus for about a year.  Nina reports that the blog may start back up again this fall.  Even if it doesn’t, the archive of posts from September 2008 through August 2010 (and there are a lot of them) constitute a useful collection that retains a great deal of value.

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