Extrajudicial Killings: A Moral Perspective
Almost daily, the newspapers and TV report the series of killings of suspected criminals by the dreaded death squad. This is happening not only in Davao but in other cities in Mindanao.
Many of those killed were petty thieves, drug addicts and pushers. Many of them were still young.
What is happening reminds me of the secret marshals and the cases of salvaging during the Martial Law.
The questions is: Can these killings be morally justified? Is it right to kill these criminals?
Those who order and perpetrate these killings obviously think that there is nothing wrong with terminating these criminals with extreme prejudice. They think they are doing society a favor because they are getting rid of these criminals, they are defending society from evil people. They believe that the elimination of these criminals is a deterrent to crime. Thus, they act as prosecutor, judge and executioner – carrying out capital punishment – the death penalty.
I am sure that there are many ordinary citizens who think the same way. That is why there is very little public outcry. They believe these criminals – especially these drug pushers and suppliers – deserve to die.
Is it right to kill these criminals?
In spite of good intentions, the means used is not only illegal, it is also immoral.
The end does not justify the means. We cannot achieve a good end with evil means. It is not right to fight crime by committing a crime.
Those who order and carry out these summary executions of criminals become criminal themselves. They are guilty of the crime and sin of murder. What they do violates God’s 5th commandment: You shall not kill.
The direct and intentional killing of human beings, no matter how sinful they are, is a grave sin. Murderers are answerable not only to the law but to God.
The killing of these criminals cannot be considered as an act of self-defense. They did not directly threaten the life of the killers. While their activities are harmful to society, there are lawful means of dealing with them.
No one has a license to kill – not the government officials, not the police and military, and not any civilian. No one can arrogate to himself the power of life and death over other people – only God can do this.
Those who enforce the law must uphold the law. They are not above the law.
The Church upholds the right to life of all human beings – whether, unborn, young, old, and even criminals. The right to life is inalienable. It flows from the principle that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God and possess human dignity. Thus, life is sacred. No one can be deprived of the right to life – not even those suspected and found guilty of crime.
This right to life is now enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Church’s opposition to vigilante killings or summary execution is consistent with its opposition to abortion, capital punishment, war and euthanasia.
So, by all means, those in authority should go after the criminals, bring them to justice and punish them appropriately. But they should use means that are legally and morally right. They should not become what they abhor.
There is no need to become criminals in the fight against criminals.