Category Archives: Newsstand: Column

Column: The transformations of Rodrigo Duterte

Written on the day of the controversial second State of the Nation Address, and published on July 25, 2017.

Since I first met him in August 2015, I have tried to describe Rodrigo Duterte, the man and politician, as fairly, as completely, as I could. In this column and before various audiences—rule of law advocates in The Hague, student leaders on Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City, Asian news executives in Bangkok, campus writers in Legazpi, journalists in Perugia, even residents of my hometown of Cagayan de Oro—I have sought to give President Duterte his due.

I have always pointed out that, in private, Mr. Duterte is unfailingly courteous, and thoughtful and responsive in conversation. He makes bold statements (arguing, for instance, that the presidency is not powerful enough) but leavens them with an earnest mien, a healthy sense of humor, even a talent for mimicry. I’ve met him only thrice — a group interview at the Inquirer that lasted for about four hours, a chance encounter at the Naia 2 airport, a presidential debate — but my impressions have found an echo in the recollections of the senators and Cabinet secretaries I’ve interviewed since his election.

I have also always noted that Mr. Duterte is a genuinely charismatic personality; I have seen his effect on an audience of about 50 as well as a massive crowd (the thanksgiving rally in Davao City after his victory) of perhaps 500,000. There is really something there that many people respond to. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has seen this charisma at work, not only in the President’s native Davao but in Tokyo, too, when Mr. Duterte came visiting. It is a mistake to dismiss this talk of mass appeal or reduce it to cult-like conduct. (To be sure, there is that, too.)

But put a microphone in front of him, and (time to look afresh at this tired phrase) all hell breaks loose. Continue reading

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Column: Why Duterte is defending Marcos

Only one conclusion makes sense. Published on July 18, 2017.

I have nothing against the senators who dined with President Duterte earlier this year; those who castigate them, essentially for showing up for dinner, have forgotten the role of the two political branches in our system of government. It would be a real scandal if the President dined with justices of the Supreme Court alone; recent history tells us that the illegal consultations Ferdinand Marcos sought with members of the Court built the constitutional foundations of his authoritarian regime. But lawmakers are supposed to work with the Executive—that is how our system is meant to function, especially when the senators belong to the administration majority.

I also do not understand the absolutist position that critics of the majority take when administration-aligned lawmakers express their outrage or their disgust over the reinstatement of Supt. Marvin Marcos. Sen. Ping Lacson, for instance, gave vent to his frustration over the special treatment for Marcos, the police colonel who oversaw the execution of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa inside a Leyte subprovincial jail last November, by resorting publicly to President Duterte’s favorite expletive. But some of the feedback he got from social media took him to task for enabling the President in the first place — without so much as an acknowledgement that this key player in the Senate majority is now on a collision course with the President.

Politics is addition, and the more voices we hear condemning the extrajudicial killing of a politician by police officers, the better. Continue reading

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Column: How to build consensus in SC

The Judges

RBG in the house. Former President of the Supreme Court of Brazil Ellen Gracie Northfleet, Judge Rosemary Barkett of the Iran-US Claims Tribunal, and Justice of the US Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Column No. 450, published on July 11, 2017. (What a thrill to meet RBG.)

On the eve of the World Justice Forum at The Hague, I asked the guest of honor, the eminent Ruth Bader Ginsburg, associate justice of the US Supreme Court, about how to build consensus in collegial decision-making institutions. I had the Philippine Supreme Court in mind: One majority decision and 14 separate opinions in a landmark case involving the exercise of extraordinary powers did not seem to me to be a sign of strength, but rather of weakness in the shaping of consensus. I did not say any of this — only that in my impression, building majority decisions could be problematic. She replied, initially, by asking questions.

Do the justices lunch together? she first asked. (Later, she asked a related question: Do the justices have their own dining hall? I confessed that I did not know, but guessed that they did.) Do they live near each other? Most of her questions were in this personal vein. I can remember only two questions that were directly related to the work: How many serve on the Court? (This question may have been asked by Judge David Caron, who sat between us; I am no longer certain.) When I said 15, she asked: Do they work in panels? Continue reading

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Column: If Taruc is a hero, what?

Published on July 4, 2017, but perhaps apropos reading for yesterday’s celebration of National Heroes Day. 

The honors paid last month to Luis Taruc, cofounder of the Huks, invites us to think, again and with a greater sense of complication, about our notions of heroism.

An Inquirer editorial tried to anticipate the public’s response to the unveiling of a historical marker at Taruc’s place of birth and to the statement of recognition from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines “that Luis Taruc is a hero” by identifying three types of possible reception. “This pronouncement may strike some as belated but deserved recognition; others may criticize it as insufficiently historical or an affront to the memory of other heroes; still others may wonder what all the fuss is about.”

If not indifference, I would venture that wonder at what all the fuss was about was the majority reaction — but I did see criticism of the Taruc pronouncement. Inquirer columnist Manolo Quezon was one of those who showed his disagreement by circulating a Philippines Free Press cartoon listing Taruc’s many iniquities. I respect Quezon’s position, not only because his grandmother Aurora Quezon was assassinated by the Huks in 1949, but even more so because his work is shaped by a deep understanding of Philippine history.

Recognition of Taruc’s heroism, however, forces us to take a closer look at the different, even conflicting, narratives of heroism we have learned to tell. To make a nation, it takes all kinds of heroes. Continue reading

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Column: But where is the President?

When the President went missing. Published on June 27, 2017.

I understand, from the official daily schedule circulated on Monday by the Presidential Communications Operations Office, that President Duterte will make a public appearance today for the first time in almost a week. The “tentative schedule” (these releases are almost always classified as tentative) shows the President attending the “Eid’l Fitr Celebration” in Malacañang at 7 p.m.

This marks the second time in as many weeks that Mr. Duterte has been missed. He was not seen in public from June 12 to 16, and again from June 21 to 26 — assuming, that is, that he keeps his appointment tonight. (It is the only appointment on his agenda today, according to the schedule shared with the reporters and bloggers who cover him.)

At a general meeting of the Public Relations Society of the Philippines last week that I was privileged to address, a gentleman during the Q&A noted the traditional media’s “failure” to report on the President’s whereabouts. I understood what he meant, and conceded his point (in a word, the media should dig deeper), but I also noted other factors at work that made the President’s first prolonged absence controversial. Continue reading

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Column: What would Rizal say (to Duterte)?

The 2nd In the Shadow of the Dragon forum, held at the auditorium of the De La Salle University Rufino Campus, in BGC.

Published on June 20, 2017.

At an Inquirer forum on Philippine independence and the rise of China, the young historian Leloy Claudio said something in passing which generated some Twitter attention. “If Rizal were alive today, he’d be ‘dilawan,’” Claudio said. He was referencing Rizal’s struggle for civil liberties as an indication that he would be, in today’s reductionist, polarized setting, not a Duterte supporter but an Aquino reformist—that is, a “Yellow.”

We mark Rizal’s 156th birthday at a time when the incumbent President is seeking to overhaul Philippine society itself; as Claudio’s remarks suggest, Rizal today seems more indispensable than ever. I think I know why: He reminds us what it means to be Filipino. Continue reading

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Column: ‘Remove China’s illegal structures’

South China Sea expert Jay Batongbacal, at the Defend Democracy Summit. June 12, 2017.

 

Published on June 13, 2017.

I meant to write on Rizal and President Duterte, but taking part in the Defend Democracy Summit at the UP School of Economics on Monday brought me face to face with the human toll of the Duterte administration’s irresolution in defending the West Philippine Sea. We must make time to understand the Duterte era from a historical perspective; on Thursday, the Inquirer and the De La Salle University seek to do just that, with a historians’ forum on Philippine independence and the rise of China. But today—today I want to talk about Norma and Ping and the fishermen in Zambales they represent. Continue reading

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Column: ‘Who lost the West Philippine Sea?’

Antonio Carpio, Senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

Updating, again. This column was published on June 6, 2017. I took the photo of Justice Carpio on June 5, about half an hour before he conducted a group interview with the Inquirer.

This could be the question that will haunt us in our old age. Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio asked the Meet Inquirer Multimedia forum on Monday to imagine that moment, years from now, when our children and grandchildren will sit us down and ask us: “Who lost the West Philippine Sea to China?”

It is our “civic duty,” Carpio said, to raise the alarm today about the imminent loss of our territory and our waters, to forge a national consensus on what needs to be done, and to defend the West Philippine Sea. Continue reading

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Column: Why does the President misremember his oath?

On a worrying choice of words. Published on May 30, 2017.

When President Duterte arrived from Moscow, a day after he imposed martial law on all of Mindanao, he gave a speech explaining the rationale for his exercise of extraordinary power and then conducted a news conference. In response to a question about the rules of engagement now in place in Mindanao, he gave an extended answer, which included the following statement:

“You know, I have always maintained that my duty, my sacred duty to preserve and defend the Filipino, does not emanate from any constitutional restriction.”

“It is in my oath of office. I beg to disagree with anyone. In this oath of office which I promised to God and to the people that I will protect and defend the country.”

(I am using the official transcript provided by the Presidential Communications Operations Office.) Continue reading

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Column: On the ICC and Duterte’s ‘sensitivity’

Published on May 23, 2017.

On April 24, lawyer Jude Sabio submitted a “communication” to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, seeking an investigation into crimes against humanity allegedly masterminded or committed by President Duterte and 11 other officials. We do not know what will happen to Sabio’s action; the procedures are detailed for all to see or study on the ICC website, but for the Philippines, this is a case of first impression.

For some members of the political opposition, the ICC might also prove to be the court of last resort. The impeachment complaint Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano filed against the President was disposed of in a matter of hours; there was no “prejudicial questions” maneuver to create at least the semblance of deliberation (as in the first impeachment complaint filed against President Gloria Arroyo in 2005). While ICC prosecution does not require the state that is party to the Treaty of Rome to exhaust all remedies (the ICC prosecutor has “motu proprio” powers), it can also step in when “the State is unwilling or unable genuinely to carry out the investigation or prosecution.” Continue reading

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Column: The Catholic (as) fascist

Published on May 16, 2017; provoked by online encounters with friends who are devout Catholics and support President Duterte’s signature campaign, the misleadingly named “war on drugs.”

I was born into a Vatican II household. Or perhaps it would be more precise to say I belonged to a family that in the 1960s took readily to the new emphases, the changes in the liturgy, in short the opening of windows, made possible by the historic ecumenical council. Looking back on those transition years, I can remember Masses in Cagayan de Oro or in General Santos City where the priest still faced the altar, rather than the congregation. We were aware of the changes and willingly took part in them; we were certain of our Catholic identity, encouraged by the modernizing faith we professed, and tolerant and respectful of other faiths.

It took me some time to realize that there were other kinds of Catholics—resistant to what Pope John XXIII called, in his opening speech before the Second Vatican Council, the “medicine of mercy,” partial instead to the old prescription of “severity.” Perhaps I oversimplify; I must have met relatives and strangers alike who were “catolico cerrado,” who believed in “sola scriptura,” or who were, as the expression goes, more papist than the Pope. But Catholic fundamentalism was first an academic problem for me, in college and right after it, before it became a personal one.

Now it is decidedly personal. Catholic fundamentalism, like other religious fundamentalisms, is open to fascism and helps enable authoritarianism. And I have some friends and acquaintances who do not see any disconnect between their Catholic faith and their support for the Duterte administration’s bloody war on drugs. Continue reading

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Column: On impeaching VP Leni

Time to play catch-up again. I’ve 12 columns (three months’ worth) to post; here is the first. Published on May 9, 2017, in what already seems like a different era.

The administration allies pushing for the impeachment of Vice President Leni Robredo suffer from two disadvantages: the absence of a substantive basis on which to ground their complaint, and the presence, the counter-example, of a substantial complaint. I mean, of course, the impeachment case filed by Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano.

Whatever one may think of President Duterte, or of the courage or duplicity of his political opposition (take your pick), I hope we can agree that the Alejano filing is a serious undertaking. It does not only assert the violation of high crimes (the essence of an impeachment initiative); it also offers testable proof. For instance, in detailing an entire pattern of words spoken and actions taken to adopt what Alejano called “a state policy of inducing policemen, other law enforcement officials, and/or members of vigilant groups into … Extrajudicial Killings,” he asserts that Mr. Duterte was liable for:

“making the killing of drug suspects and other suspected criminals as one of the principal bases of promotion and/or retention of Police Commanders such that Police Commanders in whose areas there are no reported killing of suspects are under threat of being replaced.”

It is a chilling charge, but it can be proved or disproved. Continue reading

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Column: ‘The unfortunate Bato dela Rosa’

The fifth in my occasional series of “unfortunate appointments” is the first on a non-lawyer; as it happens, the government’s chief law enforcement official. Column No. 440, published on May 2, 2017.

Bato in Davao

Bato in Davao, at the massive thanksgiving rally for President-elect Duterte. June 4, 2016.

No chief of the Philippine National Police has brought as much disgrace and discredit to the institution he heads as Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, a likeable enough police officer promoted beyond his capacity and competence. His chief claim to fame was his total support for the presidential candidacy of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, whom he worked with closely when he was Davao City police chief; the main reason he remains head of the country’s 170,000 police officers is the President’s complete trust in him.

There are at least three reasons why Dela Rosa has seriously damaged the institution he leads. As early as January this year, these reasons were already clear to any observer of the PNP’s performance and indeed to any genuine friend or ally of the President’s. In the aftermath of the scandal over the kidnapping and killing of the retired Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo right inside PNP headquarters (the crime took place in October, but came to light only in January),  one of the President’s closest political allies, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, called on Dela Rosa to resign. In the agitated statement Speaker Alvarez released on Jan. 20, after the full scale of the scandal became clear and threatened to bring the President’s so-called war on drugs to a permanent and premature end, the three reasons can already be discerned.

Now, in the wake of the revelations last week about the hidden detention cells inside Manila Police District Station No. 1, and especially after Dela Rosa bombastically offered what Sen. Panfilo Lacson rightly called an “incomprehensible” and “very arrogant” defense of the secret jail, it is time to revisit Alvarez’s position.

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Column: If not Duterte’s ouster, what?

Like many, I do not want the military to oust President Duterte; that attempt at a cure (to speak figuratively) may prove to be worse than the disease. Like many, I only want our democratic processes to function, our checks and balances to work, our politicians to grow a spine worthy of the dignity of their office—so that everyone, Duterte included, can be held accountable not only by history but in real time. The lesson from the history of democratic polities is clear: The consent of the governed depends on limits placed on government. Published on April 25, 2017.

I have written in this space before: There is no conspiracy to oust President Duterte, and there are no destabilization attempts against his administration. What is the “point,” then, of all the criticism? To ask the question is to misunderstand the role of a free press, an unco-opted opposition and the democratic project itself. In our different ways, we criticize to hold him accountable.

Let me limit myself to the responsibility of journalists. Continue reading

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Column: ‘Why prefer a dictatorship to freedom?’

The second column prompted by the IJF17 panel discussion on “Reporting Emerging Authoritarianism.” Published on April 18, 2017.

As it turns out, more research exists on authoritarian followers than on authoritarian leaders. I do not know this paradox for a fact, but I believe someone who does: the psychologist who is a leading scholar on authoritarianism, Bob Altemeyer. I was led to his work by a presentation Alexa Koenig of UC Berkeley made at the International Journalism Festival two weeks ago; I have since read his “The Authoritarians,” available for free online. It makes for instructive reading. It helps explain our experience under martial law, and why we may yet again find ourselves on the road to authoritarian rule.

The paradox can be explained simply. As Altemeyer writes: “The psychological mystery has always been, why would someone prefer a dictatorship to freedom? So social scientists have focused on the followers, who are seen as the main, underlying problem.” Continue reading

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Column: The authoritarian and his followers

The first of three columns prompted by a panel discussion on “Reporting Emerging Authoritarianism” at the 2017 International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy. (I might add a fourth column, one of these days.) Published on April 11, 2017.

 

One difference between the Marcos years and today: Today there is deservedly more attention paid to the role the public plays in empowering authoritarian regimes. A panel discussion on “Reporting Emerging Authoritarianism” at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy, which it was my happy task to moderate, brought this difference home to me.

Alexa Koenig, who serves as executive director of UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center, began by outlining a useful framework for understanding the subject. Yavuz Baydar, a prominent Turkish journalist living in exile since the postcoup total crackdown by President Reycep Erdogan, drew lessons from his country’s degeneration into a “robust authoritarian regime.” Tamas Bodoky, a Hungarian investigative journalist who founded the watchdog site Atlatszo.hu (“transparent” in Hungarian), described “defining features” of emerging authoritarianism, based on the Hungarian experience under Prime Minister Viktor Orban. I presented five theses on the Duterte presidency. Continue reading

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Column: Becoming blind

Published today, April 4, 2017 — but in a different time zone, and in a different frame of mind.

I find the phenomenon of willful blindness in the Duterte era vexing, and would like to take a closer look. To begin: There are degrees of not seeing.

Some are born truly sightless, or qualify as legally blind. Different institutions would have different definitions for legal blindness, but I think the nontechnical phrasing used in Merriam-Webster comes close to a common basis: “having less than 1/10 of normal vision in the more efficient eye when refractive defects are fully corrected by lenses.” (That means that seriously visually impaired people who can see well enough to drive with the help of corrective lenses are not, in fact, legally blind—a common misconception.)

Some are blind because they are unable, or unwilling, to question what they see. Continue reading

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Column: Should Leni dine with the President?

Published on March 28, 2017.

Here’s a sign of our parlous times: An invitation to dine with the President of the Philippines has become politically fraught. Instead of the privileged act of mutual courtesy it has traditionally been (the President honors the citizen with the invitation, the citizen pays his or her respects to the President by accepting the invitation), it is now a simplistic political test. If you show up (say at a private dinner with senators), you will be seen as an ally of the President’s. If you are seen laughing at some of the President’s risqué or offensive jokes, you will be criticized by his critics. And if you are the duly elected vice president, you will be warned about the risks of falling into a trap.

In keeping with the schizophrenic quality of some of President Duterte’s rhetoric, the invitation to Vice President Leni Robredo and her three daughters came after he both ruled out the possibility that she was involved in any destabilization campaign against him and also suggested that she was eager to replace him. It also comes in the wake of the controversial dinner between the President and the members of the newly reconstituted majority in the Senate.

Should Robredo accept the President’s invitation? Continue reading

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Column: The Duterte camp’s internal contradictions

Prompted by the last line of the previous column. Published on March 21, 2017.

I use the word “camp” advisedly, because the fundamental inconsistencies exist not only inside the administration but also among its political allies in and with the administration’s support apparatus. Here are 10 internal contradictions that may pose a threat to the harmony, unity, or even viability of the Duterte camp.

Dominguez vs. Lopez. I cannot recall an instance where a sitting member of the Cabinet testified against another member before the Commission on Appointments. But that’s exactly what Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez did a week ago, expressing his opposition to Gina Lopez’s appointment as environment secretary. It was an extraordinary scene, one of the President’s alter egos coming out publicly, methodically, against the confirmation of another of the President’s alter egos. The President has renewed his public declaration of support for Lopez. But people close to the President say that in fact he wants Lopez to read the handwriting on the wall and gracefully resign her appointment. Whatever the true situation, it is unusual for a policy difference like the administration stance on mining to be fought, in the CA, by dueling secretaries. Continue reading

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Column: Destabilization? Opposition can’t even unite

“Criticism of the President is not destabilization.” Published on March 14, 2017.

A concerted campaign to destabilize the Duterte presidency exists—but only in the opportunistic minds of political entrepreneurs like Sandra Cam or the anxious imaginations of political virgins like the President’s diehard devotees. I can also include the likes of the smart, articulate political veteran Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, whose fortunes now depend completely on his erstwhile running mate.

They have one thing in common: no real power in the Duterte administration, only access or the promise of access to the inner circle. Continue reading

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Column: Pacquiao misunderstands ‘spiritual renewal’

Pastor Manny Pacquiao takes center stage, again. Published on March 7, 2017.

Yesterday, in the middle of the afternoon, the following trended on Twitter: #DDSBigReveal, Lascañas, Senate, Manny Pacquiao, Davao Death Squad, and Spiritual Renewal. The six trends were all related to the Senate hearing conducted by the committee on public order to assess retired policeman Arturo Lascañas’ dramatic accusations against President Duterte.

The last, in particular, referred to the witness’ explanation for changing his testimony. Last October, before the Senate committee on justice, he denied the existence of the Davao Death Squad. It was just “media hype,” he said. On Feb. 20, at a news conference in the Senate, and then yesterday, under oath a second time, he said he had been forced to lie the first time because his family’s safety had not yet been secured, but that he really wanted to tell the nation what he knows about Mr. Duterte’s alleged personal liquidation squad because of a “spiritual renewal.”

I can understand why several senators questioned Lascañas’ conversion story. (I use “conversion” here to mean, not a moving from one religion or denomination to another, but rather a turning—that’s the root of the word—from one path to another.) It goes to the issue of motivation. Why change one’s mind, and perjure one’s self? The senators are right in assuming that neither should be taken lightly. Lascañas does have some serious explaining to do.

But I think one reason “spiritual renewal” trended on Twitter yesterday is people reacted to the narrow view some of the senators held about that religious experience. Continue reading

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Column: Duterte’s math: the ‘tokhang’ surrender fallacy

The politics of the so-called war on drugs is addition. Column No. 431, published on February 28, 2017.

Before the Duterte administration resumes its so-called war on drugs in earnest, we should ask ourselves: Is the “surrender” of a “drug personality” addition or subtraction? Let’s say there are 1,000 residents in a barangay. The local police and barangay officials agree that an estimated 100 residents are into drugs, whether as user or as pusher. If 50 residents surrender to the police when the authorities conduct what is now known as a “tokhang” drive, how many drug personalities will the barangay now have? Is it now 50, because the number of 50 surrenderers has been subtracted from the estimate? Is it still 100? Or is it 150, because the number 50 has been added to the base?

Allies and supporters of the President have called on those who criticize the war on drugs for its high death toll to consider the bigger picture—starting with the number of surrenderers. On Jan. 18, the Philippine National Police spokesperson gave an update: Since the national “tokhang” plan went into effect (it is officially known as Oplan Double Barrel), the police have visited some 6 million houses, and processed over 1 million surrenderers.

What does it mean to surrender? Continue reading

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Column: The unfortunate Calida, ‘16th Justice’

Published on February 21, 2017.

I have not met Solicitor General Jose Calida, but his reputation precedes him. He likes, shall we say, to cut a figure. Arriving at a function in a convoy with flashing lights; deliberately ignoring his candidate’s vice presidential running mate at a campaign rally; going around town telling officers of the court he is replacing Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, and soon. So it wasn’t exactly a surprise when he justified his startling intervention in Janet Lim Napoles’ serious illegal detention case with yet another act of immodesty.

“It is up to the Justices of the Court of Appeals to assess the weight of our pleading. And, modesty aside, the Solicitor General is considered as the 16th Justice of the Supreme Court,” he told reporters on Thursday.

Of all the things he said in that disturbing news conference, this was in my view the most upsetting.

In the first place, no solicitor general publicly refers to himself as the unappointed member of the Supreme Court; it just isn’t done. The boundaries that divide the work of the executive’s chief lawyer from the work of the judiciary are not only constitutionally determined but also ethically set.

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Column: Jollibee, and the many kinds of love

Published on February 14, 2017.

Last week the largest fast-food chain in the country “broke the internet”—as people have learned to say these days, with enthusiastic and forgivable exaggeration. Jollibee released three television commercials with compelling storylines, all variations-with-a-twist on a theme of love, and Filipinos had a collective sob. I liked the ads; I think they have the potential to teach us something we often forget about love’s true and varied nature. They also make me, a political journalist, realize that Jollibee has the unusual opportunity to remind us about yet another kind of love—but I’m getting ahead of the story.

Make that “stories.”

The three commercials are part of a continuing series of narratives each “inspired by a true story.”

“Vow” is what is known as a meet-cute: Boy meets girl in unforgettable fashion. In this ad, the boy and the girl are side by side at the counter and order the exact same thing, even the exact same upgrade, at an auspiciously empty Jollibee store. The story ends with a wedding, but with a twist in the final frames.

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Column: ‘A bunch of shameless hypocrites’

Published on February 7, 2017.

After the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines issued its pastoral letter on extrajudicial killings, one of President Duterte’s closest allies took direct aim at the bishops. “Sinners [that] they are, the Catholic Church has no moral ascendancy to judge what is right and wrong,” Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said via SMS. “They are simply a bunch of shameless hypocrites.”

It is good that the Speaker, by all accounts a straight talker and a practical man, was clear about his antecedents, because anyone else paying attention to Philippine politics would have thought he was referring to his own chamber of Congress. Having engineered the most recent wave of political turncoatism in our history, he is no stranger to accusations of hypocrisy. What is a majority composed of newly elected or reelected politicians who changed political parties for power and convenience, after all, but a bunch of shameless hypocrites?

But Speaker Alvarez is a power center in the administration, not only because he is one of the handful of true believers who pushed a reluctant Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to run for president, but because he shares the President’s core beliefs. His broadside at the Catholic bishops, generalized to include the entire Church, springs from the same source as the President’s contempt for the religion of his strong-willed, sainted mother. That the Church has “no moral ascendancy”—this is the authentic Dutertismo note. Continue reading

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