At the Arzobispado, the office of the Archbishop of Manila, I saw this fascinating chart tracing the “evolution” of the country’s first diocese.
On August 25, 2017, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle convened an assembly of his fellow bishops and priests, joined by police officers and public officials, politicians and journalists (I was one of the two newsmen who showed up) to discuss the drug problem and the extrajudicial killings. This column appeared four days later, on August 29. It elaborates on the remarks I made at the assembly.
I sympathize with the Archbishop of Manila, whom I esteem greatly, and the other Catholic bishops who are struggling with the consequences of President Duterte’s brutal war. Their continuing attempt to see the complete picture of the trade in illegal drugs is deeply Christian; it is an instructive example of what the historian Horacio de la Costa, SJ, called a “reasonable faith.”
But it’s been over a year since the so-called war on drugs was launched; thousands of people have been killed — in our history, the most in such a short span of time since the end of World War II. Persistent public anxiety about this war, reflected in survey findings that have been overshadowed by the President’s personal popularity, burst into the open with the senseless, targeted but documented killing of Kian delos Santos, a 17-year-old schoolboy. (I wrote on this on Twitter.) That only 6 percent of voting-age Filipinos believe the police are definitely telling the truth when they say a suspect resisted arrest helps explain the outrage. Continue reading
The PCIJ Story Project on the tragedy of Kian delos Santos started as a (deeply moving) children’s book. ABS-CBN then made an animated version, hauntingly narrated by Agot Isidro.
The link is here: http://news.abs-cbn.com/news/multimedia/video/09/21/17/si-kian
On my way home from the August 21, 2017 protest action at the People Power Monument, I snapped one more photo of a single lit candle (there were many, scattered around the monument like luminous seeds)—lit in memory of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos.
This on-again, off-again blog is on again—even if only to serve a much more modest aim, as an archive of columns (I’m about 30 behind) and speeches (only a handful, since I don’t write everything down). As it happens, this first instalment was personally important; it was a turning point in my own column-writing, centering my criticism of the continuing calamity that is the Duterte government. It was published on August 22, 2017—six days after Kian delos Santos was killed.
The killing of 17-year-old Kian D. delos Santos has stirred us out of our intimidation-induced stupor and shaken an administration built, built, built on fear. From his initials (how do you like them, mga ka-DDS?) to his surname (the same as that of the thoroughfare that birthed a revolution), from the circumstances of his life (a boy with the simple dream of becoming a policeman) to the circumstances of his death (a cynical, cruel dance of death choreographed by policemen), from the courage of the witnesses (who have taken considerable risks to speak in detail) to the character of his parents (who have spoken boldly and with utmost candor), Kian has struck fear among the very people for whom fear is a strategy.
How do we know this? Because even some of the administration’s stalwart allies have publicly condemned the killing. Because the trolls as well as the blogger-defenders of the administration, after a lull that recalled their studied silence when President Duterte went missing in June, have returned with prepared scripts and attacking themes. Because the police has belatedly sought to paint Kian as a runner in the illegal drugs trade. (The former solicitor general, Florin Hilbay, has a term for what the police are doing: the “After Murder Identification of Suspects.”) Continue reading
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
Another 10-part Twitter thread, starting here. (You can of course click on the card below.)
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
Published on January 31, 2017.
The details are still scarce, but the big picture is clear: Upon instructions of President Duterte, the chief of the Philippine National Police has ordered a temporary stop to the administration’s so-called war on drugs. This is a good thing. Even if it is only temporary, it is welcome news, because it means—very simply—that fewer poor people will die in police shootings in the next several days.
I had joined my voice to the chorus of concern about the killings continuing even as the country hosted the Miss Universe beauty pageant, for only the third time in the competition’s history. We urged a temporary stop to the killings, to avoid the demoralizing, indeed immoral, spectacle of an entertainment extravaganza conducted against the backdrop of antipoor violence.
This much was clear to many of us from the start: Mr. Duterte’s war is being waged largely against people who are guilty of the crime of poverty. Take a look at the casualty lists; read the news stories; listen to the witnesses. Very many of the killed were poor. To have more of them die in the streets—without benefit of due process, under the murkiest of circumstances—while the world’s most beautiful women paraded in their swimsuits and evening wear made for an even greater scandal.
The order of Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, announced the same morning the nation was avidly following the finals of the Miss Universe pageant, is belated then, but bracing.
Published on October 11, 2016.
Last April, ex-President Fidel Ramos told me and a few others, with a twinkle in his eye, that he was voting Ro-Ro: not Roxas-Robredo, but Rodrigo Duterte and Leni Robredo. It was about time we had a president from Mindanao, he said. He also said he felt partly responsible for the Duterte candidacy because he had encouraged it as far back as the early 1990s, when he was president.
This is a debt of gratitude Mr. Duterte recognizes. The very first words he said at his inaugural address were in honor of his benefactor: “President Fidel Ramos, sir, salamat po sa tulong mo (thank you for your help) making me President.”
On the 100th day of his presidency, Mr. Duterte received a startling gift from Ramos: a strongly worded column in the Manila Bulletin, summing up the first 100 days as “Team Philippines losing badly.” Continue reading
Published on September 13, 2016.
THE VILIFICATION of the United Nations seems to have stopped; now the focus of presidential ire seems to be on the United States. But it is only a matter of time before UN involvement in Philippine affairs comes under attack again; the flawed but functional guarantor of international arbitration and human rights campaigns will necessarily be heard from again.
Here’s a thought, to prepare for the inevitable: The UN is not a remote organization, located half a world away and only distantly connected to goings-on in the Philippines. It is in fact intimately involved in Philippine society. In response to a query I posted about how many people the UN has working in the country, Martin Nanawa of the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office in the Philippines wrote back: “We have 1,449 National and 240 International Staff in the Philippines under the UN umbrella, which is spread over more than 25 different Agencies, Funds, Programs, and Organizations.”
That’s a lot of ears on the ground; it is folly, or wishful thinking, to suggest that UN experts do not know what is going on in the Philippines.
* * *
To the policy and legal arguments against the extrajudicial killings at the center of the Duterte administration’s war on drugs, I would like to add the religious dimension—not because I am particularly religious or find myself on moral high ground, but because many men and women who fight this war or support it are Christian. Continue reading
Published on August 2, 2016.
MY RADYO Inquirer colleague Ira Panganiban posted something provocative on Facebook the other day, and it has since gone viral. Unfortunately, the multiplatform journalist got his facts wrong. Even worse, his assumptions did not only lead to the error; they also raise worrying questions about the true value of a human life. In the spirit of free speech and fair play, and as an admiring friend, I wish to set him straight.
“Let’s call a spade a spade,” Panganiban wrote on July 30. “Andaming matatalino sobrang ingay tungkol sa pagpatay sa mga pusher at adik!!! (So many intelligent people are making too much noise about the killing of pushers and addicts!!!)”
“These so-called decent and progressive thinkers all cry about the number of killings since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed his post.”
“The Philippine Daily Inquirer even has a running tally of the killings in their pages. The last number I looked at is 400+ nationwide!!! (Sorry PDI kayo lang may running tally eh.)”
Published on May 24, 2016.
ON NOV. 16, 1999, President Joseph Estrada appointed his then-favorite policeman, Director Panfilo Lacson, as the new chief of the Philippine National Police. The next day, the special operations group that Lacson led before his appointment, the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force, killed eight men in Fairview, Quezon City, in what some witnesses called a “rubout.” Seven of the dead were later identified as suspected robbers; the eighth, a civilian bystander, was later reported to be the alleged mastermind of the robbery gang.
It was an arresting start to a controversial (and, as it turned out, abbreviated) term. For many, the spectacular violence was seen as precisely a violent spectacle, staged to strike fear among criminals.
Three renowned lawyers immediately raised the alarm. (I quote from an Inquirer editorial written some 10 years after the event.)
“Sen. Raul Roco told a news conference: ‘Lacson must be made to explain: Why, on your second day, did seven people die? How many will die on the third day? What are your projected plans on the 14th day?’