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 January 10, 2017.
I am one of many Filipinos who look up to Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach. She has done her beauty-contest-besotted country proud, not simply because she won the biggest prize of them all, but because of how she has conducted herself during her year-long term—her reign, in pageant-speak—as Miss Universe. Poised, smart, well-spoken and, to use her own meme-spawning phrase, confidently beautiful, she understood the most important albeit least known part of the beauty queen’s job description: diplomacy. She put that to good use when she championed the idea of the Philippines hosting the Miss Universe 2016 pageant.
The politician-businessman Chavit Singson is mainly responsible for pooling the resources that allowed the country to host this year’s competition, but Wurtzbach played a key role. Something she said at the pageant’s “kick-off” party last December is worth repeating: “It started with an idea and I asked Paula (Shugart, the president of the Miss Universe Organization) if it’s okay for me to, during my interviews, during my homecoming, if it’s okay that I mention that we would like to host the next Miss Universe competition here because, who knows, it might actually happen!”
I am sure there are others like me who supported the idea, not only as an initiative to shine the light on the Philippines, but as an opportunity to temporarily stop the killings in President Duterte’s war on drugs. Our reasoning was: Surely the administration would signal to the police, and to the vigilantes who read the same cues, to observe a ceasefire in the ongoing war while international attention is focused on the country. After all, when the competition is in full swing, women from around 90 countries will be competing for Wurtzbach’s crown in different locations in the Philippines. Who would want glamorous images of beautiful women in tourist spots in the news every day, side by side gritty pictures of dead suspects on the streets? Continue reading
Published on December 27, 2016.
Today marks President Duterte’s 180th day in office; by one measure, his famous campaign pledge to crack down hard on crime and illegal drugs in six months has reached its deadline. Of the 6,000-plus Filipinos who have been killed in the President’s war on drugs, however, many have been clearly innocent: children caught in the crossfire, victims mistaken for other people. Tomorrow, the Catholic Church remembers the Holy Innocents—the first-born children massacred on Herod’s orders in the jealous king’s attempt to kill Jesus. It should also be an occasion for Christians throughout the country to reflect on the true costs of Mr. Duterte’s war, and to harden our opposition to it.
I have argued before that because “Christianity believes in the possibility of redemption,” any initiative which does not respect this belief, such as the President’s all-out offensive, mocks the Christian faith. “I realize that …. it is certainly the duty of the policeman to protect the community from criminals, even to the point of shooting them. But the police killings in the war on drugs share a common characteristic: Except for the odd case, all of the suspects were shot in the head or in the back. There was no attempt to disarm or to maim, if the suspects were in fact fighting back.” (We should note that this is exactly how ex-president Fidel Ramos criticizes Mr. Duterte’s war, as an abandonment of long-standard rules of engagement.) The way the war on drugs is conducted, however, “does not only run counter to the best practices of effective antidrugs campaigns in the world, or to the constitutional guarantees of due process and the protection of human rights, but it is also, strictly speaking, unchristian.” Continue reading
Published on November 29, 2016.
At a forum hosted by the Asian Media Information and Communication Center last Friday, I had a chance to paint a picture of the conditions journalists labor under when covering President Duterte. With Marites Vitug’s own take, it was meant to prompt discussion:
President Duterte is an unusual subject, different from most other presidents, in many ways. A large part of the challenge of covering him can be explained by these differences. Let me cite four related pairs of unusual.
He was a truly reluctant candidate. This helps us understand why, six months after the election, he can still startle with unexpected talk about his readiness to give up his post. He is the only president who speaks of resigning if certain policies are already set in place, who talks of sitting down with alleged coup plotters, who pledges to leave the presidency if his critics can meet certain (admittedly impossible) requirements.
At the same time, he is the one president who is fully committed to use the full range of presidential powers, the one who casually mentions imposing martial law or suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, who threatens to marshall legislative consensus to abolish an office created by law, who readily takes to the bully pulpit to name suspect oligarchs or suspected criminals.
Published on November 8, 2016.
Despite what its various spokesmen say, the new order is not markedly different from previous administrations in the fight against corruption, or the drive to fill the infrastructure deficit, or even the pursuit of peace. I write this knowing that excellent people are in charge of certain key departments, including Ernie Pernia at Neda, Liling Briones in Education, Judy Taguiwalo at DSWD. I realize that Vice President Leni Robredo has been given the room she needs to make an impact in housing. I know that peace stalwarts like Jess Dureza and Irene Santiago are hard at work to build on what has been done before.
But if there is a difference, an improvement, in these matters, it is a difference in degree. And as far as the anticorruption campaign goes, the new administration may be said to retrogress. (See third concern below.)
On three concerns, however, it is clear that the Duterte administration is fundamentally different from other post-Marcos administrations. Change has come, in three deeply unsettling ways:
The killing spree. Unlike any other presidential candidate in Philippine history, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte campaigned on a promise to kill fellow Filipinos — as many as 100,000 criminals, he said, whose corpses will clog Manila Bay. Was he indulging himself in hyperbole, or merely joking, or in earnest? Some 4,000 kills later, the answer should be clear. He was dead serious.
Published on September 20, 2016.
On Monday, one of the honorary chairs of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry stirred some controversy when he spoke on President Duterte’s war on drugs. CNN’s Claire Jiao tweeted two of businessman Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr.’s statements. First: “Foreign investors go to a country for income. They don’t care if 50% of Filipinos are killing each other.” And second: “We have declared a war on drugs. The deaths are just collateral damage. We have to accept it.”
The current chair of the country’s largest business association, Benedicto Yujuico, expressed the same view. Jiao tweeted the PCCI executive’s statement, too: “Most Asian gov’ts think our war on drugs is good. It’s the Western nations bringing up human rights.”
All these make for dismaying reading, because in a previous life I worked closely with PCCI staff, and in the late 1980s even sat in on a few PCCI board meetings, when it was under the leadership of the redoubtable Aurelio Periquet Jr. I found the directors amiable, public-spirited, forward-looking—not the crass caricature that their recent statements make Ortiz-Luis and Yujuico out to be.
The two PCCI officials’ views are shocking in absolute terms: Aside from the sheer stupidity of asserting that a civil war or dramatically high crime rates (“50 percent of Filipinos killing each other”) will not adversely affect foreign investor interest in an emerging economy like the Philippines, they must be called to account for their calculated amorality: How can 3,000 killings of suspects and not a few innocents in less than three months be called mere collateral damage?
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 September 6, 2016.
IT PAINS me to write this response to a series of provocative tweets from Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ—because he is a beloved and instrumental mentor to me, and because he has been right, over the years, on issues large and small. But on Aug. 28, the president of Ateneo de Davao University staked out a position regarding President Duterte’s justification of the war on drugs that I cannot agree with and which in fact I find downright dangerous.
I am late to the issue, because while I happened to be in Davao City when he posted those tweets, I had not yet fully recovered from a bout with a particularly nasty strain of the flu. But I did read the tweets in real time. They were posted in reference to a series of statements the President made the previous Friday, Aug. 26.
In the middle of a critique of human rights advocates, the President had stopped and then said:
“In the first place, I’d like to be frank with you. Are they (drug users) humans? What is your definition of a human being? Tell me.”