CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 17 August 2019

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A nation is mute as door opens to genocide

HONG KONG (SE): “This morning my neighbours were shot. A father and a son. I know they used cocaine, but they were good people and helped me on many occasions. It was brutal and horrible. The shouting and cursing—then the gunshots. They look sickening,” a report from Zamboanga del Sur received on July 12 says.

This is the product of the national war on drugs instigated by the newly-elected president of The Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, which the Philippine Inquirer is describing as the opening of the door to a genocidal bloodbath of epic proportions.

Its biggest casualty in the long run, however, may not be the hundreds or even thousands who die in the sacrificial cleansing, but the constitutional principles of the remnant of the rule of law and due process, which are being assaulted at a level corruption could not aspire to and at a greater rate than any martial law president could compete with.

In the face of this onslaught, which has seen an estimated 300 casualties in four weeks, the bishops of The Philippines say they are disturbed.

In 2000, when 20 civilians were massacred by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Lanao del Sur on July 16, they at least deplored the action.

But in the face of an unfolding genocide, translating into a Duterte Cult, they remain only disturbed by the bodies paraded for the media with signs detailing their supposed crimes, the bonuses being paid to the executioners and the extreme tension being created among police in the nation.

The chief of the Philippine National Police, Ronald Bato, said that he feels like he is stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea.

He described his dilemma as whether to obey his president or the law of the land.

His only option in the end may be to jump into the sea, as Duterte is strongly resisting attempts from the senate to open an inquiry into the legality of the national slaughter and is determined to ignore the law, while vowing to uphold it.

While dancing with the devil may also be an option for Bato, the pitchfork-bearing father of evil is renowned for his habit of changing partners.

However, Bato was the police chief in Davao under Duterte, so he should know how to dance and experience should have taught him how to stay out of the sea.

But the main protagonist in the killing is the general public, which if not altogether approving is at least not displeased.

It is their silence that allows the slaughter to go on, built on an inexplicable faith that if they have not committed a crime they will be immune from the police bullets.

This reflects an implicit trust in the honesty of the public authorities, their incorruptibility and a belief that they are incapable of killing innocent people, a total betrayal of Philippine life experience and history.

Father Amado Picardal says the murders are unlikely to stop because there is no moral outcry for life.

“It is not only the killings, but the reaction of the citizens, majority of them are Catholic,” Father Picardal told Radyo Veritas.

“Others are quiet or they approve of it, the thing is justified until a member of their families are included and that is my worry that they will not stop because there is no outcry from the citizens,” he said.

It is also an act of faith in the functionality of government institutions, the dysfunctionality of which is the big reason Duterte collected his huge vote in the first place.

While extrajudicial murder has been the norm in The Philippines for as long as anyone can remember, there used at least be the pretense it was perpetrated by criminals, even if no one believed it.

Now it has become open policy and presumably it is only a matter of time until the proscribed groups on the hit list expand beyond the drug trade to include anyone that the Duterte Cult finds objectionable.

Without notice, the unemployed, squatters, the urban poor, school dropouts, single mothers or even returned migrant workers, as well as people with mental or physical disabilities could discover they have committed some crime the president deems worthy of the death penalty.

Would their killing be met with the same mute acceptance and absolute belief that something good may come of it?

There is reason to be wary. The Duterte Cult is contagious. At the beginning of the election campaign the big agendas of the people were the economy, inflation, wages, poverty and employment.

Duterte managed to convince the voting public that drugs lay at the foundation of their woes—not land-grabbing hacienderos, illegal loggers, mining companies, administrative incompetence or corporate greed—and the drug agenda shot from nowhere to second place, ahead of poverty, wages and employment.

While Duterte has vowed to uphold the rule of law, the legality of the killings has been only thinly disguised as resisting arrest, but photographs showing police shooting a prone body lying on the side of the road hardly suggest the suspect was resisting arrest at the time he was shot.

Do the Philippine police have no other mechanism for dealing with people who supposedly resist arrest, or is it just the bonuses being paid and the assurances from the president that no trouble will come to them?

After all they did manage to arrest four men on a boat for peddling what is known as ice off the coast of Zambales on July 13 without shooting them. Or was it just that they are Chinese citizens and that could be bad for business with Beijing in these testing times.

The tragedy is well beyond disturbing and although the bishops have borne the brunt of a few expletive-laden attacks from the president, surely the time has come to speak with a big loud voice, even in their archaic language, on behalf of the victims—including the innocent people who have to watch their good neighbours being shot—to achieve what?

It is a time for religion to proclaim the gospel of the dignity of all life, which Pope Francis put forward so boldly in Praise Be: On care for our common home (Laudato Si’) and not just settle for cuddling the soul.

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