CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 25 May 2019

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Playing with chaos a dangerous game

MANILA (SE): The purge of the poor being orchestrated in The Philippines by the president, Rodrigo Duterte, under the guise of a war on drugs, claimed a five-year-old girl as one of its latest victims on August 23.

Danica Mae Garcia, the kindergarten-aged granddaughter of Maximo Garcia, was shot in the head as she was having lunch in their home in Dagupan City, Pangasinan.

She died of her wounds, while her grandfather remained in hospital suffering from a gunshot to the stomach.

While the reason for the attack is not known, as the family is adamant that neither Danica Mae nor their grandfather were involved in drugs, he had been called out by local officials as a drug user, but did register with the police just three days earlier, supposedly a life-saving move.

However, the so called drug purge is a handy way of disposing of irritating political pinpricks, business competitors, inconvenient wives or husbands in love triangles, or just anyone who knows too much or you simply don’t like, all of which can be accomplished with a bullet followed by an accusation.

The Association of Major Religious Superiors of The Philippines estimates that the number of extrajudicial lynchings has now reached around the 2,000 mark.

It is tempting to think that this number, combined with the around 600,000 who have surrendered their tools of trade may have made a dent in the extent of the drug trade, but the Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum and other groups are adamant that this is not the case.

The Bishops’ Forum maintains that the drug trade is alive and well and there is no reason why it should not be, as among the dead and those who have surrendered there is not one sign of anyone who could qualify even as a drug lord, let alone a baron.

If as Duterte tells us, there are around four million drug users in the country, skimming the bottom end of the supply chain is not going to do any significant harm to the health of the industry and also serves to force prices up, increasing profitability.

The Bishops’ Forum wants to know who is benefiting from this flow of blood, which now includes kindergarten children who probably could not distinguish a drug from a candy.

Rather than being about drug control, this smells a lot more like a campaign to form a supply monopoly, because as each petty supplier bows out, a market opens for the bigger operators to move in.

Duterte seems to be aware of this, as on August 26 he said that he wants the barangay elections scheduled for October to be postponed, because he fears the real drug barons, whom he has not touched, will use their fortunes to manipulate their favoured candidates into power.

Rappler.com reported that if politicians supported by drug barons are elected, Duterte said that martial law may be needed to eliminate them, while in the same breath saying that he would not resort to that.

However, the extremely suspicious aspect of Duterte and his administration is they both posture as if drugs are the only festering wound in the flesh of Philippine society, whereas fortunes made from huge landholdings, extortion of government money, smuggling of both food and minerals, illegal logging and gambling, human trafficking and mining are equally as capable of buying politicians, ruining people’s lives and eroding the health of society.

This begs the further question of who he is trying to manipulate into power and who needs to be eliminated in order to ensure that he gets his horses across the line.

It also begs the question of whose money is behind his rise to the presidency and who he is protecting.

Belying his promise to declare war on the oligarchs of society that control huge percentages of the national wealth, he is promoting the burial of former martial law president, Ferdinand Marcos, at the Heroes Cemetery in Manila, despite a conviction against his estate for torture, summary execution and forced disappearance. This suggests a deep indebtedness on Duterte’s behalf to the ultimate oligarch, the Marcos family.

His argument that the cost of the barangay elections is too high does not hold water. His trite throwaway line that the money could be spent on drug rehabilitation centres instead, belies the fact that he is not interested in them, as current centres are complaining that their usual government subsidies have not been arriving.

Father Edwin Gariguez, the executive secretary of Caritas, called Duterte’s outburst against the United Nations on August 23 myopic, when he said it has never done anything for the country.

Father Gariguez pointed out that this indicates Duterte is not well informed or is manipulating the facts for his own purposes, as its assistance saved the mop up operation after Typhoon Yolanda from being a total disaster.

Nor do statistics bear out the president’s claim to have cleaned up Davao during his 16 years as mayor, as despite his murderous campaign against street children, petty thieves, journalists and human rights advocates, the city still rates fourth in the overall crime index; first for murder and second for rape; as well as continuing to host a thriving drug industry.

A statement from the Major Religious Superiors says, “We are alarmed at the silence of the government, groups and the majority of the people in the face of these killings.”

It then adds, “Evil prospers where good men are silent. Is this lack of public outcry a tacit approval of what is happening? Is it fear that prevents people from speaking out? Whatever the reason, this problem, if it remains unchecked, leads to a culture of impunity.”

But it also leads to a state of chaos and a glance at Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address delivered to both houses of congress on July 30 may hold a key to the riddle.

Aside from murder, the one topic he laboured was the transformation of the Philippine political system into a federal government and the need for such a radical change is far easier to argue from the midst of the rubble of a nation in chaos than one that has even a semblance of functionality.

While he vigorously argues that he is not creating anarchy, few outside of his adoring coterie believe him and the tacit support of the silent majority that will not raise its voice in protest will no doubt watch patiently as Duterte undoes one political system and transfers power to his protected anointed ones.

The Bishops’ Forum may then learn who is benefiting from the blood spill.

The prayer of Archbishop Socrates Villegas, “Lord, heal our land,” seems most appropriate for the nation, as playing with chaos is a dangerous game that has already negated the ability of the Philippine state to extend its protective hand across the lives of even its kindergarten children.

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