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Can Philippines scratch the surface of its faith?

MANILA (UCAN): In just four months, official figures released by the Philippine National Police show that around 4,500 people have become victims of extrajudicial murder under the guise of the war on drugs instigated by the current president, Rodrigo Duterte.

However, Aileen Bacalso, the secretary-general of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances and recipient of the 2013 Emilio Mignone International Human Rights Prize from the Argentine government, says that the question increasingly on people’s lips is why is this happening in this predominantly Catholic country.

The so-called war on drugs was the main platform when the president was on the campaign trail prior to the May elections and since then has been the defining point of his administration.

He managed to garner 16 million votes (just over one-third of all cast), mostly from people hungry for social change, who fell in love with his bloodletting campaign against the poor.

Duterte immediately started what he called a total war against narcotics and imposed a deadline of three to six months to solve the country’s drug menace.

However, the real number of dead is far higher than the official figures indicate and seems to have been prompted by a statement from the president in July exhorting people to “go ahead and kill yourself, as getting their parents to do it would be too painful.”

In August, the president said, “I’d like to be frank with you, are (drug users) humans? What is your definition of a human being?”

Bacalso says that the death toll is no cold statistic. Contrary to the sacredness of life, each case of extrajudicial murder signifies irreparable loss to the hapless victims’ families, left behind with almost little or no possibilities for redress.

Upon clear orders from the Philippine head of state, without any qualms, people kill with complete impunity.

The extraordinary courage of one senator, Leila de Lima, to investigate the murders proved futile. The government went all out in twisting information, silencing witnesses and, eventually ousting her as the head of a probe body. Worst of all, it also maligned her dignity.

The Philippines is looked upon by the international community with eyes of condemnation for the systematic and gross violations of human rights these days.

The outgoing secretary general of the United Nations (UN), Ban Ki-moon, declared, “I unequivocally condemn (the president’s) apparent endorsement of extrajudicial killings, which is illegal and a breach of fundamental rights and freedoms.”

Other UN bodies have expressed concern about the rise in the murder rate of suspected drug users and dealers in the country as well.

In retaliation, Duterte, who is currently the president of a country that is a founding member of the 47-seat Human Rights Council, responded, “Maybe we’ll just have to decide to separate from the UN. If you are that rude, son of a bitch, then we’ll just leave you.”

The Philippines will be facing the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review in May next year, where its human rights performance will be reviewed by its co-member states.

The Permanent Mission of The Philippines to the UN in Geneva has limply appealed to other states to understand why The Philippines needs to wage war on drugs. In a side event on drug-related killings, The Philippines said, “There was no shoot-to-kill order,” but pronouncements of the president have proven otherwise.

At the previous review, the government presentation on the state of human rights in the nation left many wondering exactly what planet they were talking about.

More recently, the International Criminal Court, through its chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said, “Let me be clear: Any person in The Philippines who incites or engages in acts of mass violence including by ordering, requesting, encouraging or contributing, in any other manner, to the commission of crimes… is potentially liable to prosecution before the court.”

But a mystified Bacalso asks why there has not been any organised protest? Why the deafening silence from the bulk of the Catholic Church? Why the reluctance of organisations, which used to condemn killings under the previous administration, to categorically condemn the present mass murder?

Human rights are universal. All victims have the same basic right to life. Yet, the defenceless poor are stripped of the inalienable right to life when bullets judge a person guilty without proof.

Silenced, forever, the victims leave their wailing families in shock and grief—trapped in the perpetual cycle of poverty and social injustice.

The litany of cases of extrajudicial execution is confronting the government.

“Then there you are, sprawled, and you are portrayed in a broadsheet like Mother Mary cradling the dead cadaver of Jesus Christ. These people, we’ll be doing dramatics here,” Duterte said in his first State of the Nation Address in July.

“I would be happy to kill three million drug addicts… If Germany had Hitler, The Philippines would have…” at which point his voice faded and he simply pointed at his own face.

What has become of what is referred to as the only the predominantly Catholic country in Asia? The silence of the people of God in the face of the mass execution of its poor and struggling people begs the question, how hard can you scratch the surface of its faith.

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