CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Stop the creeping tryanny

HONG KONG (SE): Dressed in black with only red handkerchiefs as a prop, four barefooted women danced the drama of the killing fields of The Philippines at a candlelight vigil held in Chater Road, Central, to mark the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.
The four, with a bit of help from two extras, put on a dramatic depiction of a typical police street execution of a drug suspect, which has become common place in The Philippines under the current president, Rodrigo Duterte, leaving the 200 or so people gathered at the vigil smelling the fear and abhorring the violence.
With more than a few moist eyes looking on the dance troupe writhed, screamed and kicked, as the handkerchiefs alternately tied their hands and gagged their mouths until a gunshot split the terrifying screams and the survivors stared at the dead body on the concrete.
Gathering on December 10, the 69th anniversary of the adoption of the declaration, the Promotion of Church People’s Response Hong Kong sponsored the vigil under the theme, Stand against tyranny: March for justice and human rights.
However, Eman Villanueva, from the United Filipinos in Hong Kong, said that the first thing that needs to be done to stop the creeping tyranny taking over the country is to end the killings.
It is estimated to date that almost 13,000 people have died in the president’s mock war on drugs, but these are on top of the regular flow of murders that have kept the country soaked in the blood of journalists, Church personnel, human and land rights advocates, and leaders of indigenous communities over past decades.
“However, Duterte is now extending the range of his drug war to include anyone he designates as a terrorist,” Father Dwight de la Torre, from the Independent Church of The Philippines, told the Sunday Examiner at the candlelight vigil.
In a statement read out by the priest from St. John’s Cathedral, he said, “We express apprehension that the recent terror-tagging of the Communist Party of The Philippines and the New People’s Army not only widens the break between President Duterte and the National Democratic Front, but brings the series of peace talks between it and the government to one of its lowest points since they started in 1992.”
He explained that the International Court of Human Rights in The Hague bound former president, Fidel Ramos, and all successive presidents, including the incumbent, to a process of negotiation that presumes good faith and mutual respect.
“But President Duterte’s declaration of the Communist Party and the New People’s Army as terrorists is a declaration of a coup d’état by the security sector (of the government) of the peace process,” Father de la Torre continued.
A succession of speakers from the United Church of The Philippines, the Methodist Church, Seventh Day Adventists, the Independent Church of The Philippines and the Catholic Church called on people to be vigilant and not turn a blind eye to the creeping tyranny.
As with the war on drugs, guilt in the expanded version that now embraces terrorism is not measured by what people have done or are even planning to do, but by the whim of officials enjoying the privilege of impunity for their actions.
They need no proof, are exempt from responsibility and leave no room for any comeback against their malicious decision.
This is in direct violation of article three of the Universal Declaration, which states, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”
Father de la Torre said that the flagrant ignoring of this article gives rise to grave violations of human rights and a deliberate thumbing of the nose at the international humanitarian law of which The Philippines is a signatory.
“This terrorist-tagging only leads to the further militarisation of the peace process,” he added. “The people’s clamour for genuine social and economic reform is being muted by military rule in the countryside.”
But with a president who believes that all problems can be solved with bullets, Villanueva finds him reminiscent of every president of the country going back to Ferdinand Marcos, with the possible exception of Cory Aquino (who could not control the actions of her military), but believes that Duterte is taking it to the level of the martial law days of the 1970s and 1980s.
“Now more than ever,” Father de la Torre said, “the people’s cry of ‘land not bombs, food, not bullets’ that resonated during the Marcos era of martial law, becomes a legitimate and urgent grievance.”
It has also become an issue for the former residents of Marawi, the shell of which is still occupied by the military even months after the city was declared secured.
The concern of the people is timely, as on the following day it was announced that Duterte has now requested the congress to extend martial law on Mindanao for a further 12 months, up to 31 December 2018.
The people are asking why the whole of their city was destroyed and why the military decided to carpet bomb the entire district and not just the area where the Maute troops were holed up and why every home has been looted.
They are also asking why martial law spreads across the whole of Mindanao, when it has no apparent connection with the siege in Marawi, and who decided on the scorched earth policy that has obliterated the city—the Philippine or United States of America (US) military—both operating under what the vigil termed the US-Duterte dictatorship.
Many of the 200,000 or so people from the Marawi area still living in evacuation centres or with relatives are strongly suspicious of the military as being the looters of their valuables.
As one person pointed out it would have taken several big trucks to remove all the valuables that are missing, reminiscent of the hijack of the Peninsula Hotel in Makati in November 2007.
An employee of the plush hotel chain told the Sunday Examiner at the time that when the military moved out after its three-day occupation to supposedly secure the situation, not a single light fitting, piece of cutlery, crockery, bed or chair remained.
Shortly afterwards, a Filipino living in Hong Kong mentioned that an army officer living in her sister’s boarding house in Manila had given all the residents a spoon bearing the crest of the hotel as a gift for Christmas.
While the visual effect of the final prayer at the candlelight vigil may have been washed out by the bright lights of the surrounding shops and decorations for the Christmas season, all thoughts turned to the welfare of the homeland as the gathering sang the words of Bayan Ko (my country) and prayed, “Enlighten and strengthen us to stand for and commit to truth and the sacredness of life,” before bowing their heads to receive a final blessing.
“For sure, may God bless The Philippines,” one person said as she prepared for her long trek home.

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