The Artist Abroad

The rise of a fascist state, Part II

/ 12:58 AM February 14, 2018

NEW YORKThe filing of a case against President Duterte in the International Criminal Court of Justice for crimes against humanity has given some hope to those who fervently oppose Malacañang’s unrelenting war on drugs, the notorious Operation Tokhang.

Whether this in and of itself will halt the Philippine government’s continuing descent into fascism is highly doubtful. It does however send an unmistakable signal that there will be a reckoning sooner or later of his and his government’s murderous reign. And it is a “reign,” rather than a “rule,” as in “rule of law,” for the simple reason that Duterte behaves as though he has the divine right of a king, whose word itself is the law. The Duterte government predictably dismissed the filing, with its spokesman Harry Roque, characterizing it as a waste of time and resources.


These past weeks two clerics came through New York and gave talks on separate occasions and in different venues on the human rights situation in the Philippines: Fr. Alberto Alejo, or Paring Bert, as he is more familiarly known, a Jesuit, and Fr. Amado Picardal, Redemptorist, the latter having been a political prisoner during the martial law era.


Their talks painted a depressing picture of brutalization, principally against the poor, that shows no sign of lessening, an unsettling portrait of governance gone amok. At the one talk of Paring Bert’s I attended, given at a midtown Manhattan parish hall, the Jesuit stressed the suffering of the victims’ families. Too often those killed extrajudicially on mere suspicion of either being a user or a pusher, were their sole breadwinners. The widows, the parents, the children—these too are victims of the drug war.

The official body count—or “salvagings,” the term used in those years—in 14 years of the Marcos regime was 3,257. Under the current dispensation, the unofficial count has reached 16,000 in just 19 months.

Fr. Picardal states that at this rate, the EJKs will reach 70,000 by the year 2022, when Duterte’s official term ends, assuming he hasn’t installed himself as a dictator, a lá Marcos, of whom he is a fervent admirer. The Redemptorist believes that the logic behind the war on drugs, with its focus mostly on the alleged users, is that the fewer drug addicts there are, the less crime there will be.

This is a strategy that treats the symptoms, rather than the cause, which not surprisingly is poverty. Hence, the suppliers are left largely untouched. And who is the main supplier of shabu, the cheap synthetic drug favored on the streets?  From all indications it is China—the very country for which, in his dealings with Beijing, the normally foul-mouthed Duterte seems to have found his inner diplomat.

His war on drugs is one part of a deliberate campaign for political hegemony, its threat to society exaggerated for strategic reasons. The other pillar of this campaign is against the enemies of the state, now branded as terrorists, a branding used as a justification for martial law in Mindanao.

Since civil society, outside of the insurgencies—with the CPP/NPA no longer as powerful a force as they were in previous decades—seems to be deeply asleep, and since the eunuchs in Congress are complicit in President Duterte’s autocratic rule, the role of the institutional church in speaking the truth to power has become even more urgent.

It has the infrastructure to provide sanctuary and aid to the victims’ families, and the pulpits and prominence to speak out against these killings. It needs to go beyond its “Respect Life” homilies, which can be and often are interpreted as mainly directed against abortion. The church’s critiques, especially those of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), need to be blunt in the face of an emerging fascist state. Our clerics might look to the martyr Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador who took the military directly to task for its human rights violations. The fact that he was subsequently assassinated will give them pause, of course, but aren’t shepherds supposed to be willing to put their lives on the line to protect their flocks?


Ironically, given the fatalism that afflicts so many Filipinos, the Church must recognize its historical and colonial role in fostering such a mentality: Suffer, and endure, for your reward will not be on this earth but in heaven. This is one reason the nation is too often on its knees rather than on the streets.

Today’s bishops need to turn to the Christ with the whip, chasing the moneychangers from the temple, the Christ that has come with the sword, and with fire.

Copyright L.H. Francia 2018

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TAGS: Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), crimes against humanity, extrajudicial killings, Fr. Alberto Alejo, Fr. Amado Picardal, human rights violations, International Criminal Court of Justice, opinion, Redemptorist, Rodrigo Duterte, shabu, war against drugs
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