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Duterte and the national frenzy

/ 12:36 AM July 27, 2016
Hawaii 2015 -2 (2)

Dr. Ed Gamboa

In the wake of the Philippine government’s “war on drugs,” many educated and patriotic Filipinos think the rising body count is inevitable. They sincerely believe that Duterte’s purge is the right solution to an overwhelming national menace. They argue that extrajudicial killings are unfortunate but justified to effectively achieve peace and order.

I beg to disagree. Extrajudicial killing, shoot-to-kill, judge-jury-executioner mode of justice is the “law of the jungle.” It is also inherently immoral and unethical.

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On December 30, 1896, our Philippine national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, was denied due process and executed. Rizal would turn in his grave now at this national frenzy, at the tragic scenario of predominantly poor kababayans being executed without the opportunity to defend themselves in a court of law.

How can we in conscience tolerate this distorted version of Liberation Theology’s preferential option for the poor and marginalized playing out on the national arena?

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Broadly, there appears to be a stark difference in how the national situation under the new President is viewed by Filipinos in the homeland and Filipinos around the world. Overwhelmed by the extent of the drug menace and the rampant criminality, many see in Duterte a political leader bent on eradicating this national scourge once and for all. A celebratory comparison to the late Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew is cause enough for them to unquestionably approve any of President Duterte’s policies, ethical or otherwise. Yet, others are concerned that in the relentless agenda to pursue his popular campaign promise to erase crime and drugs in six months, constitutional laws are set aside and vigilantism is publicly encouraged.

Uphold Constitution

Duterte supporters point out that the new President, and consequently his agenda, is supported by 16 million voters. Critics, on the other hand, contend that the mantle of Presidency does not confer carte blanche authority and power on Duterte. His role as President is to primarily uphold the Constitution, to respect and implement laws, to make the country better for all and to listen to all Filipinos.

President Duterte’s supporters also point out that, despite his public pronouncements and the brash Trump-like persona he projects to the global community, he is inherently a simple and humble man. Duterte has no agenda, they say, save the good of the country. In brief, they proclaim that President Duterte’s intentions are good, therefore noble and commendable, forgetting the age old adage: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Filipinos who live day in and day out in the midst of poverty and crime and in drug-infested communities claim that there is no other way out except for the nightly police raids and shoot-to-kill mandate now in full swing. The deaths of 500 plus criminals (drug pushers, runners, users, etc.) and the surrender and incarceration of close to a million are ratcheting crime down by as much as 70 percent, according to police statistics. They say that Filipinos abroad (or in the Philippines) who see the situation through the eyes of biased international media are far removed from reality. This, however, is debatable given the fact that in addition to UK Guardian, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, etc. such extrajudicial killings (as in Davao, where Duterte served seven terms as mayor) have been documented in the past by Human Rights Watch, UN General Assembly of the Human Rights Council (April 2009), and by Amnesty International. It is also the classic fallacy of cancer patients telling their doctors they do not realize what cancer patients experience because they (the doctors) do not have cancer.

No debate on menace

There is no debate as to whether the drug menace is real and that it needs to be addressed and solved. There may be disagreements in its complexities and solutions — or more precisely, on whether drug addiction is a crime to be punished (incarceration) or a health issue to be treated (rehabilitation). There is also the issue on how best to address such problems globally given the consensus that, in a recent United Nations conference, the “drug wars” in most countries have failed.

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Perhaps following President Duterte’s cue, some say they do not care how the Philippines looks like on the international stage, that Filipinos will solve their problems in their own unique way. Such isolationist attitude no longer holds in this age of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Like it or not, we have become one big global village.

As this national frenzy rages on, the world community may start getting cold feet. Much needed humanitarian support may dry up. Global corporations may have second thoughts. With an authoritarian government at the helm, Singapore prospered; Venezuela’s inflation rate shot up 700 percent. We need not look farther. The Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986), despite efforts to revise history books, brought untold and lingering pain and suffering to the nation.

Senseless deaths

All the aforementioned aside, my deepest concern and pain now is the senseless deaths of innocent Filipinos. The victims of this bloody war on drugs are not the narcopoliticians or the generals publicly shamed by Duterte – they are under investigation and will have their day in court. The body counts are those of the predominantly poor, those who struggle to get food on the table, to get an education or to find jobs. These people who huddle in the lowest socio-economic strata are the ones caught in the crossfire.

This fact is exemplified in the death three days ago of Kaibigan Ermita Outreach Foundation scholar 20-year-old Jefferson Bunuan. Jeff and his 18-yr-old cousin Mark Anthony were sleeping in a house owned by Jomar “Totong” Manaois, a police suspect and target “because there was no space in their house since Jeff’s sister just gave birth.” During the raid, Totong reportedly surrendered and told police Jeff and Mark were not involved in drugs. The police shot all three young men dead anyway.

Can we sleep with a clear conscience in the face of such atrocity, such summary and senseless executions? One blog writer for INQUIRER.net claims “a determined President and the leadership of the PNP will necessarily result in extrajudicial killings.” And we, as the first Christian nation in Asia, are fine with that?

Aside from being a Christian and religious nation, we are a civilized nation with laws and a Constitution. Extrajudicial killings are immoral, unethical and contrary to Christ’s teachings.

We have an excellent Constitution; we do not need to circumvent it to solve the drug menace. We need to implement it.

In order to restore justice, peace, law and order, we need not break the law. As a lawyer and prosecutor, President Duterte knows better. – July 23, 2016

Dr. Ed Gamboa is a Filipino surgeon practicing in California. He is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the International College of Surgeons, and SAGES. He often participates in surgical missions to the Philippines and with his wife Lucie helped build the Santo Nino Charity Clinic with the Missionaries of the Poor in the largest slum area in Cebu. He is a knight of the Order of Malta and the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. He holds an MA in Theology from the University of Notre Dame.

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TAGS: and by Amnesty International, extrajudicial killings, human rights Philippines, Human Rights Watch, Jefferson Bunuan, Kaibigan Ermita Outreach Foundation, Philippine government's "war on drugs", Rodrigo Duterte, UN General Assembly of the Human Rights Council (April 2009)
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