“The defense of press freedom and truth telling has never been as vital as in the age of ‘ fake news.’ The journalists who daily risk their lives in reporting and interpreting such issues as human rights, impunity and social justice are through their practice defending press freedom. It is in their behalf that I am accepting the 2019 Titus Brandsma Award.”–Luis V. Teodoro, 2019 Titus Brandsma Freedom of the Press Awardee
Veteran journalist and activist Luis V. Teodoro leads this year’s recipients of the prestigious Titus Brandsma Awards, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) announced.
The former two-time University of the Philippines College of Communication dean and People’s Alternative Media Network (Altermidya) founding chairperson is named the Freedom of the Press awardee by the the Titus Brandsma Media Center, media ministry of the Carmelite Order in the Philippines.
Teodoro is a CMFR trustee and currently writes a column for BusinessWorld.
“Teodoro is recognized for being ‘a journalist, editor, and journalism educator whose incisive critiques of Philippine media have inspired generations of media practitioners and scholars,’” the CMFR announcement said.
“Many of the latter are now established journalists, editors and media scholars who, in turn, imparted to their audience and students, the ethical principles and the professionalism of the craft of journalism that they have learned from Luis. His sharp analyses in his columns often step on the interests of the powerful and the mighty, and necessarily so as the overall thrust of his media advocacy is a democratized access to information for a learned society,” it added.
Six other journalists are also recipients of the 2019 Titus Brandsma Awards:
- Ed Lingao, TV5, for Leadership in Journalism;
- Christian Esguerra, ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC), for Emergent Leadership in Journalism;
- Belina San Buenaventura-Capul, Philippine Information Agency (PIA), for Leadership in Communication and Culture & Arts;
- Gina Lopez (posthumous), ABS-CBN Foundation, for Leadership in Environmental Communication & Advocacy; and
- Fr. James Reuter, SJ (posthumous), for the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Esguerra told Kodao he is deeply honored by the recognition.
“I am deeply honored and at the same time humbled by the recognition. But more importantly, may the memory of Titus Brandsma inspire all of us to stay true to journalism’s calling, at a time when press freedom — and truth — are under heavy attack,” Esguerra said.
The Titus Brandsma Awards are given to individuals and groups especially to journalists in print and broadcast media who shares the virtues of Blessed Titus Brandsma, a Carmelite priest, journalist and educator who was martyred in 1942 in Nazi Germany’s Dachau Concentration Camp for writing and defending the truth.
Brandsma was beatified by Pope John Paul II on November 3, 1985 and was declared a “Martyr of Press Freedom.”
The award is the Philippine version of the international Titus Brandsma Award given by the Union Catholique Internationale dela’ Presse, the world forum of professionals in secular and religious media.
Former winners of the local Titus Brandsma Awards include Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Conrado de Quiros, Rappler’s Patricia Evangelista, Vera Files’ Yvonne Chua, GMA’s Kara David and Howie Severino, MindaNews’ Carolyn Arguillas and others.
The awardees will formally receive their awards in a ceremonial dinner on October 28, at the SM Skydome, North EDSA in Quezon City.
The award comes with a National Artist for Sculpture Napoleon Abueva-designed trophy. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)
[The reporter is the 2015 Titus Brandsma Award for Emergent Leadership in Journalism recipient.]
By Luis V. Teodoro
A television comedy director was supposed to direct it, and did hold at least one rehearsal over the weekend. But the directorial prowess of Joyce Bernal wasn’t in much evidence except in President Rodrigo Duterte’s subdued though less than forthright State of the Nation Address (SONA) this year.
Together with the protest outside the House of Representatives by some 40,000 men and women of various political persuasions united in their opposition to his regime’s policies as well as to Mr. Duterte’s own misogyny, attacks on the Church and profanities and insults against journalists, the leaders of other countries and even God Himself, what went on inside the House before he delivered his SONA and the fantasy world of the actual address itself did more to accurately describe the true state of the nation.
Mr. Duterte’s address was delivered over an hour late this year because of the overthrow, timed for his appearance before the joint session of both Houses of Congress, by the House of Representatives majority of “no-el” (no elections) proponent Pantaleon Alvarez. The honorable gentlemen of the aptly named lower house replaced him with former President, now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as Speaker.
The culprits responsible advanced a number of seemingly sound reasons for it, but it basically meant nothing except to themselves. A petty tyrant and consummate guardian of his imagined entitlements, wealth and power was replaced, for God knows what considerations, by just another Duterte ally accused of plunder, corruption, election fraud and gross human rights violations during her problematic, nearly decade-long occupation of Malacanang. Tweedle-dum had merely been replaced by tweedle-dee. But Arroyo, it is widely assumed, is likely to occupy some exalted post like the Presidency once a federal form of government is rammed down the people’s throats, hence her sudden rise in the esteem of her fellow conspirators.
If the split among Mr. Duterte’s allies was of no significance to the long suffering Filipino millions, so was his address as meaningless. The only bright spot in his speech was the absence of the rants, the rambling and the profanities that have characterized his other public appearances.
Mr. Duterte didn’t depart from his prepared speech either, thus sparing the nation another display of bad manners. But he nevertheless began his 48-minute SONA with a threat to continue the “war” on illegal drugs that he began when he assumed the Presidency in 2016 — and which has so far cost the lives of some 20,000 men, women and even children suspected of being either petty drug dealers or users, and widowed and orphaned thousands more in its bloody wake.
He vowed to make that “war” even more “chilling,” meaning even more murderous than ever, but in almost the same breath claimed to be concerned with human lives, unlike, he said, the critics of his anti-poor campaign against the illegal drug trade who’re concerned “only” with human rights.
That expression of “concern” for life earned him the first of the surprisingly tentative rounds of applause that he got five times in the course of his third SONA. But what both he and his partisans missed was that human rights are precisely about human lives, the right to life being a fundamental human right. He nevertheless again justified the killings for which he’s likely to be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) by echoing police claims that those killed “violently resist(ed) arrest.”
Mr. Duterte dwelt on the drug issue at length, and claimed that the critics of the way it was being addressed with a number of extrajudicial killings unprecedented in the history of the Republic were merely concerned with the present while he was himself worried over “the present and the future.” Again, however, he was obviously unaware that the killing of children, minors and young men is itself an assault on hope and the future, the young being, in the words of Rizal, “the hopes of the Fatherland.”
He went on to say that neither human rights advocates nor Church leaders have protested drug-dealing and “druglordism” as loudly as they have protested the well-established misdeeds of “errant law enforcers.” Although a lawyer, Mr. Duterte can’t appreciate the fact that it is State actors such as the police, rather than human rights groups and the Church, that are charged with law enforcement, and are also required to do so in compliance with the law of which they’re supposed to be the guardians.
Mr. Duterte also defended the misleadingly named Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) act despite protests that it is mostly responsible for the surge in the inflation that’s adding to the already vast miseries of the Filipino poor. He claimed that the revenues, mostly from the excise taxes on fuel that have led to increases in the cost of various commodities, are necessary for sustained growth. He did not mention that despite his claims that he’s for the poor, whatever economic growth TRAIN has generated has mostly benefited only the already wealthy.
But what about China’s occupation and militarization of the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone? In his other public declarations, Mr. Duterte had limited Philippine options to either capitulation to imperialist China or war with it. This time he pledged to “defend” the West Philippine Sea, which is indisputably Philippine waters, but did not specify how he intends to do so. In the meantime, China not only controls the area; it also bars Filipino fisherfolk from their traditional fishing grounds, and its coast guard even steals the catch of those who manage to elude its vessels.
He did talk about the need to end corruption and crowed about his firing and forced resignations of officials whom he admitted were mostly his friends and supporters, but failed to address the fact that many of them have been reappointed to other, even higher posts. What’s even worse is how, over the last two years, billions of pesos of the people’s taxes have been squandered by, among other offices, the Department of Tourism (DOT) and the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO).
With nary a word did he mention his regime’s rush to federalism and a new Constitution despite most Filipinos’ ignorance of what federalism is, and their opposition to amending, much more changing, the 1987 Constitution. Neither did he say anything about his scuttling of the government’s peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) right at the point when both peace panels were about to discuss the social and economic reforms that if implemented could have led to the end of the 49-year civil war.
Conclusion: Mr. Duterte’s address was long in words but short in truth and reality, and was distinguished more by what it failed to say than for what it said.
If “Theater of the Absurd” playwright Samuel Beckett were alive today, what happened last Monday, July 23, 2018 — the ludicrous jockeying for power among the alleged representatives of the people, and the SONA that might as well have been describing another dimension — would have qualified as one of his more engaging productions for the light it threw on the real state of this oh-so-unfortunate nation. Instead of Beckett, however, only Joyce Bernal, a stranger to the theater, was available. And the most she could do was keep Mr. Duterte relatively sober and almost, though not quite, presidential.
In a far from modest and less than truthful description of itself, the Philippine government, said a Malacanang statement, is “headed by someone who has strong political will, decisive leadership, and compassion for his fellow men,” hence the “fruitful” first two years of the six-year Rodrigo Duterte presidency.
How “fruitful” have the past two years of the Duterte regime been? Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in the same statement that the government is winning the “war” on drugs, as evidenced by, he said, the number of police anti-drug operations (91,704 from July 2016 to March 2018), the arrest of 123,648 suspected drug pushers and users, the dismantling of drug dens and laboratories, and the government’s seizure of billions of pesos worth of illegal drugs and laboratory equipment. There’s also the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency’s (PDEA) declaration of over 6,000 barangay as being “drug free.”
In addition are the “economic feats” — Roque’s words — of the administration and its “independent foreign policy.” The first includes the 6.7 percent growth of the country’s gross domestic product (GRP) in 2017, while the second has “resulted in billions worth of investments that are expected to create thousands of jobs for Filipinos.”
Those “feats,” however, are not of any consequence to the imperative of ending the poverty of nearly 25 percent of Filipinos to which Mr. Duterte said he was committed. Only one percent of the population benefit from economic growth, while the remaining 99 million Filipinos don’t because of the skewed system of wealth distribution that’s one of the worst in Asia. Rooted in the archaic land tenancy system that has defied abolition for centuries, that system has kept millions desperately poor.
But Roque’s statement was nevertheless echoed by former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, who said — without, however, specifying anything — that Mr. Duterte has made good on all his election promises except three. Special Assistant to the President Bong Go said basically the same thing, but was similarly short on the specifics.
None of these three regime worthies mentioned Mr. Duterte’s pre-election promise to enrich funeral parlor owners by killing 100,000 drug pushers and users, which, with four more years to go in his term, he can handily fulfill, 20,000 mostly poor Filipinos including women and children having been killed by the police and their surrogate assassins in only two years since 2016.
Roque’s celebration of his president’s “political will” and “decisive leadership” no doubt refers to his being true to that threat. It certainly doesn’t apply to his promise to pursue “an independent foreign policy,” despite the pledges of billions in investments and aid he has managed to extract from various countries, primarily China.
Those pledges — most are yet to materialize — hardly qualify as either proof or fruit of an independent anything. China’s promise of high interest loans are in fact a trap likely to condemn succeeding generations to indebtedness. Meanwhile, despite his early rants against American intervention and its sordid human rights record in the Philippines, his promise to end Philippine involvement in US war games, and his declaration of “separation” from the US, the country remains bound to US economic and strategic interests. The Mutual Defense Treaty is still in force, and so are the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) despite Mr. Duterte’s control over the majority in Congress, which could have enabled him to have all three abrogated.
As glaring as that reality is, even more flagrantly obvious is Mr. Duterte’s downplaying, and at times even justifying, Chinese imperialism’s brazen violation of Philippine sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea, where it has built military bases on the artificial islands it has constructed within the the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone, barred Filipino fisherfolk from their traditional fishing grounds, and even seized the catch of those who had initially managed to evade its coast guard cutters.
Mr. Duterte’s “compassion for his fellow men” is as mythical as his “independent” foreign policy. It apparently doesn’t include the poor, the marginalized, women, priests, and the Lumad against whom his various other “wars” have been directed.
An Ateneo de Manila University, University of the Philippines and La Salle University study has documented and established the anti-poor character of the killings that have primarily characterized the misnamed “war” against drugs, which has spared drug lords while focusing on small-time drug pushers. Mr. Duterte has even promoted government officials suspected of involvement in the P6.4 billion drug smuggling scandal, while reappointing others he had fired for corruption or made to resign, demonstrating thereby how serious his pledge to end both the drug problem and government corruption has been.
Over the last two years, instead of making an alternative world possible through the initiation of the social and economic reforms the country so desperately needs, Mr. Duterte has laid waste the world — as insecure, problematic and terrifying as it already was — of the widows and orphans of the breadwinners murdered in the course of his selectively anti-poor campaign against illegal drugs. A humanitarian crisis created by those murders is developing, as thousands of wives and children are made even more destitute by the loss of their husbands and fathers.
His order to arrest “istambay” is similarly savaging entire communities. Potentially productive young men — those looking for work but who are unable to find it, as well as those between jobs — are being hauled off to prison together with ne’er-do-wells and petty thieves. Their families are in the process deprived of the help and support of their sons who, among the poor, are their best hopes for survival in a country where the loss or absence of a family member can mean the difference between having food on the table or starving.
As distressing as all of these are, what’s likely to be one of Mr. Duterte’s lasting impacts on Philippine society is his relentless assault on the Constitution and the system of checks and balances which has made authoritarian rule beguiling and democracy repugnant to the uninformed. There is as well his and his minions’ demonization of the media, of the Church, of dissenting and critical women, and of individual clergymen in his apparent belief that they’re potential or actual instruments in a conspiracy to remove him from the power he claims to disdain but in reality so desperately craved.
His rants, ravings, profanities and tirades against critics, human rights defenders, clerics, women and God Himself have further divided a society already fragmented by economic, social and political inequality, and have made rational and informed discourse the subject of scorn among those sectors of the population that need it most. Mr. Duterte’s enshrinement of abuse, impunity, violence, lawlessness, and intimidation as State policies and as substitutes for informed debate and discussion is creating a generation of cynical, ignorant, brutal and mindless citizens and civilian and military bureaucrats who even now venerate, propagate and uphold the very opposite of the values of respect for others and the truth, and the right to free expression necessary in the making of a society of equals in which no one need sleep in fear or under bridges. This is how “fruitful” his first two years in power have been. #
By April Burcer
“One of the most common flaws of Philippine media is lack of context in reporting,” former dean of the College of Mass Communications in UP Diliman Luis Teodoro pointed out during his workshop on journalism ethics yesterday.
Organized by the People’s Alternative Media Network (Altermidya), the workshop aimed to remind young media practitioners about the importance of adhering to ethical standards when reporting and to discuss the common ethical problems in the Philippine press.
Lack of context, according to Teodoro, is both a professional and ethical failing because people can’t make sense of what the story is all about.
He cited conflict reporting as an example, particularly the Marawi siege and the 2001 military campaign against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MNLF).
“During the Marawi siege, 90 percent of the coverage was in the conduct of the war. There is hardly any context. Same with the 2001 military attacks which the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) analyzed, showing that out of 6000 articles, only seven provided context,” Teodoro said.
Social issues and the Philippine Press
Teodoro criticized the Philippine media for failing to provide context on the social issues they are covering, including poverty, contractualization, unemployment, and President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive against so-called loiterers.
“The most crucial thing about the Filipino society is its poverty. There are 22 million Filipinos in extreme want and 50 million others who are vulnerable to the vicissitudes of living in the Philippines. Much of the reporting has to be about poverty and its related consequences and implications,” the former dean said.
He also said that not all ‘tambays’ (loiterers) are lazy or criminals, and that most of them are victims of labor only contractualization, poverty and poor housing conditions.
“The media have to be reporting all of these. Are they reporting these? Are they doing a good job of reporting these?” he asked.
He also noted that the social issues are given more exposure in social media than in the Philippine media.
Ethical Problems in the Philippine Press
According to Teodoro, being accurate is very important, especially today in the era of alternative truth and fake news, saying “false information can be very dangerous.”
He also emphasized the importance of adhering to the rules of journalism at a time when ordinary citizens and non-journalists can practice journalistic work.
“The press has the capacity to help transform society. It can do this by being true to the ethical standards that for many years have been established,” Teodoro advised.
Teodoro, Altermidya chairperson, is a retired Journalism professor in UP College of Mass Communication, a noted author and resource speaker on journalism ethics, media education and other media issues for various workshops, seminars and conferences in the Philippines and abroad. #
By Luis V. Teodoro
The unprecedented removal through quo warranto proceedings of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno from her post isn’t only about her, or solely about the Supreme Court, the rule of law, the Constitution, or the Duterte regime and its autocratic pretensions. Even more crucially is it about the fate and future of the democratization process that at least twice in history has been interrupted at its most crucial stage, and, driven by the need to address political and economic underdevelopment, has had to twice start all over again in this country.
The democratization of Philippine society began with the reform movement of the late 19th century and reached its highest point during the Revolution of 1896, which was as much for independence, equality and social justice as it was against Spanish colonial rule. Through the worker-led Katipunan, the Revolution was on the verge of defeating the Spanish forces and had achieved de facto independence when a near-fatal combination of betrayal by the Magdalo faction of the rural gentry and foreign intervention prevented its fruition despite the First Republic, and left it unfinished.
United States recognition of Philippine independence in 1946 made the resumption of the democratization process and the completion of the Revolution possible. But thanks to the heirs of the principalia — the handful of families the US had trained in the fine arts of backroom politics and self-aggrandizement during its formal occupation of the Philippines — what instead ensued for two decades was a succession of administrations that prospered while presiding over the country and its people’s continuing poverty and underdevelopment, subservience to foreign interests, and political disempowerment.
Against these fundamental ills there had always been both armed and unarmed resistance even during the country’s captivity to US colonialism. But it was in the mid-1960s when the historic demands of the Philippine Revolution found their best expression in the movement for change initially led by workers and students which soon spread across the entire country and among various sectors. Its demand for the democratization of political power, for authentic independence, gender equality, agrarian revolution, and national industrialization resonated enough among the peasantry, progressive professionals, indigenous peoples, the enlightened religious, and liberated women to mobilize hundreds of thousands.
In the First Quarter Storm of 1970, the numbers of its adherents and the power of their demands were demonstrably enough for the second Marcos administration to use state violence to suppress the strikes, demonstrations and other mass actions that were almost daily challenging dynastic rule by demanding the end of feudalism, bureaucrat capitalism and imperialism. In response to these demands, and to keep himself in power beyond 1973, Marcos suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in 1971 and made good on his threat to declare martial law in 1972, when he placed the entire country under a dictatorship sustained by military bayonets on the pretext of saving the Republic and reforming society while actually doing the opposite.
Despite the worst repression, despite the arrests and detention, despite the torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killing of thousands of the best and brightest sons and daughters of the people, it was in the resistance to the Marcos terror regime that democratization continued to find expression.
Many of those in the resistance refused to surrender it during the period of repression, but it took 14 years of armed and unarmed defiance before the Filipino people once more recovered the possibility of exercising the democratic right to shape their own future. However, despite its promise of far-reaching change with the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship, over the last 32 years the 1986 civilian-military mutiny known as People Power or EDSA 1 has failed to deliver on that promise, thanks to the continuing monopoly over political power of the same dynasties that for over a century have prevented the realization of the changes Philippine society so desperately needs.
Over those three decades, people’s organizations and other democratic formations persisted in fighting for those changes. In 2001, outraged over the corruption and incompetence of a plunderous regime, they removed another president from power. While state repression in various forms, and with it such human rights violations as torture, enforced disappearances, abductions and extrajudicial killings continued, the reigns of three of the five presidents after Marcos that preceded Rodrigo Duterte’s have not been openly antagonistic to due process, the bill of rights, press freedom, and the system of checks and balances.
The Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos, and Benigno Aquino III administrations at least paid lip service to the desirability of peace and the rule of law. But one cannot say the same of the Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regimes. The former was mostly focused on the use of the presidency in amassing wealth, while the latter was intent on remaining in power, and did not hesitate to use state violence to suppress dissent and opposition in advancing and protecting the personal, family and class interests behind it.
But it is the Duterte regime, with the enthusiastic support of the Estrada and Arroyo cliques, that has most imperiled the realization of the legitimate demands for the democratization of political power and economic opportunity, true independence, and inclusive development. It has become increasingly clear that President Rodrigo Duterte has not bothered to craft any master plan to end or even reduce poverty, or even such of its manifestations as environmental degradation, limited employment opportunities and low agricultural productivity under an archaic tenancy system. But he does have a blueprint for the restoration of authoritarian rule through his accomplices’ and minions’ dominance in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.
The abridgment of press freedom, the attacks on human rights, the willful debasement of public discourse, the further erosion of the already erratic observance of the rule of law, and the subversion of the little that survives of the system of checks and balances through the orchestrated attacks on the ombudsman and Chief Justice Sereno are parts of the plot to undermine what little is left of democracy in these isles of uncertainty. By riding the crest of mass disaffection with government and the burgeoning demand for change and revolution to win the Presidency in 2016, Mr. Duterte has managed to hijack all three branches of government.
The ouster of Sereno as Chief Justice is not solely about Sereno. Neither is it about the Maleficent Six. It is about the imminent danger of dictatorship. This is the context in which, with the collaboration of his cohorts in Congress and the Supreme Court itself, Mr. Duterte is putting a stop to the democratization of Philippine society as Ferdinand Marcos did in 1972. For the third time since the late 19th and early 20th centuries, that process is once more in danger of interruption — and worse, its final liquidation.
In these circumstances only the people themselves can put a stop to the latest assault on their right to self-government and the realization of their aspirations for a society of peace, justice and equality. Because the leaders to whom they had previously delegated their sovereign authority had failed them, they exercised their right and duty to remove them in 1986, and again in 2001.
Some events in the political lives of nations can be the turning point in the resolution of the contradictions that afflict them. The Sereno “incident” could be that point.
(First published in BusinessWorld. Photo from the Supreme Court.)
By Luis V. Teodoro
President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed his displeasure over the continuing attention being paid by various groups and organizations such as Amnesty International and other human rights groups and the United Nations, to the extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in the country, particularly those identified with the regime’s murderous “war” on drugs.
Thirty-nine countries have also signed a declaration expressing concern over the human rights situation in the Philippines.The 39 — seven more than the 32 that had expressed the same concern last June — Include the country’s leading trade partners: the United States, Australia, and Canada. They described the state of human rights in the Philippines as “serious” and urged the Philippine government to stop the killing of suspected drug users and pushers as well as of journalists and human rights defenders, put an end to the culture of impunity (the exemption from punishment of murderers and other wrong doers) that the statement implied has become even more pronounced during the Duterte regime, and allow an independent investigation without conditions.
The regime response was to declare that it won’t be dictated upon, although, rather than telling the government what to do, the statement merely suggested that it look into the problem. But it is correct to assume that some of the 39 are likely to have an agenda other than the Philippines’ complying with international human rights standards as well as its own laws, because they do have interests — economic, political and military — to advance and protect.
The Duterte regime has responded to criticism of its human rights record in various other ways, among them by:
(1) questioning the critic’s right to do so, as it did through Mr. Duterte himself when former US President Barack Obama expressed his concern over the drug-related killings. Mr. Duterte responded by recalling the US’ own sordid human rights history during its war of conquest in the Philippines;
(2) denying the existence of impunity, and that the killings happened and are still happening, as Malacanang spokespersons as well as Philippine National Police Director-General Ronald de la Rosa have often insisted;
(3) saying that EJKs and impunity are problems that antedate the Duterte regime;
(4) rejecting suggested steps to help remedy the situation, as the regime has done in the case of the UN Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) 105 recommendations;
(5) claiming that the war on drugs is a means of defending human rights, as Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano declared before the UNHRC; and
(6) exaggerating the extent of the drug problem, as Cayetano did when he told the UN that there are seven million (7,000,000) drug addicts in the Philippines.
Cayetano’s seven million nearly doubles the four million-plus figure that Mr. Duterte himself has declared is the number of drug addicts in the Philippines, and which is more than double the 1.8 million that in 2016 the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) said was the number of illegal drug users. (The PDEA figure has since conformed with that of Mr. Duterte’s after the latter fired its former head for disagreeing with him.)
The Cayetano figure, if accurate, would suggest that the anti-drug campaign is not only failing despite the high cost in lives that some human rights groups estimate at 13,000; it is also making the problem worse. Meanwhile, Mr. Cayetano’s claim that the drug war is meant to defend human rights is too bizarre for words, that war having exacted a tremendous price on the rights to life, due process and the presumption of innocence. (One can imagine the shock or amusement of those who heard Mr. Cayetano’s disingenuous statement, his audience of diplomats being neither gullible nor stupid.)
These absurdities aside, it is nevertheless true that impunity has been a fact of Filipino existence for some time and that EJKs have been going on in every administration since that of Marcos. But what cannot be denied is that the number of EJKs since July 2016, even if pegged at a low 3,800 during the first year of Mr. Duterte’s term, would equal the 14-year record of the Marcos dictatorship during which almost the same number were extrajudicially killed by regime security forces, with no one being tried and punished for those crimes. The Duterte record so far, if indeed only at 3,800 more or less, would be about three times the number of EJKs (1,200) recorded during the nine-year watch of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. None of those responsible for the killings during Year One of the Duterte regime have been punished. The victims include women, young adults, and minors as young as four years old.
The numbers — and the 13,000 figure cited by human rights groups is over three times 3,800 — are what have caught the attention of other countries, human rights organizations and the UN. Their concern is occurring in the context of the Philippines’ reputation as an alleged democracy with a Constitution that guarantees the protection of human rights.
The Philippines is also a signatory to international agreements and protocols affirming respect for the rights to life and to a fair trial, and the presumption of innocence — rights enshrined as well in the Constitution. It has also banned the death penalty, and what’s more is one of the original 48 countries that signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Because of these, the Philippines from afar looks like a country that truly values human rights. But that perception is rapidly changing, thanks to Mr. Duterte and company.
It is true, as regime spokesmen complain, that international outrage was not as pronounced during the Aquino or Arroyo regimes. The reason for this is that neither Benigno Aquino III nor Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo openly dismissed human rights as of no concern, threatened human rights defenders, or publicly encouraged police extremism as Mr. Duterte has done. Both Aquino and Arroyo are on record as affirming the need for State respect for human rights, despite the EJKs and the killing of journalists that continued during their respective terms.
In short, the reason why so many countries, organizations and groups are concerned over what’s happening in the Philippines is that it is shocking and unprecedented, and as a result has become an international scandal and a global disgrace. But international attention may not end with the Philippines’ being merely regarded as a country whose foul deeds don’t match its Constitutional and international commitments.
Neither its growing reputation as a rogue regime nor that of the country as a killing field may matter to the Duterte administration. But if that is indeed the case, what should worry it is what the countries that look unfavorably at what’s happening will do in terms of trade restrictions and other economic measures that can adversely affect the country’s already faltering economy. What should also be of equal or even more urgent concern is that the country’s ill-repute can be used to pressure it, through threats of economic and political isolation, into granting foreign interests concessions likely to be to its disadvantage.
Neither has happened yet, but one or the other or both can transpire, resulting in the country’s further impoverishment and/or the worsening of its status as a neo-colony and a flunky of foreign interests. Despite the regime’s pretense at protecting Philippine sovereignty (“we won’t be dictated upon”), the surge in the number of EJKs and other atrocities and the hardening of the culture of impunity in the course of Mr. Duterte’s “war” on drugs has made the country even more vulnerable, should some of those countries supposedly concerned with the human rights crisis in the Philippines decide to do more than talk.
Erratum: A version of this column that appeared on BusinessWorld said that 3,800 EJKs would be a third of those that happened during the nine years of the Arroyo regime. It should have said 3,800 is THREE TIMES those committed during the Arroyo administration. My apologies.
First published in BusinessWorld. Photo from PCOO.