Friday, December 16, 2016

Light in the Midst of Darkness

I notice many Facebook friends changing their profile picture.  Actually, there is no picture or image at all, just black or total darkness. What does it express? For some it could just be an expression of protest. It could be an expression of grief, a sense of hopelessness and despair. It does symbolize our present situation -- the darkness that we once again find ourselves in. Indeed, we are living in another dark period of our country when evil appears to reign.  
Every day as we watch TV and read the newspapers we are confronted with gruesome news and images of those killed – mostly poor -- by the death squads and police. Almost 6,000 killed in six months. The president is promising more deaths while absolving the police of murder.  He threatened to kill human rights advocates and lawyers. And there’s congress trying to railroad a bill that will restore the death penalty.  The senate has come up with a report denying the reality of extrajudicial killings and the existence of death squads.  With a judiciary and legislative branches that seems to be controlled and bullied by the executive branch, the system of check and balance is disappearing. So if the trend continues, we can expect the casualties in the so-called war on drugs to exceed 70,000 by the end of six years when Duterte’s term ends. He said he would be happy to kill 3 million addicts following the example of his idol – Adolf Hitler. We see a deeply divided society – with many who have dulled conscience or no conscience at all - approving and applauding what’s going on. On the other hand, there is a growing number who are speaking out and protesting against the hero’s burial of a corrupt dictator and the killings. Meanwhile, the bigger problems such as poverty and corruption continue and are not being seriously addressed. An economic crisis is not farfetched.  We are indeed amidst darkness. Is there hope?
I know how it feels to celebrate a bleak Christmas in the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation. During the early years of martial law, I spent Christmas in prison -- on hunger strike with other political detainees to protest the maltreatment that we received from the minions of the dictator. In December 1985, two months before EDSA, our family was in grief after my mother was killed by a gang composed of PC (Philippine Constabulary) soldiers.  A few months earlier, my Redemptorist confrere --Fr. Rudy Romano -- was abducted by military intelligence agents and made to disappear. Around the same time, a pastoral worker that we have trained was killed by a paramilitary unit - the CHDF.  During that dark period there seemed no end in sight for the reign of evil.
Looking back and remembering the subsequent events, I can say that in the darkest moment there is always light. After two EDSA people power events I no longer doubt.  In a seemingly hopeless situation, there is always hope. This is what the light of Christ symbolizes. The God who never abandoned His people in the past will not abandon us now. Evil will not reign forever and ever. This too will pass. As Mary’s song – the Magnificat – assures us: The proud and the mighty will be deposed from their thrones. I firmly believe that a time will come when decent Filipinos with awakened conscience will overcome their fear and rise to the occasion.   I have witnessed miraculous events in the past, I expect another one soon. It may not  be the same as the previous ones but it will once again the demonstrate the triumph of  light over darkness. I hope my FB friends will change their profile picture with a lighted candle – the Christmas candle. This is the Good News of Christmas – the triumph of light over darkness, of good over evil.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Burying a Dictator

So you think you can heal the division in this land
by giving a hero's burial to the dictator?
No, you are just reopening old wounds
and awaken the anger that lay dormant in our hearts.
Why are you doing this?
As payback for the support of the dictator's family
who financed your candidacy with the money looted
by your corrupt and bloodthirsty idol?
Your mother must be turning in her grave.
She fought the dictator, remember?
Are you doing this to spite her memory?
By burying the dictator in hallowed ground
you are digging your own grave.
Our outcry against his burial is a protest
against your rule that has turned this land into a killing field.
Someday you will have the same fate as your idol.
But you will not have a hero's burial.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

The god I don't believe in

What of kind of god is this who imposes
on a nation his chosen one -- 
the punisher who is happy to exterminate
3 million Filipino drug users & pushers
like Hitler ordering the final solution on the chosen people?
What kind of god is this who 
tells this president to stop cursing
but remains silent about the mass murder
 carried out by police he inspired and promised to pardon?
How cruel this god is.
I don't believe in this god.
I don't believe in this idol.
Someday, the real God will punish the punisher and condemn those who idolize him.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A "Powerless" Church

The Catholic Church in the Philippines has built up a reputation of being a powerful and influential institution. During Martial Law, she was the only remaining institution that could stand up to Marcos' dictatorial rule.  Church people were at the forefront of the resistance against the dictatorship - providing alternative source of information when media was suppressed,  monitoring human rights violations, organizing protest rallies and collaborating with other groups and movements fighting for freedom. The Church had a big part in the ouster of Marcos at EDSA a few weeks after the CBCP came out with a pastoral letter denouncing electoral fraud and after Cardinal Sin appealed to the people through Radio Veritas to go to EDSA to defend Ramos, Enrile and the RAM who were holed in Camp Crame after an unsuccessful coup attempt.  The iconic image of EDSA I was the multitude of people, including priests and nuns, bringing crosses, statues of saints and rosaries, facing the tanks and soldiers. People power was linked with Church power. The Church continued to exercise an influential role in the post- Marcos era and even in the ouster of a corrupt and immoral president and the ascension into power of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The power of the Church was projected in the image of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo being sworn into office at the EDSA shrine before Chief Justice Davide, with Cardinal Sin and the Papal Nuncio in attendance.

Fifteen years later after EDSA 2, with the ascendancy of a new president, Rodrigo Duterte, much has changed. It appears that the power of the Church has waned. The Church is now perceived by many as powerless and lacking influence or political clout.  This was already apparent during the Aquino presidency with the passage of the Reproductive Health Law.  The recent national elections of  have made this even more evident.  Duterte considered the recent elections as a plebiscite daring Catholics to choose between electing him or obeying the appeal of the Church to vote according to their conscience and reject candidates whose behavior are contrary to the moral teachings of the Church. Duterte's landslide victory was regarded by him as a defeat of the Church - a proof of the powerlessness and waning influence of the Church. The Iglesia ni Cristo - whose leaders can dictate to the members who to vote for -- appears to be even more powerful. Thus, Duterte could insult and bully the Church without fear or restraint despite the Church's offers of prayers and vigilant collaboration. Duterte does not have to worry about any church-backed movement to oust him. He can do anything he likes without any vigorous resistance from the Church - whether it is to carry out his election promise of more extrajudicial killings, re-impose death penalty, give the deposed corrupt dictator a hero's burial, full implementation of he RH law, etc. In fact, he can count on the support or acquiescence of majority of Catholics - including many priests and nuns - who voted and campaigned for him in spite insulting the pope and promising to destroy the Church.

So what accounts for the Church's apparent powerlessness?

Even if the Church membership accounts for over 80% of the population, the Church is not a monolithic organization whose members are all actively living according to her teachings and obeying Church's leadership. Church unity - especially in the political sphere - is non-existent. There is no such thing as a Catholic vote. The majority of the Church members are nominal and seasonal Catholics who are either ignorant of the Church's teachings or who ignore these or are just selectively follow whatever suits them. The results of the recent elections would give the impression that the majority do not follow their conscience, or have no conscience - lacking a sense of right and wrong. For many there is nothing wrong with killing, stealing, cheating, lying, committing adultery. An appeal to conscience is futile.

The CBCP can come out with pastoral letters about these issues but very few will listen - not even the Catholic politicians who are products of Catholic educational institutions. There are many lay movements in the Church but they are simply pious organizations lacking in social engagement. Majority of our Basic Ecclesial Communities are still gospel sharing groups or liturgical assemblies incapable of inspiring personal conversion and mobilizing for social transformation.

One cannot entirely blame the majority of nominal Catholics for lacking in conscience and for ignoring the Church teachings. The leadership of the Church - the clergy and religious - and our Catholic institutions must admit a lot of shortcomings. We continue our maintenance mode rather than adopt a more missionary strategy. Our efforts and programs in new evangelization and catechesis lack vigor, creativity and effectiveness and do not lead to personal conversion and formation of conscience. We are not exercising enough our prophetic vocation nor do we empower or inspire the laity to do so. The clergy have become less credible due to allegations of luxurious lifestyle, financial anomalies and sexual misconduct. Even if these are the faults of a few, these have been sensationalized by the media and have increased anti-clericalism. These can become a hindrance to carrying out our prophetic mission under the new regime.

The apparent powerlessness of the Church can be blessing in disguise. It should make the Church  more humble and devoid of arrogance. The Church cannot influence or dictate what policies and laws that the government will adopt. The Church cannot be a power-broker. All it can be is to be a powerless servant and prophetic Church. All that we can do is to vigorously carry out our mission of new evangelization and catechesis and focus on the formation of conscience, empower the laity, form communities of missionary disciples in our parishes and Basic Ecclesial Communities capable of confronting evil and transforming society in the future. In doing so, the nominal and seasonal Catholics will hopefully be transformed as genuine disciples of Christ. All these can be possible with a renewed clergy.

The real power of the Church will ultimately come not from its political clout or influence but from the power of the cross, the power of the Spirit that will renew the face of  the earth.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Receiving Greetings on Father's Day

"Happy Father's Day!" This is the greetings that I have been receiving today in my Facebook and through text messaging. I find this disconcerting and amusing since I don't have a wife and children - I have been a faithful celibate through all these years. No illegitimate or secret love child either. Otherwise, I would have been exposed by Digong long time ago while denouncing the DDS. But one of the text message from Bong reminded me: "Though biologically you are not, but in all aspects truly you are. This day belong to you too..."

Ok. I still insist that this day is primarily to honor all the real fathers (especially the biological fathers) who have brought children into the world, helped nurture them, care for them, facilitated their growth and in their own imperfect way mirror God's paternal love for them. I agree that fatherhood is more than biological engendering. That's is why that we priests are often referred to as Father. Everybody calls me Fr. Picx or Fr. Amado. So I do not  begrudge those who greet me to day. I just hope  I really deserve this title.

So what does it mean for priests to be called Father? Here are some excerpts from chapter eight "Celibacy & Ministry" of my second book that will be published soon entitled: The Ministerial Priesthood in a Church Renewed":

" Celibacy is not just a question of remaining unmarried or avoiding women and children.  It is not an end in itself.  It is a gift that is to be used to attain an end - which is service to the kingdom of God.  It becomes meaningless if it does not express the priest’s total dedication and commitment and his availability to God and to others. It is empty if it does not witness to the universality of God's love.

"Instead of committing himself totally to a woman, the priest commits himself totally to God and his Church. Instead of raising a particular family (which is the domestic church), the priest forms a larger family – the spiritual family that is the Church, the Christian community – the parish which is a network of  Basic Ecclesial Communities. Instead of being a biological father to a few children, he becomes the spiritual father to the flock that the Lord has entrusted to his care. That is why he is often addressed as “Father.”

Instead of forming a family, the celibate priest forms and leads the Christian community. He fosters communion - loving union, sharing and caring - not in a particular family and home but in a broader and bigger family and home. The love and care of the priest is not exclusively focused on a wife and children but for the Church, the Christian community to which he has dedicated his entire life.  He is freed from dealing with domestic responsibilities and problems so that he can deal with bigger responsibilities and problems of his flock. Celibacy allows the priest to be more available to his flock without worrying about his own family. With an undivided heart and mind the priest is able to serve God and his flock. Thus the spiritual fatherhood of the priest is highlighted. This is what Vatican II referred to as “paternity in Christ.” The fatherhood of the priest is fulfilled not just in forming and building up the family of God that is the local Church and Christian community.  It is also manifested as the newly baptized are born anew through water and Spirit incorporated into the Family of God. This fatherhood is expressed as the priest facilitates the members grow and mature in faith and actively participate in the mission they have received from Christ thru baptism and empowered by the gift of the Spirit in confirmation.

The fatherhood of the priest is also expressed as he provides for the spiritual nourishment of the family of God by preaching the Word of God and consecrating the bread and wine as body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist . He does not only provide for the spiritual hunger of the members. By his social ministry the priest provides for the temporal needs of the flock - through programs and projects that alleviate their poverty and bring about justice, peace and development. Thus, through the celibate priest's ministry of pastoral leadership and communion, through his prophetic and sacramental ministry, through his social ministry as well as his ministry to the poor, the priest's fatherhood is fully manifested.

The relationship between the priest and the Christian community is not only a paternal one. It can also be seen in spousal terms. The priest is configured to Christ who loves the Church as a groom loves his bride. In an analogical sense, the priest -  alter christus - is betrothed to the Church.  He is wedded to the Church - totally committed to her and remaining faithful to her for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, unto death and beyond death, forever and ever.

When he is not available to the people, to his parishioners, to the poor, when he does not have time for encounter with God in prayer, a priest's celibacy becomes empty and meaningless. His life is characterized by perpetual boredom and loneliness making him more vulnerable to the “temptations of the flesh.” When celibacy is not intimately connected to ministry and mission, when it does not further the realization of the kingdom of God, it turns the priest into an irresponsible bachelor. Instead of being an authentic sign of selfless dedication to the kingdom it becomes a sign of selfishness and self-indulgence.

Committing oneself to a celibate way of life and remaining faithful to one’s promise is the ultimate self-sacrifice that a man can make. He is foregoing something that is beautiful and good that fulfills his deepest desires and needs and that can bring fulfillment to his manhood – the intimate love with a woman expressed in the sexual act and the fruit of that love – the offspring that will guarantee his posterity.  Celibacy is an act of consecration, of self-oblation and total self-giving to Something and Someone greater than himself – to the Transcendent reality that is God and his kingdom. It is indeed a witness to the reality and priority of God. This is at the heart of what it means to be a priest.

A priest must always remember that he made a sacred vow to the Lord – a promise and commitment to dedicate his whole life to him and his Kingdom and to forego marriage and family so that he can raise and build up the spiritual family of God that is the Church. It is a promise that he has to constantly keep everyday for the rest of his life.

Below is a poem I wrote on the occasion of my silver jubilee of ordination:

Silver Jubilee

 Twenty-five years ago
when my hair was thick and wavy,
and my tummy was firm and flat,.
I stood before the altar
with no one by my side.

I made a promise to the Lord
to be a priest forever
for better or for worse, in sickness and in health
until I receive the crown he promised.

Twenty-five years later
with no hair on my head 
and an expanding waistline
I remain a faithful priest

I kept my promise all these years.
I slept alone and loved the Lord and  the people – especially the poor-
 with all my heart and soul.
I preached the good news of the kingdom and worked for justice and peace.
I formed not my own family, but the family of God – the Christian community.

Twenty-five years or more from now
when not a single hair will grow on my head
and I continue to look like a prisoner on death row,
or better still the Dalai Lama,
when my tummy will be wider than my chest
when I can no longer bike
and a nurse (I hope a pretty one) will push my wheel-chair
I will remain a faithful priest
I will keep my promise
until I will come face to face  with the One I gave  my all.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Vigilant Collaboration

The greatest promise the Church can offer any government is vigilant collaboration, and that offer we  make now. We will urge our people to work with the government for the good of all, and we shall continue to be vigilant so that ever so often we may speak out to teach and to prophesy, to admonish and to correct – for  this is our vocation..”

This last paragraph of the CBCP post-election statement signed by Archbishop Socrates Villegas sums up the stance of the Catholic Church vis-à-vis the administration of the presumptive president Rodrigo Duterte.

“Vigilant Collaboration” This is how the Church as an institution will engage with the Duterte  government for the next six years.

There are two elements in this stance: (1) collaboration - working with the government for the good of all. (2) vigilance -  to speak out, to teach, to admonish or in other words, to be prophetic.

The Church will urge  her members and the leaders to work for the common good. There are specific areas  relating to the common good that the Church should support and collaborate with the government:  the economic field – this means working together in addressing the economic needs of the citizens,  especially the poor. The contribution of the Church is to continue its work of charity and poverty-alleviation program. The Church, as part of civil society, should also work with the government in addressing the problem of the environment and the consequent climate change.

The prospects for the continuation and conclusion of the peace process is very bright under the Duterte presidency.  Thus, the Church should fully support the peace process  between the government and the NDF that will lead to a peace agreement that will address  the roots of the insurgency. The Church should also support the full implementation of the peace agreement between the government and the MILF – especially the BBL.

The Church should also express her support of  the government’s campaign against corruption and criminality.  The Church’s main contribution here is in the area of moral reformation that should underpin the government’s drive.  Without a change of heart, without moral conversion, the campaign against corruption and criminality cannot be sustainable.

While working with the government in pursuit of the common good, the Church will always remain vigilant and exercise her prophetic vocation.

This requires exercising her role as a conscience of society – supporting what is right and good and exposing and denouncing what is wrong and evil.

The primary area of vigilance is that of  the respect for human rights – especially the right to life and due process. The Church will constantly monitor and denounce any abuse and violation of human rights – especially extrajudicial killings.  This can be carried out through the social action programs and ministries. The Church will also oppose any attempt to revive death penalty. This is a potential area of conflict and tension between the Church and the Government.

Another  potential area of  conflict is in the implementation of the RH law. While the Church supports responsible parenthood and natural family planning methods, the Church opposes the neo-Malthusian paradigm promoted by the government which instead of looking at its growing population as human resource regards overpopulation as the cause of poverty  and prescribes aggressive population control through the use of medically harmful methods or that could induce abortion.

Another area of vigilance is the Duterte administration’s support for the construction of coal-fired power plants as solution to the energy problem.  This is deadly to the health of the people and contribute  to global warming. Coal-fired power plants are sustained by the dirtiest form of mining which contribute to the poisoning of the environment.

The Church will continue to promote a consistent ethic of life and reject policies that promote the culture of death.

The Church will also be vigilant against any effort to impose anti-democratic and autocratic forms of governance.

In carrying out her prophetic vocation, the Church should avoid working with any elements in society that seek to oust the present adminstration through extra-legal or undemocratic means. Thus, the Church should not support and should reject coup attempts by the military or armed power grab by any group - whether from the Right or the Left.

This vigilant collaboration should be practiced at all levels – national, regional, diocesan, parish and the Basic Ecclesial Communities.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Woe Oracle (for the Punisher)

Woe to you who rule with an iron fist
drenched with the blood of thousands of people including street-children
executed by your death-squads in squalid slums of your city
with the applause of many who live in comfortable subdivisions.
You tell us this is the price that must be paid
so that we can walk the streets at night without fear.
Now you want to continue your killings spree all over the land.
Do you think that your crimes and sins have been absolved by your election?

Woe to you with your clenched fists
that will soon be smeared with the blood
of thousands and thousands of your brothers and sisters
whose right to life and due process you deny
so that you can walk the streets at night without fear.
Now you ask everyone to move on and to unite. For what?
In order that the death squads will multiply their serial mass murder?
So that your idol can carry out his revolution from the center like the late dictator?
Is your voice really the voice of God? Which god are you talking about?

Woe to you who put your trust in a man
accused of murder and plunder
whom you believe can save the nation and get rid of crime and corruption.
You ignored your conscience and embraced your dark side.
A time of reckoning will come
when the biggest criminal will be held accountable
including those who allowed him to continue the mass murder.
Don't give the excuse that you did not know what you were doing.

A time will come when the punisher will be punished.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Prospects under a Duterte Presidency: Scenario Analysis

As elections draw near, the possibility of Rodrigo Duterte becoming president has become imminent barring last minute extraordinary developments or “miraculous events” that would derail his candidacy – the latest of which is the allegation of hidden wealth.

            If the surveys are to be believed, and his supporters refuse to believe all the allegations against him, he is assured of getting at least 33% of the votes.

            The question now is what could happen when he becomes president. Will he be able to carry out what he promised and intends to do?  Will he be able to fulfill the expectations of his followers?

            This is an attempt at presenting a scenario analysis based on what Duterte promised to do as  reported in the media and the possible consequences should he carry these out.



What Duterte  Promised and Intends to Do


What attracted many voters to Duterte is the promise of change. “Pagbabago, Disiplina.” This has been his battle-cry. This is reminiscent of Marcos’ battle-cry when he declared Martial Law and promised to create a New Society (Bagong Lipunan) with discipline as one of the pre-requisites (“sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan”). To many his of followers, Duterte is the last hope of the country, the only one who can save the country -- the Messiah.

            At the core of his agenda is to stamp out criminality and corruption by all means necessary. This include extrajudicial killings, ignoring the rule of law and basic human rights of suspects which he regard as a Western concept. As Mayor of Davao, he was accused of inspiring and supporting the Davao Death Squad which has murdered 1,424 victims from 1998-2015. This earned him the name of “the Punisher.” He boasted that if elected, it will be bloody – the 1,000 will become 100,000. He said that the fish in Manila bay will grow fat. There won’t be any need to build prisons, just more funeral parlors.  This would imply multiplying and unleashing the death squads nation-wide. The targets are mainly suspected criminals. But in a speech to the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), he warned them not to strike during his term of office – otherwise he will also kill them.

            In carrying this out, he will not brook any opposition. He warned congress, the Commission on Human Rights, and the Ombudsman not to resist this campaign. Otherwise, he will close down or abolish congress if it starts impeachment proceedings against him.

In his latest speech in April 28, 2016 during the release of the military man held prisoner by the NPA, Duterte reiterated the following:

            Since the present setup and constitution is not enough to effect change, he will abolish congress and the constitution and form a revolutionary government. He will start a revolution from within – (similar to Marcos’ idea of a revolution from the center).

            He will declare a ceasefire with the NPA and resume the peace process and quickly reach a peace agreement.  

            Earlier he had expressed his desire to enter into a coalition government with the communists. He promised to give them  cabinet positions. In a speech he told the NPA, that if he becomes president, the NPA will have one foot in Malacanang. He declared that he will be the first leftist president of the Philippines. While denying that he is  a communist, he affirmed that he is a socialist.  Based on his pronouncements, the form of government that Duterte will try to adopt can be labeled as autocratic-socialist in coalition with the communists and moving towards a parliamentary-federal form of government. Marcos way of governing is Duterte’ model. Duterte promised to give Marcos a hero’s burial. The only difference between Duterte and Marcos is that Marcos was not a leftist and the communists were the targets of repression and extrajudicial killings. Under a Duterte government, the communists will be partners and they can help in eliminating suspected criminals. After all, the first batch of the Davao Death Squads were composed of former communists/Sparrow units hit-men.

In various interviews, especially with Vice Ganda, Duterte declared his support for gay marriage and divorce. So these would be some of the changes that he would introduce especially with a new constitution. With a new constitution, term limits can be abolished. So he can reign for as long as he wishes.



Worst-Case Scenarios


Many things can happen under a Duterte Presidency. What I will present is the worst-case scenario if he carries through what he promised and intended to do. I hope this will not happen. None of this will happen if he just sits back, relax and bask in his power and glory and does very little to change society or if he plays his cards very well.

            After his inauguration, President Duterte is expected to immediately launch his anti-criminality drive. He has given himself 3-6 months to stamp out criminality or he will resign. If he follows the rule of law and due process six years is not enough to do this. The PNP will have to engage in intelligence gathering or search their data base. They will then have to do case build up, find evidence, and file the case in court. Since the judicial system is very weak the cases will drag in court for many years.

            So shortcuts have to be made, like what happened in Davao. This means organizing and multiplying the death squads all over the country– franchise style. Training will be rapidly conducted while barangay units are required submit the names of the notorious drug users, pushers, petty thieves, etc. There will be police officers who will handle the death squads. Other police officers will be emboldened to carry out extrajudicial killings on their own as they are encourage to take the law into their hands with impunity. This will require a huge budget which can be taken from the intelligence fund. If a peace agreement is immediately reached with the CPP, he may request the NPA  to also form their own death squads to go after the suspected criminals.

The bodies will pile up unless the death squads concentrate on a few high-profile targets  or the big criminals (crime bosses, drug lords). It is easier to eliminate the juvenile delinquents and the small fries. Fighting against drug lords will be more difficult especially through extrajudicial killings. To protect themselves, these criminal syndicates could build up their armed components  and engage the death squads and there will be war in the streets – a la Mexico. Violence could escalate.

            The bigger problem is that there are many police personnel and politicians who are also involved in criminality – many are big time criminals. This could be complicated if they are targeted by the death squads.  As the spiral of violence continues and the killing spree escalates, there are two possible reaction:

            The first is silence or even applause. The majority will support the killings and not raise an outcry. They think that those suspects deserve to be killed. This is the price to be paid if they want to walk at night without fear.

The other response is civil society including the leaders of the Church could speak out and demand investigation and accountability. The Commission on Human Rights will act and there will be demand for congressional hearing.

            If the government fails to address the killings, there will be groups that will raise the issue at the international level. A case could be filed in the International Criminal Court. If he is successfully prosecuted, he could be isolated internationally and sanctions could be imposed on the country like what happened to Syria and Iran.

            Meanwhile, as the six months deadline expires and he is not able to stamp out criminality, Duterte will be pressured to keep his word and resign from the presidency.

The possibility of resigning is remote since he has been known to renege on his promises. He is also afraid that if he resigns, he is vulnerable to lawsuits and could end up in prison.

             Impeachment proceedings could be filed in congress and the trial will be conducted by the senate. He will be most vulnerable because he has very few allies among senators and representatives. Unlike previous presidents who had the power to release pork barrel to representatives and senators and therefore attracted turn-coats, this power has been taken away by the Supreme Court due to its unconstitutionality. So Duterte will be unable to control congress and senate.

            There could be two grounds for his impeachment: corruption (hidden wealth, failure to declare in SALN his assets – ala CJ Corona) and human right violations (extrajudicial killings). This could happen within the first six months.

            If as he promised, he will abolish congress and form a revolutionary government if he is impeached, he will find it impossible.  The constitution does not give him such power so this would be an unconstitutional and illegal act. To carry this out successfully he has to operate outside the law. He needs the support of the police, the military, the political parties.  He also needs the support of the citizenry who can go out to the streets and form as his people power that will defend him. He is assured of one third of the adult population that supported him and voted for him although how many are willing to fight it out in the streets remains to be seen. He can rely on the support of Pastor Quiboloy – the appointed son of God – and his followers. He can also rely on the Iglesia ni Cristo. But there could also be many supporters who would likely turn against him once the issue of corruption is proven (like what happened to Erap).

            If during the early period of his presidency, he is able to make peace with the communists and enter into an alliance with them, he can count on their support to establish a revolutionary government. He could have at his disposal their legal organization, the mass bases and the armed component – the NPA. This is an opportunity for them to later dominate the government and eventually seize state power which is their ultimate objective.

            The PDP-LABAN is a hollow party with few members in the senate and congress, so it cannot provide substantial support to Duterte  in the halls of congress especially if an impeachment proceeding is initiated.

            Since he does not have any legal  basis for dissolving congress and form a revolutionary government, Duterte cannot rely on the police and military to support him. If they hold on to their professionalism, they will not follow illegal orders.  Besides, many in the military have branded him as a traitor for his alliance with the CPP/NPA. So his order to close down congress could be ignored as the impeachment proceedings continue.

            There will be turmoil in the streets as civil society and the Church mobilize rallies against him and his supporters face them off. There could be clashes in the streets.

As this is happening, due to uncertainty, the economy will suffer. The capital flight that has started even before the elections will continue. This will be worsened with his coalition with the communists and the clashes in the streets. There could be an economic crisis if the uncertainty and instability continue and if he tries to impose a nationalist and socialist economy. If he is true to his socialist ideology, this could mean introducing a socialist economy which usually includes state control of the means of production and the nationalization of major industries (this type of socialism has already been abandoned by former socialist countries like Russia, China and Vietnam).

With his anti-US stance and  perceived pro-China sentiments, and with his alliance with the Communists, the US would probably make sure that he does not stay in power for long since he is perceived as a threat to their long term interest – which is the dominance in Asia and the South-China/West Philippine Sea. It would not be surprising if  the CIA is already very busy.

There could be sections within the military that will be organizing for a possible coup or for withdrawing their support (like what happened during EDSA II that toppled Estrada in 2000). A revolutionary coalition government with the Communists will provoke counter-revolution.

            What happens next will depend on who will be the vice-president and how far Duterte is able to carry out his intention in abolishing congress and installing a revolutionary government in  coalition with the Communists.

            If the vice-president is Bongbong Marcos, he could take over as president if Duterte is impeached or is forced to resign. However, civil society and the Church won’t be enthusiastic to carry out another people power if it means handing over to Bongbong the presidency. It will be the return of another Marcos to Malacanang.  If Lenny Robredo is the vice-president, that will be another story.  There will be more vigorous effort to oust Duterte.

            There are other alternative scenarios beside what has been discussed above. One of the risks that Duterte faces is an assassination attempt. This could come from the CIA , the military, or crime lords he is wants to eliminate extrajudicially. The other uncertainty is his health. He is already 71 years old and suffering from several diseases that will continue to worsen (Buerger's disease - the disease causes inflammation and thrombosis in small and medium-sized blood vessels, typically in the legs and leading to gangrene. It has been associated with smoking. Another is “Barret’s esophagus” that leads to cancer). In an interview, he once said that he could be the first president to die in Malacanang.

Thus, it is not certain if he can complete his term of office or hold on to power. Duterte has been projected as a superhero or a messiah who can save the Philippines. There is a tendency to  liken him to Mussolini and Hitler. But Mussolini had his National Fascist Party and Blackshirts and Hitler had his National Socialist Party and SS. Both dictators  had strong political parties and organized movements backing them. Duterte has none of this except his DDS, a moribund PDP-Laban and possible support of the CPP/NDF/NPA which may not be enough. Being commander in chief does not guarantee loyalty and support from the AFP if he operates outside the constitution and is perceived by them as a traitor for his connection with the CPP/NPA. Although he promised to double  their salaries, that is not enough to buy their loyalty. In a Rappler interview,  he hinted about a purge within the military for those who will not cooperate and talked about the Manila Bay as wide enough for them (his comment about the fish in Manila Bay getting fat is not only for criminals). Hyperbole?  If he does this, this could even endanger him more.

What is most doubtful is if he really can get things done and bring about genuine and meaningful change or will he lead our country to ruin. He may have the political will but he lacks the political machinery and the other leadership skills like vision, compassion, integrity and emotional intelligence necessary to effect genuine change. It is doubtful if he can effectively and single-handedly eliminate criminality and corruption. He himself has been accused of being a criminal and as corrupt as other politicians with the extrajudicial killings and allegations of hidden wealth. His power is limited. The presidency is just one branch of government. Congress is not like the city council that he can easily dominate, dictate upon or abolish. He doesn’t have control of the Supreme Court. There are independent institutions that can hound him if he commits any abuse of power such as the Ombudsman and the Commission of Human Rights. He cannot do anything he wants to get his own way no matter how much he may curse or bully his way through. The whole country is not a city like Davao.

His other option is to just sit back and relax and enjoy his remaining years in Malacanang and try to survive the next six years, doing very little. But the specter of impeachment will always be there due to allegations of hidden wealth which is not reflected in his SALN. One thing is sure – those who voted him will be disappointed. But this always happens because Filipinos always expect too much from their presidents without realizing that the president’s power is limited – he cannot be the Messiah or the Savior of the country. They fail to realize that change begins within each one, and together they can change Philippine society.

A legacy that a Duterte presidency could leave behind is that of government officials, police officers and military personnel that have gotten used to extra-judicial killings, who think of themselves as above the law and act as judge and executioner, thereby weakening instead of reforming and strengthening the judicial and law enforcement system. Another legacy could be that of imposing an autocratic rule that had been rejected by People Power 30 years ago. The worst legacy is a people who have lost their conscience – of knowing what is right and wrong – fully supporting mass murder and the violation of human rights and  disregarding the rule of law and due process,  who think that there is nothing wrong with cursing, committing adultery, lying and stealing. It is a people who have lost their soul and freely embraced their dark side.

            Let us pray to God that we will be spared from this catastrophe.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Extrajudicial Killings: A Moral Perspective

(On July 30, 2003, 13 years ago, during the launching of the Coalition Against Summary Execution or CASE, I gave this speech. I am posting this here to help Christians in their discernment as they elect the new president. It is important that we are guided by our conscience because our choices could lead to more killings and we become accomplices to mass murder)
Extrajudicial Killings: A Moral Perspective

Almost daily, the newspapers and TV report  the series of killings of suspected criminals by the dreaded death squad. This is happening not only in Davao but in other cities in Mindanao.

Many of those killed were petty thieves, drug addicts and pushers. Many of them were still young.

What is happening reminds me of the secret marshals and the cases of salvaging during the Martial Law.

The questions is: Can these killings  be morally justified? Is it right to kill these criminals?

Those who order and perpetrate these killings obviously think that there is nothing wrong with terminating these criminals with extreme prejudice. They think they are doing society a favor because they are getting rid of these criminals, they are defending society from evil people. They believe that the elimination of these criminals is a deterrent to crime. Thus, they act as prosecutor, judge and executioner – carrying out  capital punishment – the death penalty.

I am sure that there are many ordinary citizens who think the same way. That is why there is very little public outcry. They believe  these criminals – especially these drug pushers and suppliers – deserve to die.

Is it right to kill these criminals?

In spite of good intentions, the means used  is not only illegal, it is also immoral.

The end does not justify the means. We cannot achieve a good end with evil means. It is not right to fight crime by committing a crime.

Those who order and carry out these summary executions of criminals become criminal themselves. They are guilty of the crime and sin of murder. What they do violates God’s 5th commandment: You shall not kill.

The direct and intentional killing of human beings, no matter how sinful they are, is a grave sin. Murderers are answerable not only to the law but to God.

The killing of these criminals cannot be considered as an act of self-defense. They did not directly threaten the life of the killers. While their activities are harmful to society, there are lawful means of dealing with them.

No one has a license to kill – not the government officials, not the police and military, and not any civilian. No one can arrogate to himself the power of life and death over other people – only God can do this.

Those who enforce the law must uphold the law. They are not above the law.

The Church upholds the right to life of all human beings – whether, unborn, young, old, and even criminals. The right to life is inalienable. It flows from the principle that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God and possess human dignity. Thus, life is sacred. No one can be deprived of the right to life – not even those suspected and found guilty of crime.

This right to life is now enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Church’s opposition to vigilante killings or summary execution is consistent with its opposition to abortion, capital punishment, war and euthanasia.

So, by all means, those in authority should go after the criminals, bring them to justice and punish them appropriately. But they should use means that are legally and morally right. They should not become what they abhor.

There is no need to become criminals in the fight against criminals.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Victims of the Davao Death Squad: Consolidated Report 1998-2015

           I recently received a consolidated report of the killings perpetrated by the Davao Death Squad (DDS) since 1998 up to the end of 2015.  The source will not be mentioned for obvious reasons. Suffice it to say that since the killings started, they have been monitoring these cases. I know them very well and I have been collaborating with them as we denounced these killings and worked with the Commission on Human Rights and the Human Rights Watch. They are hesitant to make the report public out of apprehension that it will be used for political purposes. I believe that to hide this would be a disservice to the nation since I believe that the body count could multiply many times over throughout the whole country in the next six years. The original report that I have is in Excel format, and very detailed (year by year, according to age, sex, areas, weapons used, etc). What I present is a summary and my own analysis. I know that when I do this, I am risking my life. But the truth must come out before it is too late.

 The total number of persons killed by the DDS from 1998-2015 is 1,424. Let me repeat in words – ONE THOUSAND FOUR HUNDRED TWENTY-FOUR victims. This can be considered as MASS MURDER perpetrated by the same group, inspired and supported by the same persons. The data does not include those killed in other cities where the DDS have expanded franchise-style.

Out of 1,424, there were 1,367 male and 57 female. This means that those murdered by the DDS were not only men, there were also fifty-seven women.

Looking at this according to age there were 132 children killed (17 and below) -- 126 boys and 6 girls. The youngest was a 12 years boy and a 15 year girl. There was a 9 year old boy who was killed by a stray bullet – he was not an intended target.

There was a total of 476 young adults (18-25) murdered – 466 male, 19 female. The number of older adults (26 years and above) killed were 612 (466 male, 28 female).  There were victims whose age were not given – 201 (191 male, 10 female).

Thus, almost 50 percent of the victims were young people (children and young adults). Most the victims were killed in urban poor areas (e.g. Buhangin, Agdao, Bangkerohan, Boulevard, Matina, Toril). Most of those killed were involved in illegal drugs – as users and pushers. There were also those involved in petty crimes – theft, cell-phone snatching, gang members. There were 14 cases of mistaken identity – they were not the intended targets but the DDS hit men mistakenly hit the wrong target.  There were some who had gone away after being warned that they were on the hit list and after some years, after reforming their lives, came back thinking that they were safe. Their names were still on the list so they were still killed.

Thus, one can say that majority of the victims of the DDS were young and poor – juvenile delinquents considered as the weeds of society. There were no reports of drug lords or big time criminals among those killed by the DDS. There were two journalists who were believed to have been murdered by the DDS – Jun Pala and Ferdie “Batman” Limtungan. Jun Pala was a radio commentator who constantly spoke out against the DDS and Mayor Duterte. There were two previous attempts on his life and he accused Duterte of being behind these attacks. He was finally killed by motorcycle riding men on the third try. Ferdie “Batman” Lintuan also spoke out against the DDS and also the alleged anomalies in the construction of the People’s Park which he linked with Mayor Duterte. He was also killed by motorcycle riding men.

The victims of the DDS were unarmed. They did not fight back. Many were just sitting down on street-corners  outside sari-sari stores, talking with friends and then suddenly shot in cold blood. There were some who were just released from prison and while waiting for public transportation on the side of the road were suddenly shot by motorcycling men. How the DDS knew the exact time and place they were to be released is amazing. Another victim was killed inside his home in front of his mother and three children who were begging the DDS not to kill him. One of the most well-known case is Clarita Alia – a vegetable vendor in Bangkerohan – whose teen-age sons (who were below 17 years old) were murdered by the DDS. I was asked by Clarita to bless the  body of her boy, Fernando before he was buried.

I have personally witnessed the aftermath of two DDS killings. The first was in our parish church in Bajada. While officiating a Wedding Mass I heard shots outside in the carpark. I immediately rushed outside after the Mass to find out what happened. I saw the body of a teen-age boy lying in our church ground surrounded by people. He had just been shot by DDS hit-men while sitting in the car park with his friends. The killers escaped on a motor-cycle. There was a police car nearby but the police just fired warning shots into the air and did not go after the killers. The boy who was killed lived in a nearby slums area. He had been suspected as one of those who broke the window of a car  park in our church and stole some items two weeks earlier.

The second time I witnessed the aftermath of a DDS killing was while mountain-biking in Lomondao, a distant barangay in Davao. As I neared the place I met three motorcycle riding men speeding back to the city. When I arrived in the place I saw people who gathered around the body of a young boy. When I asked what happened, someone told me it was the DDS. The boy was cell-phone snatcher and drug user. He added, the boy deserved to die.
The killings have not stopped. The DDS continue their murderous spree even to this day.  For the last five years (2011-2015), there were 385 victims of extrajudicial killings in Davao -  39 of them below seventeen years old and 118 young adults (18-25). In 2011 there 111 reported DDS killings, in 2012 there were 61, in 2013 there were 101, in 2014 there were 52 and there were 60 in 2015. The DDS usually take a break during the campaign period. They will continue their operations after the elections.

So far, no one has been held accountable for these killings. There has been no official investigation by the police or the city government. The police do not acknowledge the existence of the DDS. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) came to Davao for a public hearing and also met secretly with witnesses – family of the victims and former members of DDS. Although the CHR recommended prosecution, this could not prosper because nobody was willing to testify in court out of fear. The DDS are still around and anybody who testifies will surely be targeted for assassination. I have met some of these witnesses and understand their fear. They claimed that some of those listed as victims were their former companions who knew too much and were suspected of betraying the DDS. So while former DDS members talked about how they were recruited, trained and how they operate, and who their handlers were and their link with some police and local government officials, all these information could not stand in court because they were not willing to testify in spite of the sworn statements made before the CHR. Much of the information can also be found in the report of the Human Rights Watch in 2009 You Can Die Anytime: Death Squad Killings in Mindanao. One of the findings of the Human Rights Watch report reveals the link between the DDS and the police:

“According to these “insiders,” most members of the DDS are either former communist New People’s Army insurgents who surrendered to the government or young men who themselves were death squad targets and joined the group to avoid being killed. Most can make far more money with the DDS than in other available occupations. Their handlers, called amo (boss), are usually police officers or ex-police officers. They provide them with training, weapons and ammunition, motorcycles, and information on the targets. Death squad members often use .45-caliber handguns, a weapon commonly used by the police but normally prohibitively expensive for gang members and common criminals.

The insiders told Human Rights Watch that the amo obtain information about targets from police or barangay (village or city district) officials, who compile lists of targets. The amo provides members of a death squad team with as little as the name of the target, and sometimes an address and a photograph. Police stations are then notified to ensure that police officers are slow to respond, enabling the death squad members to escape the crime scene, even when they commit killings near a police station.”

The Human Rights Watch Report also revealed the modus operandi:

 “Our research found that the killings follow a pattern. The assailants usually arrive in twos or threes on a motorcycle without a license plate. They wear baseball caps and buttoned shirts or jackets, apparently to conceal their weapons underneath. They shoot or, increasingly, stab their victim without warning, often in broad daylight and in presence of multiple eyewitnesses, for whom they show little regard. And as quickly as they arrive, they ride off—but almost always before the police appear.”

They deserved to die.” This is what Mayor Duterte said while denying involvement in these extrajudicial killings. At one time, he read a list in his TV program.  A few weeks later many of those in the list were killed by the DDS.

They deserve to die.” This is also the attitude of many residents of the city towards the victims of the DDS. This shows who are behind them and why there has been little outcry regarding these mass murders.

             It appears that the DDS killings are the center-piece of Mayor  Duterte’s campaign against criminality in Davao City. To fight against criminality, you simply kill the criminals through extra-judicial executions carried out by the DDS. No need to arrest them, put them on trial and imprison them if proven guilty. No need for due process of the law. Criminals do not have rights – that is a western concept. For criminals there can only be one punishment – death. It doesn’t matter if you are a petty criminal – even if you are only a drug addict or pusher or cell-phone snatcher, you deserve to die. The killings are meant to be a deterrent to crime - to instill fear on everyone so that they will stop committing crime. According to Human Rights Watch Report:

“The continued death squad operation reflects an official mindset in which the ends are seen as justifying the means. The motive appears to be simple expedience: courts are viewed as slow or inept. The murder of criminal suspects is seen as easier and faster than proper law enforcement. Official tolerance and support of targeted killing of suspected criminals promotes rather than curbs the culture of violence that has long plagued Davao City and other places where such killings occur.”

             It has been very difficult to speak out against these extrajudicial killings because majority of the people in Davao support these.  The archdiocese of Davao under the leadership of Archbishop Fernando Capalla came out with a pastoral letter: “Thou Shalt Not Kill” and held several prayer vigils. We were a minority -  a small voice whose cry in the wilderness was drowned out by the applause of the majority. The blood of 1,424 victims of the DDS was the price that was paid so that there could be peace and order – so that all can walk at night without fear. This was the peace of the cemetery, an order maintained by death squads – by criminals.
            And the mass murder continues and there will be more blood spilled – not just in Davao but the entire Philippines. Mayor Duterte promised that if elected “the 1,000 will become 100,000.” He declared that “it will be bloody.” He said there will be” no need for more jails -- just funeral parlors.” He promised to “eliminate criminality in the entire country within 3-6 months.” How will he do it? The answer is what happened in Davao – through the DDS under the direction of many police officers who deny their existence, with the financial support coming from businessmen and also drawn from the government coffers.

           “I’m willing to go to hell, as long as the people I serve live in paradise.” Is this an admission on the part of Mayor Duterte  that what he has done is a grave sin against God that could someday earn him divine punishment?

Is Davao a paradise after 18 years of DDS extrajudicial killings? Has criminality been eradicated? According to the data from PNP covering 2010-2015, out of 15 chartered cities Davao was fourth in terms of Total Index of Crimes: 37,797 incidents.  In terms of murder, Davao was no. 1 (1,032 incidents) and in terms of rape Davao was no. 2 (843 incidents).  This report gives the impression that in Davao you can be murdered and raped any time. Murder is not really that bad if the DDS and the Mayor can do it. Rape is not really that bad if the Mayor can callously joke about it, wishing he was the first in line when he heard that a hostage – an Australian Lay Missionary - was raped.
Meanwhile, the families of victims cry out for justice as the DDS continue their killing spree. The national government has failed to address this mass murder that could soon multiply many times over, God forbid.      

If the DDS is not stopped and those behind it is not held accountable, there will be a national bloodbath. Those who support it and allow it to multiply will have blood in their hands – they will be accomplices to mass murder. The one who orders this is a mass murderer – the biggest Criminal of them all. 
If it is alright to kill suspected criminals – who can stop any one from taking the law into their own hands? Anyone can become judge and executioner – not only the police and public officials. Anyone can form their own vigilante groups. There won’t be any need for prisons or lawyers or judges. There won’t be any peace, no order as long and human rights and the rule of law are disregarded. Meanwhile, the big criminals, the big thieves and murderers will continue to rule the land. If it is o.k. to kill criminals,  who can prevent anyone from killing the biggest Criminal of them all?
It could be chaotic. We could be entering another dark period of our history -- like the dictatorial period in the past or worst.  

Al Jazeera Documentary on DDS

Friday, April 08, 2016

Merciful Leaders: Criteria for Elections in the Year of Mercy

(This is my article for my column which will be published in the CBCP Monitor)

Merciful Leaders: Criteria for Elections in the Year of Mercy

As the national and local elections draw near the question that everyone is asking: “who should I vote for?” It is not for the  clergy to dictate to the faithful who to vote for but we can only provide some guidelines that can help them make up their mind. The CBCP in previous elections came out with such guidelines which remain valid at this time. All that one needs to do is to review and follow what has already been laid down.

Since this year has been declared by Pope Francis as the Year of Mercy, it would be appropriate to emphasize “mercy” as one of the chief qualities that we have to expect from the politicians we should vote for.

What does it mean for leaders to be merciful?

It means being aware and concerned about the situation of the people – their suffering and pain. Since majority of the people are poor, their main concern is how to alleviate their poverty. They take the side of the poor. They are concerned about their hunger, their hopes and their dreams. They make sure that the economy excludes no one and benefits the majority instead of just enriching the big capitalists and foreign corporations.

Merciful leaders are concerned about the destruction of the environment and its effect on the people. They are concerned about the effects of mining on the farmers, fishermen and the indigenous peoples. They know that coal-fired power plants contribute to global warming and the coal mining is the most destructive form of mining. They know that logging and deforestation causes floods, droughts and global warming. They avoid getting involved in these activities and will do all in their power to put a stop to these activities and come up with policies that will save the environment and mitigate climate change as well as promote disaster risk reduction and management.

Merciful leaders are concerned about the effects of the never ending war on the nation. They know the effect of the spiral of violence on a traumatized people. They know how armed conflict prevents economic development. Thus, they go out of their way to build peace – a peace that addresses the roots of conflict and that leads to healing and reconciliation. They are willing to pursue the peace process with both the MILF and the NDF that will ensure a genuine and lasting peace.

Merciful leaders are not corrupt and do not tolerate corruption. They know that corruption perpetuates poverty, war and the destruction of the environment. They will do everything to stamp out corruption at all levels in government and hold accountable those guilty of corruption.

Merciful leaders are concerned about criminality and do their best to make sure that justice prevails. They make sure that those who have committed crimes are prosecuted and meted appropriate punishment. They respect the rights of people – even those accused of crimes – and follow the due process of the law. They avoid shortcuts and do not promote extra-judicial killings. They believe that even if people make mistakes, commit sin, or do terrible things no one is totally evil and beyond redemption. They deserve to be given another chance. Thus, they reject capital punishment and promote restorative justice.

Merciful leaders respect the basic human rights – especially the right to life - of everyone from the moment of conception to its natural end. They are merciful especially to the weakest – the unborn – and will make sure that their rights are respected. They will never allow abortion. They are merciful to the elderly and make sure that their rights and privileges are respected. They will make sure that the family will always be protected. Mercy should not be selective nor should it discriminate. It should be inclusive.

There are many people who clamor for strong leaders who they think can stop criminality, corruption and all forms of evil in society. They want leaders who can instill discipline among the citizens with an iron hand. They want ruthless leaders. For them being merciful is a sign of weakness. But what happens when leaders lack mercy? We can end up with a society where terror reigns, where dead bodies pile up and human rights are violated, where due process and the rule of law are ignored. It will be a repressive society - without freedom and where people are afraid to criticize the powers that be -- otherwise they too could be assassinated. Instead of peace and order, we will have the peace of the cemetery and a semblance of order maintained by ruthless bigger criminals.  Meanwhile, the vast majority remains poor and their children who have gone astray are mostly the victims of death squads. The big criminals – big time thieves and murderers -- are at large and hold office: the politicians who steal millions of the people’s money and responsible for the death of thousands.

Tough and ruthless leaders have emerged at various times in the past with disastrous results. We have to say: NEVER AGAIN!  No to ruthless leaders. Yes to merciful and compassionate leaders.