By Marivir R. Montebon
Given the magnitude of the killings, and the seeming dysfunction of the systems of government, the people and the international community must put pressure that these killings must stop. – Phelim Kine, Human Rights Watch
New York City – The first Community Kapihan of the Fil-Am Press Club of New York (FAPCNY) brought a tough question on the table: “How do you protect human rights in the Philippines?” to kick start 2018. Phelim Kine, deputy director for Asia of the Human Rights Watch and Fr. Albert Alejo, SJ tackled the question along with Olivia Canlas, Esq. as a responder.
There was not an easy and quick answer to that during the two-hour forum, hosted by FAPCNY vice president Cristina DC Pastor and Noel Pangilinan of the Asian American Writers Workshop. About 50 participants attended the Kapihan at the conference room of the National Writers Union in mid-Manhattan on Monday, January 22, 2018. FAPCNY organized the forum in partnership with the feminist organization AF3IRM.
Kine said the extra-judicial killings in the Philippines have become so staggering in such a short span of time, placing it in alongside troubled countries like Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and Yemen. “There is a triple human rights calamity,” he said, and it looks like it won’t stop anytime soon.
The HRW estimated that the unabated killings have reached 12,000, mostly targeting poor individuals who are either suspected addicts or small peddlers. Kine added that with a generally corrupt police department and a dysfunctional government to prosecute assailants, Pres. Duterte’s war on drugs may not actually solve the problem.
Kine added that there is a “disconnect” between the brutal bloodshed and the popularity of Pres. Duterte.
Fr. Alejo, currently a visiting professor of ethnography at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, said extra-judicial killings in the Philippines is not an isolated case in the Duterte presidency, who continues to enjoy high approval rating. Although it has become pronounced now, extra-judicial killings date back to the time of Pres. Marcos and subsequent presidents. He however emphasized that the ‘model’ at which how Duterte “cleansed” Davao City (where he served as mayor for 30 years) from various armed groups and bandits has been implemented on a national scale, hence the magnitude of the mob-type operations.
There is no one single analysis as to the cause of the disturbing realities of our society, Alejo said. “I invite everyone to analyze reality using various perspectives: history, politics, economy, and culture.”
Someone from the audience said, “Does the society have a battered woman syndrome, who loves her abuser despite the abuses?” Alejo added that “we also consider looking at dark psychology (of leadership) and look into layers and layers of hurt, fear, and distrust experienced by the people, hence they would look at someone who could represent their aspirations.”
“People are wary of violence perpetrated by the military, the police, armed groups, and the NPA. Let us all be truthful here,” he said when asked to comment about Duterte’s intensified ‘fascist’ rule and open allegiance to China.
AF3IRM co-founder Ninotchka Rosca had often noted that in the geopolitical context, realities in the Philippines is contrived in order to consolidate local political blocks.
The Kapihan seemed to wind down in deep sadness for the audience. Olivia Canlas said, quoting a New York Times article, to “enhale courage and exhale fear” in order to persist in protecting human rights.
Kine noted that the international community, through the United Nations, for instance, could call on the Duterte government to stop extra-judicial killings. Given the magnitude of the killings, and the seeming dysfunction of the systems of government in the judicial and legislative branches, the people and the international community must put pressure that these killings must stop, he emphasized.
OSM! blogger Vanette Colmenares asked if federalism, which is being tackled right now by Congress, would be a way to solve the ‘dysfunction of government systems’, Alejo said that federalism is only theoretically attractive but has failed in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao and the Cordillera Autonomous Region. “So why would we apply that in the entire country?,” he queried.
Boyet Loverita, photo-journalist of the GMA Network, noted that national Police chief Gen. Ronald dela Rosa said in his recent interview that government will now change its shoot to kill policy and intensify the drive to clean up the ranks of police. Alejo responded positively by saying that is a welcome development from the police. “In fact, cleaning up the police of scalawags must have been done before this drug war campaign,” he said.
(Featured photo: L-R: Fr. Albert Alejo, SJ, Phelim Kine, and Olivia Canlas, Esq. Photos from Leani Auxilio, Lambert Parong, and Momar Visaya)