LAST week President Rodrigo Duterte was caught telling a brazen lie. He had accused Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th of hiding unexplained wealth in foreign bank accounts. When the claim was disproven, Duterte resorted to puerile and preposterous excuses. He called his lie an “invention” and mocked the senator for falling for his “trap”. Unfazed, Trillanes is now suing radio broadcaster Erwin Tulfo, Palace communications assistant secretary Mocha Uson, and Davao broadcaster Ben Tesiorna, for libel. It would be good to see a blow struck against those who peddle fake news.
But these are perilous times forcrusaderson the side of truth. Big lies and deafening silences are killing civilized discourse in our country. They are also killing people.
It’s a truism to say that politicians lie. Spinning the truth, partisanship, partiality to kith, kin and province, all these generate and breed dishonesty in one form or another. Whether we like it or not, this is the staple fodder of everyday political life, everywhere, not just in the Philippines.
Duterte’s lies are of a different order. First, they are backed up by the full weight of executive power. Second, they are spread, like a disease, by his cheerleaders, sycophants, andattack dogs. Third, they intimidate, instill fear, and sow terror. Fourth, and most dangerous of all, they demonstrate his unquestionable power.
Duterte wants us to believe that he is being patrioticwhen he insults leaders of Western democracies. He pretends that the United Nations arbitration ruling on the Philippines’ claim to sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea is unimportant.He wants us to believe that loans from China will bring about development and prosperity. He wants us to believe that he can eradicate terrorism in Mindanao by razing cities to the ground, bombing mosques and Islamic schools. He wants us to believe that he can end the communist insurgencyand crafta fair and just peace byfitful stop-start negotiations and fickle alternations between chumminess and bullying. He wants us to believe that anyone who questions, criticizes, or opposes his administration and policies is destabilizing a legitimately elected government. These are big lies.
However, withoutdoubt, his biggest big-time lie is his war on drugs.
When he says that the country is in the grip of 3, nay 4, millioncrazed drug addicts, he is lying. When he says that killing is good for the country and necessary to save the next generation of Filipinos, he is lying. When he justifies the killings by saying that drug addicts have no humanity, and shrugs off the murder of children—now more than 50—as merely “collateral damage,”he is lying.
The President has been likened to one of those banter-loving, good-humored but foul-mouthed elderly male relatives who bring zest and embarrassment to family gatherings. Some have said that in private Duterte is polite and thoughtful, a far cry from his abrasive public persona. He is a good talker. He is charismatic. His swearing, chauvinism, and misogynistic jokes, are liked by many and tolerated by many more. Time and again, he has been let off the hook when he jokes about the raping of women.
But are we willing to excuse his silences?
Hissilences are menacing. When confessed hit man Edgar Matobato testified in the Senate last year, and talked about his role in the Davao Death Squads that terrorized Davao and killed over 1,000 people while Duterte was mayor, Duterte said nothing. When former police officer and assassin Arturo Lascañas later corroborated Matobato’s claims and asserted, unequivocally, that Duterte had ordered him to “go after and kill his personal and political enemies” and was paid for doing so, indeed rewarded handsomely, and that on these instructions Lascañas had slaughtered many men and women, still Duterte said nothing. His silence was abetted by law-makers who abruptly put an end to the investigations, dismissed the testimonies, and allowed Sen. Leila de Lima who chaired the probe, to be slandered, publicly humiliated, and ignominiously carted off to jail.
The President’s current anti-drug war has claimed the lives of thousands. These souls were largely lowly folk, butprovincial doctors, journalists, and environmental lawyers have also been murdered. In fact, more citizens have been extra-judicially killed underDuterte than under any other peacetime president of this country.
Calls to seriously investigate extra-judicial killings have been met withsilence. As yet, Duterte has stubbornly refused to offer an official invitation to the UN Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial and summary executions to visit the Philippines and talk to the victims’ families.
Last May, the Bureau of Customs seized P6.4 billion worth of shabu. The smuggled haul is thought to be the largest in the country’s history. Only one man has been detained—the poor caretaker of the rented warehouse where the shipment was found, an arguably inconsequential figure who may not at all be part of the complex smuggling networkthat spans Manila, Davao and China.Such a spectacular bust elicited no reaction from Duterte. When it transpired that millions of pesos worth of shabu had gone missing while in custody, most likely skimmed off from the haul, still Duterte said nothing.
When his eldest son, Paolo, and his son-in-law, Mans Carpio, and their alleged Chinese associates, many of whom are known to the President, were implicated in the drugs smuggling operations, Duterte kept silent.He advised his son and son-in-law to do the same when both were recently requested to appear before the Senate committee investigating the shipment. Even now, as news of more smuggled shabu shipments are coming to light, amounting in total to an incredible P28.9 billion, the first known to have arrived in June 2016, the month Duterte assumed the presidency and launched his drug war, Duterte has kept silent. Magdalo party-list congressman Gary Alejano has called the silence “suspicious.”
It’s a good word but doesn’t quite convey the full horror, invidiousness and insult of the big lies and shameful silences.