The first question is one of ethics. Ethics, for beginners, refers to the rightness or wrongness of a human act. Human act is one performed with the aid of will and reason, as distinguished from the involuntary act of man, like talking in one’s sleep or sleepwalking. Now, is it all right for the President to believe that a former justice secretary-now senator is carrying on with her driver and that the two had been protecting certain parties involved in the traffic of illegal drugs? If he is convinced of the evidence, he cannot be faulted if he so believes. But is it all right for him to publicly denounce the allegedly immoral relationship and the alleged criminal partnership, instead of having them charged in court for their alleged crime? This is what many are still trying to figure out.
De Lima in pictures
Front-page newspapers photos have since captured the lady in a bathing suit, surrounded by her “bodyguards” in some rustic resort. These seemed to document the lady’s “closeness” to her driver-bodyguard, which she had already admitted. There was nothing in the photos though, which would prompt an Italian paparazzo to proudly claim them as his work. But the mere fact of publishing the photos, complained a young reader, was offensive enough; it violated her sense of aesthetics, not just her sense of ethics, she said.
She was not complaining that the lady had made no effort to look like a Dior cosmetic model before being photographed. Rather she was complaining that through those cheap photos the lady’s accusers had lowered the moral quality and tone of the ongoing public debate on a very serious subject. The greater danger, this young person pointed out, was no longer posed by illegal drugs, but by the entire society losing its grip on the value of human life. If the State had to wage a war to save lives, should human life be the first casualty in it?, she asked.
I found this insight from a very young person utterly provocative. I could not quite dissuade her from insisting that the high moral plane had become too high and unreachable for those who seemed to believe that, as happened during the Reign of Terror in France, criminal suspects could be, and should be, eliminated without due process. And she expected this issue to explode at the opening of Sen. Leila de Lima’s hearing in the Senate.
A refreshingly fair hearing
Well, it didn’t. The hearing opened as scheduled, and de Lima, as chair of the Justice and Human Rights committee, conducted herself in a professional manner without any tinge of acrimony against President Duterte, despite their recent bitter exchange. It was refreshingly fair. The only notable reservation about the hearing was expressed by Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former chief of the Philippine National Police and chair of the secondary committee, the Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, who feared the hearing could have a negative impact on the morale of the police involved in the war on drugs.
De Lima took note of Lacson’s reservation but proceeded nevertheless, pointing out that the inquiry was meant not to stop the fight against drug abuse but simply to make sure that it is not used as an excuse to violate human rights. Under the Senate rules, the lead committee controls the proceedings. The hearing resumed yesterday after this column was written.
Reconciling DU30 and de Lima
Despite the DU30-de Lima imbroglio, many are hoping the protagonists could settle their “personal differences” in peace. Qualified sources said the idea had been broached to the President and that he was not hostile to it. A private meeting was suggested for today, but ran into some technical problem, the sources said. However, the problem is believed to be temporary.
One thing going for a possible rapprochement, according to them, has to do with the ongoing peace talks between the government and the CPP/NPA/NDF in Oslo. De Lima is a blood relative of Mrs. Juliet de Lima Sison, wife of Jose Maria Sison, the founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines and current adviser to the National Democratic Front in the peace talks. DU30 would very much like the talks to succeed, and making peace with de Lima could very well become part of his confidence-building measures with his former college professor, and the CPP/NPA/NDF.
Quitting the United Nations?
A quieting down of the DU30- de Lima conflict could lead to a “recalculation” of the President’s recent statements against critics of the spate of extrajudicial killings, including the United Nations.
Stung by calls from some UN bureaucrats to end the killings, DU30 has struck back by calling the UN a “useless” organization and threatening to terminate Philippine membership in the world body.
No serious Filipino observer has taken this threat seriously, but it obviously created its own sensation in the foreign media and in UN circles.
Not only is the Philippines a founding member of the UN in 1945; one of its early statesmen Gen. Carlos P. Romulo (1899-1985) became president of the UN General Assembly in 1949 and of the UN Security Council four times (twice in 1957, then in 1980 and 1981). CPR was one of Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt’s active collaborators in framing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The only other name that left its mark from that select circle was that of the Lebanese philosopher and Ambassador Charles Malik, who was the real brains behind the Declaration.
As Professor Mary Ann Glendon narrates it in her book, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Romulo became a good friend of Malik’s. This was confirmed to me in my personal conversations with Malik’s son, Prof. Habib Malik, with whom I used to sit on the international advisory board of World Youth Alliance in New York. The Philippines has such an investment in the UN’s fight for the freedom of peoples around the world and for international peace that many Filipinos could not believe their ears when they heard DU30’s threat to bolt the UN.
Filipinos in the UN
At least a full one-third of the UN secretarial and administrative staff are Filipinos. Were all of them to walk out of their offices, the UN would shut down. Except for B. S. Aquino 3rd who had a stand-up hotdog lunch on a street corner outside the UN Headquarters building, but avoided the Filipino staff on his first visit to the UN, every Philippine President who came to the UN would devote an hour or longer to be with the Filipino employees.
In 1980-81, Rafael M. Salas (1928-1987), the first Executive Director of the UN Population Fund, was mooted as a possible UN Secretary General to succeed Kurt Waldheim of Austria whose term was ending in 1981. But Salas, who had been Marcos’ executive secretary from 1966 but left the country after a falling-out with the President on the eve of the senatorial election in which he had wanted to run, failed to be nominated by his own government, despite the reported readiness of most of the Permanent Five members of the Security Council (US, UK, France, Soviet Union and China) to support his bid. He—not the present Ban Ki-Moon of South Korea—would have become the second Asian to lead the UN after U Thant of Burma who served from 1961 to 1971. The UN elected Peru’s Javier Perez de Cuellar instead, who served until 1991.
Siazon at UNIDO
A number of Filipinos have risen high in the UN system. The late former Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon Jr. (1939-2016), who died in Tokyo earlier this year, had served as Director-General of the UN Industrial Development Organization from 1985 to 1992, before he became the 18th foreign secretary under President Ramos. Officials of the Philippine Commission on Audit have also been elected to examine the books of the UN, showing that no auditors are without honor except in their own country.
Renunciation of UN membership means getting out of the international system and pursuing a course of total isolation. No country has ever done it; it is completely unthinkable. On the other hand, the few non-member states will probably do anything to become full members. These include the Vatican city-state which, because of its unique status and tiny population, is a permanent observer state but not a full member; Palestine, which remains a non-member state because it lacks support in the Security Council; Taiwan, which remains part of the People’s Republic of China under the One-China policy; Kosovo, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Sahwari Arab Democratic Republic, which are partially recognized and have not really insisted on seeking membership.
A chance to reconsider
DU30 has since corrected himself, and withdrawn his threat through Foreign Secretary Perfect Yasay Jr., who said that while the President was “disappointed” with the UN, he had no real intention of withdrawing from the world organization. It is not clear, though, whether this means the UN would now be allowed to inquire into the killings as earlier requested by the Rapporteur on Summary Executions. But it certainly affords DU30 a fresh opportunity to reconsider his position on the whole issue of extrajudicial killings. It is not too late to backtrack on his methods, without necessarily abandoning his ‘war.’ This could stop all speculations that the country has entered the equivalent of the “Reign of Terror” during the French revolution.
It would also give him the chance to raise the quality and level of public conversation across the nation. Since July 1, the history of his first 50 days in office has been written in one running headline about police killings of suspected drug runners in slippers and about his verbal attacks on the most “benign” personalities and institutions—one supposedly gay foreign ambassador, two women officials of the government, the Catholic Church, the media, and the UN. The nation has to have a little more sunlight and breathe some fresh air.
Life in an open society is best lived, in purely secular terms, in search of beauty and meaning. The true and the good make for the beautiful. If we cannot avoid the morally impermissible, we should at least strive to associate ourselves with the aesthetically suitable. Dostoevsky has argued that beauty will save the world, and Victor Frankl has taught us to imitate his own search for meaning. In all of this, the State must be a faithful partner of the citizen. But the mantle of violence and ugliness that now shrouds the nation will prevent this from happening. This must give way to something more humanly fulfilling. This is what people expect when they hear DU30’s promise that “change is coming.” Otherwise, they might simply respond, “Keep the change.”