The sight of Filipino fishermen fishing again in Scarborough Shoal while the Chinese Coast Guard stays out of their hair is a welcome sign that Philippine-Chinese relations are on the way back to normalcy following President Duterte’s four-day state visit to Beijing. The maritime dispute over the area remains, but the disputants are now able to reach out to each other without any unnecessary philippics or incident. This is a genuine first step to build upon. It is hoped that the two parties could now begin to work earnestly together toward a just and lasting settlement of their maritime territorial dispute according to international law.
As important as looking after its newly recharged relations with China, the DU30 government must now try to improve its ties with the United States, which have taken a severe beating these last four months. DU30 has to scale down his anti-American rhetoric after President Barack Obama leaves the White House and a new president takes over on January 20, 2017. It would be most desirable if DU30 and Obama could patch up their disagreement when they meet at the APEC summit in Peru this month. This would be one way of ushering in a “new beginning” for Philippine-US relations. The new US President would most certainly benefit from such a gesture, even though he or she may not take a drastically different view of the extrajudicial killings in DU30’s counter-narcotics war.
Whatever his or her position on the killings, the next US President may want to engage DU30 in a sober and elevated conversation that would allow them to see human rights and the rule of law as a global political ethos that allows no government to kill any individual without due process and claim that it is its own internal affair, which does not concern the rest of humanity. DU30 will have to admit that his use of foul language to respond to veiled criticisms from President Obama, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and the European Union has not absolved him or his government of the charge of violating the human rights of drug suspects, now numbering 4,000 plus.
DU30’s accusation that US renegade policemen commit similar, if not worse crimes—-by shooting to death black men who are already lying flat on the ground—-even if true, does not justify the killing of mere drug suspects by a government determined to eliminate drugs. Indeed, these crimes also happen in the US, but as soon as they happen, the assailant is hunted, arrested, prosecuted and punished, instead of being praised and honored by higher authorities. So the crime situation there is not a copy of what it is here. But the root of DU30’s problem goes beyond what is visible to the police reporter or mortician——it goes deep into the recesses of the human mind and the human heart, and reveals our wretched understanding of what human rights are.
What are human rights
Human rights refer to the rights of man qua man, whether he is the citizen of a constitutional democracy or the subject of an absolute dictatorship. They are rights conferred upon him by his nature, as man, rather than by his political status as a citizen, or his social or economic status as a farmer, landlord, journalist or politician. But they do not exist in a cultural or institutional void, as Martin Rhonheimer, the professor of ethics and political philosophy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, tells us. Rhonheimmer is a (for me, the) leading Christian philosopher of our day. So I will draw (plagiarize) heavily from his book, The Common Good of Constitutional Democracy, in this piece.
Human rights, Rhonheimer writes, are the expression of a political culture that exists in a constitutional democracy—limited government based on democratic institutions of representations or ‘tamed democracy’. It is characterized by the following:
“he ‘rule of law,’ that is, the submission of governing power to the law;
the guarantee of fundamental freedoms, along with security, autonomy, and individual responsibility, to all citizens;
the impartiality of judges and justice, such that the rules established by law are respected (which are, above all, rules of procedure, such as the Latin adage nulla poena sine lege, or ‘no penalty without a law);
parliamentary representation decided through elections, accompanied by universal suffrage and secret balloting;
majority rule, along with protection of minorities; freedom of religion and a corresponding freedom from prejudice;
the right to solidarity with others, exercised through a public authority according to the principle of subsidiarity, so that the support necessary to enjoy one’s rights, freedoms, and responsibility is available.”
Christian anthropology, the philosopher continues, has delivered to Western tradition the notion of man’s creation in the image of God. This tradition has fused with the legal tradition of Roman law, which in turn formed canon law, one of the sources of the modern notion of the sovereign state. But neither Christianity alone nor the Christian civilization of the Middle Ages has created what we might call a political culture of human rights. This we owe more to the sovereign modern state, whose essential function was to ensure peace and to make a shared life possible for individuals who were profoundly divided in terms of religion and ideology.
This modern political ethos thus became—which was new—an ethos of peace. In the 16th century, it affirmed the primacy of peace and of the measures that secured it over the public recognition of moral and religious truth. This became the precursor of the ethos of liberty. The call for freedom rose against the abuse of power in the sovereign state, whose arbitrary power soon superseded individual rights and turned individuals into instruments of its own functioning.
The liberal construction
This led liberal constitutionalists to assert the priority of freedom and the rights of the individual over those of the state. Consequently, the economy organized by the state and for the state was overtaken by the idea that the wealth of nations consisted not in the accumulation of riches by the state, but in the work of individuals and in the free exchange of products on the market.
The ethos of freedom and the sovereignty of law over power—-the rule of law—-was thus institutionalized. But since liberal freedom did not result in freedom for everyone, a redistribution of liberty was needed, leading to an ethos of justice, which was also an ethos of equality and solidarity, although qualified and not necessarily egalitarian. This profoundly shaped the modern conception of human rights. It transformed the language of rights into an institutionalized system of fundamental rights owed to each citizen, which translated into a network not only of rights but also of obligations and duties.
Human rights thus became the ideology of the modern democratic constitutional state, in which power submits to law, the freedom of each individual is respected, participation in political affairs is guaranteed, and solidarity is enjoyed. Human rights instantiate moral criticism of the whole political world. It is against this standard that every constitutional state must stand up to the rest of the civilized world.
No President of a constitutional republican and democratic state can say, “what I do to my people inside my country is solely and strictly my own sovereign business,” especially, if the government of that country had any role to play in the establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly at Palais de Chaillot in Paris on Dec. 10, 1948, or is a signatory to the 2002 multilateral treaty called the Rome Statute, which is the foundational and governing document of the International Criminal Court at the Hague. The ICC has jurisdiction over the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by individuals.
Answering critics with right arguments
Given this, accusations of extrajudicial killings in DU30’s drug war have to be met with firm efforts to show that no such killings are taking place, but that they are mere figments of the fertile imagination of critics. No need to defile the air and the media environment with saucy invectives and profane language. Incredible as it may seem, there are still some people who quote Scripture to proclaim that DU30 has nothing to do with the 4,000 or so drug suspects who have been killed without due process.
One reader complains I was “insinuating” in my last column that DU30’s worst offense was not his cursing, which God allegedly asked him to stop during their alleged conversation in midair, but his drug killing, which did not figure in his alleged locution. I’m sorry, I did not only insinuate, but rather restated boldly what DU30 himself had so proudly proclaimed several times. But apparently the poor fellow never heard about it at all. Now, if DU30 could assemble people like this into an army of apologists, then perhaps the entire narrative on the drug killings would change.
Need for a balanced debate
But I am more interested in seeing a more balanced debate on human rights between DU30 on the one hand and the US State Department, the EU and the UN on the other. He does not have to talk of lawless policemen killing blacks in the US or of Filipino Muslims being killed by US colonial troops during the Philippine-American war. He only has to talk of the millions of unborn children being killed in their mothers’ wombs from Europe to the US, with the official blessings of the State, and of the efforts of the UN to compel developing countries to change their laws against abortion, in the name of LGBT rights.
The trouble, however, is that despite DU30’s profuse protestations of wanting to pursue an “independent foreign policy” vis-a-vis the US, he and his harebrained advisers are bent on adopting Western-inspired population control measures that are meant to kill millions of Filipinos even before they are born and enter the illegal drugs trade. Thus, those who are spared from Police Chief Bato’s minions and vigilantes are certain to be vaporized by Secretary Hernia’s depopulation policies. DU30’s human rights woes principally spring from human wrongs—they are all self-inflicted.