IF extra-judicial killing, fake news and lying have become state policies, and President Rodrigo Duterte is determined to impose them in the name of autocratic power, what kind of country have we become, and what kind of values are we prepared to pass on, if any, to the next generation? Is it necessary to make a moral shipwreck of the Filipino nation just to allow the self-made autocrat to write off his eldest son’s alleged involvement in the Chinese illegal drugs trade, and shoehorn his daughter Sara into high office as the next social media-elected president?
These questions are not so much for the President as they are for the Filipinos.
On the extra-judicial drug killings. During the last Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the DU30 government received 257 recommendations aimed at helping end the human rights abuses in its murderous war on drugs. The government rejected everything, saying there are no human rights abuses in the Philippines.
Recommendations for DU30
Peru had recommended that the DU30 government “cooperate with special procedures” by extending a standing invitation to Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial executions, to visit the Philippines.
Ghana, Hungary and others recommended that the government give the Rapporteur free access to all human rights cases, free of any condition that might impair her impartiality or credibilty.
Various Philippine Churches have denounced the killings, demanding an end to them, while supporting the fight against drug abuse, and calling for the rehabilitation rather than death of its victims. Instead of stopping the killings and investigating compelling evidence of police culpability for them, as Human Rights Watch complains in a statement, DU30 has sustained a “campaign of vilification and harassment against individuals and institutions pursuing accountability for the killings”.
Unnamed priests and bishops have been slandered with blanket accusations of unsubstantiated immoral behavior, and the chairman of the Commission on Human Rights has been branded a “gay” and a “pedophile”.
DU30 has questioned the right of outsiders, including the UN, to inquire into human rights abuses under his watch. So he has slammed foreign dignitaries for raising any questions about hman rights. These include former US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg, former US President Barack Obama, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, leaders of the European Union, and Agnes Callamard.
Archbishop Soc and Bishop Ambo
Happily, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, has proved to have been made of sterner stuff. He refused to be intimidated by DU30’s shaming tactic even as a good number of his brethren decided not to wrestle with the foul-mouthed thug. But the cold-blooded police murder of the 17-year-old Caloocan student Kian Loyd de los Santos, as witnessed by so many outraged citizens, proved to be a turning point.
Led by Caloocan’s young Bishop Pablo Virgilio “Ambo” David, the whole Caloocan diocese has risen in protest against Kian’s murder and the 3,800 to 14,000 other killings. Numerous dioceses have joined in, and on September 21, representatives of several other churches walked with the Catholic clergy, religious and laity to denounce the extra-judicial killings. The religious sector has thus become the first moral and political front against the extra-judicial killings.
But DU30’s response to all this has been deceptive rather than forthright, according to highly informed sources.
In one spectacular announcement, Malacanang tried to give the impression that as a result of Kian’s murder, the entire Caloocan police force would be overhauled. At least 1,000 policemen would be replaced by policemen from Davao City, the announcement said. But this is a false announcement, the sources said. Only 397 Caloocan policemen would be replaced, our sources said, and not because they had anything to do with Kian’s murder.
The proposed reshuffle has nothing to do with any disciplinary measure, according to our sources; it has more to do with DU30’s desire to create a blocking police force in Caloocan, which is a gateway to Manila from Bulacan and the rest of Central and Northern Luzon. The Davao policemen are presumed to be personally loyal to DU30 and to his daughter Sara, the mayor of Davao, whom he has already identified as his preferred successor. They would presumably be operating under Police Supt. Ali Jose Duterte, DU30’s nephew, who is the chief of the District Special Operations Unit, based in Caloocan.
Our sources believe that such a blocking force is needed, should DU30 decide to proclaim martial law nationwide, or a revolutionary government, after all, despite his earlier decision not to do so, upon the objection of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Gen. Ed Año, the Armed Forces Chief of Staff. Sources maintain that despite DU30’s decision, on September 21, not to proclaim martial law nationwide or a revolutionary government, one of his Cabinet members had documents prepared for either option, should the contingency arise.
Quest for power goes on
It appears that DU30’s search for extraordinary and non-accountable powers has not been fully mitigated; even the usually silent Cabinet Secretary cum National Democratic Front vice chairman Leoncio Evasco Jr. seems now eager to take part in the effort to justify it. Evasco, who runs the Office of the President and 18 or so agencies under it, has been quoted as saying that if martial law were evil, the Constitution would not have provided for it.
The formulation is absolutely correct. But martial law per se is not the problem; DU30’s flawed understanding of it is. Martial law is an optional constitutional response to an actual invasion or rebellion, when public safety requires it; it is not a response to a President’s personal desire to exercise extraordinary and inordinate powers without the extraordinary circumstances that necessitate it. It is meant to be a cure, not a disease.
Unfortunately, we can no longer rely on the President to tell us the truth. He will say anything he wants to say just to achieve his purpose. In the normal course of things, the citizens should be able to believe every word from their head of state. And even the most reprobate head of state knows it is a matter of the highest honor that he should not lie wantonly to the public. In DU30’s case, his demonstrated capacity to lie and to use fake news goes far beyond inventing false bank accounts in a Singapore bank, which he attributes to Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th.
Faking Amb. Haley
With his troll farms, led by one notorious pornographer who now handles DU30’s social media posts, moving around the UN headquarters while his common-law wife Honeylet Avanceña socializes with Mrs. Trump and the rich and famous in New York, is it purely coincidental that a fake news website should carry the outrageous fake news about US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reportedly speaking to the UN in his defense? As the intended beneficiary of the false remarks, what is his actual culpability in all this?
As a journalist for several decades, I find this knavery completely unacceptable because it violates all ethical norms of journalism and government. I am especially offended that it misled an honest and sincere columnist, a good friend and colleague Yen Makabenta, into taking what he had read in his “research” at “face value.”
Neither condoning nor condemning
I do not necessarily condone my friend’s unfortunate failure to verify the authenticity of the remarks attributed to Haley; he should have red-flagged himself the moment he saw the US ambassador speaking for DU30 rather than for Trump—this was a job for Ambassador Teddy Locsin or for Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano—and taking a position that was the exact opposite of her take on Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Vladimir Putin in Russia.
But I do not condemn the writer either. It could happen to the best of us. The writer had no ulterior motive; the mistake happened in good faith. The best way to explain it, though, is simply to say, “I goofed.” And let the real author of the crime—for it is a crime—take the rap.
It is reasonable to surmise that before the hoax was exposed, certain Malacañang operatives around the UN must have felt they had done DU30 a great service. They must have congratulated themselves for having “scored.” They did not; rather they buried DU30 in deep mud, from which he would have to extricate himself. It would be DU30’s fatal undoing if he did nothing to rid himself of those brainless characters who had thought DU30 would benefit from the fake news.
If it’s any consolation, DU30 is not the first president to attract characters of this sort. During martial law, a newspaperman who had been fired by his publisher for allowing a surrogate to cover a national political campaign in his name, while he played the casinos in Las Vegas where he ran up large gambling debts, tried to worm himself into the President’s office, by fabricating cheap, saucy stories about Marcos, which he then asked me, as Press Secretary, Information Minister and Presidential Spokesman, to release.
Early fake news
You might call these the first generation of fake news. I knew the stories were pure fabrications, and he knew that I knew, and therefore would not agree to having them released through my office. So he tried to strong-arm me by saying “they would make the President look good.” I stood my ground, so he asked one of the presidential assistants to clear the proposed stories with Marcos. When the President called to ask me what I thought about it, I said the stories had no factual bases, and the President could not dishonor himself or his office by being identified with falsehood.
I was not ready to become a Goebbels, I said; would he want to become a Fuhrer of the Fourth Reich? That was the end of it.
Or so I thought. The venal newspaperman came out with a book against the Marcoses, full of imaginary episodes, but not intended to make them look good. The book is not worth the paper it is printed on, in my view, but it continues to attract the curiosity of the gullible and ill-informed.
No incompetent praise
The point I’m trying to make here is simple enough. Every President would like to have a good public image. But that image must be based on reality. Someone in the Cabinet should be able to make sure the objective is achieved without injury to the facts. In 1972, at the onset of martial law, I asked the newspaper editors to suspend all opinion columns for a while until the columnists, who were all trying to be on the good side of Marcos, stopped trying to smother him with “incompetent praise”.
I said Marcos was not adverse to praise, but it should be grounded on facts. What he needed to hear most was what the people would like him to do, not any kind of cheap praise. This became the basis of Marcos’s honest relationship with both local and international press. There was no room in it for fake news, and it was my pleasure to help carry that relationship forward for 10 long years. DU30 needs someone competent and trustworthy to do this job.
CORRECTION: In my Monday column (The opposition is here…MT, September 25, 2017), the most important negative NOT was inadvertently omitted in the sentence, “We also, NOT the hierarchy, must provide the real opposition to despotic rule.” Apologies.