THE heads of state and government at the Asean summit in Vientiane last week were most likely awed when they read of how President Rodrigo Duterte had reportedly referred to US President Obama and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his press conferences at home.
They were most likely even more shocked when DU30 dusted up the records of the US colonization of the Philippines and showed them proof of the “forgotten massacre” of the Tausugs by American soldiers in Sulu in March 1906. The shock could not have been less if DU30 had recycled pictures of comfort women in the employ of the Japanese imperial army, or men, women and children hanging on trees after having been bayoneted by the Japanese soldiers during their occupation of the Philippines.
The Asean heads could not have been more shocked if, for any particular reason, the South Vietnamese President, rather than DU30, had recycled an old photo of Maj. Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, the police chief of Saigon, executing a handcuffed Vietcong on Feb. 1, 1968. Likewise, if it had been a photo of the My Lai massacre on March 16, 1968, in which 347 to 504 unarmed civilians in the hamlet of My Lai in the northern part of South Vietnam were killed by soldiers of the Charlie company, a unit of the 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade of the 23rd Infantry Division of the US Army, on a search and destroy operation against the 48th battalion of the “Vietcong.”
The right thing at the wrong forum
These are photos that should never be expunged from our own “holocaust museums” where we proclaim “nie wieder!” (never again!) not only in stone, metal or paper, but in the living memory, which we transmit from one generation to another. DU30 is historically correct, as far as the facts are concerned, but whether raising the issue at the summit and for the reason he was raising it is the question. The question is not whether we should forget any of these past atrocities, but whether any government should be free to violate the rights of its own people, and bar others from denouncing its violations just because it is independent and sovereign, and what it does to its own people is its own sovereign affair, while those who object have committed the same, if not worse, crimes against their own as well as other peoples.
This is not just a matter of the moral law, it is also a matter of the Constitution. The Bill of Rights provides that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.” If the charge, therefore, is that the war on drugs, which is a legitimate action of the State, has killed and continues to kill mere drug suspects without due process, in violation of the rule of law and human rights, this should be answered frontally and shown to be without basis and utterly false. DU30 should be able to show that “no one has ever been denied the protection of the rule of law and human rights.”
The answer cannot be, “Look, who’s talking, this is a President whose government had slaughtered Indians, African slaves, and Filipinos, atom-bombed the Japanese, napalmed the Vietnamese, waterboarded al Qaeda detainees, used drones to kill Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, etc. What right has he got to say anything to us about due process and human rights? And what right has this fellow at the UN to be lecturing us on human rights when he cannot even fix the problems in the Middle East?”
The bigger human question
But this is what DU30 has said in relation to the interest expressed by Obama and Ban Ki-Moon. “I am the President of the Philippines, and I answer to the Filipino people alone. Anything and everything I do in my country is the exclusive and internal business of the State and does not concern anybody else.” Indeed, this statement is correct, but only up to a certain extent. We are not just Filipinos, we belong to one international community, one human race. Under its Declaration of Principles and State Policies, the Philippines “adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land and adheres to the policy of peace, equality, justice, freedom, cooperation, and amity with all nations.”
This means that although the State cannot be held accountable in any external forum for anything it does to its citizens within the framework of law and the Constitution, it must answer to the rest of humanity for anything it does to its citizens, which affects their dignity not merely as citizens, but as human beings. There are crimes against humanity, for which the offending individual or State must answer, as the offenders during the Third Reich answered, to the whole of mankind.
God-given, the State cannot take
Human rights are universal, inviolable, inalienable and indivisible. The ultimate source of human rights, as Catholic social doctrine tells us, “is not found in the mere will of the human being, in the reality of the State, in public powers, but in man himself and in God his creator.” Human rights are simply given by God; they are not to be taken by the State or by any human being without giving offense to God, says this doctrine.
In the purely secular language of Vaclav Havel, the great dramatist who became the last President of Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic, human rights have to do with our being rooted in the earth and in the cosmos. Awareness of these rights endows us with the capacity for self-transcendence. Genuine universal respect for human rights must emanate from our respect for the miracle of Being, the miracle of the universe, the miracle of nature, the miracle of our own existence as men and women. Only someone who submits to the authority of the universal order and creation, who values the right to be part of it and a participant in it, can genuinely value himself and his neighbors and thus, honor their rights as well, Havel said.
This, too, is what is involved when someone, not necessarily an Obama or a Ban, points out that the human rights of individuals are wantonly violated when mere drug suspects are killed by the police or vigilantes, without due process, just because they are suspects. Everyone has a duty to make sure the rule of law and the law of humanity are not mercilessly savaged. DU30’s war on drugs has drawn criticisms from all over the world because of these killings, now placed at 3,000 since July 1, according to the latest reports. This deserves to be discussed at the most important forums, but this was not placed on the agenda of the Asean summit.
Obama and Ban had expressed a desire to raise some questions about it in proposed meetings with DU30 on the sidelines of the summit. But Obama scrapped the proposed meeting following reports that DU30 had called him the “son of a whore” and DU30 had turned down Ban’s request for a meeting allegedly for lack of time. Now, instead of following the summit agenda, DU30 discarded his prepared text and spoke instead of the US atrocities against the Filipinos during the colonization of the Philippines.
Spectacular yes, but rock star, not quite
No doubt it was a spectacular performance. Nothing like it has been seen in all of Asean’s 49 years. But I doubt that any Asean head, including his Indonesian host after the summit, was prepared to proclaim DU30, as the “rock star” of the summit, as his propagandists would have us believe. Apparently encouraged by his perceived “success” in Laos, DU30 repeated the same message in Jakarta in his meeting with Filipinos. Now that the President is back home, we would encourage him to make a formal report to the nation on what he believes has been achieved by his first international engagement.
The tougher task, however, appears to belong to Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr., who is scheduled to speak to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC on Thursday this week. Yasay used to practice immigration law in New York, and because of this is believed to have acquired some knowledge of the US establishment, despite his utter lack of diplomatic experience. But although some former US ambassadors to the Philippines, who will presumably be attending this forum, are reportedly doing some work for the DU30 government, more Obama supporters than DU30 consultants will probably be in the audience.
The Balangiga bells
Will Yasay have the courage and strength to support DU30’s thrust and perhaps press for some things that are due us from the US? Since DU30 has started talking about the 1899-1902 Philippine-American war, Yasay could probably press for the return of the three church bells taken by the US Army from the town church of Balangiga, Eastern Samar during the war. After the Sept. 28, 1901 Balangiga massacre, in which 48 American soldiers were killed and 22 others wounded by Filipinos while having breakfast, Gen. Jacob Smith ordered that Samar be turned into a “howling wilderness” and that every male older than ten be killed. They burned the church and took down its three bells, one of which had tolled the signal for the natives to attack the camp.
One bell is said to be with the 9th Infantry Regiment at Camp Red Cloud in Korea, while the two other bells are said to be on the former base of the 11th Infantry Regiment at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming. In 2002, Sen. Koko Pimentel, now Senate president, introduced a resolution calling for a more intense effort to recover the bells. The US government has refused to return the property, saying they are American booties of war, which cannot be transferred to the Philippines except through an act of Congress.
Several attempts by friendly US senators and congressmen to legislate the transfer have failed until now. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has pointed out that it is inappropriate to treat the bells as trophies of war. Will DU30 now assert our claim on these bells as an expression of our continuing effort to right the injustices of colonization?