By: Atty. Cesar B. Bigornia
Early this year, the Human Rights Watch issued this damning statement: Duterte’s first six months have been a human rights calamity for the Philippines!” Subsequently, Amnesty International accused the Philippine police of paying officers and other people to kill alleged drug offenders and calling Duterte’s Drug War a murderous war on the poor.
Giving credence to the statements of these two international human rights organizations, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) subsequently issued a Pastoral Letter through its President, Abp. Socrates B. Villegas, D.D. Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan expressing its deep concern over the many deaths and killings in the campaign against prohibited drugs and what they called the “reign of terror in many places of the poor”.
Essentially a condemnation of President Duterte’s Drug War, the CBCP Pastoral Letter states that the solution to the Drug Problem, does not lie in the killing of suspected drug users and pushers. This to them is evil and to consent and to keep silent in front of this evil is to be an accomplice to it. Further, they said, if we neglect the drug addicts and pushers we have become part of the drug problem. If we consent or allow the killing of suspected drug addicts, we shall also be responsible for their deaths.
Notably, in the same Pastoral Letter, the Bishops said that they recognize that this traffic in illegal drugs needs to be stopped and overcome. And rightly so because “a country whose youths are mental and physical wrecks because of drugs will be hopelessly doomed to ignominy unredeemable until, if that is possible, a new and strong breed will rise up from the ruins!”
The above quoted statement echoes the justification of the President Duterte in declaring his war against drugs, but the statement did not emanate from him. It is in fact a quote from another Pastoral Letter of the CBCP issued in January 29, 1972 by Teopisto V. Alberto, D.D., Archbishop of Caceres, who was then the President of CBCP.
MORALITY OF DRUG USE
In the 1972 Pastoral Letter, the Bishops spoke on the moral aspect of narcotics drug in this wise:
"The use of narcotic drugs for medicinal and scientific purposes is morally good. Their use for no sufficient reason and solely to gratify a desire for pleasure is immoral when it interferes with or lessens the exercise of human freedom with reference to the drug and when it brings evil effects upon the person or society. As the effects of these drugs, are tantamount to the interference and the lessening of human freedom due to the loss of reason and self-control, even isolated use of narcotics for pleasure is immoral and thus to be avoided.”
In contrast to the 2017 Pastoral Letter where there was no condemnation of the illicit activities of drug pushers, drug lords, and their protectors and coddlers, the CBCP in 1972, emphatically declared that: “illicit trafficking in narcotics is gravely immoral and those who indulge in this illicit business violate the Fifth Commandment for they prey upon human weakness for selfish gain. The smuggling of products that are legally forbidden as harmful or dangerous like narcotic drugs, is clearly sinful since the legal prohibition is declarative of the natural law
Further, it declared: “Because of the effects of drugs on our youth, producers of drugs, dealers of the same and those who smuggle them into the country should be considered as saboteurs of the country, worse than traitors. These are the worst saboteurs and are worthy of the highest punishments. For they destroy the youth, the hope of the land.
Notably at that time, the highest punishment form of punishment imposable by law is the penalty of death. By its very own statement, the CBCP then endorsed the death penalty for producers, dealers and traffickers of drugs and it would have approved of the death penalty imposed on Lim Seng who, during martial law, was made an example through his execution by firing squad for drug trafficking.
THE DRUG CRISIS
“8 Year Old Girl, Raped and Killed by 4 Drug Addicts”… “ Suspects Used Shabu Before Murder of Woman and Child”… “71 Year Old Woman Raped by Suspected Drug Addict”… These are graphic headlines that portray the menace that drug abuse poses. Its evil effects are senseless, wicked and horrific not only to individual drug user but to families, communities and Philippine Society as a whole.
Currently, it is estimated that close to 4 Million people are now entangled in the drug scourge as drug lords, coddlers, protectors, pushers, drug addicts and users. For those taking drugs, 90% of them has Shabu as their drug of choice hence, the Philippines is known as one the world’s biggest consumer of the drug Methamphetamine, or Crystal Meth or Shabu as it is locally called.
Known potential consequences of shabu’s impact on brain health include memory impairment, a reduced ability to think clearly or logically, a reduced ability to maintain focus and attention, and a reduced ability to regulate violent or aggressive urges. The drug’s brain impact can also lead to the highly debilitating state called psychosis, which commonly includes symptoms such as sensory hallucinations and delusional and paranoid thought processes.
Addiction to this drug can also drive users to commit crimes—theft, snatching, robbery, rape, pedophilia, arson, homicide, and even murder—to sustain their vices. Worse, with shabu’s brain impact, it is not uncommon to hear news reports of criminality spawned by this drug which are indescribable in its barbarism and brutality!
With the inaction of previous administrations, the drug menace has grown to pandemic proportions, terrorizing law abiding citizens and the communities they live in with drug induced criminality and leaving a swathe of broken and grieving families, a youth with lives destroyed, a citizenry living in fear as hapless victims, a country with a bleak and uncertain future!
Even Senator Delima, one of the most strident critics of President Duterte acknowledges that the Philippines is in crisis. This crisis, she said, is the real and present
PAGE 8 FROM PAGE 2 danger posed by the illegal drug
trade overwhelming the national fabric. Drug addiction, drug-pushing, and drug-related crimes, including bribery and corruption of public officials and the penetration of our institutions by powerful drug syndicates, threaten the government, the Filipino people, and Philippine society as a whole.
DUTERTE’S DRUG WAR
Recognizing the pernicious effect of drugs, as the Bishops did under the leadership of Archbishop Teofisto V. Alberto D.D., President Duterte declared and waged a war on drugs. In the context of this Drug War, the evil that needs to be fought is the widespread use of drugs, illicit trafficking of drugs, drug spawned criminality that victimizes ordinary law abiding citizens, and drug induced corruption leading to a narco state.
In this Drug War, there is a stark choice between one set of rights, i.e. the right to life and security of innocent and law abiding Filipinos and the right of the state to defend itself against the threat of the illegal drug trade lording over every aspect of everyday lives of its citizenry and on the other hand, the right to life and due process for drug addicts, drug pushers, drug lords and drug criminals.
Between these two sets of rights, the choice should be obvious and President Duterte opted for the obvious choice: that is to make the life better for law abiding citizens in accordance with their needs and aspirations. And based on the latest survey, 86 percent of Filipinos have given him their vote of trust and confidence.
But as against the clamor of a vast majority of Filipinos for protection and security against drug criminality, the CBCP, chose to advocate for the rights of drug addicts, drug pushers, drug criminals. Citing a basic Catholic teaching, they declared in their Pastoral Letter: “The life of every person comes from God. It is he who gives it, and it is he alone who can take it back. Not even the government has a right to kill life because it is only God’s steward and not the owner of life.”
Essentially a condemnation of President Duterte’s Drug War, the CBCP Pastoral Letter expressed concern for the 7000 or so who have been killed and the situation of the families of those killed. An additional cause of concern, they said is the reign of terror in many places of the poor and an even greater cause of concern, they said, is the indifference of many to this kind of wrong, hence their statement: to consent and to keep silent in front of this evil is to be an accomplice to it. Stripped to its bare essence, the CBCP Pastoral Letter is saying that the drug killings are evil and the Drug War is a war on the poor!
Ironically, in performing their sworn duty to defend the state against the threat of the illegal drug trade and to protect the right to life and security of innocent and law abiding Filipinos, the President and the Police are now being condemned by the CBCP. It says that the drug operations in pursuit of the drug war result in killings and the people being killed are the poor! This is evil, the CBCP says hence it must stop!
But will the killings stop if the President halted the Drug War? In the previous administration, where there was no declared drug war as in fact there was even no acknowledgement of the gravity of the drug problem, statistics show that from 2010 to 2015, the number of killings averaged 35 which is more than 20 under the first few months of the Duterte administration. Thus, whether or not the drug war continues, the killings will not stop! The big difference however is that now, most who are being killed are those involved in drug criminality while then, most of those being killed were innocent law abiding citizens.
It may be well to point out in this regard that in their condemnation of Duterte’s war on drugs, the CBCP failed to consider this grim reality:
• In the drug trade chain, when a drug lord gives a drug pusher to sell in the streets, they expect the drug to be sold entirely. Drug lords expect to be paid after a certain period and they do not accept returns. Drug Lords kill street pushers who fail to meet their sales quota to strike fear on other street pushers. The fear motivates the surviving street pushers.
• After a certain point, many drug consumers or
* addicts run out of personal funds to sustain their habit. This is when they resort to stealing and if their victims resist, they kill. They also rape and most of the time, the victims are killed. And if they become drug crazed, they just simply kill and there are horror stories of parents, siblings or entire families being killed. Or they become drug pushers themselves and they befall the same fate of pushers as earlier described.
• For drug lords, they kill to instill fear and to protect and expand their territory. For Drug protectors, they kill the police who investigates; they kill the prosecutor who files charges, they kill the witness who testifies, they kill the judge who tries the case, all to protect their illegal source of wealth and power. For hired goons and police scalawags, they kill upon orders of drug lords and drug protectors. For Vigilantes, they kill inorder to avenge the death of their loved ones!
It is precisely because of this culture of killing that President Duterte is waging a war on drugs because if left unchecked, the drug menace can afflict the whole nation and turn the Philippines into a narco-state. Then we will become witness to killings of a much greater magnitude similar to those countries controlled by drug cartels such as Mexico and Columbia.
Thus in this drug war, the President has warned the drug lords, drug protectors, drug pushers, drug addicts: “Stop or I’ll kill you.” In various occasions he repeated this warning with expletives to drive home the point that he is serious. And to show that he is deadly serious, he ordered the police in drug operations to shoot if their lives are in danger and empowered the police to perform their duties without fear by declaring his all out support.
What the CBCP also fails to consider is that in the drug trade, “I’ll kill you” is a language that those involved, readily understand; that instills fear and commands obedience to the dictates of those with authority in the drug hierarchy. In this drug war, President Duterte, using this very same language of death as a psy-war tactic, has made his message very clear and has instilled fear and commanded obedience to his call for surrender from close to 1.2 million people involved in the drug trade.
Unfortunately, not all the 4 million people or so involved in the drug trade heeded the warning made by the President hence police drug operations were conducted. Today, eight months from his assumption to office, 7,080 drug related killings have been recorded and all these killings are being condemned because it is against the basic church teaching: Thou shall not kill! But killings of equal or more numbers have been happening in previous dispensations prior to Duterte’s administration yet nary a whimper of protest was heard from CBCP.
The CBCP blames Duterte’s Drug War for the killings but the records show that only 2,555 suspected drug personalities were killed in police drug operations, and the others are being investigated as possible vigilante killings; turf war killings between drug syndicates; cover up killings to protect drug lords and protectors, killings for other drug related reasons and killings as collateral damage. Worse, it condemns the President and the Police but there is no condemnation for drug lords, drug protectors and others involved in drugs.
The CBCP cries out for due process for drug suspects but they don’t realize that under
PAGE 30 FROM PAGE 8
a dysfunctional criminal justice system in the Philippines, drug cases can be delayed, manipulated and bought with billions of available drug money. And with 4 Million people involved, it would take an eternity to finally resolve even just a fraction of the drug cases to be filed because ordinarily, just for one case, it can take 10, 20 years or even longer to wait for the rendition of a final judgment, especially if it goes up to the Supreme Court. As a result, a miniscule number, if any at all, of the drug cases that will be filed, will be resolved within the 6 year term of President Duterte. Thus if this were the approach taken be the President, he will miserably fail.
Curiously, the CBCP accuse and condemn the President and the Police of extrajudicial killings of suspected drug users and pushers without yet being found guilty, thereby depriving them of the due process it cries out for. It should be pointed out as well that the accusation against the police of killing suspected drug users and pushers is more in line with the sensationalist propaganda of local and foreign critics because if there was a license to indiscriminately kill mere suspects as the Pastoral Letter appears to suggest, then the 1,179,463 surrenderees and the 53,025 arrested would all have been killed.
Thus to the CBCP and those criticizing and opposing President Duterte who are saying:” Stop the Killings,” far from saving lives by stopping the President’s war on drugs, they will actually be causing more killings, more violation of the rights of innocent and law abiding Filipinos, more brutality and an absolute weakening of human rights.
WAR ON THE POOR
Echoing the statements of local and international critics, the CBCP says the war on Drugs is a war on the Poor which is creating a reign of terror in many places of the poor”. But President Duterte declared war against all those involved in drugs, hence early on, he has already named top police generals, high government officials, national and local executives , judges, prosecutors, police officers among other and has promised to release the names of others in the future.
In this regard, it is noteworthy that the big time drug lords operate outside the Philippines, hence they are beyond the reach of the government’s jurisdiction. And in the local drug chain, there will be only a small percentage of the 4 million people involved in drugs who can be considered drug lords. These drug lords are rich and they have power and influence to thwart police operations against them.
On the other end of the chain are pushers and addicts and those pushed to desperation are the ones perpetrating the rampant drug criminality which victimizes innocent law abiding citizens. Having repeatedly declared it is his sworn duty to protect innocent victims, the focus of the drug operations are against identified drug personalities who have not heeded the warnings made by the President and continue perpetrating drug related criminality including the continuous peddling of illegal drugs.
Thus currently, most of those subjected to drug operations are those at the lower end of drug chain in poor areas. Due to their dire circumstances, they are the ones who would be more likely to resist and fight it out with police out of desperation. Against this backdrop, it cannot be said the drug is targeting the lower end of the chain because the rationale for the targeting is operational prioritization and not the class status of being poor.
Moreover, there has to be more deaths from the bottom end because, of the 4 million people involved in drugs, there are exponentially more drug pushers, users and addicts in poor communities and by statistical probability, even if the war on drugs is being waged with equal force against all, by sheer numerical size, those at the lower end in poor areas will be affected more by drug operations resulting in more killings from their end.
Days after it released its strongest statement yet against President Rodrigo Duterte’s “reign of terror” and his government’s bloody war on drugs, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) called on Filipinos to participate in a grand procession dubbed as “Walk for Life” last Feb. 18, 2017, in opposition to the spate of drug-related killings in the country.
It was no less than CBCP President Archbishop Socrates Villegas himself who invited the Catholic faithful to come out last February 18, 2017, at the Quirino Grandstand and made this appeal: “Let us fill our streets not with blood, not with dead bodies, but with prayer, with courage, to walk, to stand up for life” This was followed by local media broadcasts as well as personal invitations and appeals by leaders and priests of the Catholic church.
Despite the wide spread publicity and announcements for the event, only 10,000 people joined a prayer rally as per the organizers’ estimates. Police estimates however were very much less and an aerial view of the event showed that not even a thousand people attended. No wonder the TV coverage of the event was all close up to hide the sparse crowd.
This despite the presence of his Eminence, Cardinal Luis Tagle, the leader of the Philippine Catholic Church, who I had the privilege of spending time with at the San Jose Seminary and for whom I have the highest respect. Hence to many, measured against the expectation that a million people will march just like they did during the People Power Revolution in EDSA 31 years ago, the event was described as an epic failure!
It was expected that the Walk of Life march was to be a prelude to a bigger rally a week later at the 31st anniversary of what is now referred to as the People Power revolution. By coincidence or more likely planned, there was a confluence of circumstances that could have been the trigger of another people’s revolt:
Days before, PO3 Lascanas recanted his testimony at the Senate and implicated the President as the chief architect of the so-called Davao Death Squad. Before that, Senator Trillanes painted the President as a thieving, plundering official. Senator De Lima followed that up by calling the President the worst criminal in our country’s history. All of these culminated in the arrest of De Lima which her allies labeled as political harassment, and to which the international media agreed.
Whiffed up by a daily barrage of damning articles and statements by local and international critics, rumors of destabilization and ouster plots and a coup-de-tat to be triggered by a people power revolt at EDSA were swirling around. And there were calls to attend, by various Groups and well known personalities like
PAGE 37 from PAGE 30
Senators De Lima, Trillanes and Hontiveros, including no less than the Vice President Leni Robredo.
Notably, a day before the People Power Anniversary, Arb. Socrates Villegas, who also signed the 2017 CBCP Pastoral Letter, had his letter addressed to the late Cardinal Sin published. Perhaps trying to reprise the role that Cardinal Sin played at EDSA 1, he spoke in said letter of the supposed “nightmare” that the nation has been experiencing in the last eight months and calling on Filipinos to join the EDSA Shrine Rally.
The confluence of these circumstances should have created the perfect stage for the unfolding of another people power spectacle labeled as EDSA 2017 which should have led to the ouster of President Duterte. But unfortunately for the likes of De Lima, Trillanes, Leni Robredo, including Archbishop Villegas, this did not happen.
What happened instead was a spontaneous call to action in defense of President Duterte by committed social media warriors in online communities in the virtual spaces of the social media and the internet. With grave concern that the EDSA Rally will be the culmination of a destabilization plot leading to the ouster of President Duterte, they, together with the DILG, local government units and other group supporters of the President, hastily organized a Freedom Rally at the Quirino Grandstand.
Compared to the one launched by the anti-Duterte forces held at the People Power Monument in EDSA. the Luneta rally by the pro-Duterte forces emerged as the more powerful narrative, both in terms of images, and of numbers. With a mammoth crowd in attendance, which police authorities estimated to have reached a peak of 215,000 or 800,000 based on the estimate of the organizers, one can easily say that this was the bigger people power movement compared to the 2,000 that went to the EDSA rally this year as per police estimates or 8,000 as per oranizers’ estimates,
In terms of images, what was seen at the Luneta Rally was the display of patriotic fervor showing support for the President and the expression of anger at the betrayal of the real people power revolution when it was hijacked by the oligarchic class. On the other hand, the EDSA Shrine rally, while still possessing a strong symbolic power for those who hold the memory of the February 1986 uprising close to their hearts, the EDSA gathering has in fact been reduced to a disappointing spectacle. As very succinctly put by a commentator, what was seen at the EDSA Shrine rally was “a celebration not of victory, but of anger and hatred, of fear and of elite exclusivity all embodied in that one single act of bullying by Jim Paredes.”
VOX POPULI VOX DEI
What was palpably clear from the Walk of Life March and the EDSA Shrine Rally was that the Filipino Catholic faithful are no longer the pliable, devout, obedient flock who will readily heed the call of their religious leaders. And having evolved into a more assertive and independent community of pragmatic believers, they question the position taken by the CBCP in condemning President Duterte’s Drug war and seek answers to the following queries:
• With all the drug induced criminality and the prevalence of killings that it now condemns, isn’t this an indictment of the Catholic Church for being a miserable failure as the moral vanguard of the nation?
• While it was well within its right to express its continuing role as an institution that shapes our moral fiber as a nation, isn’t the condemnation of the Drug War an interference of the exercise by the President of his solemn constitutional duty to protect the state and its law abiding citizens and therefore a violation of the long held principle of separation of church and state?
• Where was the outcry of the CBCP during previous dispensations where, there were more numbers of killings all around the country, with riding in tandem drug murders, rape and murder of young children by their own drug affected parents, robbery and murder of workers by desperate drug addicts, home invasion and murder of whole families; random killings by drug crazed addicts; and the list goes on?
• Are the lives of drug criminals more valuable than the lives of innocent law abiding citizens
• PAGE 42 FROM PAGE 37
• that when they die, the CBCP raise a howl of protest while on the other hand, the Filipino people hear nary a whimper of a protest from the CBCP when it is the innocent law abiding citizens who die?
• Isn’t the CBCP acting once again like modern-day inquisitors who label those who disagree with them as accomplices of evil when it is the CBCP which advocating for the rights of those involved in drugs;
• By condemning the police and President Duterte instead of those involved in the trafficking and abuse of drugs, is the CBCP not abetting the evil that is the drug trade and thereby, is an accomplice of evil?
• By aligning themselves and supporting the likes of De Lima and Trillanes, isn’t the CBCP appropriating religion not as an instrument to enlighten, but as a weapon for political partisanship.
• Isn’t the CBCP investing itself in divisive discourse instead of listening to all sides and enabling a dialogue between all political voices?
• Has the Church become a partisan institution that it now has to work hard to convince the people that it doesn’t have a particular political color, and that its vocal leaders are not serving certain partisan political interests?
Against the condemnation by the CBCP, the majority of Filipinos sees the reason, sees the necessity, sees the urgency of the President’s Drug War. More importantly, they see resolute action and concrete results from a courageous President, who will lay everything on the line in this war, for love of country and not for any party or personal agenda! For this, a great majority of Filipinos are squarely behind the President and believe in his sincerity in his oft repeated declarations that as President, he is there to protect the rights and interests of innocent and law abiding Filipinos and in doing so, he is willing to sacrifice his honor, his life, and presidency itself.
Vox Populi Vox Dei The voice of the people is the voice of God. At this critical times, the majority of Filipinos have spoken in support of the President. With the “epic failure” of CBCP’s Walk for Life and the EDSA Shrine rally, perhaps at least in relation to the President’s war on drugs, it is now time for the CBCP to heed the voice of the people and realize that the voice of the CBCP may only be the voice of Archbishop Villegas and not the voice of God!