Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Philippines in 2016: On Forgotten Histories and Identities in Peril

See - (95) The Philippines in 2016: On Forgotten Histories and Identities in Peril

"x x x.

The Philippines in 2016: On Forgotten Histories and Identities in Peril

Good afternoon to everyone. It is a great honor and pleasure to be among the invited speakers for this Annual Conference on Cultural Diplomacy 2016.

x x x.

In May of this year, 16 million Filipinos elected a self-confessed serial killer[1] as President; the same candidate who, while on the campaign trail, told a rape joke about an Australian missionary who was raped and killed in the city where he was then serving as Mayor; cursed the Pope for having caused traffic jams during his papal visit;evaded questions about the source of his alleged undeclared wealth amounting to billions of pesos;and basically promised to employ summary killings as a policy to curtail criminality.

In the last five months, he has proven true his blood-soaked promise, at least to the extent that, by the Philippine National Police’s own statistics, we have now recorded a total of more than 6,095 deaths in connection with the Duterte Administration’s so-called “War on Drugs”[2] – which is turning out to be more of a “war on the poor”, while big-time drug lords have thus far been mostly allowed to evade justice.

He has also allowed the former dictator, Ferdinand E. Marcos, to be buried as a hero. The same dictator whose 20-year regime – which was as corrupt as it was bloody from similar acts of summary execution, torture, enforced disappearances and various other forms of human rights abuses and political oppression – is the very raison d’etre for the drafting of the 1987 Constitution, which sought to ensure that similar abuses and heinousness will never again find space within the annals of Philippine history. In one fell swoop, the current President obscured the rejection of such dictatorial regime by allowing a plunderer and a killer to be given a hero’s burial.

He has also driven the women’s empowerment and gender sensitivity movement several decades back, by himself creating a culture of misogyny wherein female members of the press are catcalled during press conferences, female police officers are touched inappropriately, the vice president’s legs are openly ogled during cabinet meetings, and slut-shaming is employed as a form of political reprisal against women who dare criticize him.

He and his men – preying on the people’s fears from so-called anticipated reprisals by those involved in the drug trade, or from terrorist attacks, or some other undefined threats that prey upon their feelings of insecurity – are keeping the threat of a declaration of a state of national emergency, martial law and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus perpetually hanging above the Filipino’s heads, thus priming them for malleability for other extreme actions.

And even after all of that, what is most disturbing is the way he is shaping the very psyche and identity of the Filipino people.

x x x.

In fact, in spite of everything and against all reasonable expectations, he still enjoys a “Very Good” Performance Rating from the people according to a latest survey released just days ago. Of course surveys aren’t always accurate, but the absence of a roaring rejection of the occurrence of daily deaths in our streets is in itself quite disturbing.
If 6,095 deaths,including deaths of innocent children, in less than 6 months, isn’t enough to spark outrage, how many more will it take?

Apparently, much, much more, if we go by the proposal to revive the Death Penalty, which, I predict,can easily pass in the lower house of the Philippine Congress. Apparently, our choice is be killed in the streets, or be killed by public execution. It doesn’t matter that we all know that death penalty has never been as successful a deterrent to crime as it is a weapon of political suppression. It doesn’t’ matter that our justice system is far from being perfect to ensure that no innocent lives are taken. All that matters is that macabre mathematics that equates death tolls to accomplishments.

That is the true horror of it all: we are fast becoming a nation where killing is seen as the solution to our problems. Not a solution; not the first or the last resort; but the solution. It doesn’t even matter that it has been clearly demonstrated that some cops are complicit in the very crimes they are supposed to suppress– clearly, the only real solution is to give them a carte blanche authority to kill the suspects outright.

That is our brand of justice these days. And the true horror is that some of our people will stand up and applaud this reality.
What does this say about our people?

Are we evil that we condone evil to be done in our name? Are we cowards? Or are we simply realists?

x x x.

There, I believe, lies the answer as to why authoritarian leaders who excel at manipulation can find the gaps that allow them to sink their claws into our nation, and rip us apart from the inside: they have been able to prey on our fears and self-interests in order to divide and conquer us.

x x x.

For as long as we see one another as “others” we will never trust that we truly have each other’s interests in mind, and we will always look for the person who will fight for us, even if that person employs means that we would otherwise have found unacceptable.

That, therefore, is the challenge that we Filipinos face in 2017.

x x x."