Sunday, September 25, 2016

Spectacle in the Philippines

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Killings in the Philippines are becoming a spectacle. News, images and videos of everyday violence dominate the landscape of mainstream and social media. What is disturbing is that these killings are nowhere near plateauing.

Supposedly, only drug users, pushers and drug lords are targets of these killings. But there are a 4-year old Althea Barbon, a 5-year old Danica Garcia, a 20-year old Jefferson Bunuan and a 22-year old Rowena Tiamson, the last two are both promising college students, and nameless others whose lifeless bodies were literally disposed like garbage. They are the victims of the Philippine government's vicious and violent anti-drug campaign under President Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte came to power with a promise to suppress drugs and crimes within six months in a bloody campaign, reminiscent of what he implemented in Davao City where he ruled for decades. True enough, barely three months in office, drug-related killings have reached 3,140 and counting. Police operations under Oplan Double Barrel, a national campaign against drugs, accounted for 1,105 deaths, while shadowy vigilante groups took 2,035 lives. Police operatives seem unable to match the "efficient" carnage and shroud of immunity of the vigilante groups.

Even more disturbing are the President's statements and actuations on these killings. Confronted by media, Duterte stressed that he does not care about human rights. On possible UN investigation on extra-judicial killings, he declared that he would quit the UN. Questioned by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on the inclusion and involvement of judges in the drug list, he threatened to declare martial law. He said it before, it is going to be bloody because it is purgative.

What is more and more disturbing is that the whole spectacle is slowly dawning as a mass crime itself.

In his speeches, he sounded oblivious to the fact that as the leader of a democratic society who opts for and insists on violence as superior means to achieve a goal has the burden and stake to justify his decision. There is no escaping from a more forceful of the collective power of the governed on which an elected government heavily depends.

Duterte rallies his supporters that he is waging a revolution to get rid of drugs, crimes, and corruption. These are the realities and evils that ordinary Filipinos struggle with everyday, in which, in Galtungian view, are manifestations of violence.

Duterte has effectively unleashed an idea morphed into a belief to his ardent supporters that only violence can change dire realities, defeat evils, and overcome other violence. There may not be clear desired outcome from the elimination of these realities and evils. The violent means has become its own motive without humane end. It has become irresistible and now seen as imperative as if it were sole mandate.

That is why for Duterte and his millions of supporters, the murderous costs of the drug campaign are distracting toward the achievement of his promise and deliverance. More so, those who get in the way or potentially, including the Chief Justice, UN, media, innocent civilians and critics are to be ignored. Recently, he declared a State of National Emergency, calling the armed forces to respond to lawless violence he actually started.

His violence appears not to have a learning curve. It teaches primarily to Filipinos that violence begets violence.  Many Filipinos are beginning to find themselves again in an eerily too familiar rule that fell to disgrace not so long time ago. Ironically, he wanted that ruler to be given a hero's burial. 

For those who experienced the dictator and Martial Law, they know it will be a long struggle to end and free themselves again from this spectacle of intoxicating violence.

When several police chiefs were sacked for underperforming to meet certain targets, when the Catholic Church through Cardinal Tagle finally spoke against the killings, when the victims' sisters, mothers, fathers, brothers, families, friends and neighbors become actors and not merely spectators of this bloody spectacle, when ordinary people realize that this violence is not capable of changing their lives, and when his fanatics turn into disillusioned followers, they can all signal an eventual end to this enduring state of national emergency.

What is disturbing though is if Duterte sees no end. Six more months? It literally means more killings.

This spectacle of killings must end. We as a people could not simply watch one life after another being sacrificed for the deliverance of a promise and for an egoistic and rhetoric war. It's time to bring the curtain down. Lights off.

- END -


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