My Fellow Filipinos

Marawi, in the island of Mindanao, was attacked by the Maute group, which is an ISIS-wannabe in the Southern Philippines. In response, the Philippine Government poured in troops to try to root out the group. Hostages have been reportedly taken and used as human shields by the Maute. Where they proved too well entrenched, attack helicopters came in to pound them into submission, or death. Marawi suffered from the attack that appears to have been compounded by the army’s seemingly scorched earth policy against the attackers. Back in the day, there was a shirt for sale that had the message: “Kill them all. Let God sort them out.” Yesterday is here again.

As if that was not enough, the Government declared martial law on the whole of Mindanao even if the fighting appears to be limited to Marawi. Then worse becomes worst. The president, in exhorting the troops to do all that is necessary to win over the Maute group, quips that if the troops rape anyone in the process, then that will be on him. The president, himself a lawyer and a former prosecutor at that, essentially publicly declared that if the troops commit any crime — like rape — during the campaign to defeat the Maute group in Marawi, then they will not be prosecuted for it.

Flashback to the beginnings of his drug war, and his declaration that any act by the police in pursuit of the drug war will be his responsibility. In essence, he is saying that any crime they may commit during the war on drugs will also not be prosecuted. To date, there are a reported 7,000 deaths related to the drug war. Around 3,000 of these is said to be the result of “legitimate police operations.” The rest are dismissed as random killings. When you read news articles from Al Jazeera and the BBC about how the operations are being conducted with kill quotas and payoffs for every pusher or user killed, then one thinks that while these may actually be police operations, whether or not they are legitimate is far from certain.

Let us be clear, between the criminal and the State, or a terrorist group and the State, we should support the State. Illegal drugs should be prevented from harming citizens, and terror groups should be suppressed. However, how we conduct our wars should also follow the rules laid down in law. When the government begins to wage state terror, the legitimacy of its wars quickly dissipates. We are a nation of laws, and the State should be the first to comply with its demands.

The Philippine experience on martial law was not pleasant. In the end, the abuses of those in power caused a nation to oust a sitting president. The current president declares that his martial law will be as brutal as the old one. If one is knowledgeable enough about how the old martial law was used to abuse the populace, then one cannot readily say that this new martial law will be promising indeed. Far from it.

The newest Philippine constitution — we’ve had three (3) so far — sought to prevent a repetition of this abuse by putting in place the mechanics for the declaration of martial law. It invokes the independence of the legislature to check on the executive. Unfortunately, both houses of congress, peopled as they are mostly by the president’s partymates, supporters, or wannabe-supporters, refuse to convene to study the president’s justification for the declaration of martial law. It is in the refusal of these so-called people’s representatives to do as they are legally obliged that dictators are born.

Article VII of the Philippine Constitution provides that:

“SECTION 18. The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion. In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, he may, for a period not exceeding sixty days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law. Within forty-eight hours from the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, the President shall submit a report in person or in writing to the Congress. The Congress, voting jointly, by a vote of at least a majority of all its Members in regular or special session, may revoke such proclamation or suspension, which revocation shall not be set aside by the President. Upon the initiative of the President, the Congress may, in the same manner, extend such proclamation or suspension for a period to be determined by the Congress, if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it.”

Clearly, the Constitution allows the president to call on the army in case of lawless violence, invasion or rebellion. The attack by the Maute group constitutes lawless violence; hence, the president can direct the armed forces to destroy the Maute group as the commander-in-chief. However, in order to declare martial law, the constitution names only two causes: invasion or rebellion. Moreover, public safety must require it. In other words, it is not enough that there is an invasion or rebellion. The safety of the public must also be in danger before martial law can be declared. If a large Chinese force occupies a few islands in the West Philippine Sea within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone but no Filipinos are endangered, then martial law still cannot be declared. Since the Maute attack cannot be an invasion, it might be seen as a rebellion, which would then justify the declaration. Under the constitution, the president should have reported to Congress within twenty-four hours from the declaration to prove, first, that it is a rebellion, and, second, public safety requires it, that would justify his decision, and Congress may confirm, revoke or extend martial law…but it must convene to receive the report and pass upon said declaration.

As it is, the president gave no report, and Congress refuses to convene. That, my fellow Filipinos, is dangerous. Filipinos should be free to question its government. When the government is closed to scrutiny even from its own citizens, that is authoritarianism. When Congress, a key component for the system of check and balances, fails to act in accordance with law, it allows absolutism by the president, which the Constitution itself is against. The Constitution, therefore, is slowly eroding. That is something we cannot allow.

Patriotism is never blind allegiance. Patriotism puts the country first before personalities, even the president. To challenge the president is not unpatriotic. Adherence to the rule of law, especially the Constitution, the primary law of the land, must be every citizen’s concern. Holding the government to it, must be the primary duty of every Filipino. We do so not because we hate the president but because that is what the law requires. We are all Filipinos. Whether you are from Luzon, Visayas or Mindanao, all of us are Filipinos. We question the declaration not because he is a Mindanawon but because he did so as president, and in doing so is required by law to abide by certain conditions. To test his compliance with law is a very Filipino thing to do.

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The World is due for a correction.

I was talking to my dad this morning and our conversation drifted here and there. Out of nowhere, he suddenly said “I have a theory: democracy will kill itself. Why? The objective of democracy is to make everyone equal. People will never be equal in one aspect or another. So, it will fall on itself.”

If we look at the world around us, then we can easily see what he means. The rise of the populists is a worldwide phenomenon that appears poised to engulf the whole world. 

The root of all of this might be traced to the recent troubles with globalization. The near collapse of the global economy brought about by the greed of the largest banks in the US. One can say that the principles of democracy that made the big banks free to do as they did caused the global financial crisis. That caused people to fear what democracy has wrought despite the fact that the global financial crisis was brought about more by the lack of effective regulation to curb that greed that caused all the mess rather than a failure of democracy itself. 

Then there were those who were not able to benefit from an inproved economy. If you look at the last six to eight years in the Philippines and the US, then you would note how their economies have improved over time. The problem is that not everyone have felt the effects of that economic upturn. 

From there grew the strangest, strongest opposition to our democratic institutions that led to the take over by populists. Powered by social media (including hacks and bots), and driven more by anger and hate rather than any clear program of action, populists have managed to take control over the Philippines and the US. 

Similar movements have tried to get ahead in other parts of the world. So far UKIP in the UK has failed to make any headway although it was, surprisingly, able to get the UK to vote for BREXIT, and it may now be paying the price for it.

Le Pen in France is already having a hard time at it and a European nation had rejected a populist party.

I suppose that the world have seen what populists can do to a country and decided to go against it. In the Philippines, a misguided war on drugs is blamed for the deaths of 6,000 men, women and children, while the US is grappling with a rising  nationalist agenda. The planned replacement of Obamacare was embarassingly pulled out and its anti-Muslim immigration executive orders have been slapped down by US courts. If this is how populists run their country, then it is a terrible future ahead for them and all those thinking of electing populists into office.

However, this is all part of what it means to be a democracy. The citizens were free to elect populists into office (let us put the issue of hacks and bots aside for now). One might say this is just a phase where nations try to press the reset button to get a reboot.

The hope is of course that after this terrible experiment, there is still something left to reboot. We get over that, then democracy will rise again. Perhaps, democracy will in fact kill itself as my dad says but it is quite capable of bouncing back into existence like a phoenix from its ashes. It is a dream I have…

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Waging War on Illegal Drugs

Let’s set aside for awhile the fact that all wars against drugs have failed or are failing. I think that’s a given. What amazes me, however, is the way the Philippines is going about guaranteeing it.

During the campaign period, the then mayor of Davao warned all policemen involved in the illegal drug trade to resign because he will give them no quarter once he becomes president. He won, and, as promised, there followed one of the bloodiest campaigns against drugs anyone has ever seen averaging 1,000 deaths per month and they’re not done yet. What was promised to be a six-month campaign is now being extended to a year. Lord only knows when it will end and what it will actually take to end it.

It was not long after that the seeds guaranteeing the failure of the campaign were sown. It started with the disregard for due process. People were accused on live TV of involvement in the illegal drug trade without an iota of actual proof of any wrongdoing that was then followed by the wave of extrajudicial and vigilante killings that prompted people to start questioning the methods employed by the government in the campaign. 

Then they go after the “big fish”. Some died and some were caught. Unfortunately, their coup isn’t the slamdunk they were hoping for.

The guys they caught started talking but their talk, while congruent in some respects, were mostly inconsistent with each other. If it was their intention to use the testimonies of two of these witnesses against Senator De Lima whom the president himself accused of being involved in the illegal drug trade, or, at the very least, accepting money from the drug pushers, then they really have to do a better job because from what they’ve confessed to, it appears that, at most, the senator is only guilty of unknowingly having her picture taken with a drug lord. Last time I checked, that was not a crime. In fact, one of the witnesses who was the former driver-bodyguard of the senator appears to be the one actually involved in the illegal drug trade or profiting from it, and was only using his sometimes romantic relationship with the said senator to his advantage.

If that wasn’t bad enough, you now have the police disproving what this supposed big fish was saying in his sworn affidavit. I mean if they keep this up, his value as a witnesses will disappear completely.

Worse, the president of the Republic is micromanaging the war on drugs instead of just leaving the work to the police. He himself has been disproving the statements of the supposed big fish deciding for himself who is and is not involved in drugs. Mind you, his own intel is questionable as some of those he accused as being involved in the drug war were dead or were later excused with little more than an apology. His list was supposed to have been verified and re-verified but you still have faulty intel. That doesn’t really build one’s confidence in the war, and it even puts into question the legitimacy of their operations especially those were people have been killed.

And what of the president’s “no quarter!” battle cry? If he is to be believed, then the president declared that he asked his chief of police to reinstate someone who he says is positively involved in drugs. If you don’t understand why he would do such a thing when he promised a total war on drugs, well, join the club.

With the value of their own witnesses diminished if not destroyed, do we even have to mention their practice of pressuring people to open their houses to warrantless searches? There’s no point.

Let us be clear, this is not to say that the government should not run after those involved in illegal drugs. Please do; however, the government has to abide by the law. We already know that a drug war will not solve the problem. Nevertheless, if we must pursue it, then we should ensure that we do so in accordance with law, and the evidence gathered is relevant and admissible. If you have to do it, then please do it right.

 

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Gog and Magog

In prophecy, Gog and Magog figure as a great threat first to the nation of Israel (in Ezekiel), and then to the Christian Church (in Revelations). It is said that even the seer Nostradamus mentioned them in an epistle to the then king of France. Whoever they are, whatever they are, it seems that they are coming, bringing with them death and destruction.

If you look at the world today, then you will note the growing tension between the US and its allies on the one hand, and China, Russia and its growing band of allies on the other. Over the years, the old USSR and China have been branded the enemy by the West for its attempt to bring communism to the world principally by violent revolution. Communism has failed to rule the world but these two have not stopped, leveraging their economies instead.

This began sometime in the 2000s when they were lumped together with the other growing economies, Brazil and India, to form BRIC. South Africa was later added — to make it plural, BRICS, as the joke goes. By the 2010s, Brazil and South Africa have shone less brightly despite the former still managing to stage the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics. India, known for its call centers and tech exports is drowning in pollution. 

Russia too is hobbled by the weakening oil prices on which it has mainly relied to run its economy. Just trying to keep things afloat has cost Russia much of its reserves. Still, its efforts to remain relevant in the world today is evidenced by its participation in the Syrian conflict where it has actually called forth its aircraft carrier to participate in the campaign to bomb ISIS positions that is controversial at best since some of those bombed appear to be civilians opposed to the Hassad regime and rebel forces supported by the West.

Then theres’s China. China that owns most of US debt. China that has surpassed Japan to be the second largest economy in the world. China who has been developing advanced weaponry to rival those of the West and with more money to do it.

China who has proposed to build an organization that could challenge the IMF. China who has been investing a lot in Africa, and China that could consider leaving the UN.

With the way things are in the US, it is not likely to be able to lead the West as it used to since the end of the Second World War. Most likely, the mantle will have to be borne by Germany, of all nations. Even the UK is effectively out of commission. With everything so topsy-turvy, the likelyhood of China, Russia and their allies to build their own international organizations increases ever so higher. Our own president has declared his willingness to join this particular bandwagon, and Turkey has recently said the same. Whether it is just a threat to the EU for delaying its application for membership or not, the implications are quite enlightening. We are now facing a distinct possibility that the world will even be more divided than what it was during the Cold War. Back then, we still had one UN. We may soon not have that, which makes efforts to negotiate peace even harder, and with that the spectre of war looms ever greater.

So, what do all these have to do with Gog and Magog? Interestingly enough, Gog and Magog have been interpreted to mean China and Russia, or a group or alliance led by them.

When I started this, I noted how Gog and Magog have been seen as an enemy of Israel and/or the Church. Look at what is happening today: the US-Israel ties have always been strong but with the election of Trump, it appears to be even stronger now with Netanyahu in Israel. While Trump may be open to Russia’s Putin, he is less likely to be so with China. Bad for business and Trump is first and foremost a businessman. A trade war with China may eventually lead to a shooting war. So, if you want to see it as a purely biblical event, then it is a possibility.

For the coming of Gog and Magog to be a threat to the Church, I think that it is enough that its teachings be threatened, and if there is something China and Russia is known for, then that would be their poor record on human rights. Something that the Philippines and Turkey are recently being criticized for. Something too that the Church has long been fighting for. Yes, the Church is not perfect but it struggles to be perfect as its Heavenly Father is perfect. The fight, therefore, is real.

The danger posed by Gog and Magog is that they will bring with them a third of the earth. If they are China and Russia, then the Philippines will be among the third. Here’s the rub, in the end, Gog and Magog lose. 

Damn.  

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The Weight of the Cross

Something strange came up during the run up to the latest US elections that caught my attention: Catholics were being told not to vote for the political party that supports abortion. As a Catholic, one can readily understand where the Church was coming from. The Church has always been, and always will be, against abortion. After the elections, more news articles appeared saying how the Catholic vote propelled Trump to the presidency. Assuming this isn’t all just more fake news, I seem to have a problem with that.

In the Philippines, the Church usually doesn’t identify candidates by name. They just provide the criteria that its members are then supposed to use to guide them in choosing their candidates. I have read similar statement from the US bishops, so, I guess that is the general rule. Whenever a church oversteps itself and engages in partisan politics, then it risks its status as a tax-free entity. I find that being a Catholic in the modern world can be challenging. Sometimes, impossible.

Let’s take the recent elections for example. Yes, we should stand against abortion. That is something we cannot compromise. Does that mean we automatically have to vote for the other party’s candidate? In a one-on-one contest, that seems to be the logical conclusion. However, what if the other candidate has shown himself to be racist, misogynistic and sexist? Are Catholics still obliged to vote for that candidate? Yes, that candidate may well be against abortion, or even same-sex marriages, another Catholic no-no, but if all his other characteristics are just as abhorrent to Catholics, then why would they vote for him?And if they are not obliged to vote for him, then should Catholics simply retreat from this world?

I do not think that that is the solution. Again, first, the point of the whole exercise is for Catholics to vote in accordance with their own conscience. The Church leaders are supposed to guide its people in reaching their respective decisions on who to vote for, or not vote for.

Second, we are supposed to vote in accordance with our conscience. If we consider one candidate more pro-Catholic in his or her views than the other, then it is possible that we simply vote for that candidate. However, if we think that neither of them deserves our vote, then we should just as equally be free note to vote. Not voting is itself a vote. That may mean we are less likely to influence the elections but that would also mean that we remain true to who we are. Other Catholics may reach a different conclusion but that is how the system is supposed to work.

I am troubled by what I am seeing in this world with the rise of populist leaders like Duterte in the Philippines and Trump in the US. Farage in the U.K. and Le Pen in France pose similar threats. I’m sure there is something similar elsewhere. Farage failed in the last U.K. elections but he got the U.K. to vote for BREXIT. Le Pen too failed in France but it was a close call. These days, they may yet win. The danger they pose comes mostly from the fact that they focus too much on themselves (or their country) setting aside what counts as common decency to achieve their objectives. The end justifies the means and they won’t let something like the law get in their way. Of course, the full impact of what this all means are still to be felt. We see glimpses of it in the Philippines with the death of over 3,000 people suspected of involvement in the illegal drug trade, including “collateral damage”, and people being accused without due process. In the U.K. and the US, there were hate crimes reported after BREXIT and Trump’s win. The next four to six years will certainly reveal whether or not this populist experiment, some say revolution, is good or bad.

Today’s readings and gospel appear to calm us in the face of such uncertainties. Yes, things may indeed get worse before they get any better but, in all this, we have to remain faithful. We are to be models for others. We may even suffer persecution but we are reminded that, in the end, we will prevail, which actually brings me to my third and last point.

I do not believe Catholics should withdraw from the world in he face of all these trials and hardships. Instead, as the apostle Paul reminds us, we are to be models for others. If we want more pro-Catholic ideas in this world, then we have to actively promote those ideas. If we want more pro-Catholic candidates representing us, or running this or any other country then we have to have more Catholics involved in politics, not the Church leaders, naturally, but us, and if necessary present ourselves as candidates as well. This, I think, is what it means to evangelize in this day and age. We need to be active participants in the world to keep it safe and to guide it in the right path. We have to bring Catholic culture and beliefs to the fore.

With all that is happening, it is easy to lose focus and simply curse everybody to hell but that is not what we were called to do. In the face of evil, it is easy to condemn. The life of a Catholic, however, is never easy. To be models for others require us to live our faith in the open. To live, act and breath as a Catholic would regardless of where you are in society or the world. We have to know our faith, live it, and share it. That is not going to be easy in an ever increasingly worldly world but we are not alone in this. We are never alone because we rely on the strength that comes from the Lord. So, we endure. We strive. We make this world a better place. That is the cross we bear. It is not heavy though for the Lord also said that whenever we find our load heavy and are weary, we should go to Him, be refreshed, and take His load for His burden is light.

Things may not be the way we want it to be but it doesn’t matter. For us, the only thing that matters is to continue to live our faith in Christ.

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The Shepherd

Once in a while, we try to understand how we get the leaders we get. Unfortunately, it happens more often in the Philippines. Some have been okay, some better, but, lately, it’s more “what the heck?” than anything else.

Take the current president, for example. We all know how he got elected. What we want to know is why? He says it’s all God’s fault. Of course, it can’t be that simple but in a country that is 70-ish percent Catholic or 80-ish percent Christian, such a statement has a logic of its own. We think we get the leader we deserve as God in His infinite wisdom decrees. To my mind, however, the two do not necessarily go together. We get what we deserve because we chose our leaders. God in His infinite wisdom will not interfere with the exercise of our freedom of choice. The Bible though might say otherwise.

Take King Saul, for example. Called to be king of all Israel and anointed by God’s prophet at the request of the people, he brought great ruin to the nation. “Saul” may not even be his name because that means “called for” or “asked for” since Israel was crying out to God for a king. According to the archeologist David Rohl, it is likely Labayu, which means Great Lion that is perhaps fitting for a king known to have fought bravely against the Philistines. Saul was said to be unskilled in diplomacy using inappropriate language although in his case it was more about using Hebrew rather than Akkadian. In the end, this man, hailed to be the first king of Israel, eventually led his army in a disastrous battle where three of his sons were killed and he committed suicide so that we wouldn’t fall into his enemy’s hands.

The point is that even if you are hailed to be the head of a state as king or president, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will do well at it or that you even finish it, or at least it may not end the way you thought it would. Saul/Labayu was king but he took his own life after the death of his sons in battle. Joseph Ejercito/Erap Estrada was elected president of the Philippines but was ousted from it about halfway through his term in office. I don’t think God is so cruel as to have imposed such leaders upon their respective nations. We made them our leaders and things went bad for them. God can only do so much for the leader or the nation.

Instead, it is up to the leader to actually do everything in his power to help his people. When David became king of Israel, he wasn’t perfect. He made mistakes. Yet, he found his way back to God and is remembered as a great king. Our president has a long way to go. He has decided to quit cursing. That’s a start. I do hope that sometime soon he will realize that drug users are human beings entitled to their full human rights. The fact that their reasoning and actions may have been affected by the drugs does not mean they are any less human. To get them away from drugs, we need to treat them as humans. When they start feeling more human, they don’t need drugs anymore. Killing them is just another way of giving up on them and that’s more a statement about us than about them.

The president is unconventional to say the least. He has his way and, sometimes, it works. More often, it doesn’t. Running a country needs more than just bravado. Machismo can only take you so far. It is easy to bluff your way through one meeting after another but, after a while, it all piles up and puts you in a corner. There are just some things you have to put in order, and you just have to learn how to lead your people. Filipinos who hold dual citizenship are still Filipinos and he is still their president whether he likes it or not, or vice versa. We need a shepherd.

Take Jesus, for example. The good shepherd. He knows His sheep and His sheep know Him. Like the current president, His ways causes disagreements and fights. However, the one thing that differentiates the two, I mean the most glaring one as there are legion, is the fact that Jesus is motivated by love, for all. He sees everyone equally…as human beings that can be saved. Our president prefers to kill three million drug users rather than save them. His drug war has caused the death of over 3,000 Filipinos in around four months. We need him to be a good shepherd: to help us all and not just those he likes. We may be asking too much of this man but this is what it takes to be the president of this Republic.

We don’t need the president to be a philosopher-king. We don’t need him to be perfect. We just need him to be to be the president of all Filipinos.

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Growing Up

No longer a boy but not yet a man.

The youngster had endured much growing up. He had been abused, used and ridiculed. Sometimes, his woes were self-inflicted: he wasted his wealth. He did not know what to do. Typical of little children, he was content to follow those he considered his friends. His neighbors, meanwhile, grew rich. He was the poor sickly boy in the corner.

But now he was no longer a boy, he is discovering what he can do. He is learning how to be independent. He grew his wealth and was even able to lend. He was finding his place in the community. Yes, some friends would still help him but he was no longer that sickly boy in the corner. He has confidence and strength. The community nodded in praise of his achievements.

As he grew older, he remembers what happened before. He rebels against those whom he believes wronged him while he was weak and dependent, so much so that he would throw himself at others in the hopes that they would prove to be better friends. 

He stumbles on his way. He cusses and curses. He threatens, lashes out. Sometimes he apologises for his actions. Mostly, he couldn’t care less. He tries to be cool by saying inappropriate jokes. He sees the men who get their way in this world by using force and intimidation, sometimes wealth, and he is fascinated. He wants to be like them. The bad boy. Typical of adolescents. 

The community is amused. Sometimes frustrated. Frequently irritated. It’s just a phase everyone hopes. The boy has great potential. Everyone just has to be patient with him. He’ll soon grow out of it. The sooner the better they pray…

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