Just recently, President Rodrigo Duterte in a speech in Malacañang issued a threat to human rights activists, telling them that he will be forced to kill them should they continue interfering with his war on drugs campaign. Because these people pin the rising number of casualties and killings on Duterte, he also stated that such defenders of human rights were the reason behind why numbers of drug addicts swell. Naturally, the media and such activists did not let this ill-natured comment pass, and, naturally, his communications team quickly came to his defense as damage control.
Aside from making absolutely no sense to me whatsoever, the statement, I quickly realized, is rather disturbing. Words are powerful, and from the head executive of a country, they carry all the more significance. The presidential communications team quickly came to the president’s defense a few days after he uttered the threat against human rights activists. The statement was made only out of frustration, his team said. I wonder when they will finally run out of excuses, or if they actually will. If he’s not speaking out of frustration, he’s taken out of context, misquoted, suffering from a headache, or making a joke. When do we hold him accountable?
Clearly, the statement against human rights activists is an affront to our human dignity and, by extension, our fundamental freedoms, and I believe anyone who thinks otherwise is mistaken. We should be offended that our country’s chief executive will stop at nothing, and will even consider—and has probably considered—shutting down defenders of human rights for the actualization of his war on drugs. If the enemy truly are the drug addicts caught in narco-politics, then why are human rights defenders suddenly thrown into the equation? Why should they be the ones blamed for the swelling of numbers of drug addicts in the country? Why should they be the ones gunned down? For speaking out? For being critical? For wanting to hold the president accountable? It seems to me that the president is unable to deal properly with the criticisms hurled at him, and for him to shift the blame to human rights activists is quite nonsensical and perpetuates a false dichotomy of “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.” There is so much more at play and at stake than that.
It is actually saddening that those who defend human rights are seen by the common people who stand unabashed behind Duterte as the enemy here. I cannot determine at which point in time did wanting to preserve the dignity and sanctity of human life and our basic rights become a bad thing to do or even be associated with. I cannot tell you when it became better to be in support of vigilante-style killings if that meant reducing the numbers of alleged drug peddlers than to be in support of protecting and promoting our human rights. But I can tell you that more and more of the common people seem to approve of such deaths because that supposedly means success for the war waged on drugs, and that is troubling.
The war on drugs is one thing, and this brooding war on human rights activists is another. I am equally disappointed at both. I am disappointed that despite the fact that we are a country that strives to create a just and humane society and live the ideals of justice and freedom, more bodies turn up dead in the dark of the night in less than humane circumstances. I am disappointed that we have let a culture of impunity and death overcome us. I am disappointed that most people do not share the same sentiments, and that is troubling.
Such a strong statement from our president is alarming, and I am both puzzled and scared at the lack of action against this. If we let another strong and disconcerting statement from him pass and not call him out on it, if we let his team downplay it as a result of mere frustrations, where do we draw the line, and how do we know just when too much is too much? It seems to me that we have grown used to his disturbing statements that I refuse to believe are mere empty threats. It seems to me that we have grown complacent, and that is perhaps most troubling of all.