There are two countries that go by the name “Philippines.” The real, historical one is home to the Filipino millions, nearly half of whom are poor and powerless because they’re ruled by one of the most corrupt and most incompetent political classes on the planet. The other is an imaginary one — a creation of those very same rulers to convince the ruled that everything is fine, indeed nearly perfect, in this earthly paradise.
A March 31 statement by the Office of the Executive Secretary (OES), for example, kept referring to “the Philippines.” But it sounded as if it were describing an entirely different country outside of history.
The OES statement was in response to Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, who aptly described the Duterte regime as authoritarian.
She was speaking at the Human Rights Festival in Milan, Italy last March 25, during which she also said that from the extrajudicial killing of alleged drug pushers and users, the regime is now targeting human rights defenders, critics, and political activists.
What is happening in the Philippines, she continued, is “fascism,” with which her audience was presumably familiar, that abomination having been the reality in Italy during the Benito Mussolini dictatorship.
Tauli-Corpuz is one of the more than 600 Filipino men and women listed in the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) court petition to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) terrorist organizations. Everyone in that list, including Tauli-Corpuz, is now in danger of either arbitrary arrest or even death, the rule of law having been replaced in much of these isles by the rule of force.
The list of allegedly ranking, “terrorist” members of the CPP and NPA also contains the names of community leaders and members of legal sectoral organizations such as urban poor, workers’ and farmers’ groups.
Presumably speaking for Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, the OES statement said “Democracy in the Philippines is vibrant and strong,” that “all branches of the government are functioning” — and that “the rule of law thrives.”
But if the rule of law “thrives,” why is Mindanao still under martial rule, the extension of which is premised on, among others, the incapacity of government agencies, including the courts, to function due to the supposedly continuing threat of terrorism?
That thought apparently escaped the drafters of the statement. But the next sentence in that paragraph should provoke even more questions, and not only because it is completely false. It is also because it sounds as if whoever drafted the statement was being sarcastic, as anyone who has been following developments in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the government is likely to conclude.
Apparently, however, the writer of the statement wasn’t being literary, but literal. “The executive branch,” the sentence declares, “respects the separation of powers and the independence of the other co-equal branches and doesn’t meddle with their affairs.”
A strange, almost comic claim to make, it being at odds with the way the Duterte “supermajority” in the House of Representatives, in obedience to the wishes of its Malacanang patron, has forwarded a flawed impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to the Senate. The executive branch’s DOJ, in anticipation of Sereno’s exoneration in the upper house, is also trying to remove her through a quo warranto writ. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court appointees of President Rodrigo Duterte and his ally Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, after some of them testified against Sereno, mobilized Supreme Court employees and some judges to demand her resignation.
What all these demonstrate is that not only is the executive branch in control of the “co-equal” lower house of Congress; it is also actively undermining what remains of the independence of the Supreme Court. But it is Tauli-Corpuz whom the OES statement accuses of being “detached from reality,” despite that description’s being more applicable to it.
If the OES statement sounds as if it were describing another country, the Easter message of Medialdea’s superior sounded as if it were from the head of state of that imaginary, near-perfect place.
Mr. Duterte has cursed Pope Francis, attacked the Catholic Church and its prelates, admitted, and in fact even bragged about, his having two wives, and at various times declared himself an unbeliever. But he nevertheless urged Filipinos to “thank the Lord for giving us His only son to save the world from sin.”
Himself far from being humble, and certainly unforgiving, Mr. Duterte also encouraged them to “nurture humility and forgiveness…as these will free us from the shackles of hatred and greed…” This, while Mr. Duterte’s online trolls and the state media system’s overpaid bureaucrats spread disinformation and incite others to rape, kill and commit other acts of violence against independent journalists and regime critics. In imitation of their role model, they use hate speech to debase democratic discourse.
But “let us make this occasion (Easter) more meaningful by offering aid to others, specially those in need,” Mr. Duterte continued. “Let us pray for the welfare and safety of our countrymen and for lasting peace in our nation so we can all work together in harmony towards real change.”
Because of their long experience with both domestic and foreign masters — with the Marcos kleptocracy and its bureaucrat capitalists, for example, and with the country’s colonizers and imperial overlords — Filipinos should by now be schooled in how to look beyond the words that have been and are still being used to mask the foulest deeds, and to convince the unwary that lies are truths and truths lies. Unfortunately, most of them are not, and are still susceptible to the blandishments of those who use words to deceive rather than enlighten.
Words are supposed to mean something, and for very sound reasons. Communication is meant to function in furtherance of the need to understand nature, society and human beings themselves, and from that understanding, to empower free men and women to change the world.
The particulars of the Filipino predicament — the poverty, injustice and misery that haunt millions, the corruption, the monopoly over political power by a handful of autocratic families, and yes, the fascism that has been the usual response to the centuries-old demands for justice and some measure of prosperity — all have to be understood by their victims, in whose hands is the potential to change them.
In fear of the possibility that out of that understanding may come the power of the poor to transform the world of injustice they live in, the country’s rulers have mastered the cynical use of words to hide, misrepresent, and prettify the ugly realities that define Filipino lives. They have created another universe as false as their glowing descriptions of their own dynastic rule. The “new society” was Marcos’ version. The “strong republic” was Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s — and the country where “change has come” that of Duterte’s.
The very real country of poverty, corruption, deceit, and state terrorism and violence that the Filipino millions inhabit, rather than the mythical one their rulers have been passing off as true, is what the human rights defenders; the social and political activists; the student, worker, farmer and indigenous peoples’ groups; and the reformers and revolutionaries have been describing to their countrymen. That is why they have been labeled “terrorists” by the very regimes, from that of Marcos’ to Duterte’s, that fear the changes of which they pretend to be the heralds.
*Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he teaches journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld