Thursday, July 26, 2018

Human rights vs human lives?

In 1998, I was among those invited to the 50th anniversary celebration of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, held in Paris. The huge gathering was in the same venue, Palais de Chaillot, where The Declaration was drafted and adopted on a chilly December Day in 1948. Sometimes The Declaration was called “Best-Kept Secret,” because decades after it was adopted by nations, human rights continued to be violated all over the world by those who either were not in on the “secret,” or chose to pretend they knew nothing about it.
Whoever they are, the ghostwriters who prepared President Duterte’s July 23 third State of the Nation Address created a lightning rod when they made him read the line that pitted human rights against human lives—as if, to borrow Kipling’s words, “never the twain shall meet.”
The President, looking somewhat under the weather and minus his rude and crude ad libs, dutifully read from a teleprompter. Out flew a tirade against human rights advocates: “Your concern is human rights. Mine is human lives.” An OMG! moment there.
He continued: “The lives of our youth are being wasted and families are destroyed, and all because of the chemicals called ‘shabu,’ cocaine, cannabis and heroine.” “Unrelenting” and “chilling,” he warned, would be his war on drugs, like it was on his Day One in 2016.

Paraphrased: To hell with the human rights of drug pushers and users, because what about the lives of those they waste and destroy (their own included)? Sorry na lang for the collateral damage? He was again peddling the fallacious idea that human rights advocates protect only the rights of drug suspects and not the rights of drug victims.

The gullible and brainwashed believe this, not comprehending that the human rights violations by agents of the state against civilians are the issue, because these agents of the state are supposed to be the protectors, not violators, of civilians’ human rights. To put it bluntly, who will protect us from our protectors?
“The lives of our youth are being wasted.” Yes, in the Duterte drug war, it is mostly the youth whose lives are indeed wasted, because they are ended by bullets from law enforcers whose mandate is to kill, kill, kill. Because “nanlaban,” meaning “the victims fought back.”
Take the case of Kian delos Santos, all of 17, whose life ended in a dark alley because “nanlaban.” (You can read online the illustrated storybook “Si Kian,” produced in 2017 by Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism’s Story Project. Last week it won a National Children’s Book Award. Written in English and Filipino by Weng Cahiles and illustrated by Aldy Aguirre, “Si Kian” was judged 1 of the 9 best books for kids in 2016 and 2017.)
“Your concern is human rights, mine is human lives” is something for Du-trolls to add to their Dutertisms notebook. But as I said earlier, it was a lightning rod that attracted fire and brimstone from the sky.
From Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Caloocan Diocese: “Such a statement implies that the victims of drug-related killings are not human lives! Is not the right to life the most basic human right? Yes, use the full force of the law, file charges against violators, jail the pushers and the suppliers, but save the users; do not kill them! Besides, we cannot rehabilitate dead people anymore, can we?”
From Lan Mercado, international development worker and human rights advocate: “In making the false dichotomy between human rights and human lives, Duterte was being facile about the killings he instigates. He is misleading the public to think that human rights are not important compared to the human lives he says he protects through the war against drugs… This one line is the most manipulative in Duterte’s State of the Nation Address, making people who approve the killings feel they are just and righteous because they stand for human lives, and if they have been having doubts or guilt pangs over 20,000-plus murders, or the violated rights of mostly poor people victimized by extrajudicial killings, they should feel vindicated. This one line fuels the ignorance about how human rights are integral to the protection of human life.”#

Thursday, July 19, 2018

"Rock Solid": Ph's maritime win vs China

Decades and even centuries from now, Filipinos, it is hoped, would take pride in the fact that their forebears did not merely loll leisurely on the shores facing the West Philippine Sea, let go of their claim to territory and surrendered it to China without a fight.
There was a fight! And it took place at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. But, first, it happened in the hearts and minds of those who dared, with former president Benigno Aquino III among the bravehearts.
Thursday last week, July 12, 2018, marked the second anniversary of the ruling on the Philippines’ case against China that was decided at The Hague tribunal in 2016. The tribunal ruled that the Philippines has exclusive sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea, that China’s “nine-dash line” was invalid, and that China has violated Philippine sovereign rights.

“Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won its Maritime Case Against China,” by multiawarded journalist Marites Dañguilan Vitug, tells the story of the arduous task to defend Philippine sovereignty that ended in victory. Published by Ateneo de Manila University Press, “Rock Solid” was to be launched yesterday, but because of flooding in Metro Manila, the launch had to be postponed. Special invitees were Vice President Leni Robredo, Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio and former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario. The two men were among what Vitug called in the book “the actors.”

The book is a must-read for the average Filipino with (or without) claims to patriotism, and more importantly for historians, lawyers, academics, politicians, diplomats, educators, journalists. And, yes, the Filipino fishermen whose witness accounts reached The Hague. The book should be read by persons whose hands are on the helm of the ship named Country.
“Rock Solid” is a meticulously researched, magnificent piece of work, like Vitug’s other best-selling books. The book is not difficult to read, because the author, a journalist, knows how to tell a good story that is perked up by true-to-life characters whose thoughts, feelings, strategies and plans of action are laid bare for the reader to appreciate.
In a way, “Rock Solid” is one suspenseful thriller, and it even begins that way. I won’t say how.
The book is divided into four main parts (“The Present and the Past,” “Factors that Matter,” “The Main Actors” and “The Case”) that consist of 22 chapters. Vitug’s comprehensive account traces the recent history of the Philippines’ maritime claims, delves into the various issues that affected the dispute, and presents the main actors and key arguments that culminated in the epic legal victory of a David against a Goliath. The Philippines’ territorial claim prevailed over that of China.
Good backgrounders are the chapters “American Conundrum” and “The Asean Dance with China.”
Interesting for me is Chapter 19, “A ‘Constitution for the Oceans,’” which was how the oft-heard Unclos or UN Convention on the Law of the Sea began as a speck in the ocean in 1967. For its signing in 1982, the Philippines even sent a delegation. Fast forward to 2016, Unclos would be at the center of the arbitration case—“this small country’s anchor” and “weapon” when it haled China to court. (China refused to participate and called the Philippines the “real troublemaker.”)
But the action—legally, that is—is in the latter chapters. These, too, are page-turners. “The Itu Aba Twist” chapter, for example, can set off some chuckles, if not laughter. (Vitug has a signature laugh, by the way, that can crack up a room.)

(Not quite trivia: My name is mentioned on page 24.)
The Epilogue is a letdown because of how The Hague tribunal’s positive ruling that was hailed by nations was limply received by the 2-week-old Duterte government in 2016. No drumrolls and trumpet blasts. The new leader would rather dance with the Yonder Peril, the territory-eating dragon across the sea. He is now two years into the dance.
But remember this: The rock-solid victory is for all time.
For now, the book is sold at the Ateneo Press, Fully Booked, Ayala Museum, Solidaridad and Popular Bookstores.#

Thursday, July 12, 2018


Almost all of the so-called extrajudicial killings in the past bloody couple of years were carried out by motorcycle-riding gunmen wielding short firearms. A common scenario: One of two men riding in tandem would come within a few feet of his prey and shoot. With the target felled, both men would then speed away and vanish without a trace. A car could also be used as a getaway vehicle.
That was how it was carried out in the murder of the three priests in the past six months—the swift, almost fail-safe modus operandi of hired killers whose principals are too cowardly to do the killing themselves.
The murder last Monday morning of Tanauan City Mayor Antonio Halili (the fourth mayor to be killed) was unlike the countless ones in the past. He was felled by a sniper armed with a long firearm and hiding behind tall grass during morning flag-raising in front of the city hall. It looked like a well-planned, well-rehearsed kind of operation, one that needed nerves, practice and precision.

Shooting to kill someone at close range needs only enough nerves, motivation (money) and the right handgun or automatic weapon for the hired killer’s use—that is, after he finds his target at the right place at the right time. And, of course, how to get away fast. That is all there is. Sniping is different.

A sniper is a different beast of prey, a different breed. A sniper is one who shoots accurately from a hiding place and at a distance. There is a psychology if not method in becoming a sniper.
Just reading about a sniper can make you shiver, like in the novel “The Cellist of Sarajevo” by Steven Galloway, where a sniper with the nom de guerre Arrow carries out her everyday task to shoot in order to protect. And there is the autobiographical “American Sniper” by former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, “the most lethal sniper in American history,” who saw action in Iraq. At 38, he died in a hail of bullets from a war veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In the 1990s, I interviewed for the Sunday Inquirer magazine a retired gun-for-hire (but not a sniper) who had so many kills in his resume. He happened to be a close blood relative of two top guns in the Armed Forces.
Police profilers must be, by now, busy finding out about recent target practice and related activities by gun enthusiasts, tracking down sharpshooters among civilians, the police and the military. It was not an ordinary Juan with a gun who put Halili in the crosshairs. Sure, the mayor had conducted “shame walks” for suspected drug pushers while he was a drug suspect himself, but who killed him, and why? And why in this manner?
If I may digress, shocking to me was how TV reporters were allowed by investigators to get into the grassy scene of the crime (where the sniper crawled, watched and waited) and do some reenactment themselves. All the traces of the sniper’s DNA (if he spit, dropped a tear, urinated) and other material evidence (footprints, etc.) were trampled upon and destroyed. Elementary, my dear Watson!
I was surprised to read a lot on snipers and sniping on the internet. A good read is “What goes on in the mind of a sniper?” by Stephanie Hegarty for BBC World Service. She interviewed snipers, Kyle among them, as well as behavioral experts who have studied snipers in war zones. Police snipers, Hegarty wrote, are of a different makeup and are more prone to PTSD than those in the military. And, yes, there is an American association that supports traumatized snipers.
“It’s killing that is very distant but also very personal,” anthropologist Neta Bar told Hegarty. “I would even say intimate.” She focused on snipers who, unlike soldiers who aim at big targets, pick individuals.

It would be interesting to know the profile of the sniper who killed Halili—
how and where he trained. Was he a lone wolf, a vigilante, a hired gun? If a hired gun, who hired him and why? For how much?
A new modus operandi in the drug war (presuming that the killing was drug-related) has begun.#

Catholic women religious in the trenches

This one is true: Catholic religious sisters in India donating their kidneys to poor patients—total strangers in need of new kidneys in order to live longer.
This is among the many stories that come out weekly in Global Sisters Report (GSR).
More recently, and still continuing, are special reports on the global migrant crisis, humanity’s wound in need of attention and solutions. The stories are not only heart-rending; they tell us that there is hope as long as there are persons who care enough to be there and do something.

Of this crisis, Pope Francis had said: “How can we not see the face of the Lord in the face of the millions of exiles, refugees, and displaced persons who are fleeing in desperation from the horror of war, persecution and dictatorship?”

Catholic women religious are among those who respond to the crisis. They soldier on and work quietly in the trenches, so to speak, without fanfare, despite attacks from political powers-that-be and internal conflagrations in the hierarchical church to which they belong.
Global Sisters Report is “an independent, nonprofit source of news and information about Catholic sisters and the critical issues facing the people they serve.” GSR has a network of journalists all over the world who report about the sisters’ lives and works, while sisters also write pieces from their perspective.
GSR is a project of US-based National Catholic Reporter Publishing Co. and is funded by a grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.
GSR’s raison d’être: “For as long as there have been Christians, women have been in the forefront when it comes to serving the body of Christ. In fact, according to the Gospels, it was a group of women—Mary Magdalene, Salome, Joanna, Susanna, as well as unnamed others—who financially supported Jesus’ ministry and cared for his needs.
“In the generations that followed, many Christian women became exemplars of charity and faith. Fabiola built a hospital in Rome, cared for patients and later built a hospice for the poor. Helena, Constantine the Great’s mother, spent her wealth making donations to churches in order to help the poor. In the sixth century, Radegund, Queen of the Franks, provided shelter and food for the sick and often served as their nurse.
“Religious life began in the second to third centuries, and most of the modern apostolic congregations arose after the Reformation. The greatest number of them were founded in the 18th and 19th centuries.
“Today’s women religious are living the legacy of their foremothers. Impelled by the Gospel, these some 710,000 women care for the least among us, ready to meet daunting problems with humility and fervor. Choosing a life of prayer, community and service, the sisters share their ideas, visions and unique charisms in order to share Christ’s love with the world.”

These remarkable women have built schools and healthcare systems around the world, served the last, the least and the lost, and are there always to meet the challenges of the times.
Here in the Philippines, during the dark days of the Marcos dictatorship, they were in the forefront to assist the so-called “poor, deprived and oppressed” who bore the brunt of tyrannical rule. Oh, tell me about it. No stopping them.
Women religious are in the fight against human trafficking, which has affected an estimated 2.5 million people, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. They help refugees fleeing violence in their homelands and assist them build new lives in their adopted countries. They assist those stricken with HIV/AIDS and are key players in the battle against the disease.
Why the sisters, the nuns, the women religious? Why their stories?
From GSR: “Because their stories are the stories of the Holy Spirit at work. Because they have changed and continue to change our world. Because for millions of people around the globe, the sisters and their commitment to the Gospel have been the tangible arms of the church.” Ave!
GSR is free (http://www.globalsistersreport.org/). Read and be inspired. It has been an honor and privilege for me to contribute stories to GSR these past two years. Let me know about sisters’ stories that need to be told.#