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How could a Christian nation even make Duterte the leading presidential contender?

First of Two Parts
Next to belief in God, the most basic tenet of Christianity, and in this century, of civilization itself as we know it, is reverence for human life.

The two beliefs are in fact linked, since human life is a gift of God, and no human, no human institution, can take it away. Pope John Paul II even pointed out that such reverence for life isn’t a metaphysical concept but the basic foundation of modern civilization as we know it: “Only respect for life can be the foundation and guarantee of the most precious and essential goods of society, such as democracy and peace. (Evangelium vitae, 1995, no. 101).

Catholicism, which purportedly 90 percent of Filipinos embrace, in fact has been the biggest organization to champion, actually in this century, a total reverence for life. It has opposed capital punishment and birth control, arguing that even the State does not have the right to snuff out a convicted criminal’s life, and the Catholic Church even admonishes the State to prevent a woman from ending the natural gestation of a zygote.

So how could Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte – who boasts of killing people where they stand, who makes a sick joke about an Australian lady’s corpse, and advocates killing criminals en masse without due process – be a leading contender in a presidential contest?

Duterte has been the first politician – really, the first Filipino ever – to be given a pulpit to express such reckless disregard for human life. In a recent interview, he claimed he even ordered the bodies of the 16 hostage-takers to be just “put in a big hole” somewhere in the public cemetery. It is certainly not surprising that he is the one and only Filipino politician to have told the Pope, “putangina mo.”

Pause for a while, think about it and you will really be shocked as I have been in the past few months. In any civilized country in the world, a candidate for whatever public position, who professes such beliefs such as his right to kill criminals where they stand, boasts he shoots a suspected criminal in the head after he is asked to kneel down, would be considered a nut case, or be sued for criminal lunacy – even if he claims he has made a ‘Singapore’ out of what used to be a poor city he led as mayor.

Is he even part of our civilization? Duterte, who has boasted he killed criminals himself.
Is he even part of our civilization? Duterte, who has boasted he killed criminals himself.

What happened to this purportedly Christian nation that it would even think of electing as father of our nation somebody who doesn’t share Christianity’s belief and modern civilization’s basic tenet that human life, even that of criminals, must be revered?

Duterte’s I-will-kill-criminals-where-they-stand demagoguery, which appeals to the basest instincts of man, has certainly won him a following among the masses who themselves have been the most victimized by criminality and lack access to a functioning legal system.

They hear only what they want to hear
His elite backers – the most with responsibility to educate the vast masses – utterly block out of their minds Duterte’s unequivocal statements betraying his utter lack of reverence for life, his rejection of due process and the rule of law. What they hear from Duterte they revise according to what they want to hear.

For instance, one of Duterte’s biggest and most articulate supporters is former SEC chairman Perfecto Yasay, Jr. Yasay is not only steeped in the values of Western philosophy, a licensed law practitioner in New York, and therefore, one who really understands the importance of due process and the rule of law. But not only that, Yasay’s father is a pastor, and he himself has been a leader of the Philippines’ branch of the United Church of Christ – a Protestant denomination that has historically demonstrated such respect for life that it has always opposed capital punishment, even before the Catholic Church did.

What is Yasay’s response to my question whether he supports the extrajudicial killings in Davao City? He says, what Duterte does “is not different from the killing of (international terrorist) Marwan in Mamasapano.”

That shocked me when I heard it. Marwan has gone through the most rigorous due process in this planet, having been indicted in Philippine, US and Australian courts, with the US FBI putting him in its most wanted list. Marwan had surrounded himself with explosive booby traps (which killed four police commandos) and with three platoons with sniper rifles of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and other armed Moro groups.

Yet, Yasay says the killing of Marwan is of the same kind as Duterte’s and his Davao Death Squad’s murders from 1998 to 2015 of 1,424 suspected criminals, none of them charged in court, according to a research by Fr. Amado Picardal. This included 57 females and 132 young people – 126 boys and six girls – not more than 17 years of age. All were unarmed when they were taken, with some killed by Duterte himself, according to his boasts.

Coming from a family of Protestant missionaries, Yasay would have had many friends who must have gone to remote ministries, like Australian missionary Jacqueline Hamill did, though she ended up raped and killed in Davao City in 1989.

What did Yasay say of his friend Duterte’s sick joke, made after seeing her dead body that he felt he should have been first in the queue to have her since he was (he still is) mayor of the city where it happened? “It should be appreciated and understood in its proper context. Indeed, the masses have not taken offense at Duterte’s gutter utterances,” Yasay said on his Facebook post.

Yasay told me: “You are being moralistic for political partisan purposes.” I invoke a basic tenet of Christianity and I am being moralistic?

I have discussed Yasay’s views at length since his case demonstrates, as I will show in the second part of this essay, quite well how shallow really has been the veneer of Christianity, and belief in the rule of law among Filipinos, even among the elite, due to their still basic tribalism.

Yasay’s views are typical of those who refuse to hear that Duterte is espousing vigilante death squads, rather than merely invoking the police’s right to defend themselves with lethal force, as stated in the following rant by one Andoni Valencia, an employee of Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines, who seems to have so much to write about Duterte such as in the following press release: “Killing? What’s the problem with that? Duterte made it clear that when apprehending crime, especially drug pushers and drug users, will be bloody because obviously these criminals will fight back.”

‘God ordered killings’
What’s chilling about the views of this presumably Christian young man is his perverted interpretation of the Bible, oblivious that the New Testament is a big leap from the tribal barbarism of the Old Testament: “I am a Bible-believing Christian, and let us not forget that in the Bible, even God ordered men to lead revolutions (bloody ones) to cleanse the nation. He even used an adulterer, murderer, womanizer, etc. to lead nations.”

Another example of hearing not what Duterte says but what they want to hear, or what is acceptable to them is that Philippine Star columnist Carmen Pedrosa.

She has written over two dozen columns praising Duterte, her main message – that Duterte is “destined’ to be President since “millions of Filipinos” are supporting him. I scoured her many columns, which, however shirk from explaining Duterte’s shocking boasts that he has killed criminals themselves, his jokes on molesting his household help (a venial sin only, he said, since he really did nothing but go to the bathroom to masturbate), and his now infamous sick necrophilia joke.

She offers only one weird explanation for Duterte’s utter lack of reverence for life in her thousands of words praising him, as if there was an esoteric secret the killer revealed to her:

“I now understand the reasoning behind the need for punishment (according to Duterte). It comes from Plato’s Laws.

“It is a custom of our justice to punish some as a warning to others. For to punish them for having done wrong would, as Plato says, be stupid. What is done cannot be undone. The intention is to stop them from repeating the same mistake or to make others avoid their error. We do not improve the man we hang: we improve others by him.“

She quotes Duterte as having invoked Plato for his policy of executing criminals without due process? I wonder why no other reporter or columnist has reported Duterte as quoting Plato.

It is really not surprising that Pedrosa’s interpretation of Duterte’s vigilantism is unintelligible, as her columns have been merely wordy versions of Duterte posters, and of her screaming her lungs out as if she were in a Duterte rally, with such titles as “The Duterte crowd is everywhere,” “Duterte kami,” and “We want change, Duterte, Duterte, Duterte.”

One of the shocking statements in her columns was when she wrote that this killer, this necrophilia, is “God’s miracle” to the Philippines. That, of course, jibes with Duterte’s megalomania, that he will save the nation from criminals, in six months

I have discussed Pedrosa’s views, since her case as in Yasay’s situation demonstrates, as I will explain on Wednesday, quite well how shallow really has been the veneer of Christianity and belief in the rule of law among Filipinos.

If Yasay and Pedrosa are right, that Duterte is just saying he has the political will to go after criminals and prosecute them – and not really to kill them where they are found – do they really think that this Davao mayor would get the support of even a fraction of his adoring, angry masses?