Cracks are appearing in Duterte’s armor

Deadly war on drugs, failure to deliver on election promises is starting to see support for Philippine strongman falter

A group of urban poor dwellers put up barricades after occupying a government housing project north of Manila. (Photo by Mark Saludes)
Inday Espina-Varona, Manila 
September 28, 2017

President Rodrigo Duterte’s spin doctors like to hype a monolithic power base. It is a noisy base, raucous and all too ready to fight dirty for their hero. But Duterte’s steady backtracking from his biggest social and economic promises have eroded the foundations of his autocratic rule.

His biggest challenges, analysts say, will come from the poor that swept him into power.

Most reportage and social media noise in the Philippines focuses on the death toll of Duterte’s drug war. In a country where the average family has six members, the 12,000 deaths recorded in the last year represent a humanitarian crisis.

There is no support for widows and orphans of the drug war. The government has just slashed the budget for drug rehabilitation centers by US$40 million.

There is no transparency in the killings police acknowledge.

The head of the national police says he needs a green light from the president to make reports public. The rest of the killings are waved off as the handiwork of vigilantes, and the implied message is, they help police keep city streets “safe.”

The president has also used the drugs issue as a pretext for his planned overhaul of he country’s political system.

Already, his allies have set the wheels in motion for the suspension of local elections in barangay or villages.

Duterte, with little concern for legalities, warns that he will strip incumbents of power, based only on flimsy and often inaccurate, intelligence reports on drug ties.

He plans to install his allies as officials in charge, in preparation for a planned push toward federalism.

Duterte has used the drug issue to keep critics on the defensive.

A series of assassinations of people he had tagged as drug lords increased intimidation levels.

The president has also reinstated police officers charged with the murders of high profile suspects.

His politics of fear and his passionate adherents have created an aura of invincibility.

“I think we must acknowledge that Duterte is popular and that this stems from a widespread sense that what the country needs is a strong hand to ‘fix the mess’,” says former legislator Walden Bello.

When will the sheen wear off?

Given the attacks, should critics just lie low and wait it out?

Bello believes the best defense is not to moderate criticism but to sharpen it and to continue to stress that democracy, human rights, and due process are among the cornerstones of Philippine political culture, and are non-negotiable values.

There are signs that Duterte’s momentum may be faltering.

While he remains popular, Filipinos have consistently warned him in surveys that they do not agree with drug war killings.

Impunity also breeds careless and cocky ways.

A series of brazen killings in Manila appears to have snapped the patience of many, including some of Duterte’s supporters.

On Sept. 15, the national police command sacked an entire city force — only days after Duterte made a fantastic claim, that all the killings were a conspiracy to tarnish his image.

Months back, you would have seen hundreds of thousands of followers echoing the president.

Last week saw Duterte’s social media followers distancing themselves from the ridiculous claim.

The police announcement of the sacking of the police force in one city elicited sighs of relief from Duterte supporters.

Police backtracked on random drug testing in communities after a lawyer’s group filed a legal challenge.

Also recently, police officials blinked, retreating from a previous order barring the release of crime scene reports.

Bello has no illusions about any immediate major defeat for Duterte.

The people’s anger over elite democracy politics is real and justified.

The main reason Duterte remains strong is people’s repudiation of the system and deep inequality that replaced the Marcos dictatorship, Bello adds.

The bolting by the radical of the left from its testy, rocky alliance with Duterte, is seen as major blow for the strongman though it has been predicted for months now.

Duterte is his own greatest weakness.

As his drug war faces increasing hostility, Duterte cannot afford to turn back on his progressive pledges. But that is exactly what has happened.

To keep his control of security forces, he has steadily backtracked from his biggest social and economic promises.

He has held back incentive pay for teachers. Soldiers have realized he cannot double their pay.

His war in Marawi has cost the country $60 million and counting. He doesn’t even have a major catch to show for it; just a city reduced to rubble and hostages still in rebel hands.

Rehabilitation will need at least $1 billion and restive Muslim communities warn they will resist if their lands are ceded to big investors.

Big business has also forced Duterte to go slow on the promised end to labor contractualization.

The government has just overturned a popular ban on open-pit mining. Public transports groups are demanding a fare hike.

Tax reform touted as pro-poor will actually increase what the poor pay in terms of sales and value added taxes.

His biggest challenges, analysts say, will come from the poor that swept him into power.

Inday Espina-Varona is an editor and commentator based in Manila.

Statement on the CHR Budget as Passed by the Lower House

The Sangguniang Laiko ng Pilipinas (LAIKO), the umbrella organization of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines for Catholic Lay Organizations strongly condemns the appropriation of ₱1,000.00 for the 2018 budget of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) by the Lower House.

The importance of the CHR is underscored by its mandate in the 1987 Philippine Constitution (Art. XIII) which includes, among others:

  1. investigating, on its own or on complaint by any party, all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights, [Sec. 18(1)];
  2. providing appropriate legal measures for the protection of human rights of all persons within the Philippines, as well as Filipinos residing abroad, and providing preventive measures and legal aid services to the under-privileged whose human rights have been violated or need protection [Sec. 18(3)];
  3. exercising visitorial powers over jails, prisons, or detention facilities [Sec. 18(4)]; and
  4. monitoring the Philippine Government’s compliance with international treaty obligations on human rights [Sec. 18(7)].

These functions have been crafted with the highest of morals and ideals in mind. The CHR is meant to serve ALL FILIPINOS regardless of political color.

In this regard LAIKO deplores the act of the Lower House in allotting ₱1,000.00 for the 2018 budget of the CHR;

LAIKO implores the Philippine Senate and Congress to appropriate a budget for the CHR which will enable it to effectively pursue its functions and uphold the human rights of ALL FILIPINOS.

For the Board of Directors of Sangguniang Laiko ng Pilipinas,

National President

Noted by:

LAIKO National Director
Chairman, CBCP Episcopal Commission on the Laity
19 September 2017

New JPII Pontifical Institute for Matrimonial & Family Sciences releases statement

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, Grand Chancellor of the newly-created John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Matrimonial and Family Sciences – ANSA

(Vatican Radio) | 19/09/2017 17:04 The newly-created John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Matrimonial and Family Sciences on Tuesday released a statement regarding Pope Francis’ Motu Proprio Datae summa familiae cura.

The Motu Proprio was released on Tuesday, establishing the Institute to carry forward the work of the two recent Synods of Bishops and the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia.

The ‘media notes’ statement is signed by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, Grand Chancellor of the Institute, and Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, its President.

It discusses the inspiration and sources behind the Holy Father’s Motu Proprio, as well as how the project is to be implemented.

Please find below the original statement:

Rome, September 19, 2017

Media Notes on the Motu Proprio of Pope Francis Summa Familiae Cura that Creates the John Paul II  Pontifical Theological Institute for Matrimonial and Family Sciences – September 19,2017
  1. The Apostolic Letter with which Pope Francis has created the new John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute reveals his desire to honor two sources that were his inspiration.

(a) The first is the new social and cultural vista in which matrimony and the family seek to be consistent with their original calling. The process of recognizing and reflection on these two institutions during the recent Synods has made evident the necessity of a “renewed awareness of the Gospel of the Family and of new pastoral challenges that the Christian community is called on to answer.”

(b) The second source is the “farseeing intuition of Saint John Paul II” who strongly supported the creation of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family as a key institution dedicated to research and to specialist formation at a university level and having a special connection with the Apostolic See.  This legacy, far from having lost its driving force, is to be “even more clearly recognized and valued for its fruitfulness and importance today.”

  1. These two sources led to have led to the special message of the Letter:

(a) On the one hand, there is the direct involvement of Pope Francis that reflects the two described sources.  He “signs on” to the subject and reveals his deep belief in (i)the crucial nature of the question, (ii) the new vitality of a reflection on the faith, and (iii) discernment of the human condition, all of which the Church is called on to bring to the world.

(b) As well, the Pope has entrusted the task of respecting both the continuity and the newness of this undertaking to the same persons who are now engaged in safeguarding a great legacy and making it bear fruit.  The academic officers of the predecessor institution (Grand Chancellor, President, Governing Council) are the ones called on to formulate the regulations, structures and operations of the new Theological Institute, at both the main campus and the various Sessions around the world, in the twofold context of continuity and renewal.

(c) This approach eliminates the possibility of an agenda-driven interpretation that sees the Pope’s action as a departure from the inspiration that moved Saint John Paul II, or even as a sign that the Pope has lost confidence in the existing institution, its leadership or its faculty.  Indeed, these are the very persons who are called to guide the new Institute on the necessary path of adaptation and restructuring that is called for by the Holy Father.

Continue reading

Invitation for the Celebration of International Day of Peace on September 21

Photo credit:

Care for fellow Filipinos.
Dignity for All.

In the middle of the administration’s campaign against drugs and the war launched against the Maute in Marawi, hundreds of thousands of faceless and nameless people are forced to flee from their homes for their security and safety. In Marawi, many families have been uprooted from the land they toiled and culture that nurtured and molded them to become the people that they are. In the same way, many parents, siblings, wives, and children in urban areas have to leave their homes, livelihoods, relatives and friends for fear that they will be executed and suffer the same fate as their relatives allegedly involved in drugs.

As of 14 July 2017, the UNHCR released a report revealing 91,538 number of families displaced because of the Marawi bombing. And, while there is no official data on the continuous drug-related killings, civil society organization can estimate that around 10,000-13,000 families have been affected and we can surmise that they were displaced physically and economically from their homes.

Aside from Marawi incident and drug-related killings, in many areas in the country, evacuation have become a regular routine of people every time a military and armed groups from NPA or Muslim militants would clash. Others, like the IPs and farmers, have to seek other land after losing their ancestral lands and livelihoods because of the premium given by the government for business and profit. Still others, because of poverty and limited job opportunities in provinces, would choose to leave their homes for Metro Manila or other countries leaving their parents, siblings, wives, and children to fight their own battles of loneliness and a life with one parent-model lesser.

Thus, on September 21, the world will celebrate the International Day of Peace with theme: “Together for Peace: Respect, Safety, Dignity for All”. This year’s theme “honours the spirit of TOGETHER, a global initiative that promotes respect, safety and dignity for everyone forced to flee their homes in search of a better life.”

Let us join the international expression of solidarity for all refugees, displaced families and individuals for their plight. Let us specifically share with people affected by war on drugs and the war in Marawi that we, Filipinos, care for them and we will journey with them until their rights are respected, safety is ensured, and psychosocial and social services are provided to give them a life with dignity.


1 – Filipinos become aware of the struggles of their neighbors, their fellow Filipinos, because of displacement brought about by wars waged by government and development aggression by big companies.
2 – Partners come together to share their time and resources with their chosen community to express care and support for those internally displaced.
3 – Share and introduce to communities that there is a network of organizations that they can go to for support and services.
4 – Organize small groups which can support small struggles of internally displaced communities.

Suggested Menu of Activities:

Hold a sharing session with internally displaced
Adopt an evacuation center for a day.
Psychosocial intervention.
Put up a Soup Kitchen
Distribution of Relief Goods

We invite and encourage all partners to celebrate the International Day of Peace in their respective localities whenever possible. Please inform us of your plan so that we can include this in our Press Release highlighting a synchronized activity of PMPI members and clusters.
We also plan to enroll online our activities in the UN events for September 21 International Day of Peace celebration all over the world.

Movement Against Tyranny slams P1,000 budget for CHR

September 13, 2017

Movement Against Tyranny slams P1,000 budget for CHR

The Movement Against Tyranny condemns the House of Representatives for slashing the budget of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to P1,000 for the year 2018.

If approved, this insulting amount will render the CHR practically abolished, with no funds even for a week’s supply of bond paper.

The action of the House sends a clear message that the Duterte administration will not tolerate even a modicum of accountability for its horrible human rights record, especially its murderous attack on the poor masquerading as a war on crime and illegal drugs.  Continue reading

Presence, not just words

Activists and rights workers in the Philippines are on the receiving of President Rodrigo Duterte’s tirades and social media attacks by his supporters. (Photo by Angie de Silva)

Philippine church, rights activists fighting drugs war have to get among the poor to tear them away from Duterte

Inday Espina-Varona, Manila UCAN Philippines

September 14, 2017

In the Philippines, human rights advocacy can be dangerous to your health.

President Rodrigo Duterte is the head troll of an army that utilizes threats, insults and lies to swamp calls to rethink a drug war that has killed thousands of Filipinos.

Duterte has jailed Senator Leila de Lima, a former justice secretary and fierce critic of his campaign. His aides unleashed torrents of salacious insults, painting the senator as a loose woman and sexual predator, uncaring of their own reputations as serial philanderers.

The president has called another critic, Senator Antonio Trillanes, as a “political ISIS,” a reference to the Middle East terror group linked to the almost four-month conflict in the southern Philippines.

Online, a mob hurls rape threats, death threats and any number of fictional tales to intimidate Duterte’s critics. They cast a wide net: lawyers, Supreme Court Justices, politicians, leftists, rights workers, the religious.

The goal is simple: Silence the critics. The strategy is multi-pronged and reflective of Duterte’s drug war.

There are the official, incendiary statements, calculated to disrupt any scandalous or embarrassing narrative and put critics on the defensive.

Duterte uses words as a sledgehammer, whether the target is former US president Barack Obama or nameless indigenous youth.

Vigilantes pick up where official messages stop. Officials wash their hands of the gore even as they gush praise for their force multipliers.

But the noise doesn’t just come from the government’s social media influencers. Sixteen million Filipinos voted for Duterte. The president retains good ratings, though not much higher than what his predecessor, Benigno Simeon Aquino III, achieved in the same time frame.

Even as the number of killings rose, people defended the president. Many echo Duterte’s spin — the good don’t get killed.

That flies in the face of reality. The last four teenagers killed in as many weeks had no bad records. Three were hard-working boys from urban working class families with aspirations for upward mobility. Police shot two of them, giving the tired excuse, “they fought back.” The third, only 14 years old, was found trussed and butchered like a pig.

The fourth, an indigenous youth and former evacuee of war, was shot dead by paramilitary forces as he farmed a family cornfield.

A year of bloodletting has taken the lives of 40 children. With every remonstration, Duterte and his hordes unleash roars. Those who complain, they say, must be in the pay of drug lords.

Church leaders and rights workers are scrambling to be heard amid the strident cheers greeting every Duterte tirade.  Bishops have issued pained homilies and statements, wondering what has happened to Asia’s most populous Catholic nation.

Frustration makes many rights advocates see the people as the enemy.

Cruel comments, mostly from supporters of traditional parties that make up the small opposition, call the killings payback for the poor who came in droves during Duterte’s campaign sorties.

Father Benjamin Alforque of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart believes it is a dead-end argument. On the receiving end of centuries of institutionalized oppression, the poor saw themselves reflected in Duterte, who created an image of an outsider seeking radical socio-economic change.

The poor, Father Alforque says, are turning away slowly from their idol as he abandons many of his pledges to divert resources to security issues.

Those who work at the grassroots say it will take patience and sustained examples of solidarity to wean the poor away from idolatry.

An activist with the urban poor group Kadamay says they struggled for a year to educate people on human rights. In many communities, other crimes dropped even as state-sponsored killings rose.

The Duterte trade-off was a more peaceful life for the poor until family and friends died. Even then, there was ambivalence — many of the slain did have records as drug addicts who preyed on neighbors.

Yet in the last year, Kadamay quadrupled its membership. It focused first on other survival needs like housing and bagged major victories, forcing the government to cede thousands of unoccupied homes to displaced urban poor.

That was the entry point, they said. Now Kadamay mobilizes a thousand folk at rallies against extra-judicial killings.

There is no mystique, says Kadamay. You need to be present in the lives of the poor.

Father Alforque says a church that has forgotten its ties to the poor, preferring cozy relations with political powers since the 1990s, needs to regain the trust of the margins.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, has taken the first, small step, ordering priests, layleaders and parishioners to visit every wake for a victim of Duterte’s drug war.

It seems such a small thing. But where the agents of death stalk nightly, physical presence can spell the difference between isolation that saps the spirit and a renewal of courage when the country needs it most.

Inday Espina-Varona is an editor and commentator based in Manila.

Letter from Cardinal Tagle on Tolling of Bells

From Catechetical Materials on the De Profundis Bell

“The tradition of ringing a bell to remind the faithful to pray for the dead is a very ancient custom. The De Profundis Bell was rung to denote a time of the day to recite Psalm 130. The origin of this custom is accredited to Pope Urban II, who promoted the ringing of the De Profundis in order to pray for Christian armies in the Crusade.”

“Toward the end of each evening, the bells strike the De Profundis.  The De Profundis is a slow, solemn and measured toll of the bourdon bell [our heaviest bell that produces the lowest tone] that marks the end of the day. The name comes from the first two Latin words of Psalm 130, meaning “out of the depths.”  This prayer is offered for our departed loved ones who have gone home to God.  Upon hearing the sound of the bell, we are invited to pray Psalm 130 or offer an Our Father and Hail Mary for the faithful departed.”

Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,
Lord, hear my voice!
O let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleading.

If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt,
Lord, who would survive?
But with you is found forgiveness:
for this we revere you.

My soul is waiting for the Lord.
I count on his word.
My soul is longing for the Lord
more than watchman for daybreak.
Let the watchman count on daybreak
and Israel on the Lord.

Because with the Lord there is mercy
and fullness of redemption,
Israel indeed he will redeem
from all its iniquity.

Our Father . . .
Hail Mary . . .
Glory Be . . .

V./       Eternal rest, grant unto the faithful departed, O Lord,
R./       and let perpetual light shine upon them.

V./       May they rest in peace.
R./       Amen.

V./       May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
R./       Amen.

Salmo 130

Sa gitna ng paghihirap,
tinatawag ko’y Panginoon.
Kaya Panginoon, ako’y dinggin
pagka’t ako’y tumataghoy,
dinggin mo ang pagtawag ko’t
paghingi ng iyong tulong.

Kung ikaw ay may talaan
nitong aming kasalanan,
lahat kami ay tatanggap
ng hatol mong nakalaan.

Ngunit iyong pinatawad,
kasalanan ay nilimot,
pinatawad mo nga kami
upang sa’yo ay matakot.

Sabik akong naghihintay,
sa tulong mo Panginoon,
pagkat ako’y may tiwala
sa pangako mong pagtulong.

Yaring aking pananabik, Panginoon,
ay higit pa sa bantay
na naghihintay ng pagsapit ng umaga.

Magtiwala ka, Israel,
magtiwala sa iyong Diyos,
matatag at di kukupas
ang pag-ibig niyang dulot,
lagi siyang nakahandang sa sinuman ay tumubos.
Ililigtas ang Israel, yaong kanyang hirang,
ililigtas niya sila sa kanilang kasalanan.

Ama namin . . .
Aba Ginoong Maria . . .
Luwalhati sa Ama . . .

V./       Kapayapaan kailanman ang igawad ng Maykapal sa mga yumaong ating mahal.
R./       Sila nawa ay silayan ng ilaw na walang hanggan.

V./       Mapanatag nawa sila sa kapayapaan.
R./       Amen.