War of nerves in war on drugs

By Ermin Garcia Jr.


THE reported scheduled meeting between leaders of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and members of the Duterte cabinet is long overdue.

We’ve been seeing a war of nerves, on top of the war on drugs since July 2016.

The growing animosity between the government and the bishops served to compound contentious issues which otherwise could have been prevented if person-to-person engagement had been pursued instead of playing to the media separately.

President Duterte’s recent constant rants laced with endless expletives against the church leaders is as unpresidential of a national leader as it can get.  He concedes that about himself as well.  But even with his shortcomings as ‘Mayor of the Philippines’, his rantings must be viewed in the context of provocation. The man has to defend himself, in a manner not acceptable to many but nonetheless, in what he has been accustomed to.

On the other hand, the church leaders did not help the situation by mouthing the same lines coming out of Duterte’s political enemies, continuously invoking their clout as a church body: CBCP representing the catholic church in the country.

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SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE. Without a doubt, the church is standing on solid grounds when issues cross the line on morals and values. In the same vein, the government is legally bound to protect the safety and interests of its constituents regardless of faith.

This is the basis behind the principle of separation of church and state. In other words, the bottom line translation is: Mind your own business.

So if we separate the perspectives of both on extra-judicial killings (EJK) and apply the principle of separation of church and state, both sectors are in the right.

But we have reached an unprecedented level of animosity today because one crossed each other’s line. 

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SELECTIVE CRITICISM. The Duterte administration has not taken lightly to criticisms of CBCP and with reason. The CBCP was seen to be selective and not to be consistent with its views of government.

Mr. Duterte noted that the CBCP never lent its voice to condemn the Aquino government for abuses and irregularities reported in the media. On the issue of EJK alone, the CBCP was muted when rampant killings by hitmen riding in tandem were reported. It found nothing wrong with the series of violence that the government was helpless or afraid to confront, including the proliferating drug trade. It found nothing wrong with the Aquino government’s Administrative Order that defined EJK as violence committed against persons in media, NGOs, academe, judiciary only! The church obviously was in tacit agreement with the Aquino administration that vigilante killings and gangland execution of drug pushers, gambling lords, etc. are not to be considered as EJK.

The CBCP suddenly became outspoken like a militant group when Mr. Duterte assumed the presidency and declared war on drugs, arrogating unto itself the voice of the clergy and the laity in accusing the Duterte government of espousing EJK but in a completely different context.

Right there and then, the line of separation was blurred.  CBCP opened itself to a counter-offensive from Mr. Duterte himself.  The line was obscured by CBCP’s political views and subsequent irreverent reference to the church’s clergy by Mr. Duterte.

This explains in part why many Catholics feel alienated from the positions taken by CBCP, leaving the bishops largely to fend for themselves.

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LOCAL EJK ISSUES. One can have no quarrel with the stand of the CBCP when it invokes observance of the 10 Commandments among its community of laity and believers. What it cannot presume to do is to expect government, and other religious sects to follow its lead. 

In fact, I believe the bishops could have been more effective in lending its critical voice in governance if they, as individual heads of their dioceses, took to EJK as a community issue, not as a national issue.

For instance, the three bishops in Pangasinan could have taken the cudgels for the identified victims of the war on drugs in their jurisdiction with the local police and mayor (and the governor). They didn’t need CBCP as a front because the locals knew the issues and the characters too well. 

Nonetheless, in such a case, local bishops didn’t have to cite crime statistics from Camp Crame, they only need to cite the 1- 3 incidents (if any) in their jurisdiction that nobody can deny.

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UNSOLICITED ADVICE. I have one unsolicited advice to Archbishop Soc Villegas, as CBCP head, when he leads his delegation to the dialogue with Malacanang.

We can predict the dialogue to be productive if it starts on the right foot. The right foot in this case is not to insist and share the claim of the political opposition that there are 7,000 EJK cases in the country.

First of all, the claimed 7,000 incidents being claimed in media by Duterte’s detractors have no documentary evidence to back the claim. Even the Commission on Human Rights is investigating only some 400 cases (not even all are about EJK) even with the increase in its budget.

Secondly, the PNP has all the stats to debunk the ‘7,000’ claim, so surely Mr. Duterte’s alter egos in the dialogue cannot be expected to disregard the police stats. (Out of 6011 reported killing cases, 1,398 cases are drug related, 828 are not drug related, and 3785 are yet to be determined).

Thirdly, the bishops should join the dialogue as representatives of their dioceses, not as CBCP. In this manner, the discussion will go beyond contentious issues and will focus on real community concerns that will require local cooperation and collaboration to serve their flock and the government’s constituents to their mutual benefit.

With that, I pray that our bishops and government leaders will come to terms and understanding when to respect each other’s responsibilities as state and church.

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BELEN OUTPERFORMED THEM. Reading Mayor Belen Fernandez’s State of the City Address, I can state without any fear of contradiction that her four-year performance, so far, as chief executive already outclassed and outperformed the achievements of all her predecessors combined.

Under her term, one learns to relate the city’s annual budget to the development of the city and improvement of basic services. The bigger the budget, much more can be expected in the delivery of development projects, services and changes for the better.

Gone are the days when one speculates and wonders how much of the city’s annual budget are targeted for corruption and kickback of city hall officials and employees, from road and school construction projects to overtime allowances, from travel allowances to maintenance costs of equipment, from purchases of office equipment and supplies to representation expenses, etc.

I’m sure that there are still some city hall department heads, employees and consultants who still manage to continue with their “special deals” but these are now limited to a few deals. But even their ilk will be exposed soon.

Change has arrived in Dagupan City.

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