Slouching Towards Duterte

Slouching Towards Duterte February 27, 2018

On February 24, 2018, Catholics in Manilla came together to protest their president’s murderous regime. President Duterte, ever since he came into power, has had the Catholic Church as a constant thorn at his side, contending against, indeed, working against, his “strong-arm” tactics against drug dealers. They are being killed off, sometimes with execution style killings, with the claim that they resisted arrest. The estimated number of dead is over 20,000.

Instead of listening to his critics, Duterte would rather smear their reputation and fight against them as well, as he has said he would do with the Catholic Church itself.  Instead of being shamed by the dirt Duterte threatens against the church, Catholics continue to struggle against Duterte’s brutality; they have opened up their churches to police who are willing to speak up and turn evidence against the crimes being committed at the orders of Duterte. This has only made Duterte once again speak against the Catholic Church, suggesting drug lords are using Catholics, having them speak out against Duterte so they can continue their own illegal activities.

To further his case, Duterte has taken up Biblical imagery for his campaign, suggesting that the only way to deal with evil is to stamp it out after it has been observed; by doing this, by killing all those who do such evil, Duterte considers himself to be a savior figure, as Emily Rauhala explained in a Washington Post article:

Duterte offered Filipinos a different sort of salvation. He did not want to be president, he said, but if the people needed him — and they needed him — he would “kill all” the country’s criminals in six months, dumping bodies until the “fish will grow fat.”

As president, he has delivered on the promise of bloodshed, exhorting the police to kill and assuring them that he, not they, will suffer any consequences.[1]

It literally has become a reign of terror, and the Catholic Church is at the forefront of the resistance. Many others either accept the bloodshed or are too afraid to speak out, knowing how authoritarians react to such criticism.

It is a reign of terror which can also spread to the United States if we are not careful. The same hardline black and white ideology which allows for and promotes the destruction of criminals found in the Philippines is apparent with many in the United States. The lack of care for what happens to those who “break the law” can be found in the way many mistreat and demean undocumented immigrants, or even, poor people who have to steal in order to survive. “Don’t break the law” is what is told to them, without questioning how we are to deal with those who break the law because the assumption is that once the law is broken, human rights and dignity are somehow lost. This is exactly what a culture of death will promote. Once this line of reasoning is accepted, it is easy to turn into a brutal authoritarian regime, where the rule of law is of more concern than what the law is intended to do, which is to serve and protect all, to make sure human dignity remains preserved. When justice is undermined by the rule of law, we must not shrug our shoulders and say there is nothing we can do because the law is the law; when the law is wrong, we must resist it, both by rejecting its authority over us as well as finding a way to overturn its imposition upon society (but until it is overturned, if what it promotes is evil, we cannot and must not follow it). We must always remember an unjust law is no law, even if it is declared to be a law by civil authorities.

It should not be surprising that it appears that Trump and many of his followers, with their authoritarian tendencies, think we should follow the example of Duterte and likewise execute drug dealers without mercy. Every drug dealer would be given the death penalty. Trump has already praised Duterte’s drug polices; he thinks it is such a nice, simple, and obvious solution to the drug problem that he is said to joke about it, making light of the plight of those executed in such brutal regimes.

Human life is not a thing to joke about. It must be protected. Even criminals have rights which must not be ignored.

While the Catholic Church is facing the consequences of speaking up against such brutality in the Philippines, many Catholics in the United States seem unconcerned about Trump’s continuous promotion of policies which promote a culture of death. Right now, Trump is only considering the possibility of such an authoritarian response to the drug war in the United States, but if Catholics and others of good will do not fight against his general disdain for the dignity of the human person, the culture of death will indeed prevail and we should not be surprised if we enact laws to imitate what Duterte has done in the Philippines.

What would Catholic supporters of Trump do then? Will they let off all their masks and show their support of great evil or will they finally stand up and join the resistance?


[Image=Trump and Duterte by Karl Norman Alonzo and Robinson Niñal Jr. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

[1] Emily Rauhala,” ‘False prophet’: Duterte, the Catholic Church and the fight for the soul of the Philippines,” Washington Post (March 7, 2017).


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