EMBATTLED Senator Leila de Lima denounced President Rodrigo Duterte before an international conference Sunday as “a self-confessed serial killer” elected by 16-million Filipinos in May.
Speaking at the Annual Conference on Cultural Diplomacy 2016 in Berlin, Germany, De Lima told her audience that Duterte was the same candidate who, while on a campaign trail, told a rape joke about an Australian missionary who was raped and killed in Davao City when he was still mayor, cursed the Pope for causing traffic jams during his visit to Manila, evaded questions about the source of his undeclared wealth amounting to billions of pesos, and “basically promised to employ summary killings as a policy to curtail criminality.”
“In the last five months, he has proven true to his blood-soaked promise, at least to the extent that, by the Philippine National Police’s own statistics, we have now recorded a total of more than 6,095 deaths in connection with the Duterte administration’s so-called war on drugs—which is turning out to be more of a war on the poor, while big-time drug lords have thus far been mostly allowed to evade justice,” De Lima said.
The senator also related how the President allowed former President Ferdinand Marcos to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
In one fell swoop, she said, Duterte “obscured the rejection of a dictatorial regime by allowing a plunderer and a killer to be given a hero’s burial.”
She also said Duterte has driven the women’s empowerment and gender sensitivity movement several decades back, by himself creating a culture of misogyny in which female members of the press are catcalled during press conferences, female police officers are touched inappropriately, the vice president’s legs are openly ogled during Cabinet meetings, and slut-shaming is employed as a form of political reprisal against women who dare criticize him.
She also slammed the Duterte administration for continually dangling the declaration of Martial Law and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus to curb threats of drug-related reprisal and possible terrorist attacks.
“He and his men [are] preying on the people’s fears from so-called anticipated reprisals by those involved in the drug trade, or from terrorist attacks, or some other undefined threats that prey upon their feelings of insecurity,” De Lima said.
“[They] are keeping the threat of a declaration of a state of national emergency, Martial Law and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus perpetually hanging above the Filipinos’ heads, thus priming them for malleability for other extreme actions,” the senator added.
The former Justice secretary warned against the reconstruction of Philippine history and the national identity of the Filipino people by the so-called “agents of change” who wanted Filipinos to think and act contrary to the values and principles that they fought hard for.
She also alluded to “authoritarian leaders who excel at manipulation” and who have been able “to prey on our fears and self-interests in order to divide and conquer us.”
She said some disturbing events in the past few months were being used to manipulate and decimate the national psyche and identity.
“One year ago, our country seemed well on its way to realizing these aspirations and ideals as embodied in the preamble to our Constitution,” she said, referring to the year 2016 as “the year of interesting turns of events.”
“Never could I have foreseen the extent to which the very face and values of my country and my people could have changed in just 12 months, nor the disturbing direction we seem to be hurtling towards from here on,” she added.
De Lima noted the rash of vigilante-type killings in the first six months of the administration of President Duterte since he took office in July. To date, about 6,095 people were reportedly killed in the government’s all-out war against drugs.
She also took issue at the apparent rush by the administration-dominated Congress to pass a law restoring the death penalty law purportedly to deter crimes in the country despite worldwide abolition of the capital punishment.
“That is the true horror of it all: we are fast becoming a nation where killing is seen as the solution to our problems. Not a solution; not the first or the last resort; but the solution,” she said.
“Clearly, the only real solution is to give them a carte blanche authority to kill the suspects outright. That is our brand of justice these days. And the true horror is that some of our people will stand up and applaud this reality,” she added.
De Lima said Filipinos should use 2017 as an opportunity to reclaim their national identity.
“That is the challenge that we Filipinos face in 2017. We must find who we are. To know who we are is to trust who we are. We must define the identity of the Filipino. To know it is to recognize it in others; to recognize it is to feel revulsion when their lives are taken,” she added.
Also over the weekend, De Lima said she hoped Duterte was thinking clearly when he threatened to revoke the Visiting Forces Agreement over a decision by the Millennium Challenge Corp. to hold off on a $433-million grant to the Philippines due to concerns over his deadly war on drugs.
“I hope that he understands the difference between the Philippines pursuing an independent foreign policy, and the Philippines being forced to reformulate its foreign policy in order to serve the President’s ego and accommodate his need to throw a tantrum whenever he doesn’t get his way. The first serves the nation’s interest. The latter does not,” said De Lima.
“Whether the VFA should be canceled is a matter that should be decided with cool heads,” she added.
More importantly, De Lima said the matter should not be decided precipitously or carelessly without any clear alternatives, precisely because of what the President calls “the changing politics” in the West Philippine Sea.
She said the people’s lives, well-being, security and sovereignty were at stake.
“I hope he doesn’t sacrifice those interests as easily as he sacrifices the lives of the people who are being killed on a daily basis because of his so-called war on drugs.”
She said Duterte should really stop turning foreign relations and diplomacy into a grudge match, where the Filipino’s welfare is just a pawn for him to sacrifice.
“He accuses the US of treating the Philippines like a doormat. If imploring our government to respect the rule of law and uphold the human rights and civil liberties of its people is treating the Philippines like a doormat—I would welcome that over our own so-called leaders treating us like bugs to be crushed. I would also welcome it over chasing after an alliance with a country that has made profits over flooding our streets with their illegal drugs,” De Lima said, referring to China.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, meanwhile, said he would most likely vote against abrogating the VGA.
“We need the US to maintain a balance of power in the West Philippine Sea. Further, the training and joint military exercises are important components of our troops’ combat readiness,” he said.
Duterte reacted angrily to the announcement by the US government that a decision on a multi-year aid package potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars had been put on hold.
“You know, America, you might also be put to notice. Prepare to leave the Philippines. Prepare for the eventual repeal or the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement,” said Duterte.
“I am putting them on notice. I will decide any day soon. Bye, bye America,” he added.
Duterte assailed how America criticized his war on illegal drugs and expressed concerns over the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.
“So why don’t you just leave? Why are you here? What is your purpose in this Visiting Forces Agreement?” he said.
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