PIQUED by accusations that the blanket authority he has given to state security forces has led to the murder of human rights lawyers like Atty. Ben Ramos, Duterte, in a recent public appearance, emphatically brushed aside these claims with his characteristic swearing - this time in English. The message must have been properly relayed and put across that it was able to elicit such a strong reaction from him. He said that it was beneath him to murder small-time lawyers.
But in the same breathe, and in not as many words, he once again warned proponents of occupation movements whether it peasant workers tilling unused land for their sustenance or the homeless urban poor taking over abandoned government housing projects, that he will employ the full force of the law to protect the property rights violated whether these be private land owners or government. It did not take him long afterwards to relate these political actions to the communists who are out there, according to him, to create trouble.
These statements are once again revealing of the kind of attitude he and his government wields over issues of social justice relating to landlessness and homelessness plaguing the country’s poorest sectors. If the poor have learned to rise up to assert their rights, they must be spurred by the communists and those that support them including human rights lawyers must be neutralized in the very manner that Atty. Ben Ramos was felled. Duterte’s cavalier attitude and disturbing statements are clear directives for security forces to undertake more of these kinds of assassinations giving more credence to his culpability and command responsibility in the ongoing carnage.
But there is more to this issue than a crazy president out to distinguish his term in a reign of blood and gore. As his government pivots against the Left in the ongoing crackdown, the unintended consequence is actually the surfacing of the issues carried by the Left into the center of the public conversation.
These issues were supposed to be tabled for discussion for a peaceful political settlement in the peace talks that were scuttled by Duterte. Now, the response of his government is to muzzle all discussion through the neutralization of declared enemies of the state whether they be lawyers, teachers, journalists, or professionals. But they are mistaken if they think that these issues will die along with the advocates they neutralize.
The issue of the Lumad being driven from their ancestral land in favor of extractive enterprises, or of the urban poor homeless asserting their right to decent housing, and the landless peasant workers occupying idle land for their sustenance are just some of the advocacies carried by the Left that have caught public attention in recent months. It is largely because there had been sustained propaganda and legal and extra-legal initiatives on the part of government that these matters are now in the top of mind of the general public.
With every Mocha Uson attempt to discredit legitimate lumad groups by red-tagging and propping up paramilitary groups instead, is a chance for clarification about the root cause of the lumad issue, for instance, which pertain to the divergent paths of development these indigenous groups prefer to take. It also helps that Duterte and his pet peeve nowadays which is the Left cannot stop himself from revealing his feeble understanding and approach to these social issues. The killing of Atty. Ben Ramos might be seen as a tactical victory by security forces in the meantime. But in the long run, it has the effect of once again confirming the limits of Philippine democracy in its present form in resolving deep-seated and historical issues of social injustice.
Having lost the chance to discuss these issues on the peace table, Duterte and his government are now being forced to reveal the true limits of their brand of democracy. They offer no real solution to the plight of the lumad, the homeless urban poor, the landless peasants, and the common Filipino. But be careful in arriving at such dangerous conclusions because, once you do, judging by the recent tirades of Duterte himself, you are a communist and therefore disposable.