As a political activist, sometimes life seems to be one long meeting, or more precisely, an unending series of meetings. Not that I’m complaining. Last Saturday’s meeting was a good one by the standard of one who has been in countless meetings to discuss issues, analyze problems, decide on a course of action, formulate calls, distill demands, and make concrete plans on arousing, organizing, and mobilizing as many people as possible to take action.
This was a meeting of the movers and shakers behind the Movement Against Tyranny that aims to galvanize public sentiment against the epidemic of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in the so-called war on drugs and the predilection for strong-arm, tyrannical rule by no less than President Rodrigo Duterte himself.
There was a good mix of people: a former senator, a bishop and several other men and women of the cloth, traditional and social media practitioners, theater and film artists, human rights defenders, student leaders, teachers, lawyers, physicians, street parliamentarians, and plain concerned citizens, many of them veterans of the struggle against the US-backed Marcos fascist dictatorship.
The assessment: public outrage over the recent cold-blooded killings of young people by the police marked a qualitative change from the seeming acceptance of the EJKs as par for the course in government’s heightened anti-crime drive. Standard police cover up for the summary execution of their victims — that those killed are drug pushers, they resisted arrest, or tried to escape — no longer wash. People are just not buying it anymore. The credibility of the police has hit an all time low.
Malacañang is clearly on damage control mode after attempts by Police Chief Dela Rosa, DoJ Secretary Aguirre and even Public Attorney Office (POA) Chief Acosta to discount any pattern to the killings, that these may be the result of state policy. The official line has now evolved from attributing the Kian delos Santos and Carl Arnaiz cases to police abuse by a “few, rotten eggs” to a grand conspiracy of anti-Duterte forces to sabotage his anti-illegal drugs campaign, much more destabilize the Duterte regime itself.
Paid hacks of the Palace are chortling with glee on the President’s public relations coup in meeting with the parents of Kian and Carl, commiserating with them and promising to render justice, then concluding with hugs and smiles all around. The Duterte Damage Control Team must be congratulating themselves in being able to put out that fire by coopting the victims’ families through fair means and foul. But just as they thought they had things under control, and given the unrelenting pursuit of Oplan Tokhang, new dead bodies come up to rile the public once more.
Meanwhile more crucial witnesses have come forward. The taxi driver who, according to the police, was held up by 19-year-old, former UP student, Carl Arnaiz, later killed in a shoot out with responding police, has surfaced. He sought sanctuary with human rights groups. Now that he is no longer under pressure from Caloocan police, he may be able to tell us what really happened and how Carl was involved.
Other witnesses to the Kian killing (there were plenty because the police did their dirty work in a densely populated, urban poor community) are being actively sought by the PNP’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in tandem with the PAO and the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC). Over the weekend, a standoff took place in the residence of Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David when the CIDG-PAO-VACC attempted to take custody of a witness being given sanctuary by the bishop. The witness and family members opted to remain under the protection of Bishop David.
The Movement is gearing up for a big rally at the Rizal Park, with a broad representation of different classes and sectors in society, on Sept. 21, the 45th anniversary of the declaration of martial law by the dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos. Malacañang has taken note of this mass protest action and is trying to besmear it as part of the moves of the Opposition against Duterte in order to dissuade people from joining.
The Movement is undeterred and is counting on the coming together of different, even disparate forces and groups, to take a stand and fight a common, malevolent, and dangerous enemy — rising tyranny under Duterte.
Slowly, people are waking up from the stupor of demagogic promises that Duterte will resolve the festering problem of drug trafficking in 3 to 6 months especially after his admission that he may not be able to lick the problem even in his remaining 5 years in office.
One measure is the timely staging of a compendium of plays including musicals on the theme of human rights and civil liberties this month of September.
Taking a break from my regular round of meetings, I watched Tao Po a play consisting of four monologues by Mae Paner aka Juana Change, popular actress cum change agent, much sought after for her one-woman tragicomic political satire.
Journalist Inday Espina-Varona’s writes a capsule review: “Mae Juana Change Paner’s ‘Zumba’ segment in Tao Po (ongoing at the Cultural Center of the Philippines) will linger in the minds and guts of audiences for a long, long time. The comic touches only leave us wide open to the tragedy of a woman who lost husband and son to ‘Tokhang.’ Playwright Maynard Manansala did a fantastic job there. But it is Mae who carries it off, in a performance of extreme physical, cerebral, and emotional challenges. It is ‘Zumba’ that highlight’s ‘Tokhang’s’ real cost to humanity. It is ‘Zumba’ that delivers what Cardinal Tagle wished for — the ‘real face’ of the greatest injustice.”
I personally was struck by the segment on the “double life of a policeman, sworn to uphold the law, and a hitman, paid to violate it.” The irony is that this killer’s class origin is not much different from those of his dirt-poor victims. He is inured to violence at an early age and is recruited into what closely resembles the notorious Davao Death Squad because of the good pay. Part of his indoctrination is the belief that his victims are society’s dregs and are dispensable to make society “safe.” This helps to assuage what little remains of his conscience but he knows the blood of innocents is on his hands even when they are dismissed as nothing more than “collateral damage.”
Perhaps more than the impunity that Duterte promises for those who kill “in the line of duty,” it is the demonization of impoverished drug addicts and small time pushers that impel policemen sworn to “serve and protect” to have such little regard for the sanctity of life.
Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.