Children watch as the remains of a suspected victim of a targeted killing are placed in a crypt at a public cemetery in Manila. (Photo: Vincent Go/AFP)
In the longest-running lockdown in the world, the Philippines has as of today more than 224,000 coronavirus cases, the highest number in Southeast Asia.
The confirmed number of cases of deaths is 3,597, second only to Indonesia, notwithstanding undocumented and unreported cases. Needless to say, the Philippines has poorly performed in responding to the pandemic.
In view of dwindling hospital resources and the depleting energy of frontliners, medical workers had to plead for a “timeout,” appealing to the government for stricter restrictions, thus returning “general community quarantines” to “enhanced community quarantines” from Aug. 4-18.
After strongly scolding health workers and challenging them to wage a revolution, President Rodrigo Duterte changed the quarantine status to “modified enhanced community quarantine” in Manila and selected cities during the above-stated period. To date, despite the continuing rise in infections, the capital city is back to the less restrictive general community quarantine.
In this predominantly Catholic country, which the United Nations scrutinized in previous Human Rights Council sessions, deaths have been the order of the day for a long time, especially in the month of August.
Without any public outrage, Randall Echanis, a peasant activist and consultant of the rebel National Democratic Front peace panel, was brutally killed on Aug. 10 in his apartment in Quezon City.
A kind-hearted man whom I met during the peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front in Oslo, Norway, in February 2011, he suffered multiple gunshot and stab wounds, the fatal one of which was a stab wound to the aorta.
Echanis’ killing was followed by others. Barely a week later, a human rights advocate, educator and paralegal from Negros Island, Zara Alvarez, was killed by gunmen on Aug. 17, while another human rights defender and an indigenous tribal leader, Bea Ansado, was killed on Aug. 23. Her killers cut her throat and gouged out her eyes.
These killings occurred at a time when pandemic-related infections and deaths were at their peak. At a time when the national priority is supposed to be on saving lives, an evident culture of death exists.
The thousands of drug-related killings under the Duterte administration’s watch, the hundreds of deaths caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the continuing targeted killings reveal a culture of impunity and death in the Catholic Philippines.
In a country that has the dubious world record of having the longest-running insurgency, the olive branch of peace has become more elusive than ever.
Condemning the killing of Echanis, the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, a platform of five peace institutions, said: “This horrific act of violence is a further indication of the rising culture of impunity and deteriorating human rights situation in the country. It is an affront to the sanctity of God’s gift of human dignity that is inherent in every person.”
Already tainted by its notorious human rights record, the situation is going beyond crisis proportions as manifested in the series of brutal killings of rights activists and several pandemic-related rights violations.
Such wanton disregard for human rights witnessed the zenith of its brutality after the recent approval of the controversial anti-terror law where vulnerable sectors such as human rights defenders, peace advocates, indigenous people and the Muslim community are the likely targets.
Sadly, this conspicuous rise in killings caused no indignation from the majority of the supposedly predominant Christian and Catholic population.
As a collective response, more than 500 human rights organizations and individual advocates in the Philippines have issued a statement to demand accountability for the worsening human rights situation. In the statement, the signatories asked President Duterte “to denounce and order a stop to the red-tagging and vilification of activists, human rights defenders and government critics.”
When the world is shaken by the huge loss of lives caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, where more than 851,000 people have died, the government of the Philippines and any government for that matter should give utmost priority to respecting the sacredness of human life. Regretfully, the opposite is happening.
Why is this culture of death persisting and worsening in this predominantly Catholic country? Is it caused by a low level of human rights consciousness or a low sense of morals, or both?
It is a question that is worth reflecting on.
Mary Aileen D. Bacalso is the president of the International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances (ICAED). The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.