Students of Jesuit university called on to guard democracy

Democratic institutions in the Philippines are under threat from the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte
Students of Jesuit university called on to guard democracy

Father Jose Ramon Villarin, SJ, president of the Ateneo de Manila University, joins a demonstration outside the university to call for an end to the spate of drug-related killings in the country. (Photo by Angie de Silva)

A leading Jesuit university in Manila has counselled students to defend democratic institutions from what it described as "egregious retaliatory actions" by the administration of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Jesuit Father Jose Ramon Villarin, president of Ateneo de Manila University, urged students to stand behind constitutional bodies "in their mission to pursue and attain transparency, accountability, truth, and justice."

Father Villarin raised concerns over what he described as the Duterte administration's attempt to "undermine" the country's Commission on Human Rights, the Supreme Court, and the Office of the Ombudsman.

Allies of Duterte in the Lower House of Congress have initiated impeachment cases against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales for alleged corruption and abuse of authority.

The House of Representatives has also moved to defund the Commission on Human Rights, which have been critical of Duterte's anti-narcotics campaign that resulted in the death of thousands of suspected drug users and peddlers.

"Legitimate processes are being exploited to undermine and deter these bodies from merely exercising their mandates," said Father Villarin in a memorandum to the university community on Oct. 13.

Last year, the university also issued a statement condemning the spate of killings and the Supreme Court decision to allow the burial of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Heroes' Cemetery.

In September, the university's cheering squad protested the spate of drug-related killings in the country in the middle of an inter-university basketball competition.

"We call on everyone in the community to defend our democratic institutions," said Father Villarin.

"Let us urge our leaders in government to allow full independence for these constitutional bodies to implement their crucial mandates by desisting from any form of intimidation in the guise of legal action," he added.

The priest said the call to defend democratic institutions of the country is "not even a matter of political partisanship or persuasion."

"It is a call that is borne out of our conviction about what is right and just and truly democratic," said Father Villarin.

Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo also called on Filipinos to respect constitutional institutions after Duterte signed an order creating an anti-corruption body to discipline officials of constitutional bodies.

The president's order came a week after he threatened to probe the Office of the Ombudsman that is looking into his alleged hidden wealth.


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No need to fear destabilization plot, says bishop

A Manila prelate, meanwhile, said Duterte need not fear any "destabilization plot" if he and his administration do their job.

"If they do not do their work well. then they should fear the dissatisfaction of the people," said Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo in an interview on Oct. 16.

He said people in the government should attribute the so-called destabilization plot against the Duterte administration, to their "failure in governance."

"Why don't they solve the killings when they have the police and the intelligence fund? Or are they conditioning the minds of the people for an eventual (declaration of) martial law?" said Bishop Pabillo.

He said what the government should do is govern through genuine justice and not by bad and incoherent words.

Duterte has been accusing his critics, including church leaders, of trying to destabilize his government.

"I do not know if there is or there is none," said Bishop Pabillo when asked about rumored attempts to topple the Duterte administration.

Father Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the public affairs committee of the bishops' conference, said the Catholic Church should not be perceived as plotting against the government.

"The Church is not one to take steps to destabilize the institution or to undermine the president," said the priest. "I hope the public will not think that the Church is doing this to undermine the president or the government," added the priest.

On Oct. 13, Duterte warned that he will declare a revolutionary government once he senses that a destabilization plot is about to install a new leader to replace him.

"Once your destabilization is already creating chaos, I will not hesitate to declare a revolutionary government until the end of my term, and I will arrest all of you, and we can go to a full-scale war against the reds," he said.

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