Any man’s death diminishes me. –John Donne, 1624

If it’s not a cardinal sin it should be–a cardinal’s describing the extra-judicial killings for which the Arroyo regime is now known all over the world as “a mere blood speck”.

Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales is today the leading Philippine representative of the Catholic Church. The other day he disparaged the continuing killings and other human rights abuses in the Philippines as of little, or even of no consequence. He also suggested that these abuses and killings–by near universal consensus either ignored, encouraged or orchestrated by the Arroyo regime–were only normal in the Philippines.

What’s happening “is nothing…(it) is so tiny that it is a mere blood speck” compared to the abuses during the Marcos regime, said Rosales, who thus implied that the extra-judicial killings in the Philippines are a “mere” (there’s that word again) matter of numbers.

What he probably had most in mind were the over 800 killings that since 2001 have occurred in the Philippines. That number is far less than the 3,200 or so extra-judicial killings (“salvaging”) that took place during the Marcos period.

What Rosales forgot–or doesn’t care to remember–is that the Marcos period lasted all of 21 years, from 1965 when Ferdinand Marcos was first elected, to 1986 when he was overthrown.

Extra-judicial political killings were already being reported as early as the late 1960s. Together with torture and abductions by the military, the number increased upon the declaration of martial law in 1972, and continued to rise until 1986. On the average, there were some 152 extra-judicial killings per year during the entire Marcos period, assuming the total to be 3,200, as documented by human rights groups including Amnesty International.

In contrast, the Arroyo regime is only in its sixth year, and, with the support of Church people like Rosales, could last another three years or more. Eight hundred and thirty (830) extra-judicial killings divided by six is 138. As an annual average, that’s less than Marcos’ 152, and only comes close to it. But apparently 830 deaths are not enough to outrage Rosales. Perhaps another thousand will? Or two thousand? Three?

But is it really about numbers, as Rosales would make it appear, or is it about something else, such as, among others, the moral and legal legitimacy of a regime that has made the systematic taking of human life a national policy?

Of even greater moment is what the killings are doing to Philippine society, first in terms of denying it the wisdom, courage and commitment to change of those who have been killed–among whom are lawyers, clergymen, human rights workers, students, and journalists, as well as workers, farmers and local officials dedicated to the well-being of their communities.

Second, and as important, is these killings’ contribution to further enshrining violence as a way of life in an already violent society, reducing it to a level of barbarity and lawlessness that’s already evident not only in the surge of violence in the country’s partisan politics, but in daily life as well, where a traffic accident can lead to a shooting.. Rosales’ own obvious predisposition to look at violence, specially state-sponsored violence, as merely “normal” (after all, “we already went through this during the time of Marcos”) is itself indicative of how far the killings have desensitized most Filipinos, including cardinals, to violence.

To belittle the killings by reducing the issue to one of numbers, to display thereby an elephantine insensitivity to injustice and human suffering, and to imply that they’re no big thing because we have seen them before, should be some kind of record even for Philippine-based Catholic Church cardinals.

But Rosales went even further. He also said that both the military and “the (New Peoples Army) rebels also kill.” He wasn’t very clear as to what he meant by this. He could not have meant that the NPA also kills “extra-judicially.” The NPA is not a state actor, and not in command of a judicial system of national application both to itself as well as to all citizens. The NPA is in fact not only outside the state; it is also in rebellion against it. Only the Arroyo regime has control over any judicial system to speak of–to the non-adherence of which it is precisely being called to account.

Rosales could thus have only meant NPA killings in combat, which is an altogether different moral universe from the killing of non-combatants who, by all the rules of civilized behavior, are protected by the very judicial systems over which states preside.

What’s happening in the Philippines is so clear the rest of the world sees it. A state actor, namely the Arroyo regime, which has stewardship over a Constitution and laws mandating that it protect the rights and lives of its citizens, is in the process of savaging that Constitution and those laws for the sake of its own survival and that of a social and economic order that gives its citizens the right to sleep under bridges and to go hungry.

Whether that regime compares favorably or unfavorably with the Marcos regime or any other regime on planet Earth is of little consequence beyond curiosity. Whether one or a thousand have been killed extra-judicially should not matter either. It is the killing itself that does, because one killing is one too many. Any honest and morally upright observer should be able to see not only the horror, but also the moral dimensions–the evil– of what is happening. Apparently some cardinals don’t belong to this category of humanity.

(Business Mirror)

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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  1. Sir, I am a student of yours at UP Diliman, and with regards to this issue of how people belittle the incident of extrajudicial killings and reduce it just to an issue of numbers, I believe one thing the government of Ms Arroyo has done to the people is to make them numb! Numb to the point where even the most inhuman violation is discarded as long as it is just a matter of a hundred of people. Truly, it is a sad fact.

    -stephanie liban

  2. i just cant believe that the government is acting the same way as marcos did , it is evident that some of this extrajudicial killings are done with the patronage of the government and its leaders behind it opperating.

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