The evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding… The most incorrigible vice [is] that of an ignorance which fancies it knows everything, and therefore claims for itself the right to kill.

—Nobel Prize for Literature laureate Albert Camus

It’s bad enough to demand that journalists be informers. But it’s even worse to justify the killing of journalists and political activists by declaring that other crimes happen anyway, and no one can do anything about them.

Raul Gonzalez’ being justice secretary is among the many crosses Filipinos have to bear, courtesy of the so-called government of the Philippines. The other day he used the attempt on the life of Batangas Governor Armando Sanchez to argue that the government has nothing to do with the killing of journalists and political activists. In the process, however, Gonzalez succeeded in validating what everyone has known all along about the state of criminality in the Philippines as well as who’s responsible for it.

“Criminality,” said Gonzalez, “is roaming in our towns and cities,” a statement which should qualify him for a remedial English-language course, but which was his way of saying that crime’s rampant in the country of our despair.

Few Filipinos will dispute it, even if it’s coming from Gonzalez. People are beaten, robbed, stabbed, and shot on the streets, and recently, even at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Women going home from work at night are raped and murdered. Judges and even police officers have been ambushed and killed. The children of the wealthy are kidnapped. Let’s not forget either the daily offenses against the law the government itself commits by threatening journalists, beating protesters in the streets, and lawyering for US Marines. But yes–political activists in the hundreds have also been killed, and so have journalists.

Gonzalez argued that the killing of political activists and journalists is just part of the general crime situation. Ergo, the government has nothing to do with it, because, he said, “these things (crimes) are not under the control of anybody”—which was his way of saying that the regime is blameless.

Wrong. The Arroyo regime has in the past been quick to claim credit for any decline in the crime rate no matter how infinitesimal or even doctored the data have been. Every government has police agencies, a judicial system and a corrections machinery to address criminality. They also have departments of justice or the equivalent. It’s clear enough to everyone why– except to Gonzalez. It is because the safety of the citizenry is a fundamental government responsibility.

Gonzalez would have us believe that criminality’s “roaming our towns and cities” is not only normal. It is also something about which the regime he serves can’t do anything. This is not only an admission that crime is rampant and that the regime is incompetent to address it. It is also a declaration that the regime is abdicating a fundamental responsibility.

On the other hand, as has been repeatedly pointed out by, among other groups, the Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International and the Asian Commission on Human Rights, the Arroyo government is accountable for at least its inability to protect human rights, its toleration of the killing of political activists and journalists, and its presiding over the culture of impunity which encourages the killings. But it could also be especially accountable for encouraging the killing of political activists and/or even orchestrating them as a matter of policy.

The killing of an activist and a journalist is as much a crime as a rape, a murder, or a kidnapping. But these must also be distinguished from the latter. First, because they are obviously political in the broad sense that they are meant to stop dissent and protest and to prevent information on public issues from reaching citizens. Second, and more fundamentally, there is a pattern in the killings which suggests that they are part of a political conspiracy to terrorize and silence regime critics, and to deny the citizenry the benefit of information about public affairs.

That is why Gonzalez’ asking why international human rights groups have not sent teams to look into the attempt on Sanchez’ life is as misleading and malevolent as it is ignorant. There is no pattern evident in the attempt on Sanchez, while there is one in the killing of journalists and activists. Assassination attempts on local officials, whether successful or not, have for the most part been traced to local political disputes, not to a nation-wide, orchestrated conspiracy to, say, silence provincial governors.

Killings motivated by partisan politics are as reprehensible as other crimes, and in fact demonstrate the perennial violence of Philippine politics. But they are part of local contests for power, not attempts to silence certain viewpoints as well as protest and the criticism of government.

No one now believes that the killing of journalists is the result of, and should be blamed solely on local disputes. While there are such cases, the motive for most of the killings to is to stop journalists from exposing anomalies at the local level. On the other hand, the killing of activists has been obviously orchestrated and intended to terrorize leftist activists, decimate their ranks, and deny them involvement in mainstream politics.

Gonzalez said the motive for any crime should be looked into. “You should first look at the motive.” That is exactly what those who say that the killings are government sponsored in the case of activists, and government-tolerated in the case of journalists, have been saying all along. Look for the motive, find out who or what will benefit from the crimes being committed against both activists as well as journalists. You don’t have to look far to do either, and even Gonzalez knows it.

Camus was wrong. It isn’t so much ignorance, but ignorance combined with malevolence, that’s responsible for the evil in the world.

(Business Mirror)

Luis V. Teodoro

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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