If I must choose between going to hell with President Duterte in pursuit of the war on drugs in the Philippines or going to heaven with Archbishop Soc Villegas because neither he nor any member of the Catholic Bishops’ of the Philippines (CBCP) “finds pleasure in the death of anyone who dies” (cf. Ezekiel 18:32), I choose going to heaven with the CBCP, even if their company and their language is neither as colorful nor as entertaining as that of the President.
People jest that going to hell could be heavenly because all the “nice” people opt to go there. After fighting his war on drugs to rid the Philippines of drug addicts and drug lords, the President may be dismayed to discover that hell is filled with the drug lords and drug addicts who’ve perished in his war – to say nothing of all the selfish rich he’s loathed for making their millions oppressing the poor he loves.
My vote for Rodrigo Roa Duterte was a vote for him as President of the Philippines. It was not a vote for him as God. Nor a vote for him as the Evil One. I was happy when he was elected President. Finally, we had an independent-minded man from the masses of Mindanao with a heart for the poor who would wield the powers of secular government towards greater social justice. That heart, I believed, guided by the values of his mother, would lead him to success. I cringe when he talks as if he were God and curses other people as if he were the Evil One.
I cringe, even though I have meanwhile learned he jokes a lot. Words have meaning, whether uttered in anger or in jest. I am turned off when people tell me, “Don’t listen to him, just mind what he does,” and that “P***ng Ina” in the mouth of this President is a term of endearment.
My support for President Duterte has always been premised on his declaration that he would abide by the law. That includes, from the Fundamental Law of the Land: “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the law” (Art. III, Sec. 1). “One cannot build this country on the cadavers of dead Filipinos,” I remember he once said.
My support for the war on drugs has been based on my hatred for the evil that the illegal drug trade brings its victims, rich and poor. As far as how this war is conducted, I have opted to allow the Commander–in-Chief the discretion to marshal the means necessary to win the war. Talking tough seemed to be necessary for the campaign, just as oft repeating that he would protect his policemen from jail should they be prosecuted in the line of duty. Targeted were not only the victims of the trade but especially its perpetrators. The latter were heavily armed and internationally organized. Where other countries had failed, we needed to succeed. We did not want to be “drug tolerant”; we wanted to be drug free.
In this light, I was content to presume that lives taken by the police were taken legitimately – as the result of a police operation resisted foolishly by the drug users.
As the number of killed rose, I was quieted by the President’s general declarations that he is not responsible for extrajudicial killings. There were, after all, many other plausible sources of the killings: turf wars among the drug pushers, rogue policemen covering their tracks, operations of the cartels to discredit legitimate police operations.
But I was scandalized by the murder of an arrested man in a jail cell by policemen, and even more scandalized by the evil of policemen planting evidence on people they would kill for pushing drugs.
Apparently, I was not the only one scandalized. The President was so scandalized he suspended the entire police operation on drugs. The dreaded Tokhang that had begun as a knock and a conversation, metamorphosed into a virtual death sentence, was now to be tried under suspicion of murder.
In this context, I confess I share the deep concerns of the bishops “due to many deaths and killings in the campaign against prohibited drugs” and I cringe at the co-responsibility I bear for innocent lives that may have been taken due to my silence.
With the bishops, I reiterate my personal belief in basic teachings rooted in our being human, Filipino and Christian, and so transcend support for any political administration, namely:
- “The life of every person comes from God. It is he who gives it, and it is he alone who can take it back. Not even the government has a right to kill life because it is only God’s steward and not the owner of life.
- “The opportunity to change is never lost in every person. This is because God is merciful…
- “To destroy one’s own life and the life of another, is a grave sin and does evil to society…
- “Every person has a right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty…
- “Any action that harms another (seriously) is a grave sin. To push drugs is a grave sin as is killing (except in self defense). We cannot correct a wrong by doing another wrong. A good purpose is not a justification for an evil means. It is good to remove the drug problem, nut to kill in order to achieve this is also wrong.
- “The deep root of the drug problems and criminality is the poverty of the majority, the destruction of the family and corruption in society.
- “We must also give priority to reforming rogue policemen and corrupt judges.
- “To consent and keep silent in front of evil is to be an accomplice of evil.”
Of course, stating this with conviction does not guarantee that I will not go to hell nor prevent the President from getting to heaven.
But for those who walk this earth together in the hope of building a better Philippine nation, it is good to consider that there are forces of evil with which we must contend with on this earthly journey.
I believe it is better to battle evil on the side of God, rather than on the side of the Evil One.
The Evil One tempts to power, pride, deceit, delusion, hubris and brings tragedy.
God leads in service, humility, truth and brings success.
This has everything to do with the war on drugs we have just suspended, the negotiating tables that have been scuttled, the war with the CPP-NPA-NDF we have just sadly resumed, our fragile hopes for peace with the Muslims of Mindanao, our hopes for economic prosperity in a framework of social justice and environmental responsibility, our hopes for a Christian reception of Ambisyon Natin 2040. Unless we discern the straight and narrow path enlightened by God, we are doomed to bring the death penalty onto ourselves.
Between hell for some and heaven for others, why not, for now, the negotiated common good for all on earth? – Rappler.com
 CBCP Pastoral Letter, “For I find no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies – oracle of the Lord God (Ezekiel 18:32),” January 20, 2017.
This first appeared on the author’s blog, taborasj.
Fr Joel Tabora, SJ is a Jesuit priest and currently president of Ateneo de Davao University. He chairs the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities Asia Pacific, and the National Advocacy Commission of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP). He is president of the Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools Colleges and Universities (PAASCU) and the Davao Association of Catholic Schools (DACS). He is a board member of Xavier University, Ateneo de Zamboanga University, the Catholic Ministry for Deaf People, the CEAP, and the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA) in the Philippines.
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