human rights

[OPINION | Newspoint] Kill is the word, the narrative, the theme

Vergel O. Santos
[OPINION | Newspoint] Kill is the word, the narrative, the theme
'Feeding his own narcissistic sense, the President sees in the shutdown of ABS-CBN the downfall as well of its supposedly oligarchic owners. Obviously, he does not know his oligarchy.'

After the House committee on ABS-CBN’s application for a new broadcast franchise had voted to reject it and “lay it on the table,” someone obviously inadequately initiated asked what the phrase meant.

Given the circumstances in which the phrase occurred, it could only be presumed part of parliamentary parlance. Surely the committee did not mean it in the common usage, which is “to offer for or open to discussion.” In fact, from the beginning, the single-minded intent had been to railroad the rejection so that the issue did not need to be raised to the plenary “for discussion.”

Anyway, before the committee could be sidetracked from its lapdog duty to a president whose oft-repeated open wish it was to see ABS-CBN shut down, Rep. Michael Defensor, front line lapdog, declared, yes, in this case “lay on the table” did not mean to keep the issue alive but precisely its opposite: to have it lie there and die there – there on the slaughtering-table of the committee. (READ: [OPINION] Reversing the ABS-CBN decision)

Why and how the phrase came to be turned on its head is not known – not to me, at any rate – but, given how even the most basic of legal and moral principles and philosophies are kicked around and tumbled over in the service of the regime, need one ask?   

In fact, in what could have only come across as a show of sycophantic dependability to his patron, Defensor did not mind saying the dreadful four-letter word and incriminating himself in the murder – “[T]he effect would be to kill” – to suppress any idea of recovery or revival for the franchise (which is itself, if not a short-term possibility, a real one, although that’s another story altogether.)

Naturally, the most resonant and chilling undertone lies in that word – kill – and not only because of the sense of violence and fatality inherent in it: kill has indeed become the single-word narrative of the regime, its very theme.

Rodrigo Duterte first enunciated it when he declared a war on drugs, upon his presidential accession. Within the first year alone of the war, 20,000 lay dead (an official count; the number is reported to have doubled, unofficially); 4,000 of the kills were owned by the police, the rest blamed on vigilantes, who could only have derived the inspiration and sense of impunity from Duterte’s own war cry.

Since then kill has served as Duterte’s stock response to anyone or anything that gets in his way. The command went out on bishops speaking against his indiscriminate war. He ordered his police: “[K]ill them. They are useless fools. All they do is criticize.” The bishops have so far escaped with their voices – and their lives – but not their priests; some of them have been assassinated, 3 within a span of merely 6 months (between December 2017 and June 2018).

In time the word spread beyond the realm of drugs. On May 5, the very day the shutdown order came down on ABS-CBN, a radio reporter was assassinated, and more recently, just this month, it was a prosecutor, here in Manila. Both were killed during the coronavirus pandemic, which is still very much active and very much deadly but cannot be trusted to pick the right targets. The two were not the only ones of their professions to have been so victimized; a number had preceded them.

For lives too politically costly to extinguish, freedoms and rights are substituted. The most notorious case has for a victim another lawyer, but, more scandalously, a senator and human-rights champion, too – Leila de Lima. For more than 3 years now, she has languished in detention for “conspiring in illegal drug trafficking,” a charge cooked exclusively from the choral testimony of life-termers only too happy to be herded for the song, having nothing to lose.

The regime has gone wholesale since, primarily targeting the news media, killing the freedom they exercise as deputies of the people for their right to know. First, it heaped all sorts of allegations – tax evasion, foreign ownership, libel, etc. – on this very news site, Rappler, naming its Time Person of the Year founder and CEO, Maria Ressa, as primary respondent. ABS-CBN’s turn came next. (READ: Malacañang edits out mentions of ABS-CBN, Rappler in Duterte speech)

Both organizations had been picked on, openly, repeatedly, whimsically, for harassment and ultimate silencing. ABS-CBN, the largest and widest-reaching broadcast network, is the proverbial case of the one bird that takes the one fatal stone for a whole species. Millions of Filipinos counted on it to deliver every day the running story of their time, straight to their homes – homes so remote in these scattered islands they would otherwise have lived neglected lives.

Feeding his own narcissistic sense, the President sees in the shutdown of ABS-CBN the downfall as well of its supposedly oligarchic owners. Obviously, he does not know his oligarchy.

What oligarchs there may have been fell from favor and power, thus ceasing to be oligarchs, when he came to the presidency and began creating his own oligarchy.

Which was exactly what he ignorantly meant when he promised to help “helpful friends…get rich.” –