IS THE climate of fear sown by the spate of killings and harassment of those perceived to be standing in the way part of a conditioning to weaken people’s resistance to a looming power-grab?
We ask the question as two mayors were murdered in succession July 3-4 and another priest was gunned down June 11 in a by-now-familiar pattern of impunity and a breakdown of law and order.
President Rodrigo Duterte – who should at least pretend to be outraged by the runaway killings under his watch — reacted to some of the assassinations like he expected the executions and even went to the extent of seeming to justify them.
It is curious that the full investigation reports were still not in, yet President Duterte was already talking of Tanauan Mayor Antonio Halili having been killed probably because of his alleged drug links and Fr. Richmond Nilo murdered in Cabanatuan for his supposed sexual misconduct.
The shock of the July 3 assassination of Halili during the singing of the national anthem in front of City Hall had not died down when another mayor was gunned down the following day in Nueva Ecija.
Mayor Ferdinand Bote, 57, of General Tinio town, Nueva Ecija, was shot dead in his car by the usual motorcycle-riding assassins. He was pronounced dead on arrival at the MV Gallego Cabanatuan General Hospital where he was taken.
Unfortunately for the dead officials, they are no longer around to defend themselves against the insinuations and “suspicions” of the President. Btw, they were among 10 mayors and four vice mayors killed so far during the Duterte regime.
One problem is that all investigation and prosecution agencies are under the President. Despite their avowed professionalism, will they be able to submit findings contrary to the boss’ prejudgments?
With three of its priests having been gunned down since December, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines condemned the impunity. It asked for prayers and the tolling of church bells. It seemed that was all it could do while being enveloped by the culture of violence.
On June 10, Nueva Ecija priest Fr. Richmond Nilo, 43, was shot while preparing to say Sunday Mass in a chapel in Cabanatuan. He was fired upon several times through the chapel’s window by an assailant who escaped with a companion in a car.
On April 29, Fr. Mark Anthony Yuaga Ventura, parish priest in Gattaran, Cagayan, was shot dead as he was blessing children and talking to choir members after Mass.
Also in Nueva Ecija last Dec. 4, Fr. Marcelino Paez, 72, was shot by a duo on a motorcycle while he was driving on the Jaen-Zaragoza road hours after he helped facilitate the release of a political prisoner in Cabanatuan. Paez was former Guimba parish priest and coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines in Central Luzon.
• Palace sees clergy link with Reds
PRESIDENTIAL spokesman Harry Roque has told the media of an alleged conspiracy between the Catholic hierarchy and the Communist Party of the Philippines to topple Duterte before his term ends in 2022.
A similar rationale was given by then President Ferdinand Marcos when he declared martial law in 1972 to save the nation, he said, from a conspiracy between the right (ruling elite) and the left (communist insurgents).
While some members of the clergy have admitted that it is their mission to seek the uplift and liberation of the aggrieved and dispossessed, they denied any link with the communists.
Another intriguing similarity: Marcos forced the replacement of the Constitution that barred his reelection after his second term, while Duterte is in the process of replacing the current Constitution with one to his liking.
We see Duterte attempting to hold on to power beyond 2022 – notwithstanding the drive of Marcos’s son Bongbong to wrest the vice presidency from incumbent Leni Robredo and move to just a heartbeat away from the presidency.
Duterte’s neutralizing all obstacles to a total takeover conjures up images of an autocrat grabbing all levers of government after the population has been conditioned, or intimidated, to accept the inevitable.
Duterte now has majority control of the Senate and the House of Representatives and is on his way to capturing the Supreme Court. His panzer-like moves threaten other elements standing in the way — such as the Church, the mass media and the youth-cum-labor sector.
Public relations handlers of Duterte are arranging a meeting between him and his friend Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, who is the CBCP president, to prevent the rift between the clergy and Malacañang from worsening.
The conflict took a turn for the worse two weeks ago after Duterte called God stupid (your God, not my God, he tried to explain later) and went on to propagate his layman’s understanding of the biblical account of the Creation and the concept of original sin.
While Duterte attacks local officials for their alleged drug links, his line of attack on the clergy is along their alleged sexual dalliance.
For instance, long before the police could put their finger on a plausible motive for the murder of Father Nilo, Duterte was already droppings hints in his speeches of his having evidence of sexual indiscretions of the dead priest.
The President openly talks of his having two wives and multiple girlfriends in what looks like an attempt to dull the point of extramarital affairs by admitting it before it becomes a major issue. And he wants the Church to look the other way by putting the clergy on the defensive on morality?