Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 15 December 2018


The return of the Balangiga bells. Maria Ressa receiving Time’s “Person of the Year” award (together with three others as “The Guardians” of press freedom). Members of Congress repeatedly demonstrating their determination to achieve personal objectives at the expense of the country’s welfare—their humongous “insertions,” their vote on the extension of martial law, the House’s passing that joke of a new constitution. And finally, something which did not get enough media attention: the opinion of the UN Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (HRC/WGAD) regarding the case of Leila Norma Eulalia Josefa Magistrado de Lima (yes, Reader, that is apparently Senator De Lima’s full name).

All these happened within the space of the past week, and all are worthy of comment. But I will start with the last mentioned, because it has not gotten the attention it deserves.

Last February, the WGAD communicated with the Philippine government concerning the case of Senator De Lima, since the Philippines is a party to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. Our government did not reply, and the WGAD went ahead with its investigation. Its opinion was rendered in August. It opined that De Lima is being arbitrarily detained (under four of its five categories of arbitrary detention).

It explicitly found that her detention “lacks legal basis” and, most importantly, resulted from her personal convictions and public statements regarding extrajudicial killings in the country and from the exercise of her right to take part in the government and the conduct of public affairs. I recommend that you read the opinion, Reader, for your edification (you get all the facts, and you can judge for yourself).

Among other things, it recommends her immediate release from the detention imposed on her since February 2017.

This opinion was adopted in August, but it was distributed only at the end of November. I think this was to give the Philippine government time to disseminate and work on the recommendations of the WGAD. But the government seems to have reacted with stony silence.

The point, Reader, is this: Here is the United Nations, or rather its WGAD, pointing out all the flaws and abuses surrounding De Lima’s incarceration. We are being called to task for allowing this to happen. A failure on the part of all three branches of the government—executive, legislative and judicial. And our failure, too, for not raising our voices in protest.

And we did not raise our voices either to defend Maria Ressa from the harassment she has suffered, and is suffering, at the hands of President Duterte and his underlings. (Disclosure: I am a member of the board of trustees of Rappler. Another disclosure: I took the post only because more qualified persons were too scared of Mr. Duterte’s displeasure.) It has taken an outsider—not an international organization like the UN, but this time a private and respected media entity—to acknowledge what she is doing: just her job, in the face of the obvious displeasure of the powers that be.  And she has obviously been doing it well, despite the President’s protestations. I think it is time the Filipino people started standing up to be counted and started putting a stop to the creeping authoritarianism in our country.

And what do we do with a problem like Congress? It has the effrontery to remove the prohibitions against political dynasties in its proposed constitution, as well as term limits. Worse, it has gone back to the old habits of congressional insertions (another manifestation of the pork barrel), and when found out (thanks to saner colleagues), tries to deflect public attention by putting the blame, unjustly as well as stupidly, on Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno. My contempt knows no bounds.

If there is any criticism to be made of the good budget secretary, it is that he removed bottom-up budgeting which gave more power to the barangays, when he stepped into office.

What I found amusing, though, is the executive branch’s condemnation of Congress for its “unparliamentary behavior” (bad manners) toward Diokno. Congress exhibited even worse behavior when it came to Leila de Lima and Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. Everyone deserves courtesy.