These were the words of President Rodrigo Duterte in his televised address on the evening of April 01, 2020:
“I am addressing the Left na ‘yung pambabastos ninyo ‘yung slamming about the distribution. Remember kayong mga Left: You are not the government. Naiintindihan ninyo ‘yan? Hindi kayo nasa gobyerno and you cannot be a part of what we are planning to do for the nation. Intindihin ninyo ‘yan. Kaya huwag kayong mag gawa ng kalokohan at mag-riot-riot diyan because I will order you detained at bibitawan ko kayo pagkatapos na wala na itong COVID. Huwag ninyong subukan ang Pilipino. Do not try to test it. Alam mo, we are ready for you. Gulo o barilan o patayan, I will not hesitate my soldiers to shoot you. I will not hesitate to order the police to arrest and detain you (…) Kung gusto ninyo ‘yung barilan, eh ‘di sige. Gusto ninyo ng pukpukaan, sige. I will not hesitate. My orders are sa pulis pati military pati mga barangay na pagka ginulo at nagkaroon ng okasyon na lumaban at ang buhay ninyo ay nalagay sa alanganin, shoot them dead. Naiintindihan ninyo? Patay. Eh kaysa mag-gulo kayo diyan, eh ‘di ilibing ko na kayo. Ah ‘yung libing, akin ‘yan. Huwag ninyo subukan ang gobyerno kasi itong gobyerno na ito hindi inutil.”
The inhumane order enraged the public, expressing that such violence and punishment should not be tolerated. Others were calm and unfazed, stating that the directive was aimed at the Left and not at the general public.
Nevertheless, any explanation is deemed inadequate if one of the most important questions remains unanswered – who are considered as the Left?
THE LEFTIST IDEOLOGY
The Left has always been painted as the bad guys in society. They have often been boxed as stereotypes – that is, those people who stage rallies and mobilizations and go amok as they are “anti-government” which, in actuality, is not the case.
Modern politics imply that the Leftist ideology constitutes ideals, beliefs, and movements aligned with the concepts of equity and equality, social justice, reform, progress, inter-nationality, and anything else that aims to change the current political status quo. In essence, the Leftist ideology champions the importance of the communal good – and with that, any person who demands and lobbies for equal rights, who constitutionally demands and exercises his rights and freedoms, who calls for justice, responsibility, and accountability regardless of societal status, and who lobbies for entitlement programs, such as universal healthcare and free education, can be considered as a Leftist.
In light of the global pandemic, the Leftist ideology can be manifested when one demands for equal opportunities in receiving food aid and assistance, when one demands for accountability from higher-ranking individuals, when one calls out injustices, or even when once simply exercises his freedom of speech to express his opinions and criticisms on how the government has been handling the crisis.
This is the reality that most people fail to see: there is a “Left” in every individual.
Thus, the order may not only be applied to individuals who go amok or who are seen as a threat per the authorized personnel’s judgments but also to civilians who are simply exercising their right to express opinions and demanding justice.
If the President’s orders were to be taken literally, anyone can be shot dead.
After receiving hostile responses from the public, President Duterte clarified in another press briefing that the order is something the police force, the military, and even the barangay officials can use as self-defense should circumstances permit.
“I never said in public “shoot to kill” period. Sinabi ko — always ‘yan maski ‘yung sa human rights diyan sa UN, if you think that your life is in danger (…) ‘pag tinignan mo na delikado ang buhay mo, patay, unahan mo na, patayin mo.”
Despite the clarification, it did not alleviate the fear for it denoted the blurring of the line between self-preservation and inhumanity.
SELF-PRESERVATION: THE DOWNFALL OF FILIPINOS’ HUMANITY?
Self-defense is a justifying circumstance governed by Article 11 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines. However, such acts are required to match the level of the threat presented – that is, a person can only employ as much force as required to remove the threat. If the threat involves only minor force and the person claiming self-defense uses force that could cause grievous bodily harm or death, the claim of self-defense is invalid.
Despite being authorized to do so, Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief General Archie Gamboa expressed that the use of violence – particularly killing – as retaliation will be their last resort and that they shall strictly observe maximum tolerance.
Likewise, human rights advocates have called out that, regardless of the situation, the primacy of human rights should still be upheld.
“It is very dangerous during this time to incite violence or strong words, such as shooting people, when in fact, the primary purpose again of the enhanced community quarantine is to protect the right to life. It would be defeating the purpose if we were to encourage our security sector to put the law into their own hands and forget the primacy of human rights,” said Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia.
“Deadly, unchecked force should never be referred to as a method to respond to an emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The abusive methods used to punish those accused of breaching quarantine and the vast number of mass arrests that have been carried out to date, against mainly poor people, are further examples of the oppressive approach the government takes against those struggling with basic needs. The violent response to calls for help is heartless and unjustifiable, especially while millions of Filipinos are prevented from earning a living,” said Amnesty International (AI) Philippines Section Director Butch Olano.
“At the very least, Duterte gives the police all the justification they need to commit human rights abuses against people who may be violating these COVID-19 regulations because they needed to find work or food. Duterte may feel exasperated by the incidents of people breaking curfew regulations but he has to understand that for the poor affected by this crisis, it is a matter of survival,” said Human Rights Watch (HRW) member Carlos Conde.
HERE’S WHY THE ORDER IS PROBLEMATIC
First, it lacks empathy and understanding. Albeit ruling with an iron fist can be effective during times like this, one cannot simply ignore the plight of those who see the quarantine as a luxury. Thus, the reason why people resort to mobilizations is to call on the national government to remember them amidst the crisis – to give them subsidies, food aid, and assistance that can help them survive throughout the quarantine period.
Second, the haphazard use of the term “Left” gives one the false sense of security as it stereotypes Leftists as only those people who go amok and seek the fall of the government which, in essence, is not true. As stated, there is a “Left” in every individual when we demand what is rightfully ours as citizens – and with that, anyone can be victimized by the order.
Third, regardless of the nature of the order – whether it validates the use of force and violence as self-defense or justifies the use of a cruel method to hold people accountable – resorting to killing is an unjustifiable act and a defilement of one’s right to life and one’s right to due process.
Lastly, the order is a clear manifestation of an imminent destruction of the country’s democratic state as it implies breaches to the citizens’ civil liberties.
No, the country does not need violence or a divisive approach to combat the virus. It does not need more deaths – particularly ones caused by human rights violations – neither does it need its democratic state to be rattled and threatened. What is needed at this time of need are empathy, compassion, and understanding.