Frank Chikane was a member of the South African Council of Churches when the system known as apartheid separated out the races as white, privileged, worthy of ruling, and black, less than, caged into volatile townships, their very volatility demonstrating the wisdom of the arrangement. An articulate and witty activist devoted to bringing down the racist régime of FW de Klerk, Rev. Frank Chikane found himself one day imprisoned, beaten and tortured, the torturer a white member of Frank’s own church denomination.
Following his release, Frank reflected on this horrifying juxtaposition of torturer and tortured, both finding their mandate to torture and to resist to the point of imprisonment and torture within the pages of the same sacred text.
Here in the Philippines during a training for students, aged 17 to 25, I reflected out loud with the students on a thought similar to that above: how is it that those of the same religious tribe both excoriate and cheer enthusiastically the man who now occupies the White House? What tenuous and contradictory sinew connects them?
The same question arises here. While still the mayor of the city of Davao on the country’s southernmost island of Mindanao, Rodrigo Duterte, was keen to do some ‘street cleaning’. In a poll taken not long before he became president of the country, 49% of the mostly Christian citizens of the city were Ok with the mayor’s death-squad methods. Now, seven months into his presidency – which he won by doubling the votes of the other two major candidates, it is widely reported that his various ‘wars’ (on drugs, drug dealers, insurgents and people who disagree with him) have piled up an impressive body count of 6,700. Asked in an interview late last year if he actually kills people himself, he demurred only slightly; ‘about three recently’, he responded. Today’s news raises the count by seven in a bloody encounter with ‘unknown gunmen’ in Quezon City.
Duterte’s Peace Implementation Panel Chair bragged to me that she had wrenched a peace agreement from the recalcitrants of the long-standing Mindanaoan civil conflict in five days, ridiculing the Colombians who had taken four and a half years to get to the same place with the FARC. The day I arrived here, Duterte terminated both the talks with the New People’s Democratic Front and the long-standing (since 1995) Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) which enabled the ‘consultants’ on the other side to enjoy some freedom of movement as they worked through the elements needed for peace. The following day he set his lawyers to the task of figuring out how to withdraw without too much fuss from the second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights whose signatories have ended all practices of capital punishment.
While given to both sexist slurs and groping as well as God-talk, Duterte has found himself at the receiving end of scathing critiques from both Roman Catholic and Protestant Bishops.In my usual unscientific survey of cab and tuq-tuq drivers, they seem little bothered by his excesses, they tell me, as their rear-view mirror silver and gold crucifixes glint in the mid-day sunlight. Besides, the crime rates have gone down. The ends seem to have justified the ends.