Human dignity and the right of self-defense
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“Rodrigo Duterte – the Donald Trump of the Philippines.” So we read and hear many times during the last months in newspapers, magazines, radio- and TV-programs all over the world.
It is obvious that there are similarities:
• Their populist appeal among the frustrated, disadvantaged, angry parts of the population, who provide public support and help them gain political power;
• The contempt for the political and social establishment of the country;
• The use of offensive language in public political discourse;
• The over-sensitivity and overreaction to any type of criticism.
But there is a fundamental difference between the two men: Donald Trump only believes in himself. Rodrigo Duterte has a vision, he believes in values. Trump wants to become President at any price, he is propagating any type of nonsense, hate, lies, contradictions, which he believes will bring him to his aim, and he is willing to change his message from one minute to the next if it fits his aim.
Duterte wants a better life for his Filipino countrymen. He wants them to experience freedom – from the slavery of drug addiction, from the oppression of dynastic exploitation, from hopeless poverty. He wants them to experience justice and solidarity in their contractual relations as employees, in decent pay for hard work and in dealing with public officials.
I do not know when and how Rody Duterte developed his hate against drug lords and drug dealers – if it was from the traumatic experience of seeing young people die in horrible situations caused by their hopeless struggle against their addiction due to the inhuman, criminal greed of drug lords and pushers, making big money with their deadly business; from observing the indescribable suffering of parents, siblings, wives, children in such situations, unable to help them. And I do not know when he came to the conclusion that it needs a strong state to implement his laws, using his power to reduce to a minimum all these types of criminality and even the cynical irresponsibility in the state bureaucracy that makes the lives of ordinary citizens a daily torture.
However, what I know is that the former Philippine Administration has failed miserably in its responsibility to provide the necessary state and legal safeguards to protect the Filipinos against these evils.
Did they not know that even some of the highest police generals were involved in the drug trade? If not, why did they not try to know it and to implement effective measures against it? What did they achieve in reducing impunity (note: journalist killings), non-functioning of the rule of law, poverty and unemployment (figures unchanged in spite of high growth rates), fraud and ridiculous corruption in the political process (highest vote buying in the last elections)?
Why did they block passage of the Freedom of Information Act (FOI), which would have been an effective tool in the fight against corruption? Why did Malacanang intervene before the second Senate reading of the modern “Political Party Law,” already approved in the Lower House, which would have created a legal framework for developing a functioning democracy?
There have been these first actions of the new administration, which convinced me that President Duterte is working on a value-based agenda, along with the core value of human dignity: He declared war against the drug lords and drug dealers, ordered the immediate implementation of the FOI, the prohibition of the labor law that allowed contractualizations (end-of-contract), the preparation of constitutional reforms in the direction of a federal-parliamentary state structure, the cleaning up of the public administration bureaucracy, getting rid not only of the ones connected to the drug rings but also to illegal gambling and corruption.
However, for me and my fellow Centrist Democrats – Christians and Muslims – in the Philippines there are two important issues that need clarification.
The Christian understanding of human beings as children of God has been the origin of the concept of human dignity and accordingly democratic state structures built on the rule of law. The communist ideology, which claims to promote human values, is fundamentally different: the core value for the communist is not the dignity of each human being but the liberation of mankind.
Does President Duterte understand that his war for a drug-free society is endangering the protection of human dignity of each and any Filipino, if this fight is conducted at any price – even the killings of innocent people (i.e. addict victims of the drug dealers who are killed by these criminals because they could testify against them)? It is not a drug-free country but the human dignity of each person that we stand for; and only allows killings of human beings as an act of self-defense in a situation of immediate danger.
The other issue: The “shoot-to-kill” criminals slogan is widely interpreted also by citizens who are not part of the police, as the right to kill – be it to rid society of criminal elements or even to silence people who could testify against them as drug dealers. The monopoly of the state over the use of physical force against members of the society is one of the most important achievements of civilization overcoming the rule of the jungle, and it is indispensable for the rule of law and for the safety of ordinary citizens.
How much I wish President Duterte would clarify that the “shoot-to-kill” order for policemen confronting drug dealers is only valid in cases of self-defense. And that the use of physical force in order to implement laws or protect citizens against criminals is a monopoly of the state and its legitimate organs – with the exception of direct self-defense by citizens being attacked. This would earn his policy of liberating the Filipinos from the slavery of addiction, the threat of omnipresent crime and the oppression from dynasties and oligarchs the full support and admiration of all people in the Philippines and in the world who stand for human values and human dignity.
Dr. Peter Koeppinger is the current project director of the European Union – Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (EU-KAS) Philippines Partnerships for Integrity and Jobs Project (Project I4J). He is a former resident representative of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) in the Philippines (2009-2014), served as one of the co-convenors of the Centrist Democratic Movement (CDM) of the Philippines from 2010 to 2011 and has been the foreign political consultant of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines: Ang Partido ng Tunay na Demokrasya (CDP) from its establishment in 2012, and the present. He is a member of the Board of Advisors of CDPI. This commentary also appeared on The Manila Times.