By Bill Mefford
The President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, has openly called for law enforcement and even the general public to kill people in the Philippines wiith any involvement in the use or sale of drugs. In his first two months in office there were 2,000 killings combined by vigilante forces responding to Duterte’s urgings. The numbers have now swelled to 3,000. There is no due process to determine guilt or innocence. These are extrajudicial killings. This is mass murder. In fact, Duterte said just a few days ago that he wanted to be like Hitler in his war against drug users. What kind of a national leader willingly chooses to make Hitler his role model in his desire to murder millions of people? Duterte does not want to treat drug addicts, or reasonably address the issue of drugs; he just wants to murder people.
What is even more surprising for me however, is the relative silence from faith leaders, particularly those who claim such a commitment to justice. When a world leader states their intention to murder millions of people whose offense is to fall victim to addiction, this cries out for wholesale resistance by people of faith. One might expect faith leaders to be out front, leading the movement to stop the killings. I suggest we not hold our collective breathe.
Though I saw that the leaders of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines recently call for an end to the extrajudicial killings, their statement repeatedly highlights the supposed harm of drug use, weakening their call for an end to the killings. Many of those murdered so far have been low level drug users and dealers, calling to question just how much harm drug use causes communities compared to the call for state-sponsored genocide that Duterte has made. The church leaders’ call for an end to state-sponsored killings is frankly weak as they go out of their way to pander to Duterte, rather than simply demanding an end to Duterte’s madness. They seem to be afraid of demanding an end to the killing; they just want a kinder, gentler Duterte. I could find no statements from Christian leaders in the United States calling for an end to the murders.
It reminded me of a time several years ago when I was asked to write a statement for faith leaders to sign on to concerning the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. Progressive faith leaders have been notoriously – I would say sinfully – quiet when it comes to the persecution of Christians in other nations (there is no persecution of Christians in the United States), fearing that they would sound Islamaphobic. The truth is many conservative Christians who focus on Christian persecution are Islamaphobic and are simply using the deaths of our sisters and brothers in Christ to carry out a hate-filled campaign to reinstall a modern version of the Crusades against Muslims worldwide. Still, that is no reason for progressives to be silent. In fact, it makes speaking out against actual Christian persecution that much more important.
So, in writing the statement I knew I had to walk a tightrope. I stayed away from questionable sources and thoughtless, over-heated rhetoric. The statement I finished with was a carefully crafted but straight-forward account on the need to stop the persecution while more fully understanding the larger social, economic, and political context in which Christians enduring hardships lived. The truth is that every Christian who dies in the Middle East is not being persecuted. Some are suffering almost as much from the horrible foreign and economic policies initiated by the West as much as they are by religious extremist governments.
Though the statement was thoughtful and challenging, it was never released. You see, within large institutions there are often bureaucratic interests that are far more interested in maintaining the status quo than in actually achieving justice. It sounds crazy – it is crazy – unless you realize, as I did during this whole unusual affair, that institutions will opt to protect their power rather than use it to benefit others.
“That’s just what happens sometimes,” is what I was told. That’s just life. But when it comes to large religious institutions I have another word for it – that’s bullshit.
The truth is though that this does happens quite often with all kinds of faith groups. In early 2014, when President Obama openly pledged to grant family members of DREAMers access to temporary legalization and then reneged on his pledge to give political cover to Democrats running for office during the mid-terms, groups like Sojourners, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights all came out with statements supporting the president. The Democrats needed political cover from President Obama and President Obama needed political cover from major faith and civil rights groups. Everyone was covered except for undocumented immigrants. So, what happened is that more immigrants, who would not have been deported if he had issued the Executive Order when he said he would, ended up being deported and none of the Democrats he wanted to give political cover to actually won.
Like I said, bullshit.
And this is why those of us who honestly care about justice – and not just because we have adopted an institutional statement mandating us to care for it – have to quit looking at institutional leaders to lead the way. They will gladly lead the way so long as that way benefits them. As soon as it doesn’t, their leadership ends. We must choose to lead and create connections with other leaders or we shouldn’t expect justice to be a reality for anyone. This is a time for new leaders and new connections.
This is entirely why Fig Tree Revolution exists. We have chosen to no longer look to others, especially to those who have climbed to the top of corporate bureaucratic structures with a thin layer of Jesus to fool us. We must be the ones to speak out and lead in the struggles for justice.
President Duterte must be stopped and, my fellow progressives, we have to be the ones who stop him as we work with others genuinely interested in doing so. If people have other priorities then so be it, but I am tired of giving a damn about someone else’s institutionally preservationist priorities.
So, here is what I believe we can and should do right now to stop these senseless killings:
- Join with the Drug Policy Alliance and sign this petition to Secretary Kerry, urging condemnation of the killings, and make sure the money we are sending the Philippines is not going to fund government-sponsored murder.
- Download this action kit from Amnesty International and write a letter directly to President Duterte urging him to stop the killings. He should hear from us. Better yet, write a letter and have your entire Sunday school class, congregation, Wesley Foundation, congregation or other small group sign it (or have each person write their own!). Duterte must be confronted by his evil actions and we can’t for others to do this. (Let me know if you do this with group – take a pic and we will post it!)
- Recruit others in your networks to write letters and sign the petition.
- Sign up for email updates for Fig Tree Revolution below and urge others to do the same – this is why we exist!
We really are the change we are waiting for and no one, no matter their title or position, will ever be more effective at creating change and achieving justice than all of us working together. So, let’s do this.