The Poor Suffer
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, was the result of the experience of the Second World War with all of it inhumanity. However, in spite of this Declaration, a lack of respect for the rights of all people as human beings is evident in so many places around the world.
I have lived and worked in the Philippines since 1972, arriving in Manila just one week after then President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law and instituted a reign of terror which lasted until his ouster in 1985.
For thirteen long years the people suffered under his demonic reign of terror wherein no one had any rights and thousands were murdered and tortured, imprisoned and/or caused to disappear simply because they spoke out against the policies of that administration.
After the fall of the Marcos dictatorship a succession of elitist Presidents ran the country succeeding in re-establishing in some fashion the rule of law and order while at the same time re-establishing the economic system that demanded that the poor of the country continue to suffer in dire poverty while the wealthy continue to grow unbelievably rich.
Corruption in government was commonplace and seldom prosecuted. Millionaire senators and congresspersons stole many more millions through corrupt practices and outright theft. Those who tried to stop this soon found themselves on the outside or else in the very prisons to which they had tried to send the corrupted officials.
In the May 2016 election, a lot of people who were tired of the elitist system decided that it was time for a real change. They chose a President who promised no corruption in government and also promised to rid the country of the scourge of drug addiction. Little did they know that they were opening the door to another reign of terror for the people of the country.
Since the current President took over administration of the country on June 1, 2016, thousands of poor people have been slaughtered under the guise of a "War on Drugs." This war began even before the official installation of the new President. Police and other armed groups were told, "Kill as many as you want; kill 1000 if you can. I have your back." I have found it striking that none of those who have been murdered and shown in the news reports had shoes on their feet. That is because they are the poor, the oppressed and those without a voice.
When criticized by human rights groups in the Philippines, the President replied, "Do you want me to declare martial law?" When criticized by human rights groups from outside the country they were disregarded or called "bleeding hearts." When criticized by officials of foreign governments, the President told them to stop trying to interfere in the internal affairs of the country.
The foulness of the mouth of the current President is just another indication of his lack of respect for the dignity of other people. It is seldom that he gives a speech that is not filled with obscenities.
On the international front this administration is selling out the sacrifices of friends to foreign powers who threaten the life and livelihood of the fishermen of the Philippines. In China, the current President recently promised a "separation" from the United States both "militarily and economically." This statement alone has caused the flight of dearly needed investment from the country and sending shockwaves to the very foundations of the economy of the country.
All of this, and the current administration is now in power for only one year.
It is with a sad heart that I now see history repeating itself bringing a sense of hopelessness once again among the poor.
What can I do as a foreigner and a missionary?
My first duty is to speak out against the immorality of the means used to gain a seemingly good end— ridding the country of the scourge of drugs. This I have done and faithfully continue to do at every chance I get. But there are also more subtle ways also to speak out against such abuse. At every Mass I celebrate, I pray for the widows and children of those who have been slaughtered in the "War on Drugs." I encourage people to help these poor women and their children as they struggle to find hope in their situation.
I also continue to work with those who are addicted or have been addicted to drugs and alcohol as a spiritual director. In this way, I am hopeful to help these men and women to find God, a God who is powerful enough to free them from the chains of addiction and loving enough to show them the compassion and mercy so eloquently proclaimed by Pope Francis as the core of the Gospel Message.
In the words of one of our founders, I go on to "do what I can" for if I remain silent, the very stone will cry out for justice and for peace.
Columban Fr. Don Kill was first assigned to the Philippines in 1972.