Once again, priorities

Published July 7, 2021, 12:03 AM

by Former Vice President Jejomar C. Binay


Former Vice President Jejomar Binay

Since last year, government has stubbornly refused all appeals to provide another round of cash aid or “ayuda” on the grounds that it did not have the money. 

Then we learn that government failed to utilize P18 billion in funds already allocated for its emergency pandemic response. Since the emergency law that set aside these funds expired last June 30, the money has reverted to the National Treasury.

In a crisis where millions are jobless and hungry, and the pandemic still ravaging through communities, this kind of inefficiency borders on criminal neglect. 

Appeals by some lawmakers for the Executive to call for a special session of Congress to extend the law’s effectivity, which would have allowed the disbursement of the remaining funds, went unheeded. It seems government had other matters which it deemed more important.

Among them is a plan to arm civilian groups to supposedly assist in enforcing peace and order.

Government did not offer any explanation for inserting this highly controversial issue in the national agenda during a pandemic. And it seems to be blissfully unaware of or unaffected by the perception it creates: that after five years, the peace and order situation has deteriorated to the extent that government would need the help of armed civilian groups.  

When I was a human rights lawyer during martial law, we handled many cases of abuse committed by armed civilian groups, then called para-military groups, operating in the countryside. These groups were notorious for abusing civilians and committing heinous acts, like the beheading of Fr. Tulio Favali, an Italian missionary priest, in 1985. 

Armed civilian groups are an abomination, a throwback to a time when government responded to legitimate dissent with violence. Should this plan push through, it will complete the descent into a regime of State-sanctioned violence, where repressive acts against citizens exercising their rights are sanctioned, and “nanlaban” the go-to justification for summary executions.  

From the start, this obsession with control – through naked violence or the threat of it – has been at the core of this administration’s policy of  dealing with street-level crimes and legitimate dissent. It does not confuse the two but conflates them, dealing with dissenters in the same manner they deal with petty criminals. In short, exercising democratic rights is seen as a crime.

And as it enters its twilight, the administration seems to be putting everyone on notice that it does not intend to exit quietly, but literally with a bang.

Some would see it as posturing. Several government officials sought to tamp down criticisms by insisting it was still under study. But that is immaterial. The fact is that this is being given serious thought by government at a time when millions of ordinary Filipinos continue to struggle daily in order to survive. Protecting them from the virus, comforting them and easing their pain should be government’s paramount concern, not arming government supporters and giving them what amounts to a license to kill.

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