A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: Justice and the Politics of Difference

DAVAO  CITY (MindaNews/13 March) — The Keynote Speaker did not directly refer to Extra-Judicial Killings (EJKs) taking place in the country today on account of the current State’s “war on drugs” but to the phenomenon of violence. His words to his young audience mid-way through his talk: “You agree with violence! After all you are protected from it. You forget about human dignity and human rights. Because you benefit from this violence; you feel protected even if this is not OK. The violence is OK with you, because you benefit from it!”

The speaker was Dr. Christopher Ryan Maboloc, Ph.D, former chair of the Philosophy Department of the Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) who recently finished his doctorate at the University of San Carlos in Cebu City, an author of books and essays published in international and national philosophical journals and currently a regular contributor to the Philippine Daily Inquirer. He was addressing mainly around 300 senior high and college students – as well as philosophy teachers – of various Davao City educational institutions: ADDU,  University of Immaculate Conception,  St. Francis Seminary and others.

The event was the 5th Philosophers’ Rally, organized by ADDU’s Philosophy Department on 11 March 2017 at the Finster Auditorium.

As I sat listening to Dr. Maboloc’s impassioned speech, somehow I felt that he was not mainly addressing the millennial audience but the whole of Davao City, and perhaps the entire country.  “The violence is OK with you, because you benefit from it!”.  This is certainly true of the citizens of Davao City, which was  once-upon-a-time a politically progressive city (whose civil society was known for its consistent opposition to traditional politics). Many surveys have indicated since before the recent presidential elections up to now that President Duterte enjoys a very high satisfactory rating (as high as 95%) and, despite all the criticisms against the drug war, continues to remain quite high.

This is the city which, if one were to believe in the open testimonies of the likes of Matobato and Lascaňas at the Senate, was Ground Zero of the operations of the Davao Death Squad (DDS) leading to the killings of hundreds of victims.

Allegedly, the President when he was still Davao City’s long-term Mayor had a hand in these killings.  Time and again, as quoted by mass media, he himself has alluded to this fact.

In the post-EDSA era when a considerable segment of the Filipino population heralded the victory of People Power – convinced of the evil ways of the Marcos dictatorship – many wondered how many Ilokanos remained faithful to their kababayan and were loyalists to the Marcoses. Today, across the country, many wonder why the majority of Davaoeňos are “loyalists” to Digong Duterte, despite the “evil ways” of this recently-installed regime (the statistics of deaths in the eight months of Duterte’s administration far surpasses the 16 years of the Marcos reign of terror!).

Were the millennials in Dr. Maboloc’s audience swayed by his arguments on why they should be concerned with justice in the context of the politics of difference? It was hard to tell but they did listen intently to his talk, considering the passion he brought into his arguments. A few did raise relevant questions during the Open Forum, and if not for the time constraint, there would have been more interesting discussions between the speaker and the students.

Following the keynote speech were concurrent sessions and a list of some of the papers written and presented by the students themselves indicated where they stood on these discourses – justice, autonomy, equality, democracy and the like.  Some of these topics and their presentors included:

  1. Extrajudicial Rights: A Phenomenological Basis of Human Rights Through Edith Stein’s Notion of Empathy (by Rey Jan Pusta)
  2. A Case for the Defenseless (by Hannah Keziah De la Cerna)
  3. Analyzing the War on Drugs in Clausewitz’s Theory of War (Nico Lopez)
  4. Bare Life, State Exception, and Human Rights: An Exposition (Erik Jan Reyes).

That this “Philosophers’ Rally” took place under this theme, thus provoking a few of the students to do papers on these urgent, relevant issues speak well of the professors of ADDU’s Philosophy Department. They seem to have provoked their students to “critically think” about these issues that currently fragment the Filipinos. For, indeed, the divide that separates us these days owing to different postures on the State’s priorities have led to fragmentations within families, institutions and the entire society.  In fact, one of the Philosophy Professors, Mr. Danilo Agustin, told me that, indeed, among their students are those who oppose or condone EJK violence.

For us Christians who are challenged to do repentance and renewal during this Lenten season, the question begs to be answered: What to do in these trying times?

The answer to this question actually arose even before Dr. Maboloc said a word, in the Opening Prayer: “Lord grant us courage and strength… that wounds may be healed, that hunger may be filled…And grant us compassion, so that we may be your heart.”

(MindaViews is the opinion section of Mindanews. Bro. Karl M. Gaspar CSsR is Academic Dean and Professor at the St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute in Davao City, teaches Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University and is a member of the Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Team. An author of several books, Gaspar recently launched  “A Hundred Years of Gratitude,” in celebration of his 70th birthday and 30th year as a Redemptorist Brother in June).