Who watches the watchmen?
My father, a newspaperman in China, used to tell me about shocking news items he came across while doing his duties. A foreigner crippled, beaten almost to death by locals, who couldn’t get any form of justice or legal support after the fact. Criminals walking away after being found guilty of barbaric deeds because they were moneyed or well connected. And the most startling thing among them all, the complete lack of outrage among locals who were privy to the news—their complete and utter apathy.
Surely, I thought, that couldn’t happen in the Philippines, where sometimes people were abusive or corrupt, but certainly not crazy. I used to believe that this kind of madness only existed in faraway places or in “Animal Farm,” George Orwell’s allegorical novel where a government run by pigs starts out with good intentions. However, it eventually ends up running on the adage that “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others,” which allows it to get away with all sorts of horrors, unchecked. I viewed “Animal Farm” as a cautionary tale remote from reality, since our civilization had progressed enough that it would be able to perform checks and balances upon itself. I thought that there was always some recourse when on the receiving end of an injustice, and I thanked God that I would likely never be in that situation of complete helplessness, when the law and fellow human beings both decided to stop caring.
In hindsight, this was a naive point of view to hold, specially since martial law and its attendant horrors are actually more recent than most of us feel comfortable remembering. If I ever had any naive beliefs about our legislators, our law enforcers and our politicians, those beliefs have been significantly squashed by the current administration.
We descend further and further into absurdity. Only days ago 119 members of the House of Representatives voted for the budget for the Commission on Human Rights to be reduced to an absurd P1,000—equivalent to a few Uber rides, a number of frappucinos, or a few hours’ worth of gasoline. And while the budget is not set in stone and has to go through the gates of the Senate, for one thing, we don’t need an enrolled bill to be enraged. For another, it only goes to show how much of a circus our current political sphere has become. Our legislators clearly have the toddler-like mentality of equating respect for one person with respect for an agency, and so have “symbolically” rubbed the CHR’s nose in the dirt.
As Thursday’s Inquirer editorial has pondered, the members of the House act like they have “zero knowledge” of the Constitution. Hours ago, the party-list group Sagip, defending its representative’s “aye” vote to reduce the CHR budget on its Facebook page, spouted the same backward nonsense we’ve been accustomed to hearing from our President: “Isn’t the 1k budget only appropriate, if only to dramatize the nonperformance of its mandated duties of protecting the human rights of ALL Filipinos?”—versus protecting rights only of criminals, as the party-list group and our pro-EJK fellowmen continue to insist. As though the CHR were in charge of going after criminals—the actual job of the police and law enforcement—and not to keep watch over those in authority. And then the President himself had the nerve—hardly surprising since he believes he can get away with saying or doing anything—to say that the CHR chair “had it coming” because the CHR’s inquiries into extrajudicial killings were clearly “pro-dilawan” in motivation. Who’s watching the watchmen? Our President and 119 of our House members would clearly like for the answer to be: no one.
One by one the people and the agencies with the mission and the resources to serve as checks and balances are being crippled, and the government ploughs on, unashamed and unchecked.
There’s that sense of dawning horror you get from the end of “Animal Farm.” It’s because we see them every day on TV and in social media—pigs, walking on their hind legs.
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