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Editorial

Presidential slander

/ 05:28 AM November 29, 2018

Twice in the last few days, President Duterte has unleashed tirades against a ranking clergy of the Catholic Church. First, he accused a certain “Bishop David” of taking church donations for his family, supposedly with a video to prove the bishop’s theft of fruits offered during the Mass.

Later, the President upped the ante by airing the suspicion that the bishop could be into drugs.

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“David! I’m beginning to suspect why you’re frequently roaming at night. You could be into drugs,” the President said in a speech in Davao City. In the same breath, he warned he would have a certain bishop’s head cut off if he was into illegal drugs.

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, or Bishop Ambo, as he is known to his parishioners at the Diocese of Caloocan, responded with a touch of humor.

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No, sir, he assured the President, he was never into drugs, not even maintenance drugs; only fruit shakes and vitamins. Far from being into drugs, the prelate said he was only helping rehabilitate drug addicts.

David knows whereof he speaks. He has described his diocese — comprising Caloocan, Malabon and Navotas — as a “killing field” in the administration’s antidrug war, where scores have died including 17-year-old student Kian delos Santos, who was mercilessly killed in a widely condemned police operation in August 2017.

In partnership with the local governments of the three cities, David leads a program putting drug addicts on the road to rehabilitation and giving scholarships to orphaned children.

As the latest target in a vilification campaign against the Catholic Church, David joins a long list of Filipinos who have been publicly accused of crimes by the President without evidence, or cursed, shamed and even jailed mainly for being critics of the bloody war on drugs.

The slander is unfortunate for its wanton disregard for evidence, flawed logic (roaming at night equals involvement in illegal drugs) and the reckless ease with which the Chief Executive dispenses serious accusations from his bully pulpit.

It is dangerous, because the President’s word carries a lot of weight. Whether serious or said in jest, his pronouncements have the effect of policy and can have far-reaching ramifications inside and outside the government machinery.

When he talked about a “Red October” ouster plot a month ago, the military and the police were hard put to supply details to the script.

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Publicly putting a bishop, or any Filipino for that matter, under suspicion of involvement in illegal drugs makes that person a potential target of rogue elements who are, it seems, having a field day taking advantage of the current culture of violence.

In this time of “Tokhang,” it is dangerous to be accused by no less than the President of being involved in illegal drugs, as shown by the many deaths arising from being included in the administration’s so-called drug list.

When similar slanderous accusations are hurled his way, the President is understandably upset regarding insinuations about his health, his human rights record or the conduct of his children.

Thus, the investigations launched against his No. 1 critic, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, who linked the President’s son Paolo to the P6.4-billion shabu shipment from China last year.

If the President is hurt by unsubstantiated charges, it behooves the highest official of the land to apply the same standard to others.

The laws on libel, cyberlibel and the like under the Revised Penal Code are meant to protect everyone, including the dead, from oral or written defamation. Because in a civilized society, people cannot go about ruining other’s reputations without consequences.

Under the rule of law, citizens have the inherent right to be protected from hate speech — including, but especially from, their own President.

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TAGS: Catholic Church, Inquirer editorial, Pablo Virgilio David, Rodrigo Duterte, slander, war on drugs
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