Duterte and the face of evil

/ 05:06 AM December 11, 2018

Many of us have come face to face with evil. Not simple annoyances, or mere rudeness, or even uncouth or boorish behavior, but the complete opposite of good. The casually brutal violence of a bully in school, the methodical cruelty of a sexual harasser in the office, the self-satisfied, self-righteous corruption of an official in power: Many of us must have encountered these or other forms of evil in (to borrow William Golding’s phrase) “the ordinary universe.”

Worse forms of evil exist in what we can call the extreme universe — in the appalling humanitarian crisis in Yemen and in Myanmar, in the Saudi assassins’ sawing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi while he was still alive, in the horrifying circumstances of young Kian delos Santos’ last moments on earth.


The sexual abuse crisis that has shaken the worldwide Catholic Church to its core may seem to be “ordinary” evil, in the sense that it usually happens in the ordinary course of events, away or apart from crisis or emergency. But as the Church belatedly comes to grips with the enormity of the abuse, it is becoming clear that, in some areas, at particular times, the abuse was almost systemic — and the initial attempts to hide the abuse, or ignore it, was abetted by sinful structures or subcultures.

(As a believer, I find that the idea of spiritual warfare makes deep sense; I thus understand the acts of sexual abuse perpetrated or abetted by churchmen to be acts of evil that wage war where the faithful are to be found. The “principle of mass” in warfare calls for the concentration of power at the decisive place; the devil, in this view, does not read Sun Tzu, but Napoleon.)


To give an example of evil that we can all readily review, I suggest one of the most scandalous three minutes of cinema — the confessional scene in the controversial 1994 movie “Priest” between the priest of the title and the father who was committing incest against his daughter. I found that scene horrific, unbearable, staggering, revelatory, because instead of remorse or regret we find the lecherous sinner gloating, taunting the priest, not merely justifying his monstrous sin but reveling in it.

That scene from a long-ago movie popped in my head when I heard the President of the Philippines casually calling for the mass murder of the country’s Catholic bishops.

“Itong mga obispo ninyo, patayin ninyo. Walang silbi ’yang mga gagong iyan. (These bishops of yours, kill them. Those bastards are useless.) All they do is criticize,” President Duterte, in taunting mode, said a week ago Wednesday.

This is an escalation from the President’s hostile rhetoric against the bishops in general and Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio “Ambo” David in particular. We have all heard him resort casually, cruelly, to his mantra of killing; we have also all heard him denounce all criticism against him as destabilization, stupidity, antinationalism. But last Wednesday was the first time we heard him call for the mass murder of some of the most influential personalities in the Philippines. (The irony is the membership of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, like many a religious congregation, includes fervent Duterte supporters.)

This murderous outburst cannot be taken as a mere joke (as many of his supporters say), or as a straining for “dramatic effect,” as his spokesperson said, as though the President were “killing them with kindness,” or (in the absurd, bend-over-backward rationalization of the national police chief) as a simple “personal” matter between the President and the bishops.

This completely unprecedented, unpresidential threat runs counter to everything good about the Filipino; it is an offense against the truth, because the reality is the Catholic Church is the principal supporter of the campaign to rehabilitate drug addicts; above all, it is an act of evil. It shows a man overwhelmed by pride, driven by wrath and consumed by envy; the President is not merely justifying the monstrous act of calling for mass murder, but reveling in it.

Two of the three times Mr. Duterte’s ratings took a hit, it was because he made shocking anti-Catholic statements. Late in November 2015, in the middle of his unconventional quest for the presidency, the so-called “Duterteserye,” he cursed Pope Francis for causing massive traffic jams during his visit to the Philippines. (It was a set piece designed to provoke, sketchy on detail but loud on attitude; if, as he tells the story, he truly did not know that the pope was in town, he would have been the only grown person in the Philippines who did not know that a rare papal visit was underway.) In 2018, he called the God of the Catholics a “stupid” God, and paid the price in survey ratings. (The third instance was the Kian delos Santos murder.)


Why does he persist in attacking the Church? Because he can’t help it (he has no message discipline); because the Church does not fight back — and because pride goeth before a fall.

On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand. E-mail: [email protected]

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