Commentary

On April 10, New York Times journalist Daniel Berehulak received the Pulitzer for his photojournalism on the drug war in the Philippines. His gritty depiction of the killings in the Philippines, under President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war, is perhaps fitting for Holy Week — calling to mind stark images of blood and crucifixion.

Whether politically motivated or related to drug crimes, state-sponsored killings persist, but the root causes are the same: extreme poverty and social inequity in the country. Like soldiers casting lots for the role of the dying Christ, so government elite in the United States and the Philippines gamble over the lives of Filipinos.

The issues of poverty and inequity that killed Jesus under the Roman empire are the same problems at the root of the killings in the Philippines today. The gospel Jesus spoke, the gospel that made him dangerous to the state, was one that responded to death with life, and life that was holistic — life that set prisoners free and liberated the oppressed. In alignment with the voices of indigenous Filipino activists and the #JustPeacePH Campaign, here are five ways, given the teachings and sayings of Christ, to stop the killings in the Philippines for good.

1. Declare the Year of Jubilee: Distribute land to the poor.

Before dedicating land for golf courses or to foreign corporations extracting minerals and growing tulips or fruit for export, the Philippines should ensure the country’s food self-sufficiency first. As in the Jubilee directions given in Leviticus 25, land should be freely distributed to the people who cultivate it. Indigenous people should be able to enjoy the fruit of their ancestral lands, and they should have free access to continue making the land productive, using it for benefit of their tribes, their neighbors, and the development of the Philippines. In the Philippines, when people are stripped from their access to land, they are stripped from their ability to sustain themselves.

2. Heal the sick: Give Filipinos health care and other necessary social services.

Instead of treating the problem of drugs in the Philippines as a crime, the government should treat it as an issue of health. Give Filipinos access to resources that help them attend to mental and other health issues, gain an education, and improve their overall well-being. They will be less likely to self-medicate and/or turn to drugs for survival.

3. Set the oppressed free: End the military programs that suppress democracy and violate human rights.

The Philippines adopted numerous military plans that are patterned off of U.S. counter-insurgency plans and funded in part by U.S. tax dollars, including the operation plans Bantay Laya, Bayanihan, and, most recently, Kapayapaan. All resulted in the killings of unarmed civilian activists and others that stood for human rights, including indigenous peoples defending their land from mining corporations, students fighting for educational access, and farmworkers standing up for their labor rights. Under President Duterte alone, 47 activists have been killed, according to human rights groups.

4. Proclaim good news to the poor: Create jobs for Filipinos at home.

There’s a reason why Filipino households overwhelmingly say “Colgate” instead of “toothpaste” and “Kleenex” instead of “tissue.” It’s the same reason why so many Filipinos in the U.S. work as nurses and caregivers. Despite the plethora of natural resources found in its mineral-rich lands, the Philippines has not yet developed basic industries that would allow it to create its own toothpaste, tissue, and other products. So, it remains dependent on imported goods. The ample, hard-working Filipinos eagerly searching for work are unable to find it at home and forced to go overseas, living apart from their families and working in foreign countries in order to survive. Until Filipinos are able to find good jobs at home, they’ll be forced to take dangerous jobs overseas. Many will also join the growing number of activists calling on the government to develop national industry — and face military harassment for doing so.

5. Beat swords into ploughshares: Support the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

Many in the U.S. are unaware of the centuries-long struggle that Filipinos have been waging since the 1500s when they faced colonization at the hands of Spain, Japan, and the United States. The last several decades have seen a heightening of this civil war in the Philippines, and in 2016, the Philippine government resumed peace talks with the Philippine revolutionary movement, as represented by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). These negotiations seek to resolve the roots of the armed conflict and have taken up the “CASER” - the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms – for discussion. The “CASER” aims to resolve historical and structural inequities in Philippine society by enacting programs for agrarian reform and national industrialization.

Stopping the killings in the Philippines will not come without understanding the historical and material context of the country. Only addressing the root causes of violence will fulfill the Filipino people’s aspirations for just and lasting peace. When the Filipino people beat their swords into ploughshares, it will be because there is land for them to till and the health and wage to do so, because a system of death has turned to life.

Editor’s Note: The Just Peace PH Peace Tour 2017 is touring 11 cities in the U.S. April 17 - May 8, 2017. Learn more at JustPeace.PH.

Drew Elizarde-Miller is an erstwhile pastor and an organizer with the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines-U.S. Chapter. Drew is based in Portland, Ore., where he lives with his partner Trisha and dog Pancit.

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