The heightening militarism following Trump’s invitation to Duterte is neither unrelated nor isolated from U.S imperialism in the Philippines — a history that is often manipulated through religious language.
LAST SUMMER, riding the global wave of anti-establishment right-wing populism that would several months later propel Donald Trump into the White House, Rodrigo Duterte took power in the Philippines. He campaigned on the promise that he would launch a brutal war against drugs, criminality, and corruption—like he did as mayor, when he sanctioned death squads that took more than 1,000 lives—and wasted no time implementing his agenda once elected. At the same time, he has deftly made overtures to the political parties on the Left, which has largely quieted their criticism.
As was the case in the 1980s—during the nonviolent People Power movement that toppled Ferdinand Marcos, the dictator who ruled the Philippines for more than two decades—this has left civil society, students, and faith-based organizations to lead the charge not only for social, economic, and environmental justice, but also against the rapidly growing number of drug-related killings.
In January, I traveled to the Philippines to better understand Duterte’s rise and to meet with those organizing to stop him. The international news is filled with headlines of the vicious campaign of extrajudicial executions. To explain his commitment to the cause, Duterte has positively compared himself to Adolf Hitler—saying that he would be “happy to slaughter” 3 million drug users—and pledged that the drug war will continue for his entire six-year term. To date, since he took office more than 8,000 people, or on average more than 30 a day, have been killed by police and so-called “vigilantes,” whom critics argue are often connected to state security forces.
As the drug-related killings mounted, a new ecumenical network of people of faith—including clergy from the Catholic Church, United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church—and groups such as Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY), the largest alliance of urban-poor organizations in the country, launched Rise Up for Life and for Rights in October.
Nine Filipinos were nailed to crosses in three villages in the province of Pampanga, 80 km (50 miles) north of the capital, Manila, drawing hundreds of tourists despite the Catholic church's disapproval of what it sees as a form of folk religion.
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.
The two major streams of Christian engagement on war are pacifism and just war theory, which comes out of Catholic social teaching. The pacifist response to Syria strikes is clearly opposed. As for the just war analysis, it takes a little explaining, but reaches the same conclusion.
On April 10, Columbia University presented 21 Pulitzer Prizes for achievements in journalism, literature, and music. Notables from the list of social justice-oriented works that received a Pulitzer Prize include: New York Daily News and ProPublica receiving the Public Service award for reporting on evictions of mostly poor minorities carried out by police abusing the law —
A Catholic priest who fled to the U.S. from war-torn Vietnam as a youth has written to President Trump, offering to surrender his American citizenship so that the president could confer it on a Syrian refugee, who would be barred under Trump’s controversial order banning travelers from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries.
The Rev. Chuong Hoai Nguyen, a member of the Salesian order, also told Trump he would ask his religious superiors for permission to go live and work in one of the seven countries on the banned list.
At an evacuation hosted by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, I met the “suffering but struggling Jesus” when I spoke with Bai Bibyaon, the only female chieftan of the Lumad. Bai is over 90 years old, and, like Christ fleeing angry crowds and the surveillance of the Roman Empire, Bai has fled her ancestral land from the violence of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, all to be in sanctuary with her people, the Manobo. She told me, “Our ancestral land, on the Pantaron Mountain, is the only remaining virgin forest in Mindanao. All we want is peace, and to be in our ancestral lands without the Armed Forces of the Philippines or mining companies destroying our land."
FOR THOSE PAYING attention, this has been a fairly terrifying winter and spring. And I don’t just mean the presidential election. I mean that the signals we’re getting from the natural world indicate we’re crossing thresholds much more quickly than expected.
February, for instance, was the most anomalously hot month ever recorded on the planet, crushing all records. The world had pledged in Paris in December to try to hold global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius—well, February was just about at that level already.
The elevated temperatures were especially noticeable in the Arctic—for long stretches of the winter the region as a whole was as much as 18 degrees Fahrenheit above average. (Christmas Eve was almost 50 degrees warmer than normal at the North Pole). Not surprisingly, this meant the lowest levels of Arctic sea ice ever recorded by late March.
Meanwhile in the Antarctic, new data showed that sea level may be set to rise far faster than expected, as the great ice sheets start to slide into the ocean—the water could go up by meters in the course of this century, which would make the defense of most of the world’s great cities a nightmare.
If you’re reading this, you probably already know that modern-day slavery is a thriving, lucrative, global business. There are more slaves alive today than during the entire 400 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Human trafficking generates about $150 billion in profits every year. And 1 in 3 trafficking victims are children.
The statistics are staggering.
For me, it was a single story that moved me through the numbers to a place where I could take action. I heard about Charina* when I joined International Justice Mission. She was one of the first girls we helped rescue in Cebu, Philippines.
Charina was 13 when she was sold for sex.
Her family was very poor, and she had dropped out of school in fourth grade. Her mother was the first one who sold her. For the next couple years, pimps took turns selling her from street corners and seedy piers. They earned extra because she looked so young.
Charina was finally freed from this harsh cycle of violence in 2007. She was addicted to drugs, pregnant and unable to trust the people who wanted to help her. The work of freedom was just beginning.
My colleagues started meeting regularly with Charina. She needed professional care and a customized plan to meet her unique and complex needs. She needed trauma-focused counseling. She needed to learn how to trust others and to believe in herself once again.
When I first heard her story and saw a photo of Charina—her bright eyes, her small frame—my first reaction was anger. This young woman should never have suffered in the many ways she has.
And that anger is right. It’s not fair.
Charina’s story has illuminated another reality for me, a more hopeful one. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Overheard on a Facebook conversation last week: “There is really not much difference between compassion and pity when it comes to being on the receiving end of it.” This thought gave me pause as I consider compassion to be a central tenet of biblical justice, and yet, I experience this to be true. We use the fancy spiritual term of “compassion” when the gist of the sentiment is, indeed, pity.
The above conversation rose out of a discussion on the viral story of Pope Francis kissing the disfigured man. The media reporting the story highlights the compassion of the Pope, how his actions are pushing outside the box of the papacy, and how revolutionary his love was. Other than a brief medical description of the disfigured man’s disease, there is no additional information on who he is, where he lives, or whether he has a family. We are not even given his name. The buzz generated by this story arises out of an awed respect for someone who could even consider touching such a pitiful, nameless person. I can’t help but wonder how this man feels to have the world captivated by somebody showing love to himself. It seems to me his deformity has been made into a public spectacle.
Time became suspended for my family and me when Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines nearly a month ago.
Days blurred into one another as my mom attempted to contact her family in Leyte, one of the Philippine islands directly hit by Haiyan. With her mother, siblings and family members still living in the Philippines, my mom feared the worst as she helplessly watched news reports of the typhoon’s devastation and destruction.
Together, as a family, we waited in agony for answers. Would my grandma and relatives survive? If so, when and how would they contact us without power or phone lines? Would this storm wipe out every connection we have to my mother’s homeland?
Two weeks after Haiyan upended our lives, grief gave way to joy as we received word of my family’s safety. My nanay (grandma) and several of my titas (aunts) and titos (uncles) lost their homes, but they managed to survive one of the most powerful storms recorded in modern history.
As you can imagine, there was much to be grateful for when I gathered with my family for Thanksgiving. At our table, we gave thanks to God for this miracle, knowing all too well that many Filipino families were not as fortunate or still waiting for news about their loved ones. We also remembered those who helped us during this time of uncertainty, especially the Sojourners community.
The latest United Nations climate summit got off to an unusually emotional start when Yeb Sano, the head delegate from the Philippines, issued a tearful plea at the opening plenary.
With his country ravaged by Typhoon Haiyan — the kind of extreme weather that experts say is becoming more common due to climate change — Sano choked back tears as he announced he would fast in solidarity for his countrymen left without food.
Sano said on Nov. 11 he would refrain from eating during the conference unless important progress was made. Sano’s gesture has so far failed to trigger much of a change in the entrenched negotiations, and with talks expected to stretch into the weekend, he is still on his hunger strike.
Since the ban on international trade of ivory in 1989, the ivory black market has been on the rise, and a National Geographic investigation found that demand for religious art pieces carved out of the precious material has played a considerable role.
“No matter where I find ivory, religion is close at hand,” said investigative reporter Bryan Christy, whose article, “Ivory Worship,” is included in the new edition of National Geographic magazine, released Sept. 14.
“Elephant poaching levels are currently at their worst in a decade,” Christy wrote. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) estimates that at least 25,000 elephants were poached in 2011, mostly for their ivory tusks.
Philippine Catholics use ivory to construct crucifixes, figures of the Virgin Mary and other icons. The province of Cebu is particularly known for its ivory renditions of the Santo Nino de Cebu (Holy Child of Cebu), used in worship and celebration.
An earthquake of 7.9 magnitude struck off the Philippines on Friday and a tsunami warning has been issued for the region, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.
The quake was centered off the east coast, 91 miles off the town of Guiuan in Samar province at a depth of about 20 miles, USGS said.
The tsunami warning was issued for the Philippines, Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan, Papua New Guinea and other islands in the Pacific including the U.S. state of Hawaii.
"An earthquake of this size has the potential to generate a destructive tsunami that can strike coastlines near the epicenter within minutes and more distant coastlines within hours," the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.
The quake struck just before 8:50 p.m. local time, the agency said.
There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.
Belief in God is slowly declining in most countries around the world, according to a new poll, but the truest of the true believers can still be found in developing countries and Catholic societies.
The “Beliefs about God Across Time and Countries” report, released Wednesday (April 18) by researchers at the University of Chicago, found the Philippines to be the country with the highest belief, where 94 percent of Filipinos said they were strong believers who had always believed.
At the opposite end, at just 13 percent, was the former East Germany.