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Words of advice for President’s critics

Last June after President Duterte won the election, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), was confronted by very harsh words for the Church by the new President, who called it a “most hypocritical institution.” Archbishop Socrates chose to invoke “the silence of Jesus before the arrogance of Pilate.”

Early this week, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno found herself at odds with President Duterte’s naming of seven judges as being involved with drug syndicates and wrote him a letter expressing concern over the spate of extrajudicial killings of people linked to illegal drugs and saying there should be warrants of arrest before drug suspects are arrested and detained. He reacted sharply, saying: “With crimes rampaging in the country and with slaughter every day, you are just interested in warrants of arrest?”

The Chief Justice wisely decided to maintain her silence after the President’s statement. “There is no need to add to what has been said,” she said, much like Archbishop Villegas’ earlier decision to remain silent in the face of Duterte’s comments on the Church.

In the midst of the ongoing campaign against drugs, it might be best to give President Duterte much leeway to get the job done. The problem is so immense that reports of drug raids, arrests, and surrenders are coming from all over the country. Over 800 are said to be been killed either by vigilantes or by police for allegedly resisting arrest. Drug users are said to number over three million.

In his drive to end drug trafficking, President Duterte has been specially sensitive to criticism, so that he asked Chief Justice Sereno who wanted arrest warrants for suspects: “Would you rather that I declare martial law?” This drew further criticism from those concerned with legal procedures, but Malacañang spokesman Ernesto Abella later said the President is not supporting any legal shortcuts, just facilitating the whole process by encouraging those named to come out and explain themselves. Communications Secretary Martin Andanar urged the nation to understand the President’s words “under the context that the President’s anti-drug campaign cannot wait for the slow wheels of justice Philippine style.”

Senate Minority Leader Rafael Recto had these words of advice: The nation should learn to “auto-delete” the colorful parts of his pronouncements and “not let his curses get in the way of studying the causes he is fighting for.”

Last Friday, the President apologized to Sereno for his harsh words. She has formed a fact-finding committee to investigate the four incumbent judges in Duterte’s list of seven in the President’s “name and shame” campaign. She will no longer say anything on the matter, the Supreme Court spokesman said.