Back in the Philippines, activists are fighting legislative moves to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) from 15 to 9 years old. Working abroad, I could only speak out on social media. Had I been there, it wouldn’t have been impossible to see me with activists marching against the bill. The last two days, especially reading about the twisted logic of congressmen and senators who are justifying such move really got me down. I’m feeling hopeless about my country and the ‘public servants’ who are supposed to serve public interest but in reality are serving their monster president in Malacanang.
This is in no disrespect to the Office of the President. I still haven’t lost faith in democracy as a political exercise. I still respect the office, but not the monster there. Duterte’s drug war has claimed the lives thousands and he is proud to say so. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) claims the death toll, including extra-judicial killings, could be as high as 27,000, while the the government says only 4,000 plus. Currently, more than 23,000 homicides are under investigation, according to the Philippine National Police. Three years under Duterte gave birth to this massive bloodshed, including lives of children caught in crossfires, accused, or simply going innocently about their lives. The president continued to encourage the police, and everybody else to kill in the name of the drug war.
I don’t know if having been criticized by human rights workers made Duterte think of lowering the MARC from 15 to 9 years old. Who could understand how such a mind works? Yes, it was the a legislative process, but even former president and current House Speaker Gloria Arroyo was quoted saying that it is because it’s what Duterte wants, short of saying what he wants, he gets. And he does. because bootlickers in the Philippine Congress make things happen for him. Case in point, the 1,000 budget given to the CHR on the last day of budget deliberations for 2018. It was clearly a move to please the president who claimed the CHR was not doing its job. A clear move of political bullying, just to prove a point against those who dare to question his bloody drug war. The CHR budget was later on restored, showing how political whims play in this administration’s game. If you still don’t believe it’s the whim of Duterte, just listen to what his spokesperson Panelo says about the issue, as well as the pronouncements of Senators Sotto and Gordon. What is happening in the Philippines is enough to make me sick in my stomach and gave me an emotional down time.
Tonight, I watched “First they killed my father”, and autobiographical film from the book of the same title written by a woman who suffered under the Khmer Rouge and trained as a child soldier learning combat skills, handling a rifle taller than her, and planting landmines. Had she been tried under Duterte’s framework, she could have been found a criminal, because definitely what she did was worse than stealing cars, or harming someone. She could have been found a criminal because at that time she was doing such heinous acts, she had already changed sides. She was already a comrade of Angkar, indoctrinated to do what she did. But in the Duterte framework, would they see her as a victim of circumstance or a discerning criminal? This might be too extreme an example to make, but my point simply is that, children, especially the much younger ones, do not simply act criminally on their own volition and go around killing or raping out of their own accord.
The Philippine Congress is a joke. First they wanted to lower MARC from fifteen to nine years old. But the global outcry must have shocked them, or maybe they played us once again. They have changed their proposal from nine to 12 years old. This has silenced some people. No matter, I would still say everything that I said. I might not be perfect, I might not be the best mom for my children, but I have to speak out, or else how would I face my own children? I speak out for the voiceless animals and for Mother Earth, yet I would stay silent when children are being attacked by the state mandated to support them? These times are not made for silence but for speaking out. Being quiet is being complacent to the ills of the world. I don’t care about my years of meditation being thrown out the door. All of us must find the courage to say no, especially when it’s most tempting to just look the other way, shrug shoulders, and just let out a sigh.
I’m on my second year in Cambodia and I have never felt such close connection with this country and it’s people through the suffering of children. In watching “First they killed my father”, I couldn’t control my tears in the part when a soldier of the Khmer Rouge was being beaten up by the people. Loung saw the man as her father, and shouted out “Pa!” while the man was being attacked. How many of us adults would have that insight and realize that all lives are important, even of those who have done wrong? It took me long to understand this, but I do now. All lives matter: young, old, male, female, human, animal, black or white, children, especially children, for when they do wrong they are but victims of their circumstance.
We have to look deep into ourselves and deep into our nation, to find out who is worth fighting for: a capricious killer president, or an unknowing child who has committed a crime?