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Presidents Duterte And Trump Threaten National Morality


By: Bob Boyer


I am not often shocked, being of a generation that reached the age of awareness while watching Movie-Tone Newsreels of the liberation of Jewish prisoners from the Nazi death camps late in World War II; but lately I find myself using the term “shocking” in reference to recent news reports about the moral state of the U.S. and the R.P. Here is an email I just sent to a close friend, thanking him for sharing a recent “NewYork Times” editorial (Feb. 28, 2019): “Morality and Michael Cohen: Wednesday’s testimony and the crisis of American conscience conscience.” My friend sent a one-word note with the link: “Wow!”

“Whew! Thanks for sharing. David Brooks [a moderate Republican] nailed it, the immorality/amorality. I was startled to read a particular passage about the majority of Republicans in Congress: “Do they think that having anesthetized their moral sense in this case they will simply turn it on again down the road . . . . This is how moral corrosion happens. Supporting Trump requires daily acts of moral distancing, a process that means that after a few months you are tolerant of any corruption. You are morally numb to everything.” My first reaction was that I had just read that elsewhere, so I had to check where, and I found it. Compare the following with Brooks’ statement. It was written by a Washington, D.C. freelance writer after his visit to the R.P.: “The apparent popularity of Duterte’s message has resulted in what Ambo terms a ‘death of conscience,’ the normalization of violence and the erosion of a commitment to the sanctity of human life. ‘This government has succeeded in killing the conscience of the people in making it so easy for people to accept that these [victims of the drug war] deserve to die,’ Ambo told me.” (Adam Willis, “Commonweal,” Feb. 22, 2019, p. 20). Ambo, by the way is Bishop Pablo “Ambo” David of Caloocan City, Manila, the most outspoken Bishop in the Philippines in criticizing Duterte. I found the whole article shocking and important. Just google ‘Who Is This Stupid God?’ (Duterte). Oh, and it just occurred to me this moment that David Brooks and Pablo David share a name with the Biblical hero, David, of ‘David and Goliath.’”

So ends my email. I had actually begun a different, albeit related, article but changed course after reading the Brooks’ editorial. David Brooks shocked me into the realization that I, and I suspect others, are in danger of becoming “numbed” by the violent words and actions of the two presidents. One of the sources for my original plan was the above-quoted “Commonweal” piece that featured Duterte’s attack on the Catholic Church, particularly Bishop Pablo “Ambo” David. The following are brief highlights from that article, ones I found particularly shocking.

Reliable sources such as “Commonweal” (above) and “Al Jazeera” (Dec. 5, 2018) have quoted Human Rights groups’ estimates of the killings as high as 20,000 since Duterte’s inauguration in May of 2016. Bishop David has called his Caloocan Diocese “a killing field” where “we are at war.” In the first 16 months of Duterte’s presidency, 375 people were killed in Caloocan. Bishop David laments that the Church has not succeeded “in educating the conscience of the majority of people about even a basic sense of good and bad.” He then shares a story from his youth of “how I learned that bodies are holy . . . . We do not know this today.” (Willis, “Commonweal,” pp. 20, 23).

Bob Boyer welcomes your comments at robert.boyer@snc.edu.

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