So anti-Duterte Senator Leila De Lima has been ousted as the chairman of the Senate Justice Committee. Although the main reasons why De Lima’s colleagues removed the chairmanship from her were about her bias, her misuse of the Senate to advance her political vendetta against the President, and her poor handling of the investigation on the alleged extra judicial killings (EJK) of drug criminals mostly attributed to law enforcers under President Rodrigo Duterte’s rule, De Lima insists that her removal was a glaring case of persecution by Duterte and his minions. International bodies like the New York-based Human Rights Watch stated that the Senate should reinstate De Lima’s chairmanship. The European Union (EU) even condemned Duterte himself (not the Philippine government) for the incidence of EJKs and even went to the extent of calling on the Philippine Congress to abstain from reintroducing the death penalty. Such meddling of the EU into the internal affairs of the Philippines has piqued the “colorful” President resulting in his profanity laced rebuke of the EU’s condemnation.
Were the profanities given by Duterte to the EU justified? Former Interior and Local Government Secretary Rafael Alunan III seems to believe so. Alunan posted on his Facebook wall:
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The problem with the meddling of foreign nations like those of the West on the internal affairs of sovereign countries like those in the East is that their imposition of their values and ideals can easily be interpreted as arrogance and superiority complex. In addition, the pressure exerted by countries like those in the EU on countries like those in the East can be deemed as an attempt to undermine a nation’s sovereignty. World view differences of the East and the West on things like human rights can be a source of friction. This has been evident in the way China has rebuffed criticisms of America on China’s alleged poor human rights practices and of course, the recent word war between Philippine President Duterte against America and the EU. While there is indeed a consensus on the general ideals for human rights, there is no binding agreement on every country’s specific approach towards such ideals. Policy research specialist John Albert Suing points out historian Barbara Tuchman’s statement that:
“Humanity may have common ground, BUT needs and aspirations vary according to circumstances.”
Singaporean High Commissioner Michael Teo also pointed out that:
“China and Russia study Singapore as one possible model for their own development. Whether they can adapt it to their own circumstances will depend on their ability to run a clean, honest and meritocratic system, governing for the long-term good of the country with the support of their people. But ultimately these large countries, with their long histories and ancient cultures, will develop in their own ways. They are not likely to morph into western liberal democracies, regardless of what Singapore does.
Every society has to strike its own balance between individual liberties and the common good. Some in the west like John Kampfner feel a calling to go forth and convert the heathen to western liberal democracy. But the true test is what works in the real world, with real societies. To worship a western model as the only way, and dismiss all other solutions as authoritarian or undemocratic, is surely the ultimate anaesthetic for the brain.”
So given that common ground does not necessarily equate to the application of a universal means to an ideal end, why do bodies like the EU as well as Human Rights Watch still seem impose their will on sovereign nations like the Philippines? The answer may lie in what Suing and journalist Stephen Kinzer have pointed out – it is from their narrow, shallow and egocentric definition of human rights!
Kinzer pointed out an interesting view on the dark side of what he has dubbed as “Human Rights Imperialism”. Although human rights advocates (and activists) such as the Human Rights Watch may have noble causes, these may also come with (unintended) consequences. Kinzer said:
“Those who have traditionally run Human Rights Watch and other western-based groups that pursue comparable goals come from societies where crucial group rights – the right not to be murdered on the street, the right not to be raped by soldiers, the right to go to school, the right to clean water, the right not to starve – have long since been guaranteed. In their societies, it makes sense to defend secondary rights, like the right to form a radical newspaper or an extremist political party. But in many countries, there is a stark choice between one set of rights and the other. Human rights groups, bathed in the light of self-admiration and cultural superiority, too often make the wrong choice.
The actions of human rights do-gooders is craziest in Darfur, where they show themselves not only dangerously naive but also unwilling to learn lessons from their past misjudgments. By their well-intentioned activism, they have given murderous rebel militias – not only in Darfur but around the world – the idea that even if they have no hope of military victory, they can mobilise useful idiots around the world to take up their cause, and thereby win in the court of public opinion what they cannot win on the battlefield. The best way to do this is to provoke massacres by the other side, which Darfur rebels have done quite successfully and remorselessly. This mobilises well-meaning American celebrities and the human rights groups behind them. It also prolongs war and makes human rights groups accomplices to great crimes.”
For the case of the Philippines, I fear that naïve human rights activism being parroted by the jaundiced critics of President Duterte and western liberal bodies like the EU would just re-strengthen and re-embolden drug criminals causing further moral and societal deterioration in a developing country like the Philippines.
In the end, what bothers me other than the loftiness of these “Human Rights Imperialists” is that they seem to be expecting or even demanding that developing nations like the Philippines automatically and immediately adopt their approach to achieving and ensuring human rights, despite the fact that it took them centuries to get there (with some of them still having cases of human rights violations). Being oblivious to the reality on the ground in the Philippines, the EU as well as other human rights activist groups are unwittingly playing the role of useful idiots by the local opposition who themselves have committed, condoned, and perpetuated human rights violations when they were in power. To that I can fully understand and appreciate President Duterte’s verbal attacks on them. Personally, I would not flip the bird at them and tell them “F*ck Y*u” like what President Duterte did. I would probably just tell them to “Get Real!”
(Photo taken from aljazeera.com)
Calling a spade, a spade…