The Killing of Human Rights Defenders

     Fr. Shay Cullen

The defenders of the rights of the people, those who stand for justice, tolerance, equality, human dignity and freedom of speech are the conscience of the nation. In the Philippines, more social activists are being killed than ever before. Pastor Lovelito Quiñones of the King’s Glory Ministry was shot and killed by police near his home in Mansalay Town, Mindoro Occidental last 3 December 2017.

The police said he was a communist guerrilla and died in a firefight with them. But his family said he was a man of God and the police planted a weapon near his body. Pastor Lovelito was active in social justice causes. The police don’t need evidence of a crime to shoot dead suspects and thousands have been killed in the past two years alone. A shroud of fear and death has been laid on the Filipino people.

In April this year, Father Mark Ventura, a priest in Gattaran Town in Northern Luzon, was shot dead after celebrating mass. The assassin escaped on a motorcycle. Father Marcelito Paez was shot dead by killers too. Unknown vigilantes have killed thousands of young people and many more were killed during police operations around the Philippines but mostly in Metro Manila.

Archbishop Cardinal Luis Tagle has called for prayers and the ringing of church bells to protest the killings. He said we must pray for government officials for them to protect the common good and the welfare and safety of Filipinos and “lock the lips and restrain the arms of those who shatter peace and foment hatred that lead to violence.” He may have been referring to the recent tirades of President Duterte against bishops and priests, which embolden killers to shoot priests and pastors and defenders of people’s rights.

Where does the violence come from among the peace-loving Filipino, we may ask? It takes a person of predisposition and special conditioning and training to kill face to face a priest or pastor who are not known to be enemies of the state. Nowhere in the Catholic world have there been such killings. Even in armed combat, close killing calls for intimate brutality and aggressive psychopathic tendencies for cold-blooded killers to shoot dead a fellow human being according to the military experts.

Many in the present generation have been conditioned to commit senseless killings for fun in realistic video games like Commando where the player is rewarded with grades for every person he shoots. A killing with a shot to the head gets the highest score and some of the thousands of Filipinos reported killed have been shot in the head.

There is more to it than that. The killers show military training, fearless aggression, precision and they lack compassion or empathy. They seem to be following orders in blind obedience. It seems they are immune to fear and are likely to be high on drugs. Monetary reward is usually not sufficient motivation to brutally kill another unless they were also commanded to kill. The power of an authority figure behind them is an influential factor in their act of conscienceless killing.

Resistance to killing a human close up is more normal behavior for human beings. Even among trained soldiers, their willingness to shoot and kill is greatly reduced when the authority figure is distant. They don’t want to attack and kill unless directly ordered to do so. The proximity of the commanding authority figure is crucial for the murders to be carried out. The killer’s respect and bond to the leader is also an important motivation for him to kill and the direct order, insistence, and expectation of the leader is needed.

When the killer members of the Davao Death Squad testified in the Senate about their killing of hundreds, they said they were following orders and were under the influence of their leader. Another factor in motivating killers and assassins is the legitimacy of the orders of the authority figure. When the United States Lieutenant William Cally ordered his men to shoot dead the residents of the entire village of My Lai during the Vietnam War, he left them to kill the people. At first, they resisted and did not do it. But when he returned and started shooting the villagers himself, he ordered them to do it too and they obeyed. It was an unspeakable atrocity covered up at first.

Police, military and political leaders with the power and trappings of authority have an overwhelming influence on their followers. The peer group members want to belong and bond, excel and please their commanders and leaders. Some are so devoted they need to serve and obey and to prove themselves to their leaders, especially in the highly socialized Filipino culture. An educated student will beat his new classmate to death in hazing rites so as to belong and please his peer group.

If the leaders promise the killers impunity and tell them it is a legitimate order, the killers will strike whenever and wherever they are ordered to do so. Under these circumstances, we can presume there is a “black ops” regiment where obedience is total, unquestioned and immediate. Guilt among such killers is rare.

This is the blind obedience where all the killer dictators of history eliminated any opposition and those they blamed for social problems. Hitler created the Schutzstaffel (SS). Stalin had his NKVD that killed his critics. So it is logical to assume that there are authority figures behind the killers in the Philippines. However, we may never know who they are.

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