1 March 2017
Speech at the 2017 Global Peace Convention, Ceremonial Hall, 1/F, Marriott Grand Ballroom, Pasay City
For anyone whose life work is to promote peace, the times we live in pose a formidable challenge. Peace is not merely elusive; violence is being actively encouraged in many places in the world right now. We see violence darkening even the strongest democracies, countries where liberty and equality are supposed to be protected.
Proof of this crisis is delivered to us in the daily news. For all the technology man has invented, and for all the wealth that is now being created, we are no closer to peace and global unity. We are now living in a post-truth world, where lies are welcomed as truths, where deception is dressed as alternative facts.
This is an era where terrorist groups like ISIS are steadily gaining ground, and where racial discrimination and religious persecution are championed by world leaders. Here and there, we see the resurgence of authoritarian rule, civil unrest, and extremist action—hardly the mark of world progress.
All of us have to wrestle with some tough questions. Where did we go wrong? Are current events an indictment of democracy? Have we failed to foster the peace we so vigorously champion?
In these moments of reflection, it is easy to surrender to despair. But the challenges to peace that we now confront are not an invitation to give up.
These difficulties are instead an opportunity for us to learn from the mistakes of the past, so that we do not repeat them. In a time to learn humility: we must acknowledge that we could have done more for the people who put their trust on us.
That continuing struggle is common among many of our countries. We have not been spared here in the Philippines. In our country, a new war has been set in motion by the current administration.
The war on drugs, which began as soon as the President took over, was supposed to curb drug abuse and crimes.
But since July of 2016, summary executions in this country have increased month after month—and with stunning speed and regularity. To date, at least 7,000 Filipinos have already been killed, many of them gunned down inside their houses or in front of their pleading families.
Of this number, they say that roughly 2,000 of the deaths have been the result of police operations. Most of the victims come from the poor and detention centers can hardly contain the number of people arrested.
Can we then say that this is truly a war on drugs? Because if we sincerely want to combat drug-related crimes, we believe that we have to strike at their very root. The drug problem is not just a public health issue; it is also symptomatic of society’s failures, in the form of social inequality, poor governance, and corruption. To fight drugs, we need to fight poverty and the injustice it causes.
We need to be prepared to rehabilitate drug dependents, so that they can lead new lives as productive citizens. We have to seek sustainable solutions that will lead our people to the future they deserve.
But somehow, it seems that we have chosen a costly solution: a drug war that has encouraged extrajudicial killings and great bloodshed across the country. This is a drug war patterned after violent campaigns elsewhere, like Colombia. A campaign that was pronounced a failure, by no less than its proponent.
In an article published by The New York times, former Colombia President Cesar Gaviria said: “Illegal drugs are a matter of national security, but the war against them cannot be won by armed forces and law enforcement agencies alone. Throwing more soldiers and police at the drug users is not just a waste of money but also can actually make the problem worse. Locking up nonviolent offenders and drug users almost always backfires, instead strengthening organized crime.”
I ask our people to consider this: How can casually dismissing scores of men, women—and even children—as collateral damage lead to peace? More alarmingly, an overwhelming number of those killed belong to the urban poor.
Where is the peace in the faces of the family left behind by the 7,000? Where is peace in the anguish of the communities cowed by fear and hopelessness, daily waiting with bated breath if it’s their turn the next day to be searched? Clearly, the war on drugs is a war on the poor.
More and more we realized that the liberties we have fought for, the unity we have sought to nurture, and our very way of life are under threat. Increasingly, the poorest Filipinos are deprived not just of their dignity, but also of their right to due process and justice.
By now, I feel that the most pressing problems of the Filipino people have receded from view. Millions of our people remain hostage to poverty. By no coincidence, the most war-torn region in the Philippines is also the poorest.
Despite the billions poured into the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao—or the ARMM—poverty incidence in the region rose to 53 percent as of early 2015. Not only is this an increase from the 47 percent recorded in 2012. In the realest, most certain terms, the latest figures show that more than half of the ARMM’s total population lives in deprivation and neglect.
The relationship between poverty and conflict has long been established. War is the dark engine of poverty, disempowerment, and injustice. It rules out the delivery of social and economic services necessary to progress.
At the same time, poverty puts any society at risk of conflict and division. Poverty forces good people to take desperate measures for survival—as desperate as crime and drug abuse, for example. As desperate as reaching for a gun, as desperate as believing that bloodshed is the only answer.
It’s clear: poverty and violence feed each other, driving the poorest into further crime, inciting more instability as communities are wiped out. To eliminate poverty, we must dismantle the instruments of violence that cripple our society. To start lasting peace, we must end poverty.
This is why I urged the President to turn his attention to the real problem.
The problem is not drugs.
The problem is poverty.
The solution is not to kill.
The solution is to protect life.
In our own small way, my team and I at the Office of the Vice President are trying to counter the campaign of death with our program of hope. Last year, October 10 to be exact, we launched our flagship program, the Angat Buhay initiative. Angat is Filipino for “Uplift,” and Buhay means “Life.” And that is exactly what we want to do: to uplift the lives of the poorest Filipinos towards empowerment.
We are not working alone. Our office has reached out to the private sector, development groups, civil society, and the poor themselves, those whom we wish to serve better.
Our goal is to bring antipoverty solutions to marginalized communities, to respond to the needs of the poorest families, and to strengthen the fabric of our culture through empowerment.
The poor must have control over their lives, so that they can be our partners in building our young democracy.
It is this openness to dialogue and cooperation that I am happy to see in the work of the Global Peace Foundation.
We see eye-to-eye on prioritizing the family as society’s basic unit. Yours is a global network that strives for what many have given up on: the attainment of lasting peace and security, and the dream of justice for all.
So today and the days to come, we may face the fury of dictators and strongmen, but we will maintain our stand for the poorest and most vulnerable.
We will fight for those whose rights have been taken away, for those who can no longer defend themselves.
We are ready to do our work down in the trenches, focusing our sites on peace-building, youth leadership development, education, volunteerism and community-driven development.
These are what peace demands, and we will fulfill it.
Thank you very much for having me this morning, and have a good day to all of you.