"The masses identified with the good- guy image that FPJ preserved throughout his life, on-screen and off it."
A former colleague of mine in a now-defunct government agency under Malacañang, Conrad de Quiros, once shared, during one of our interminable drinking sessions at the Ihaw Balot Plaza beerhouse in Quezon City in the late 70s, his experience watching a film starring the late screen legend Fernando Poe Jr.
In the few times that he did so in Naga City where he spent his teenage years, Conrad narrated that some viewers would get so carried away by the action scenes where FPJ would invariably face screen villains like Max Alvarado and Paquito Diaz in furious fisticuffs or rowdy gunfights. Da King would always prevail over them in the end, but not before someone in the audience would even stand up from his seat and shout, "Sa likod mo!" to warn the Da King of a looming threat or treacherous attack from another bad guy in the movie.
That showed, he said, how the masses identified with the good- guy image that FPJ preserved throughout his life, on-screen and off it. It even made his supporters decide to field him in the 2004 presidential elections as the opposition candidate against the incumbent.
Gloria Arroyo won that election by a slim margin of over a million votes, but her victory was later marred by allegations of cheating. Anyway, that's another story.
FPJ died from heart failure in December 2004. It was on May 23, 2006 that he was posthumously named a National Artist for Film by Arroyo, in recognition of his contributions to Philippine cinema over several decades. The Poe family politely declined the award at the time, perhaps because even as his electoral protest, rendered moot and academic by his untimely demise, went nowhere, the loss still rankled among his many followers. The award was confirmed by President Benigno Aquino III on July 20, 2012 and was presented to his family on August 16 that year, a few days shy of what would have been his 73rd birth anniversary.
It's been eight years since then, and the Poe family has decided to commemorate next Monday, July 20, when FPJ was officially declared as National Artist for Film by PNoy in 2012, with appropriate rites.
Human rights under siege
On another note, we take cognizance of the release last week by the Commission on Human Rights of a 104-page report that contains a scathing indictment of how the Duterte administration has legitimized violence against human rights defenders (HRDs) in the country.
“The prevailing climate of impunity in the context of violence against HRDs is largely attributable to the pronouncements of the President,” the CHR said in the report summarizing the results of its fact-finding inquiry begun in September 2019.
The CHR also said there is a “systematic attack” on rights defenders across all sectors of civil society in the Philippines.
“The President through his pronouncements created a dangerous fiction that it is legitimate to hunt down and commit atrocities against HRDs because they are enemies of the state,” the report said.
“Extreme supporters” of Mr. Duterte also contribute to the hostile environment in the country for human rights workers, since these supporters “demonize the concept of human rights and HRDs,” the commission said.
The report enumerated Duterte’s most damaging public statements against human rights advocates: (1) He does not care about human rights; (2) HRDs should be blamed if the country’s drug problem worsens; (3) HRDs should be shot if they are obstructing justice; (4) He will investigate human rights groups for conspiracy; (5) Lawyers defending drug suspects will be the next target of his war on drugs; (6) He will target left-wing groups as they are communist fronts.
The report also noted how under the Duterte administration, the concept of human rights has been twisted to make it appear that HRDs are protectors of criminals.
The CHR cited instances of “red-tagging” and public vilification of rights workers, constant profiling and surveillance of HRDs, the militarization of the government, and the worsening culture of impunity in the country: “These acts largely remain unabated and HRDs are oftentimes left without any remedy to protect themselves.”
The report also found that the Duterte administration “purposely engages in acts that frustrate the fulfillment of the rights provided [in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders].”
The CHR urged the Duterte administration to pass the human rights defenders bill and to stop red-tagging and calling HRDs “enemies of the state.”
The CHR report will not doubt enrage Duterte even more and perhaps even call for its outright abolition. But certainly he knows that it is a constitutional body that cannot be shut down by fiat, only by amending the fundamental law. But he can do the next best thing, which is to ask his allies in Congress to give the agency a one-peso budget for 2021, and effectively abolish it.
Given all the killing that's going on, literally and figuratively, in the country since 2016, it's not far-fetched for Duterte to do just that to an agency that refuses to do his bidding and has been an albatross around his neck even before, while he was still a city mayor.