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boholano-thumbBy Jose “Pepe” Abueva

In several years of study and observations in my already long life (born in 1928 and started teaching and research in U.P. in 1950), I summarized as follows the observed causes or conditions that lead to the high level of  violence and killings in the Philippines in my book in 2011 entitled Let’s Build a Nonkilling Philippines! Tungo a Kalinaw at Walaang Pagpatay! And Help Build a Killing-Free World!

The lingering effects of the imposition of martial law in 1972 by President Ferdinand Marcos and his authoritarian rule until February 1986 that destroyed our fledgling democratic institutions, and made possible his plunder of the government and the economy, the massive abuse of human rights (including torture, extrajudicial killings, and forced disappearances), and the politicization of the military—with impunity. From September 1972 to February 1986 the Philippines was a militarized State.

The judicial system has been very slow, ineffective, and frustrating in dispensing justice. Until now there has been no closure on Marcos’ unprecedented abuse of power and offenses. Members of the military and the national police who tortured and killed those who opposed the Marcos regime have enjoyed impunity for their offenses. The only court judgments against Marcos for human rights violations took place in the United States. Much of his plundered wealth has not been recovered by the Presidential Commission on Good Government.


In varying degrees the pattern of judicial weakness and impunity of offenders has endured in successive political administrations. In the Impunity Index of the Committee to Protect Journalists in 2010 the Philippines is placed third after Iraq and Somalia. The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines reported that out of 143 murder cases of media workers since 1989 only seven convictions have been made (as reported in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, November 24, 2010.)

With some notable exceptions, political leaders and political institutions—from local to national and in the three branches of the Government—still fail to uphold the rule of law and democratic governance. Many killers literally “get away with murder” because of the leaders’ preference for personal win-win political compromises and the protection of their followers, instead of using State power to apply the rule of law on the culprits whoever they may be.

Revenge or vengeance manifested in clan wars, as in the rido in Muslim Mindanao, and similar vengeful practices elsewhere.

Illegal trade in drugs and severe drug addiction.

Robbery and kidnapping for ransom that often lead to murder.

Intense, aggressive rivalry for governmental power among partisans as reflected in electoral campaigns and elections. Some political leaders are known as “warlords.” During every election the Commission on Elections, the military and the police identify certain places as “hot spots” prone to violence and killing.


Agrarian and land disputes, illegal logging and mining, smuggling, and labor-management conflicts,


Killings resulting from insurgency, rebellion, terrorism, and the government’s campaign to counter them, including civilian casualties in the crossfire as “collateral damage,” or because of the mistaken identities of the victims. Rather than risk their lives, some rebels, soldiers, and policemen would shoot suspected enemies in self-defense.

“Red baiting” of militants and reformers by the authorities and the military or police.

Arming for defense or offense in the form of body-guards, private armies, semi-government militias (Civilian Armed Forces Geographic Units), civilian vigilantes, and the “lost commands” of rebel organizations.


The easy availability of guns and the perceived need for them in self-defense (“a passion for guns”) in conditions of insecurity, and threatened or actual violence. The “gun ban” during elections tends to reduce the incidence of violence and killings.

Abortion caused by unwanted pregnancies related to extramarital relations, rape, incest, abandonment, and poverty. The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which works with Philippine groups that conduct field studies on the problem, estimated that in 2008 alone, 560,000 induced abortions took place in the Philippines with 1,000 fatalities (Philippine Star, Editorial, August 9, 2010).


Condoning or accepting violence in hazing military or police cadets or civilian students while initiating them into their organizations or fraternities. Their leaders tend to protect the members involved.

Drunken driving, reckless driving, and driving defective vehicles.

Car-jacking for profit that often leads to killing. (162 murders and 443 car thefts were reported in the first quarter of 2011 by the Metro Manila Police (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 24 June 2011).

Weak personal conscience or lack of “social conscience” of right and wrong based on religion or secular ethics of the community reflecting a “culture of death” contesting a “culture of life.”

Personal despair leading to suicide, or to retaliation (juramentado, kapit sa patalim; wa nay laing paagi, patyon na gyud).

A social structure and culture of “exclusiveness” (others: kaiba, kayo, kamo, sila, kalaban, kaaway) where “otherness” in our weak sense of nation and community, and our weak rule of law, makes it easier to discriminate, harm, or even kill “the other.”

Our weak and fragmented nation and our “Soft State” dominated by traditional and conservative political elite who are prone to act as patrons and protectors to their protégés and dependents. Some of these loyal followers are willing to use violence on behalf of their patrons. On the other hand, there are also “killers for hire.”

Our unstable, unconsolidated and still reversible democracy, 29 years following the EDSA “people power” revolt that brought down the Marcos dictatorship and “restored our democracy” under the 1987 Constitution. Our kind of democracy is still at risk of reversal to authoritarianism if it fails to fulfill the constitutional promise “to build a just and humane society” and good democratic governance for “the common good.”

Against the constitutional principle of civilian supremacy over the military, some military officers and men have challenged the president and the government through coup attempts, armed uprisings in hope of fomenting a “people power revolt,” including a public call for a president’s resignation. Instead of being punished for their offense they have been rewarded with amnesty.

The election of military adventurists to the Senate or the House (as “folk heroes”?) may reflect the people’s hero worship of them and the people’s indifference to civilian supremacy in the context of ineffective governance and corruption in the government and the military. Some military adventurists justify their armed defiance of the government as an exercise of the constitutional role of the military as “the protector of the people.”

  1. Our failure thus far to institute constitutional reforms to correct basic flaws in our political institutions that hinder government efficiency, effectiveness, transparency, honesty, accountability, and responsiveness in governance, and block the rise of more transforming leaders.
  2. The weakness of our presidents as chief executive and commander-in-chief of the armed forces and of the Government as a whole in the pursuit of peace with rebel groups and in curbing criminality.

We hope that a serious and sustained consideration of these conditions by concerned leaders and citizens will enable us to reduce the level of violence and killings in our country. Our Movement for a Nonkilling Philippines is proposing the establishment of a Department of Peace. We hope that our leaders and citizens will seriously pursue the constitutional vision of building “a just and humane society” and “a democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice and freedom, love, equality, and peace.”

Tungo sa Kalinaw at Walang Pagpatay!  Let’s Build a Nonkilling Philippines in a Killing-Free World. Join the Movement for a Nonkilling Philippines!

I am a co-founder and convener of the Movement for a Nonkilling Philippines, co-author of Towards a Nonkilling Filipino Society: Developing an Agenda for Research, Policy and Action, and a member of the Governing Council of the international Center for Global Nonkilling.

My email is pepevabueva@gmail.com

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