Jonas Bagas Speaks to a Friend About the Nuances of Human Rights

A transcript of a Facebook dialogue with Jonas Bagas*

A Friend Posts in Facebook: Dear human rights advocates, before the unprecedented drop of crime rates in Metro Manila, what have you done to help the victims of street crimes? If drug addicts and pushers are so important to you, have you employed any of them in your businesses? Have you given them livelihood? Have you helped finance their rehabilitation? What have you effectively done so that ordinary people like me who have no cars and walk the crime-infested streets of Metro Manila could feel safer?

Jonas Bagas: I think how you frame the questions is problematic. Replace “drug addicts” with any other stigmatized groups — say, PLHIVs, and you’d see how immensely unreasonable these questions are. You’d probably argue that drug use equals drug addiction equals crime, and I can give you a plethora of evidence proving otherwise, and that would demonstrate how this is really about bias — bias against marginalized groups, bias based on fear, bias in favor of perception rather than reason — the kind of bias that PLHIVs suffer from as well. Because we do know the science about HIV and HIV transmission, yet we rely on our biases, instead, the depict our stories about HIV. A parallelism has to be made not only unpack the fallacies but also to show how dangerous this is — that those who have access to tools of violence can always target others. And this has happened in the past. Our own history would tell us that so-called drug offenders were also the first targets of police abuse, and that it was also used to establish civilian armed units — your neighborhood goons, this time legitimized by the governmentt. That didn’t make anyone feel safer.

I must agree with the danger it poses since power will corrupt some groups. That’s one valid point. Thank you.

Jonas Bagas: Lucky are we, we can count points for arguments that we wish to consider. But those who have died — they can’t even defend themselves now.

I will never insult the works of my dear friends who have worked tirelessly through the years fighting for the rights of others. When these people crusade against the Duterte administration, I find myself incapable of questioning them. What I am driving at it in my previous post (which surprisingly has been shared by so many strangers) is just a question of motivation. Are you fighting for human rights now because you have always fought for it? Or are you just a noisy critic/an online troll to a government who is finally delivering the right numbers that we need in terms of criminality? And with this, I send my deepest respect for the “real” human rights workers, friends and strangers.

Jonas Bagas: Because when LGBT advocates stand behind the banner of human rights to demand recognition of our dignity, we do so to say that human rights are universal — they are for every one. You cannot stand behind the banner of “human rights for LGBTs” and cherry-pick who deserves dignity. And the spate of murders happening now in the Philippines is a classic case of an assault against human rights. If this happened under any administration, it should be opposed — and you don’t dilly-dally with saying no, with saying this has to stop, because how can you cure an unjust death? Also, I wonder what “right numbers” you are referring to? Crime rates have not gone down; in fact, they have risen. These summary killings are crimes — not even you can prove beyond reasonable doubt, the standard with which any decent society determines culpability in crimes. So tell me, in the absence of evidence, and that the fact stands that these crimes are illegal, isn’t your perception that crime rates are going down a manifestation of your own bias, rather than the truth? Bias against those we commonly label as vagrants in our society — those perceived to have the tendency to steal, snatch, peddle drugs? And if it’s based on bias, isn’t that a dangerous thing? How many gay men suffer from the same climate of flawed perceptions — as “carriers of HIV,” or a sex workers, as child molesters?

I am incapable of defending the validity on the numbers of crime rates. If these are manufactured numbers, then there is no point of me rallying for the government. But it is up for everyone else to prove that it is false. And if you accuse me of biased thinking, no human being is free from any biases. Even science is filled with its own biases.

Jonas Bagas: I’m a student of politics, and I am aware that absolute objectivity is impossible. But it’s not mere bias that I am objecting about — it’s wilful blindness, it’s false dichotomies (“Are you really pro-human rights, or just a noisy of the government”), and the refusal to consider evidence when crafting one’s “biased” opinion or insights. You are asking me now to refute your claim that crime rates have gone down, when it is you who made that claim in the first place. FYI, the NCRPO just released its report on crime rates from July 1–15, and by computing the average, they claim that crime rates fell compared to 2nd sen of 2015. If you look closely, though, it’s petty crimes (the ones that are not always reported) that went down. Homicide, murder, etc. went up. So again, sure, bias exists, but in the interest of fairness, you can’t make claims that crime rates went down, attribute it to the government, and not even cite your sources, tapos you’d ask those who disagree with you to refute your claim.

Jonas, thank you. Then someone should publicly refute what the news reports have been claiming regarding the drop in crime rates. That should convince many people like me to change its position on how we view the government at the moment. Honestly, I am honored you have you taken so much of your time in my insignificant Facebook feed. I hope to bump into you soon again. I haven’t been in QC for quite some time. Thank you for creating a richer discourse. What I desire at the moment is an effective counter-solution that will solve the problem and not just an endless criticism of the current government. You are have devoted your life fighting marginalized and no one can question that. The people I am questioning are those lazy critics appearing in my newsfeed.

Jonas Bagas: Not my intention to enrich the discourse, and I’m afraid I don’t want to call this discourse. Not when people are getting killed. But, these “lazy” critics, by voicing out their criticisms, are contributing to the solution. They are saying that the situation is not working, and the first step to a solution is recognising that there’s a problem. The onus to deliver solution is always with the government, that’s exactly why we entrusted the sitting government with our sovereignty and the power of the purse. So critics outside the government are of course limited in delivering solutions — that’s not really their role. And I’d rather have these noisy critics — even if I disagree with them — over a coopted and silent majority.

* With permission from Mr. Bagas and the friend who wishes to remain anonymous

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