by Rodel Rodis
December 25, 2010
If Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) had been the president who bowed to Chinese pressure and boycotted the Nobel Peace Prize event in Oslo on December 10 to save the lives of 5 Filipinos in China’s death row, few eyelashes would have batted. After all, GMA previously bowed to the demands of the kidnappers of Angelo de la Cruz, an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW), and pulled Philippine troops out of Iraq to prevent his beheading in July of 2004.
Hostage taking, literally and figuratively, is sadly a fact of life and a common feature of contemporary politics.
Pres. Barack Obama confronted his own hostage situation when he bowed to Republican pressure to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% in order to secure the extension of the same tax cuts to the rest of the 98% of the people. In a press conference, Pres. Obama explained that he had no choice because the Republicans would also not have allowed unemployment benefits for 2 million Americans to continue beyond December 31, 2010 if he did not do so. He said the American people were the hostages and, as president, he had to look out for their interests.
The number of hostages is really immaterial – whether it is 1 Filipino OFW worker in Iraq, 5 Filipino drug mules in China or 2 million unemployed workers without benefits in America, any president has to consider the political and personal consequences of bowing to or rejecting the demands of hostage-takers.
So it was not unusual for Pres. Noynoy Aquino to be confronted with the demand to boycott the Oslo Nobel Peace Prize ceremony or risk the execution of 5 Filipinos sentenced to death in China for transporting drugs. It was also not unusual for him to accept the boycott recommendation of his Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Alberto Romulo, since Romulo previously served in the same capacity for GMA.
As Pres. Aquino awkwardly explained it, he also wanted “early closure over the August 23 hostage-taking in Luneta” and to secure the safety of Filipinos in South Korea who may be caught in a resumption of the Korean War. Those are legitimate concerns for any president.
But Pres. Aquino is not just any president; he is the son of Ninoy Aquino and Cory Aquino, the icons of democracy in Asia. And he was snubbing a ceremony honoring Liu Xiaobo, a man many consider to be the “Ninoy Aquino of China”.
If Pres. Aquino had attended the Oslo ceremony, he would have heard Thorbjørn Jagland, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, provide a biographical sketch of Liu Xiaobo:
“Liu was born on the 28th of December 1955 in Changchun in China’s Jilin province. He took a Bachelor’s degree in literature at Jilin University, and a Master’s degree and a PhD at Beijing Normal University, where he also taught. Stays abroad included visits to Oslo, Hawaii, and Columbia University, New York.”
“In 1989 he returned home to take part in the dawning democracy movement. On the 2nd of June he and some friends started a hunger strike on Tiananmen Square to protest against the state of emergency that had been declared. They issued a six-point democratic manifesto, written by Liu, opposing dictatorship and in favor of democracy.”
“In 1996, Liu was sentenced to three years in a labor camp for “rumor-mongering and slander.” He was president of the independent Chinese PEN-centre from 2003 to 2007. Liu has written nearly 800 essays, 499 of them since 2005. He was one of the chief architects behind Charter 08, which was made known on the 10th of December 2008, which … defends fundamental human rights and has in due course been signed by several thousand persons both in China itself and abroad.”
“On the 25th of December 2009, Liu was sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment and two years’ loss of political rights for, in the words of the sentence, “incitement to the overthrow of the state power and socialist system and the people’s democratic dictatorship.” Liu has consistently claimed that the sentence violates both China’s own constitution and fundamental human rights.”
In Charter 08, Liu wrote: “Authoritarianism is in general decline throughout the world; in China, too, the era of emperors and overlords is on the way out. The time is arriving everywhere for citizens to be masters of states. For China the path that leads out of our current predicament is to divest ourselves of the authoritarian notion of reliance on an “enlightened overlord” or an “honest official” and to turn instead toward a system of liberties, democracy, and the rule of law, and toward fostering the consciousness of modern citizens who see rights as fundamental and participation as a duty.”
These words could just as easily have come from Sen. Ninoy Aquino who spent nearly 8 years in solitary confinement because of his refusal to bow to the Marcos dictatorship and who risked personal peril to return to the Philippines to convince the dictator to divest himself from authoritarian rule.
Pres. Aquino may recall that when he was a young man, his father sent him a letter in May of 1973 while he was incarcerated to explain why he chose not to participate in the kangaroo military court that was convened by Marcos to try him.
“Son, my decision is an act of conscience. It is an act of protest against the structures of injustice that have been imposed upon our hapless countrymen. Futile and puny, as it will surely appear to many, it is my last act of defiance against tyranny and dictatorship,” Ninoy wrote young Noynoy.
Both Ninoy Aquino and Liu Xiaobo believed Mahatma Gandhi’s words that “the willing sacrifice of the innocent is the most powerful answer to insolent tyranny that has yet been conceived by God and man”.
The decision to boycott the Oslo ceremony was not a product of “bungled incompetence” like the Luneta hostage crisis nor was it made for personal monetary gain, as decisions of previous Philippine presidents have been. But it was just as disappointing.
By boycotting an event that honored Liu Xiaobo, Noynoy snubbed his father’s legacy.
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