The birthing of the new

By Elmer A. Ordoñez

…  Our report on Philippine PEN’s resolutions calling for the release of imprisoned academic and writer Li Xiaobo and deploring President Aquino’s decision to follow China’s lead in boycotting the Nobel peace award rites for Li Xiaobo, elicited some comment from readers.

One irate reader from abroad, a good friend of long standing, asked in effect that while supporting a Chinese writer of conscience, what has Philippine PEN done for our own journalists who are killed? He was misinformed.

I had to point out that Philippine PEN has been consistent in following the PEN International charter upholding freedom of expression and of the press. Ever since the stories about extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances came out, the Philippine PEN has been passing resolutions at its annual conferences condemning the killings of journalists and the harassment of writers like Alex Pinpin (one of the Tagaytay Five) and more recently of PEN board Chairman and National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera and PEN board member Jun Cruz Reyes. The Maguindanao massacre of at least 58 civilians including 32 journalists was also condemned in PEN meetings.

During martial law, Philippine PEN led by F. Sionil Jose and Salvador P. Lopez solicited signatures of members and other writers for the release of fellow writers in prison. Among those imprisoned were Lumbera, Jose Lacaba, Boni Ilagan, Pete Daroy, Joma Sison, Dolores Feria, Ninotchka Rosca, Luis Teodoro and Mila Aguilar who were detained in various periods. Nick Joaquin, one of the signatories in the PEN statement, made it a condition that he would not accept the National Artist award unless poet Lacaba was released. Sison and Mila Aguilar were released along with other political prisoners by Corazon Aquino who took over as president after EDSA in February 1986.

Filipino writer Isabel Escoda, based in Hong Kong, shared Philippine PEN’s position in deploring President Aquino’s decision not to send a representative to Oslo’s Nobel peace award rites invoking national interest. The “inane excuse” (saving Filipinos caught in China for drug trafficking) of the President is “another case of obfuscation.” She added, “the president apparently forgot that his illustrious mother had once been nominated for the Peace Prize herself.”

UP professor Roland Simbulan wrote that Li Xiaobo is in prison “for his uncompromising stand on free speech, free expression and freedom to assemble, and yet we side with the position of those who put him in jail as a common criminal? He may be conservative in his political views but at this point in time, he had become a defiant symbol of non-violent resistance to autocratic rule in an emerging global superpower.”

Related to this issue of what I call “kowtowing” to China on the Nobel peace prize award is what Hong Kong (a special administrative region of China) wants regarding the hostage crisis that has already put the Philippines to worldwide shame. The Hong Kong coroner asks that 116 witnesses testify at its own inquest.

An expatriate professor teaching in Hong Kong thinks that sending witnesses would be another occasion for the Philippines to be humiliated—given the instances of how migrants or expatriates have been treated by police and justice officers. The hostage crisis has also provided an opportunity for the Donald Tsang administration to rehabilitate itself by channeling “the righteous anger” of the Hong Kong people (against Tsang over constitutional reform legislation) to the “corrupt and inept” government of the Philippines—stoked by the anti-Filipino media.

As we earlier said, these two incidents with China—the hostage crisis and the Li Xiaobo case—and how the P-Noy administration has handled them, do not augur well for an independent foreign policy. It seems that the P-Noy administration, save for Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, is inclined to ingratiate itself to China—for the “national interest” not so much to save the Filipino drug traffickers as to draw Chinese aid and investments. Time for us to recall what Senator Claro Recto said about “our mendicant foreign policy” in 1951 when he criticized the “panhandling attitude” of the Philippine government toward the superpower across the Pacific. Recto emphasized national self-reliance for a “dependent nation cannot expect respect from other nations.”

Without self-respect as a nation, the new order cannot be born.