Sunday, November 29, 2009

The two contrasting faces of the Philippines

IN jarring juxtaposition, and in the stark gaze of the global village, two contrasting faces of the Philippines were on display last week. One was the caring and compassionate face— glowingly portrayed by CNN (and every decent human being’s) “Hero of the Year” Efren Peñaflorida, the self-motivated pushcart educator who, quietly and with little fanfare, took it upon himself to bring hope to the lives of impoverished children.

The other was the brazen and brutal face—shockingly typified by the podgy and savage thug Andal Ampatuan Jr. who, masquerading as a two-bit politician, flaunted an agenda which engrained death as way of life in the psyche of those hapless citizens cursed to be subjugated by the political clan he represented.

While our spirits were uplifted by the tender-hearted and benevolent nature of Peñaflorida’s achievement, the depraved Ampatuan gutted our stomachs by the impervious character of the barbarous rampage he led that at the last official count stands at 57 innocent lives lost.

And here’s the ironic rub. While Peñaflorida attained his new found fame without any assistance whatsoever from the powers that be, Ampatuan acquired his strutting notoriety as an off-shoot to the perceived patronage of people in high places. Such is still the sorry state of affairs in certain quarters of Philippine society.

Matters on this front were not helped when Malacañang Palace spokesman Lorelei Fajardo—who appears increasingly to be suffering from chronic foot-in-the-mouth disease—pointed out in reference to the Ampatuan clan that “it doesn’t mean that they are no longer our friends, if ever they indeed committed the crime.”

Fajardo wasn’t done there. She incredulously went on: “Just because they are in this situation doesn’t mean we will turn our backs on them.”

The real sentiments of the Palace surfaced not long after Fajardo had laid her quick-fire tongue to rest. The entire Ampatuan clan was unceremoniously booted out of the administration party.

As members of the Fourth Estate, we have much reason to grieve over the cruel fate that befell 23 of our comrades who one week ago today courageously placed themselves at the right place, notwithstanding the fact that they fully understood it could be at the wrong time.

All of them toiled tirelessly and fearlessly on a daily basis in this dangerous part of the southern Philippines to safeguard the dignity and human rights of ordinary citizens, and most times providing the only safety buffer between innocent Filipinos and the impunity of political warlords. That they fell heroically in the line of duty will be their everlasting memorial.

The killing fields of Maguindanao will now go down in the annals of infamy as the scene of the greatest single slaughter of journalists in history. Making the callous killer Ampatuan the Pol Pot of the Philippines.

The condemnation of the international community to this mindless election related mass killing was swift and unequivocal.

Expressing his own government’s outrage, British Ambassador Stephen Lillie said, “I condemn this brutal massacre of innocent civilians, including women, journalists and lawyers. I hope that the authorities in the Philippines will take urgent action to bring the perpetrators to justice and prevent further escalation of violence in the run-up to next year’s elections.”

Quite tellingly Lillie continued that “effective action will be crucial in maintaining confidence in the Philippines’ commitment to protect human rights.”

Suffice it to say that the vermin responsible for this unspeakable atrocity must be subjected to judicial extermination—and fast. So it’s gratifying to note that the wheels of justice—that in the Philippines tend to grind painfully, and often selectively, slow —are moving swiftly with the Department of Justice readying multiple counts of murder against the Butcher of Maguindanao.

But we hope not too fast so that legal corners are cut and a less than airtight case is put forward, giving the perpetrators the chance to escape justice via technical loopholes. There are 57 crying and compelling reasons why justice must be seen to be dispensed, and not dispensed with in the cause of political expediency.

Because of the horrific, and audacious, magnitude of the crime the progress and outcome of this case will be keenly watched by the entire Philippine nation and, indeed, much of the civilized world.

Dame Justice must not be seen to be wobbling precariously on her pedestal on this one.

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