Postscript to the guns of August | Inquirer Opinion
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Postscript to the guns of August

I agree: The demand from the Hong Kong authorities for the Philippine government to apologize was unreasonable.

At the very least that was so because of its assumption that the Philippine government was to blame for the massacre at Luneta last year. Would you blame the Norwegian government for the massacre of 77 people by a deranged gunman, as P-Noy himself asked? Or, since the killings in Norway did not involve foreign nationals, would you blame the Indonesian government for the massacre of scores of tourists in Bali some years ago?

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I don’t recall that Australia or the countries of the other victims demanded an apology from the Indonesian government for it, though Indonesia was known to harbor terrorists some of whom probably participated in the attacks. Certainly I do not recall that Indonesia apologized for it.

At the very most, it was unreasonable because it was a demand, and carried with it the tone of a demand, intransigent and belligerent. Along with the threat of continuing to blacklist the Philippines as a tourist destination for Hong Kong nationals. Nobody likes being ordered around, or blackmailed, by others, whether an individual or a government, whether a citizen or a president. That is guaranteed to provoke the exact opposite response.

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It also happens to be very bad timing. It comes at a time when China is pissing off other Asian countries with its intransigent and belligerent claims to the Spratly Islands, a dubious claim it is backing up with the use of force. The bullying has the Philippines, as much as the world, fit to be tied. For Hong Kong, a territory of China, to be making demands on the Philippine government at this time, however it has nothing to do with the Spratlys, however it carries with it the anguish of the grieving and the anger of the aggrieved, is to invite an equal measure of intransigence and belligerence.

But here’s the part where it gets complicated. The demand from the Hong Kong authorities for the Philippine government to apologize was unreasonable. But the need for the Philippine government to apologize to Hong Kong, the world, and this country itself was not.

At the very least, that is so because unlike the attacks in Norway and Bali, the massacre at Rizal Park was preventable. It was a comedy that ended in a tragedy. That was what made it all the more painful, that was what made it all the more condemnable. Rolando Mendoza was not a terrorist, or a homicidal maniac, at least at first. Of course his demand—to get back his job as a police officer after being dropped from the rolls for corruption—was unacceptable. But he could always have been humored into letting his hostages go. The thing was quite simply inexcusably botched.

How hard could it have been for P-Noy to say he didn’t particularly care what Hong Kong wanted, what China wanted, what the world wanted, but what he himself wanted was to apologize to the victims and their kin for the pain and grief one of his constituents had caused them? And that he wanted to assure them and their compatriots, just as he wanted to assure his own people, that he was doing everything in his power to improve law enforcement so that a thing like that might never happen again?

He would have lost nothing, he would have gained everything.

Infinitely more than this, it is so because this is not just a matter of politics or diplomatic one-upmanship. This is a matter of sensitivity, too. This is a matter of sensibility, too. This is a matter of fineness, too—or class. We can learn at least from the Japanese, if not the Chinese, there.

I remember again the Japanese capitalist who funded the Cherry Hills subdivision who wept at the tragedy that visited it and promptly took responsibility for it while his Filipino partners pointed fingers at each other. The Japanese could always have said, and rightly so, that he wasn’t to blame for it, he had the best of intentions, it was his Filipino partners that cut corners and bribed the government agencies to get past the safety regulations. But, no, that wasn’t his style, that wasn’t his upbringing, that wasn’t his instinct. He was responsible, he said.

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You see that as well in the willingness, if not the ease, with which the Japanese workers in the nuclear plants in Fukushima volunteered to stay on despite the dangerous levels of radiation to prevent a catastrophe. It was not because their superiors demanded it of them. It was not because they expected a reward on earth or in heaven. It was simply because it was the right thing to do. It was a matter of personal obligation, it was a matter of personal responsibility.

Apologizing for the deaths would not just have sent a message to the Chinese and the world, it would have sent a message to us. It would have imparted a lesson to us. It would have given an example to us. No people have more badly needed that message, that lesson, that example. Our natural reflex is to deny responsibility and blame others, or God, when things go wrong.

How hard could it have been for P-Noy to have said he didn’t particularly care what Hong Kong wanted, what China wanted, what the world wanted, but what he himself wanted was to apologize to the victims for the pain one of his constituents has caused them and to the Filipinos for the shame one of their compatriots has brought upon them? He was the President, he was the head of the nation, he was the living symbol of the nation, he took personal responsibility for what happened and felt a personal obligation to make amends for it. His country might not believe in hara-kiri, but he could at least make sure that this was one time it did not merely indulge in hala-bira.

He would not have been diminished, he would have come out a bigger man.

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TAGS: apology, Hong Kong, Luneta bus hostage crisis, President Benigno Aquino III, tourists
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