From July 30 to Aug. 2, 2019, 84 female and four male former New People’s Army rebels enjoyed a four-day vacation in Hong Kong, courtesy of the Philippine government through the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) and the Presidential Management Staff (PMS).
On the surface, this is truly a magnanimous gesture from the government — gifting those who used to fight against it in various armed encounters with the country’s military forces. From a peace-building perspective, this is an ultimate gesture of building trust, the element that is among the first to be shattered in contexts of war.
The 88 recipients would surely be forever grateful to the military, and to its commander in chief, for such generosity. Not all Filipinos, especially those who just remain part of the subservient or silent herd, have received such a windfall. Those who work their butts off daily doing menial and semiskilled labor, eking out whatever livelihood they can avail themselves of in both urban and rural areas, will never receive this generous gesture from the government. And even those who are fortunate to be holding on to stable, professional-based jobs have not received such gifts from the government, despite the fact they are among the most compliant in paying their taxes, since these are already deducted from their monthly salaries even before they get them.
Some people may be able to save up enough money to go on vacation to Hong Kong and other tourist places in other parts of the world, but it will be from their hard-earned money. And in times of high inflation and a shrinking purchase value of our peso, having a vacation, even for a day, will just be part of anybody’s wish list.
In a statement, the spokesperson of the Eastmincom rationalized the free vacation to the rebels as part of their efforts to make former rebels “experience life in a modern urban setting and to provide them a better and another perspective in life.” The tour included a visit to some historical sites and some marketplaces in Hong Kong.
The former rebels are among those who have surrendered to the government in 2017 and in 2018. In at least two occasions, President Duterte promised them a tour abroad.
But “gifts” like these nag us with a lot of questions, not the least of which is how the beneficiaries of the tour package were chosen.
What were the inclusion and exclusion criteria for choosing the 88 recipients of the tour package?
Why was Hong Kong chosen over other tourist areas near the country? Or why Hong Kong, of all cities, near the country? Won’t the experience only underline how deprived their lives are? Won’t this fleeting experience of staying in a “modern urban setting” even make them feel depressed instead of having a “better perspective in life”?
Won’t the money that the government spent for this four-day tour to a select group of recipients have been better spent for gifts that are more equitably distributed, like water projects for barangays whose constituents have to walk several kilometers to fetch potable water?
The money that the government spent for this tour package to benefit only 88 out of the thousands of rebel returnees could have been better spent in putting up schools in isolated and deprived areas like many of the mountainous homelands of the indigenous peoples (IPs) in Compostela Valley.
But this magnanimous government has also caused the closure of IP schools and even bombed them, causing further deprivation among IP communities.
The kind of magnanimity shown in gifting the rebel returnees with an all-expenses tour to Hong Kong is misplaced: It does more harm than good.
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