HK folk have a lot to teach us
Filipinos have long had a “love-hate affair” with Hong Kong. For many middle- and upper-class and even budget millennial Pinoy travelers, the once Crown Colony is almost always the first foreign destination they travel to. Just about an hour’s flight away, it offers Filipino travelers a convenient yet exotic place to visit, shop in and drink in the sights.
But at the same time, travelers there come back home with stories of rude shopkeepers, indifferent fellow commuters, and a cold, unfeeling culture amid the skyscrapers and theme parks. The influx of overseas Filipino workers to Hong Kong, many of them female domestic workers, has altered the balance somewhat, with Pinoy tourists feeling an intense tug-of-war between pride and shame. There is pride in how Hong Kong families have come to rely on their Filipina domestic workers to look after their homes and families. But there is also some shame in the poverty and desperation that have driven thousands of them away from home.
Recent events, though, have forged a kind of kinship between Filipinos and the people of Hong Kong. It is the shared experience of challenging a powerful and indeed oppressive government by sheer force of the people’s will, expressed through street protests and sustained mass action. Filipinos had our day in the international spotlight when in 1986 an estimated million people gathered on Edsa (with many more massed in provincial cities and capitals), initially to protect a group of military renegades but ultimately succeeding a few days later in sending the dictator Marcos and his family and cronies into exile.
These days, the world’s attention is turned to Hong Kong, where, for nearly three months, citizens of the tiny city—many of them students—have massed on the streets to press their demands.
The protests were provoked by an extradition bill that would have allowed China to arrest and bring before mainland courts crime suspects and even protest leaders. Initially, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said she and the local government would simply shelve the measure for further discussion. But after sustained protests that had grown not just in number but in intensity, Lam recently announced that she was withdrawing the extradition bill for good.
Though withdrawal of the bill was the premier demand of Hong Kong’s amorphous, seemingly leaderless protests, the list of demands has grown to include an independent investigation into the violent police response to the protests (use of tear gas even in the subway, armed attacks by goons wearing masks), amnesty for arrested protesters, and direct elections for all lawmakers and the chief executive. Thus, the protesters remain defiant and unmoved.
After Lam’s videotaped announcement, in fact, two masked protesters held a “civilians’ press conference” outside the venue, calling the withdrawal of the bill “a band-aid on rotting flesh” and reiterating their calls that “five demands, not one less” be met.
Some have said Lam’s belated concession was a hint of some kind of “softening” on Beijing’s part. But the protesters’ indifferent, indeed scornful, reaction may have caught the mandarins in Beijing by surprise; clearly, the situation has gone beyond the big issue whose early resolution the Chinese government had botched with its ham-handed response of both contempt and violence, leading to the escalation of public fury.
For many years, we Filipinos have held our heads high, boosted by the bragging rights that a successful culmination of the Edsa “People Power” uprising bestowed. These days, our hubris has taken more than a little beating, and doubtless our abject foreign policy—illustrated by the latest tête-à-tête between Presidents Duterte and Xi Jinping, which saw our leader surprisingly contrite in bringing up the arbitral ruling that invalidated China’s claim over the South China Sea and backed the Philippine position instead—has a lot to do with it.
What happened to us in the meanwhile? How have we let repeated blows to our national dignity go unanswered and indeed even accepted with alacrity, if not obsequious ass-licking?
Citizens everywhere, but especially Filipinos restive over authoritarian China’s growing hold on their government, have a lot to learn from the people of Hong Kong. Gathering by the millions, filling up the streets of their bustling city, the protesters have shown how, with courage and persistence, an aroused people can fight for their rights and their way of life with determination and spunk, challenging the great power that has cast its shadow over their little city-state.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.