Apologia pro vita sua?
New York—It could have been a slapstick comedy cum reality TV.
There were inept cops, a bunch that couldn’t shoot straight; an insensitive mayor, Alfredo Lim, taking a lunch break while negotiations were going on with a distraught gunman and hostage taker; and live TV coverage that enabled the latter to see what preparations were being made to capture him.
The fact is, innocent lives were lost in that drama that took place at Rizal Park in August of 2010, a couple of months after Noynoy Aquino took over as president of the country. Rolando Mendoza, a disgraced policeman, believing his dismissal from the police force was unfair, held a busload of Hong Kong tourists captive to dramatize his case. The bus came equipped with a television set, allowing the gunman, along with countless viewers riveted to the screen, to watch in real time as his brother was arrested and threatened with execution by law enforcement personnel. That’s when he lost it and killed several of the hostages before he himself was killed.
Predictably, there was outrage in Hong Kong and demands for reparations and an apology from the Philippine government made. The ex-colony’s Filipino workers—who had obviously nothing to do with the sad incident—were insulted, harassed, sometimes assaulted and even fired.
My friend and colleague at this paper and long-time resident of Hong Kong, Isabel Escoda, recently wrote that the bitter feelings over the tragic mishandling “has lingered among a large number of population in the territory” and that the deceased’s kin have “resorted to a lawsuit against the Philippine government.” She believes that “the degree of local vindictiveness amounts to outright racism.”
Now, a little more than three years after, Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada, has said he will apologize to the families of the innocent dead. (While expressing sorrow, President Aquino has steadfastly refused to apologize.)
On the face of it, that is not such a bad idea, though surely there is political gamesmanship involved here, i.e., the desire to show up Lim, and to allow us to infer that had he been mayor then, Erap would have reprised his role as an action star and saved those hapless tourists. Ever the showman, he has in the past compared himself to Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi, but as Alan Robles in the South China Morning Post writes, “a better comparison would probably be to Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s flamboyant ex-prime minister who has been linked to numerous corruption and sex scandals.”
Robles points out that Estrada also loves to quote Gandhi: “Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong,” implying that he has forgiven his enemies and that they in turn need to forgive him. But when exactly was he the one who was wronged? Much of the public has forgiven him—at least, Manileños have—for his many transgressions, which speaks volumes about the masochistic tendencies of those who keep voting for him. These good Christians seem to have this fond habit of turning the other cheek, and then turning the other cheek. But Erap-para-sa-Mahirap hasn’t apologized. Quite the contrary: the man says he never did anything wrong.
Now that he says he will apologize to the Hong Kongers, might he not also extend an apology to his own countrymen, to the nation he pledged to serve as president of the Republic of the Philippines? He can and should apologize for the various crimes, proven in and affirmed by the courts, committed while occupying the nation’s highest office. He can and should apologize to Filipinos for treating the government as an almost limitless source of funds for himself and his barkada or inner circle, and as a personal fiefdom, a small-minded datu gorging on the sweets afforded him by his power.
Let’s review briefly the case of this traditional politician, or trapo, not being true to his word. Detailed investigative reports, principally from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, revealed during his short tenure in office, a sleazy system of kickbacks, pay-offs from illegal gambling lords, and the use of government funds (principally from Social Security and the Government Service Insurance System) to purchase shares in or acquire private corporations. Formally accused of plunder in April of 2001, and after six years in detention—not, mind you, in a jail cell, but in his luxurious vacation home—Estrada was found guilty in 2007 of the crime of plunder and sentenced to forty years in prison. But a little more than a month after his conviction, his successor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo pardoned Erap on condition that he not run again for office.
Just as he broke his word to his only legal wife that he would cease his philandering so he could portray himself as a repentant individual when he first ran for the Senate, so too did he renege on his word this time around, running in the presidential elections of 2010, and placing second.
What about it, Erap? Man up and take responsibility for your actions. If forgiveness is an attribute of the strong, so too is an acknowledgment of one’s wrongdoing.
And of course there is a whole slew of trapos who should apologize to the Filipino people. Imelda Marcos, the architects of martial law, particularly ex-Defense Minister, now Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, and the Marcos cronies top the list. Will this ever happen?
Pagputi lang ng uwak. Only when the crow turns white.
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