If Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) had made the decision to bow to Chinese pressure and boycott the Nobel Peace Prize event in Oslo on December 10, few eyelashes would have batted. But it wasn’t GMA, it was Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III who did so, explaining that “it was in the national interest” to save the lives of 5 Filipinos in China’s death row.
GMA bowed to a similar hostage demand in the past, as this news account from the Sydney Morning Herald of July 15, 2004 may remind us: “In a move to save the life of a Filipino hostage held in Iraq, the Manila Government has bowed to his kidnappers’ demands and begun the early withdrawal of its forces from Iraq… accepting the demands of Islamic militants who threatened to behead the 46-year-old Mr. Angelo de la Cruz unless the Philippine contingent was pulled out of Iraq by next Tuesday.”
Even Pres. Barack Obama last week had to bow to Republican pressure to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% in order to extend the same tax cuts to the rest of the 98% of the people. In a press conference, Pres. Obama explained that he had no choice because the Republicans would also not have allowed unemployment benefits for 2 million Americans to continue beyond December 31, 2010 if he did not do so. He said the American people were the hostages and, as president, he had to look out for their interests.
The number of hostages is immaterial – whether it is 1 Filipino OFW worker in Iraq, 5 Filipino drug mules in China or 2 million unemployed Americans without benefits, a president has to consider the political and personal consequences of his or her decisions and make the call.
While Pres. Aquino can justify the boycotting of the Oslo ceremony which was held on International Human Rights Day (of all days), we can express our extreme disappointment because the man who was honored with a Nobel Peace Prize that day was the “Ninoy Aquino of China”.
If Pres. Aquino had attended the Oslo ceremony, he would have heard Thorbjørn Jagland, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, describe Liu Xiaobo as follows:
“Liu was born on the 28th of December 1955 in Changchun in China’s Jilin province. He took a Bachelor’s degree in literature at Jilin University, and a Master’s degree and a PhD at Beijing Normal University, where he also taught. Stays abroad included visits to Oslo, Hawaii, and Columbia University, New York.”
“In 1989 he returned home to take part in the dawning democracy movement. On the 2nd of June he and some friends started a hunger strike on Tiananmen Square to protest against the state of emergency that had been declared. They issued a six-point democratic manifesto, written by Liu, opposing dictatorship and in favor of democracy.”
“In 1996, Liu was sentenced to three years in a labor camp for “rumor-mongering and slander.” He was president of the independent Chinese PEN-centre from 2003 to 2007. Liu has written nearly 800 essays, 499 of them since 2005. He was one of the chief architects behind Charter 08, which was made known on the 10th of December 2008, which … defends fundamental human rights and has in due course been signed by several thousand persons both in China itself and abroad.”
“On the 25th of December 2009, Liu was sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment and two years’ loss of political rights for, in the words of the sentence, “incitement to the overthrow of the state power and socialist system and the people’s democratic dictatorship.” Liu has consistently claimed that the sentence violates both China’s own constitution and fundamental human rights.”
What was subversive about Liu Xiaobo’s writings?
In Charter 08, he wrote: “Authoritarianism is in general decline throughout the world; in China, too, the era of emperors and overlords is on the way out. The time is arriving everywhere for citizens to be masters of states. For China the path that leads out of our current predicament is to divest ourselves of the authoritarian notion of reliance on an “enlightened overlord” or an “honest official” and to turn instead toward a system of liberties, democracy, and the rule of law, and toward fostering the consciousness of modern citizens who see rights as fundamental and participation as a duty.”
These words could just as easily have been written by Ninoy Aquino who spent nearly 8 years in solitary confinement for his refusal to bow to the Marcos dictatorship.
Less than a year after he was imprisoned in 1972, Ninoy wrote a letter to his son Noynoy to explain why he chose not to participate in the kangaroo court that was convened by Marcos to try him. “Son, my decision is an act of conscience. It is an act of protest against the structures of injustice that have been imposed upon our hapless countrymen. Futile and puny, as it will surely appear to many, it is my last act of defiance against tyranny and dictatorship.”
Both Ninoy Aquino and Liu Xiaobo understood and accepted Mahatma Gandhi’s words that “the willing sacrifice of the innocent is the most powerful answer to insolent tyranny that has yet been conceived by God and man”.
The decision to boycott the Oslo ceremony was not a product of “bungled incompetence” like the Luneta hostage crisis nor was it made for personal monetary gain, as decisions of previous Philippine presidents may have been. But it was just as disappointing.
By snubbing Liu Xiaobo, Noynoy had turned his back on his father’s legacy.
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