COMMENT: Can we ever learn? (2). By Patricio P. Diaz

Alienation fuelled by injustice is the root of dissent. Government after government have been deaf, indifferent or insensitive to cries for redress. As alienation deepened, the alienated opted to resort to rebellion, insurgency, radicalism, militancy and political destabilization.

That is the mire the Arroyo government is stuck in now.  Is there a way out?

Alienation

Alienation connotes lost confidence, trust, faith.  The alienated were once believers in and adherents to the system – original or convert. Some kind of injustice shattered their confidence, trust, faith in the system and its leaders leading to separation, withdrawal or open hostility.

It sounds smart-alecky but is an obvious truth: The way out is the way in. Redress for injustice can restore lost confidence, trust and faith and win back the alienated.  For the leaders of the system, that calls for introspection, sincerity, humility and even-handedness in the exercise of power.  That way is open to President Arroyo as it had been to past presidents after Marcos.

Alienation is all over the world and time. To err is human and among human errors is injustice. As injustice varies in kind and degree, so is alienation in its varied manifestations – terrorism, rebellion, protests or conciliatory movements.  Not even the most developed countries like the United States are spared from problems of alienation.

To redress injustice is human, too – in fact, the most human.  And, for any nation or system mired in alienation this is the first step on the way out.

“To be, or not to be — that is the question:
…,” equivocated Hamlet in Shakespeare’s play of the same title.  To redress, or not to redress injustice – that is the question for President Arroyo.  Her option is either to emulate good examples or follow bad ones.  

Apologies

In the U. S. A.:
Despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [issued July 2] and numerous Federal and Supreme Court decisions it has spawned, racism is still an irritant between the White and African [Black] Americans. The latter are still smarting from memories of slavery or hurting from covert racial discrimination or from racist remarks

However, there are steps to make amends. Last March 26, the Florida Legislature passed a resolution formally apologizing with “profound regrets” for the “shameful chapter in this state’s history” on slavery – joining five states that had already issued apologies, the latest being New Jersey last January.  The four others — North Carolina, Alabama, Virginia and Maryland – had apologized since January 2007.

According to The New York Times (March 27), Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush, in their speeches, had expressed regrets to slavery.  The hope among some “black leaders” is that the apologies of the states “would lead the [U. S.] Congress to offer an apology of its own – if only to document [the] regrets” of the two presidents.

The same leaders also thought that “Florida’s statement is likely to continue the country’s amplified conversation about race, inspired by Mr. [Barack] Obama in his speech”.* What is being hoped is “for the whole nation to address race” – America’s “original sin”.  

Political Science Prof. Carol M. Swain of Vanderbilt University, who supports a national apology for slavery, said: “We do need to have a conversation.  And it’s a much broader conversation than Barack Obama was able to introduce in his speech.”*

[*NOTE: Democratic presidential nomination candidate Sen. Barack Obama, in a speech last March 18, assessed the state of racism in America, “bluntly confronting the division between black and white” (The New York Times, March 19). He urged the whites and the blacks to respond to the question with understanding and reconciliation, not with anger, rancor and frustration.

At the outset, he lamented that the “declaration of independence” launched by the Founding Fathers 221 years ago in the spring of 1787 “was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies…” He noted that the Philadelphia Convention did not solve the question, allowed slave trade to continue for 21 more years and left “the final resolution to future generation”.

He said: “I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people — that working together, we can move beyond some of our racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.”

He was responding to a divisive propaganda from the campaign of his opponent, Sen. Hillary Rodman Clinton, that he is anti-white – identifying him with his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., and his inflammatory sermons on racial discrimination. His speech soared above politics. Groups from churches and the academe nationwide responded to his “call for a national conversation about race”.]

In Australia: The Florida apology came 44 days after another historic apology. On February 13, the day after the Labor Government was sworn in, Australia Prime Minister Kevin Rudd introduced Parliament Motion No. 1, the “Apology to Australia’s Indigenous People”. It was passed unanimously witnessed by thousands of Aborigines and millions more on television nationwide.

The “Apology” reads in part:

“I move: That today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

“We reflect on their past mistreatment.  We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations – this blemished chapter of our nation’s history. The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

“We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australian. We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

“For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry. To the mothers and fathers, the brothers and sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry. And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

“We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.”

“Stolen Generations” refers to the hundred thousand Aboriginal children who, from 1910 to 1972, were forcibly taken from their parents and sent to government institutions and various church missions under a policy of social and economic assimilation. Whether they were able to return to their families or not, the separation had caused grief, pain and suffering.

The Howard Government that the Rudd Government immediately succeeded “refused to apologize for the misdeeds of past governments”. While the Rudd apology “drew an outpouring of emotions” and was widely appreciated, it was considered just a beginning. Like the Black-Africans, Aboriginal leaders believed it must be “backed up with compensation”.

Interestingly, even before the “Apology”, Tasmania – Australia’s smallest state – had already established “a compensation fund for the stolen generations. Last January, it paid “84 forcibly removed children (US$52,000 each) and 22 of their descendants (US$4,000 each)” (National Geographic News, February 13).

To Do Better

Critical comments in Florida and Australian newspapers are right: The apology is just symbolic and hollow without compensation.  But at the same time, they agree that it is a good beginning – the first step to meaningful reconciliation with reparation. Since alienation and injustice are emotionally charged and stirring, apology is a potent balm.

If President Arroyo has the will – political and moral – she can do better for the Philippines. Either through a resolution by Congress or a presidential proclamation, though the first is better, the government apologizes to the Muslims, Indigenous Peoples, and the traditionally oppressed masses for the wrongs done unto them with the proper reparations.

The Muslims had asked for redress since early 1920s.  Ignored and frustrated, they launched the rebellion in 1972.  Had their grievances been acknowledged with apology and redress, the more than 30 years bloody rebellion still unresolved could have been averted. An apology now with the peace negotiation to redress not to impose the terms of the government can bring peace by 2010.

The Indigenous Peoples are the most fooled among Filipinos – fooled by the settlers, fooled by the government.  The Indigenous People’s Right Act is not a consolation. It is an instrument to pacify grievances but at the same time a tool to continue fooling them. They need and deserve something better besides an apology.

After 1898, the Spaniards left the Philippines but the illustrados perpetuated Spanish elitism as the chief mark of Filipino society – the landed few and the traditionally enslaved tenants. The dons, doñas, señores, señoritos, señoritas, capitanes and capitanas have disappeared but only the names, not the reality symbolized by Forbes Park and Tondo. Political aristocracy is very much alive in political dynasties and politicians of patronage and privilege.

So much wrong has been done to the poor, the masa. It sounds cynical; but right now, poverty is perpetuated for the convenience and aggrandizement of the political and economic elite.  The poor need more than lip-service to poverty alleviation.  They deserve apology and sincere reparation for the wrongs that are fuelling the Communist insurgency.

The Moro rebellion and the Communist insurgency can be settled before June 30, 2010 if the Arroyo government learns from the example of Indonesia. In four months and 17 days – February 27, 2005 to July 16, 2005 – Indonesia signed a peace agreement with the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (Free Aceh Movement) because it negotiated for the national good not to impose government will and authority.

The mire that the Arroyo government is stuck is not its making alone. But alone it can unstuck itself to its own credit and for the benefit of the future – government and people. That is if good examples are learned and excelled.

There is more – very much more – urgency for apology and redress in the Philippines than in Australia or anywhere in the United States. Black American and Aboriginal leaders may be assertive and persistent – perhaps, militant too – but not violent. In Australia, the Aborigines, most marginal socially and economically, number about 450,000 in a population of 21 million; they bother political, social and moral conscience but not threaten national peace and stability.

Should it be said that there is more urgency for apology and redress in the Philippines but there is less political, social and moral conscience?  (“Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You may e-mail your comments to [email protected]).

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