COMMENT: Notable events here and abroad. By Patricio P. Diaz

As Lozada narrated, he was spirited away against his will from the airport by men who refused to identify themselves. He was taken for a five-hour ride to as far as Laguna, not taken to his home in Pasig. At the Senate hearing, the same cabinet, police and military officials involved admitted having sent those men to secure Lozada without denying Lozada’s story.

The lengthy and round-about explanations of motives and concerted efforts to assail Lozada’s credibility are immaterial to the primary issue.  The ordeal Lozada has been subjected to has the elements of abduction. His return alive to his family does not negate the fact.

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Those governors and other local government officials now spearheading another move to amend the 1987 Constitution to change the unitary system of government to federal have not learned the lesson of 2006.  Then the Supreme Court struck down their initiative as unconstitutional on the grounds that the people did not directly initiate the amendment and that their proposal was not amendment but revision which is beyond the scope of the initiative.  

They may explain that what they are spearheading is not an initiative. They are only proposing to the people for them to propose to their representatives in Congress through their governors to propose the change of the unitary system of government to the federal. Who is proposing in the final analysis?

Congress has no intention yet to propose an amendment or revision.  Speaker Prospero Nograles said there was no order from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (INQUIRER.net, Feb.13). The Senate, as it was in 2006, is against. Is it constitutional for Congress to amend or revise the Constitution on order by the President?  What does Article XVII, Section 1 say?

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In Canberra, Australia, a historic even happened last Wednesday, February 13. On the day before, the Labor government was installed. For its first act, the Labor-controlled Parliament “unanimously adopted Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s motion to apologize to Aborigines on behalf of all citizens”.

“Aborigines” are the indigenous people of Australia. Numbering 450,000 out of a population of 21 million, they are “the country’s poorest and most disadvantaged group” with life expectancy “17 years shorter than other Australians”.

The first British settlers landed at what is now Sydney in 1788. The succeeding waves of settlers and generations after them did not just deprive the Aborigines of their lands and hunting grounds but under the policy of assimilation (1869-1969) forcibly removed indigenous children from their parents to be raised and educated by the state in “internment camps, orphanages and other institutions” – now known as the “Stolen Generations”.

As quoted by The New York Times and Washington Post (February 13), the Apology partly reads:

“We apologize for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

“We apologize especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

“To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry. For the indignities and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and proud culture, we say sorry.”

Reports the Post: “Rudd received a standing ovation from lawmakers and from scores of Aborigines and dignitaries invited to witness the event. Many wiped away tears.”

However, the Apology only half-healed the historic wound.  As a sort of compromise, Rudd did not include compensation in his motion as a sort of compromise – to help “secure support of the apology from many Australians who believe that they should not be held responsible for past policies, no matter how flawed”.

Compensation is vital to the completeness of the healing. The Post said that some Aboriginal leaders who welcomed the apology deemed it “empty rhetoric without addressing the issue of compensation”.

An Aborigine, Noel Pearson, from the state of Queensland, wrote in an Australian newspaper Tuesday that an apology without compensation meant: “Blackfellas will get the words, the whitefellas keep the money.”  

The apology was historic.  But the half-heartedness, as seen by some Aboriginal leaders, was also historic.

On reflection, an apology from the Manila government for the centuries old injustices done on the Moros and Indigenous Peoples in Mindanao is a positive step toward reconciliation.  But this would be half-empty without addressing the issues of compensation and of their right to self-determination.

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Turkey is caught in historic irony. The conservative government has lifted the ban on the wearing of head scarves in universities invoking freedom but the secularists fear the advent of fundamentalism and the eventual loss of freedom.

Declared as a republic on October 29, 1923 by its founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, modern Turkey established secularism as a pillar of democracy which banished from the public the outward signs of Islam even if that remained the religion of the Turks. Governments controlled by the elite and closely watched by military and the judiciary earnestly imposed secularism.

In the late 1990s, the authorities banned the head scarf when they felt that the growing number of covered women in colleges threatened secularism (The New York Times, February 10).

Economic progress brought to power the wealthy middle class – the observant Turks. They elected a Parliament led by a devout Muslim, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Parliament, in turn, elected a devout Muslim, Abdullah Gul, as President. The military did not intervene as it used to do.

Erdogan said that in lifting the head scarf ban, he was “addressing religious freedom and the demands of the pious electorate,” assuring that he “has no desire to topple the secular pillars” of the nation “often praised as a model of coexistence between Islam and democracy”.

Erdogan’s argument: The head scarf ban suppresses the religious freedom of pious women. He said that women who do not want to cover their hair in line with Islamic tradition would not be pressured to do so. Women are free to wear what they want.

But a member of the Parliament, Nesrin Baytok of the opposition secularist party warned: “This decision will bring further pressure on women.  It will ultimately bring us Hezbollah terror, Al Qaeda terror and fundamentalism.” The warning obviously referred to regimes where women are compelled to wear hijab (head scarf) or niqab (head-to-foot cover).

Religious attire – which for women includes hijab and niqab – was prohibited in public in 1934. This was part of the liberation of women. Now with the rise of a conservative government, the liberated women are deemed to have lost their religious freedom. Ironic, isn’t it?

And, the greater irony! Muslims condemned the restrictions on the wearing of hijab and niqab in Great Britain and Europe but they never raised a howl against secular Turkey. (“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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