December 2005

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

In 1914, ninety-one years ago, during the Great War — or World War I as we call it today — the British and French armies were manning the 27-mile Western Front fiercely defending French territory from the advancing German Army. Across the British and French trenches, as near as 200 feet away, the Germans were dug in. What separated the opposing armies was a place called “No Man’s Land.”

On Christmas Eve, one of the most incredible — and unusual — events in human history took place: the Germans started placing candles on trees on “No Man’s Land.” Lit with candles, the “Christmas” trees looked awesome. The Germans began singing Christmas songs and the British and French troops responded by singing too. Soon the entire “No Man’s Land” turned into a symphonic Christmas celebration. The Germans proposed a “Christmas Truce” and the French and British troops accepted.

The memorable event was detailed in a book, titled “Silent Night,” written by Stanley Weintraub. “Signboards arose up and down the trenches in a variety of shapes. They were usually in English, or — from the Germans — in fractured English. ‘YOU NO FIGHT, WE NO FIGHT’ was the most frequently employed German message. Some British units impoverished ‘MERRY CHRISTMAS’ banners and waited for a response. More placards on both sides popped up.”

“By Christmas morning, ‘No Man’s Land’ was filled with fraternizing soldiers, sharing rations and gifts, singing and more solemnly burying their dead. Soon they were even playing soccer, mostly with impoverished balls.” According to one account, “proper burials took place as soldiers from both sides mourned together and paid their respect.”

When the generals heard about the “Christmas Truce,” they were aghast and ordered their soldiers to start shooting at each other. The soldiers resumed shooting but most of them — for several days — aimed their rifles at the sky and the stars. In some sectors, the truce continued until New Year’s Day. After all, how can “friends” shoot at each other?

What was ironic was that earlier in the autumn of 1914, Pope Benedict XV called for an official truce between the warring governments. The Papal plea was ignored. After the “Christmas Truce,” the embarrassed British commanders vowed that a truce should not happen again. However, in 1916, an “Easter Truce” happened on the Eastern Front.

On November 21, 2005, Alfred Anderson, aged 109, the last veteran of that “Christmas Truce,” died at his home in Angus, Scotland. Anderson was 18 years old on December 25, 1914, when British, French, and German troops climbed out of their trenches along the dreaded Western Front and walked across the blood-soaked “No Man’s Land” to shake hands. Anderson decorated with France’s highest honor, the Legion d’Honneur, never forgot that moment in his life when he celebrated Christmas with his enemies on “No Man’s Land.” Indeed, it was a singular moment in history that has yet to be repeated.

As we celebrate Christmas this year, we reflect on conflicting situations around the world where “truce” — or peace — is needed. But most importantly, we need a truce in the Philippine war fronts with the communist insurgents, Muslim separatists, and even with the political oppositionists.

The communist New People’s Army (NPA) has had a “traditional Christmas truce” with the government since the insurgency began 36 years ago. This year, the military leaders are against a truce with the NPA. However, it should not preclude the NPA from declaring a unilateral truce, to which, I am sure, the military would respect.

Since July 2003, a bilateral truce between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), brokered by Malaysia, took effect when they started their peace talks. Meanwhile, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), headed by Nur Misuari, who is currently in jail charged with rebellion, is again on the warpath after a truce with the government broke down. The military accused the MNLF of aiding the Abu Sayyaf terrorists. Recently, fierce fighting erupted between government forces and the MNLF guerillas. A couple of weeks ago, the MILF through its spokesman, Eid Kabalu, offered to broker a truce between the government and the MNLF.

On the political front, things are getting worse with persistent rumors of coup plots against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Recently, 80-year old retired general Fortunato Abat proclaimed himself “president” of a “revolutionary transition government” and demanded that President Arroyo step down. He claimed that he has the support of an organization with 10,000 members. Last December 16, 2005, Gen. Abat, two of his “Cabinet” members, and a lawyer were arrested and charged with inciting to sedition for establishing their own “government.”

Although “peace” may be improbable, if not impossible, to achieve in the near future, Christmas is a day in our lives — Christians and non-Christians, theists and atheists alike — where we can have “peace” in our hearts. It is a day of serenity, harmony, and respite from the constant turmoil that surrounds us. But most importantly, it is a day where we are more forgiving, more tolerant, and more understanding of others.

The “Christmas Truce” of 1914 proved that people could set aside their differences even for day. But a truce could also be lasting. The Koreans are living in a state of perpetual truce since July 1953 when the China and North Korea signed the Korean War Truce with the United Nations and South Korea. Today, a permanent peace agreement has yet to be reached. However, the truce remains in force.

If truce could bring a lasting peace in the Korean peninsula, truce could also work wonders in the Philippines. Filipinos have suffered too long. Let’s give truce a chance.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz

In 1960, the Philippines — “The Pearl of the Orient Seas,” as we used to call her — was regarded as the most dynamic and robust economy in Asia. We were second only to Japan in terms of economic wealth. A generation later, the Philippines became one of the poorest of the poor countries in the world and branded as the “Sick Man of Asia.”

During that same period of time, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea became known as the Newly Industrialized Countries (NICs) — or often referred to as the “economic tigers” — in Asia. Not too long ago, China, Thailand, and Malaysia have become economic tigers.

What happened? Could it be that the Philippine government failed to foresee that “industrialization” is the only way out of an anachronistic and feudalistic economic system? Look at Singapore. A tiny island state smaller than the land size of the former Clark Air Force Base in Pampanga, its economy is 100% driven by industrialization and as a major hub in the global banking business. And look at Hong Kong, there is not enough land to build upon; so they just keep building upward.

Meanwhile, the Philippines’ economy is still primarily agricultural using antiquated production methodologies. For example, Philippine-produced sugar is more expensive than the price of world sugar. So when the US eliminated its government-subsidized Sugar Quota benefiting the sugar producers and exporters, the sugar barons of Negros Occidental went belly up — their sugar was priced out of the market. And to make things really bad, the Philippines’ agrarian reform is being systematically ignored — or circumvented — by some of the most powerful landed families with conniving and corrupt government officials.

Now, what is the cause of corruption? Some people say that poverty is to blame for the “culture of corruption.” A veteran Philippine Senator once said, “Poverty breeds corruption.” Does it, really? Or is it the other way around, “Corruption causes poverty”?

A study made by Management Systems International in Washington, DC, in 2003, has concluded: “Corruption has direct consequences on economic and government factors, intermediaries that in turn produce poverty.” The study produced two models. On the one hand, the “economic model” postulates that corruption affects poverty by first impacting economic growth factors, which, in turn, impact poverty levels. In other words, “Increased corruption reduces economic growth which would increase poverty.” On the other hand, the “government model” asserts that corruption affects poverty by first influencing governance factors, which, in turn, impact poverty levels. In other words, “Increased corruption reduces governance capacity which would increase poverty.”

Is it then fair to presume that increasing economic growth and increasing government capacity would decrease poverty? If so, in order to eradicate poverty, corruption should be dealt with in a fashion that would deter people — particularly government officials — from practicing corruption. However, the problem is: The Philippines does not have an effective deterrence to stop corruption.

Someone once said, “The human being is corrupt by nature and therefore corruption cannot be eradicated completely.” I do not agree with the generalization that “the human being is corrupt by nature.” I believe that the human being is inherently honest; however, the temptation to commit corruption is always present. And if undeterred, corruption becomes a way of life, particularly for those who hold positions of authority. Then it becomes the standard for doing business, not only in the public sector but also in the private sector.

How then could corruption be stopped? Former President Ferdinand Marcos said upon declaring martial law in 1972: “Sa ikauunlad ng Pilipinas, disiplina ang kailangan” (For the Philippines to progress, discipline is needed). Most Filipinos remember the time when a drug lord was ordered executed by Marcos to which he received one of the highest public approval ratings during his presidency. It was a good start to fight crime and corruption. But all along, something went awry. Eventually, the temptation for corruption overcame the will for discipline. For that, Marcos failed to fulfill his vision of a progressive Philippines. As Lord Acton said in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It was true then, it’s absolutely truer today.

Lately, the administration of President Arroyo was beset with massive corruption at all levels of her government. The high profile prosecution of Gen. Charlie Garcia for plunder became a ‘cause celebre.’ Filipinos were wondering if Garcia would be convicted of plunder; after all, nobody has yet been successfully prosecuted for corruption. Several days ago, the unexpected happened — Garcia was found guilty of plunder by a military tribunal. He was sentenced to a jail term of two years, a “slap on the wrist” that will surely draw public outcry. But it is a good precedent. The question is: Will Garcia’s conviction be enough to instill discipline in the military and the government as well? I don’t think so.

What is needed is a sustained effort to prosecute corrupt officials — ruthlessly, expeditiously, and judiciously. Ruthlessly it must — take no prisoners. Expeditiously it must — justice delayed is justice denied. And judiciously it must — the court must be free of interference, from within and without. It should be incorruptible and “untouchable.” A special tribunal, similar to a military tribunal (7 to 9 judges), may be empanelled to prosecute high-profile plunder cases. The special tribunal may consist of retired justices from the Supreme Court and Appellate Courts.

Since it is going to cost a lot to prosecute all of the corrupt officials, the administration may show some magnanimity — after successfully prosecuting a dozen or so plunder cases — by offering amnesty to all corrupt officials provided that all of the ill-gotten wealth are returned to the government. Those who accept amnesty have to resign from their government jobs or elective positions. After the amnesty period in over, those who refuse to avail of the amnesty would be prosecuted… without mercy.

Can this be done? Or is it like a “suntok sa buwan” (a punch at the moon)? The bottom line is: If poverty and corruption are to be eradicated, then there must be discipline at all levels of the government. We must show that “crime does not pay, only the criminals do.” If poverty is the fever and corruption is the disease; then, the prescription is discipline.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)