The Oslo gamble

THE President may have angered the international human rights community with his government’s decision to align with China in boycotting the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony honoring imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, but at least he had shown that there is transparency in his decision.

Before Malacañang admitted Manila cannot just antagonize Beijing, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) actually tried to downplay the issue. The foreign office even issued a statement saying that the country would not be represented because its ambassador to Norway, Elizabeth Buensuceso, will be on a consular visit to Denmark, a trip that had long been arranged even before the recipient for this year’s Nobel Prize was known.

International human rights groups immediately criticized the Philippine government for turning its back on Liu’s non-violent struggle for free expression in China.

But President Aquino later confided that it was really a hard decision to make since skipping the Oslo ceremony might send the message that his government was no longer championing democracy and human rights.
It still does.

It’s really unfortunate that Mr. Aquino had to make such a ‘damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t” decision at a time when the world commemorates International Human Rights Day.

Even his order to release the 43 health workers who were arrested in Morong, Rizal early this year wasn’t enough to appease even his closest political allies who claimed to be righteous champions of people’s rights.

You have the likes of Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello now telling the President his decision was “very dangerous.” But Sen. Joker Arroyo, a former human rights lawyer, said that it was about time that the Philippines protects its national interest instead of catering to the interests of other countries.

The President said he had to make such a controversial move to possibly save the lives of five Filipinos in the death row for drug trafficking, even if there was no certainty that his plea would be granted.

But obviously, a bigger burden for government is how to appease Beijing and put a closure to the botched Aug. 23 hostage rescue that left eight Hong Kong tourists dead. One newspaper quoted an unnamed official as saying “we just came from a bad thing and we don’t want top irritate them again.”

It’s not surprising that the Philippines is now being held hostage by China, knowing how government bungled not only the rescue but the investigation. For that, our President was forced to make up for the fiasco.

Sad to say, that the Oslo boycott was a bitter pill that Mr. Aquino had to swallow if only to save the country from possible backlash of an emerging superpower like China.

But it should also be a lesson to our President who should not just take the blame for any crisis while inept authorities who handled the hostage fiasco and the investigation were able to get away with their fumbles.

The Cold War has ended, but the government is facing another serious test on international power play.

We remember how former President Corazon Aquino nearly agreed to retain the US bases with the pressure from Washington. Still, she supported the Senate’s decision to close down the US military installations to preserve the country’s sovereignty, and follow our national interest.

The Americans can again put pressure on our leader, this time on Mr. Aquino, for boycotting the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. It is public knowledge that the Human Rights Watch (HRW) is a US-led group which had been critical of China’s human rights violations.

If he had shown firmness in looking at our national interest, the President should also start looking at how he can really resolve the human right violations that are being committed in this country for starters. Joel Paredes

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