Monday, March 26, 2007

Being in Egypt

No, I didn’t travel to Egypt the past week. No such luck. It’s just that when I think of Egypt, I think of the Nile. When I think of the Philippines, I think of denial. The government, the politicos, and the people are all in denial. And so when I think of being in denial, I think of being in Egypt.

I was reminded of this state of being by a column written by Randy David on the confluence of four recent attacks on the Philippine nation’s image, all occurring within weeks of each other, like a perfect storm.

The first was the decision of the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) to deny VisaScreen certification to Philippine nursing graduates who failed to retake and pass the leaked portions of the June 2006 licensure exams. This decision would adversely affect thousands of Philippine nurses applying to work in the US.

Then came the visits to the Philippines by the United Nations Human Rights Commission’s special rapporteur on human rights, Philip Alston, and the European Commission’s director general for external relations, Eneko Landaburu, who both expressed their deep concerns over the unsolved murders of hundreds of Filipino activists and journalists in the last five years.

The third storm was a hearing in the US Congress by the US Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs chaired by California Sen. Barbara Boxer, who criticized the Arroyo administration for failing to take “sufficient action to address unsolved killings and bring those responsible to justice.”

The fourth was the release by the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) of their findings on perceptions of corruption in the Asian region, which found the Philippines to be the “most corrupt” in a list of 13 countries in Asia.

The response of the Philippine government was to go to Egypt and visit the Nile. A government delegation went to the CGFNS to deny that there was a problem with the cheating in the nursing exams and to assert that the Philippine government was doing everything to deal with the problem. The CGFNS debunked the government's position stating that "It's not what the Philippine authorities did not do, it's what the US authorities would have done in a similar situation."

On the issue of foreign governments’ criticisms of the Philippines human rights record, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, speaking for the administration, declared that foreigners should butt out and not lecture Filipinos on human rights if they have no experience in fighting insurgencies in their own countries.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, for his part, called the US Senate hearing an insult to Philippine sovereignty. With regard to the PERC corruption report, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo denied that there was widespread government corruption, insisting that PERC was basing its analysis on old data, when Erap Estrada was president. Another spokesman said that the report was about the perception of corruption, not the reality of it.

According to psychologists, denial is a defense mechanism in which a person, faced with a painful fact, rejects the reality of that fact, insisting that the fact is false, despite what may be overwhelming and irrefutable evidence.

According to Sigmund Freud, there are three forms of denial: simple, “minimisational,” and transference. Simple is when the painful fact is denied totally. Minimisational is when the painful fact is admitted but the seriousness minimized. Transference is when the painful fact and its seriousness are admitted, but the person's moral responsibility is downplayed or denied altogether.

The government used all three forms of denial in responding to these attacks. But the Philippine government is not alone in tripping out to Egypt. The so-called Genuine Opposition (GO) has been paddling its oars in the Nile as well. It can hardly criticize the government’s human rights record when included in its slate is Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, who was second in command of the Military Intelligence Security Group (MISG) which was responsible for the torture and murder of hundreds, if not thousands, of activists during the Marcos dictatorship. Lacson was also implicated in the Kuratong Baleleng massacre and in the kidnap, torture and murder of Bubby Dacer and Emmanuel Corbito.

The GO can hardly criticize the Philippine government on corruption charges when it is led by the notoriously corrupt former president Erap Estrada, who personally handpicked the members of the GO senate slate and is reportedly funding the slate with his own personal wealth (which he didn’t earn from acting).

Both the government (Team Unity) and the opposition (GO) senate slates are filled with rank opportunists, professional politicos who crave power and influence in the worst way, and who owe their loyalties only to themselves. Why can’t there be senate candidates who can propose that the Philippine school year begin in September and end in June so that there aren’t any classes during the monsoon or rainy season (June to August).

It has always been a source of wonder why the Philippine school year begins just when torrential rains pour down on the country, drenching its students on their way to school. It is "summer classes" now for Philippine school kids and it is incredibly hot, forcing students to either go to the beach or stay home or in the shade. It would be a good time for them to still be studying if the school year began in Sepatember.

But that would mean that these politicos really care about the people, about the youth, about education. That’s not really why they're running for senator. To them, being senator is about receiving pork from the government and money from influence peddlers. It’s about running for president in order to receive more pork from the government and more money from influence peddlers.

It’s about practicing transference denial, blaming others, to absolve themselves of any moral imperative whatsoever. It’s about being in Egypt.

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