Forgive and forget na lang ba?

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Without a doubt, the SONA of P-Noy can go down in Philippine history as one of the best. It is less the good report that was presented than the fact that a full-fledged report was submitted to his boss – the people of the Philippines.  I hope that the TV stations that cover SONAs continue to keep in their archives the previous SONAs delivered by past presidents. That way, direct comparisons can be made.

Would you believe that after one and a half hours of a long speech, I still read certain comments about what was missed out. P-Noy was right again, that there would be the usual critics just listening and waiting to find fault. It mattered less to them that this SONA was so detailed, the most detailed ever given, because they were only waiting for what was not mentioned.

The most wonderful aspect of the SONA was the attitude and character of the President who delivered it. By focusing on policies and statistics, on plans and what were achieved, and doing this for one department to another a long one and a half hours, P-Noy honored the citizens of the republic. He gave them that much importance to deserve as detailed a report as possible.

Beyond that, the President was telling the people and the world – here, judge me, judge my administrations, this is what happened in our time and how it compared with what happened during the previous administrations. The President gave them figures representing facts and statistics that can be used to put him to task for their veracity and sincerity. It was a show of transparency and the courage to be accountable.

There was a rather substantial portion that P-Noy dedicated to the need of pursuing those who had committed grievous wrong while occupying positions of high rank and great authority. I particularly admire his choice of words, “Forgive and forget na lang ba?” With these words, he hit a crucial nail on the head.

When high crimes are committed by those in power, whether it is plunder or rigging elections, and they go unpunished, it is a guarantee that these crimes will happen again. We have two past presidents who were considered by the Guinness Book of Records as among the worst thieves in history. We have Gloria who may overtake them and be discovered to be a greater thief than them. Every time someone gets away with it, it is an open invitation for others to try it, too.

The “forget and forgive” trap subverts the very essence of justice. In countries like the Philippines, it does more than that. The poor and the weak get punished without anyone asking to just forgive and forget them. But if the personalities of once great stature, there are many who will suggest that the law or the government just forgive and forget.

On a larger scale would be crimes against a whole people and country, crimes like invasion, pacification, and occupation. These are crimes that stronger nations commit against smaller ones. It matters little that hundreds of thousands or millions die in the process, and their only crime was to fight for their freedom, or to fight for the land on which their families and communities were situated.

Hundreds of years ago, Spain stumbled on the Philippines. Was it greed or lust that made this visiting force salivate for the beautiful country they bumped into while looking for other lands? It must have been both because it was not long before they used their superior strength to take over, island after island until they could take no more. Right and wrong did not matter much, only might was right.

While occupying land that was not theirs, the foreign masters controlled the natives and the resources – which meant land and seas. From being owners or stewards for nature or the divine, the natives, now called Filipinos, became tillers and squatters. Even if rebellious natives did manage to revolt and even win in many areas, they never got to rectify the historical anomaly of grand land theft. Before they could do so, another nation, even stronger than the one before, invaded, pacified, occupied and ruled by superior force.

It was not to be the last time that an innocent people would be so brutally bludgeoned to submission. In the little known Philippine-American War at the turn of the 20th century where Americans killed hundreds of thousands of Filipinos, the grand theft of land by Spain was officially blessed. By American decree, ownership of the stolen lands was affirmed to belong to the thieves – and to whomever they would sell these.

Japan then followed the example of Spain and the USA, and just as brutally. It does not pay to be small and weak. Filipinos became three time losers as the Japanese beat both Filipinos and Americans – until America brought down Japan after a few years.

Victory in WWII and independence in 1946 were not enough to make things right, they just became all the more wrong. Might still ruled over right as the power of the government and the rich who governed through it put the final nail on the coffin of the native victims of invasion, occupation and colonization. Lands stolen from them became public land, and victims remain squatters in their own country.

Why? Because forgive and forget na lang. Because wrongdoing was not punished and its rectification never considered. Because forgive and forget na lang, never mind the harm done, never mind the poor victims.

Today, there is talk about charter change. You would think that the richer, more powerful and learned in the country would finally correct a historical anomaly. But no, they are not thinking of returning land to the victims of that horrible land grab, they are thinking of making that land available to foreigners once more.

Forgive and forget na lang ba? No wonder China wants to grab our territories, too.  After all, if China gets Scarborough, if China gets the Spratlys and whatever else, using force as others had done before, forgive and forget is the worst that can happen.

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