Sunday, 29 August 2010

夏商有鑒當深戒

據新聞報道,約八萬名香港市民參加了今天的遊行,悼念上星期一在馬尼拉遇害的香港遊客。我也參加了。

在維多利亞公園等了一小時,才可以離開公園,正式開始遊行。今天颱風逼近,天氣十分悶熱,猶幸沒有中暑。約一小時便行畢全程,在中環遮打花園繫上黃絲帶,然後回家。

這是我平生第一次參加遊行。

因為痛心、因為在意、因為意難平,所以參加。

痛心,因為一家老少開開心心放暑假去旅行,突然變成了孤兒寡婦。在意,因為他們是香港人,是他也是你和我。意難平,因為他們本來可能有機會逃出生天,卻被拙劣、愚笨、無能的菲律賓警察連累,落得家破人亡,死不瞑目。至於事後總統和政府高層那些不負責任、冷漠無情的諉過之言,已經不用計較了。

當大多數人為菲律賓當局營救失當而憤慨不已,也有少許憤青把矛頭指向在香港打工的菲籍傭工。至今已有兩宗無故辭退傭工的個案,另有一人在巴士上被人吐口水洩憤。

我最鄙視那些歧視、虐待弱者的懦夫。他們的行為未必犯法,本質上卻與脅持人質的槍手何異?要討回公道,就找元兇首惡去;拿無辜的老弱婦孺出氣,算哪門子的英雄好漢?

更何況,數十萬菲籍傭工離鄉背井,做的大都是粗活,掙取不算豐厚的薪水養家活口,竟成為菲律賓最重要的外匯收入來源。這個國家到底有多糟糕,可以想見。可嘆的是,菲律賓近年經濟其實不錯,每年國內生產總值的增幅尚算可觀,但仍有三分之一的人口活在貧窮線下。大家不禁要問:錢到哪裡去了?為甚麼政府連警察的薪水也付不出?為甚麼那麼多人仍然貧困?

我不熟悉菲律賓的情況,但據新聞報道,幾乎可以肯定貪污腐敗是其中一個造成各種社會問題的主要原因。據稱傭工在國外幹粗活,收入比大學教授還要高。如果這個說法屬實,菲律賓人之拮据,可見一斑。要是貪污猖獗至此,就不難明白為甚麼負責拯救人質的警察裝備如此缺乏、訓練如此拙劣,救援人員如此畏首畏尾、貪生怕死。

老實說,要求一個被貪腐侵蝕的政府徹查真相,追究責任,本來就是緣木求魚。貪腐的本質是甚麼?就是貪婪,就是利益凌駕於法律和公義,就是為了利益,不惜枉法求全,保護或撈取更多利益。

所以貪腐橫行,就沒有責任和公義。因此,反腐倡廉不是虛無縹緲的道德高地,而是關乎人類福祉的基本問題。反腐倡廉,在於克制人性的貪欲,弘揚人性中善良、惻隱、急公好義的本質。歸根究柢,還是需要從教育著手,但體制上的監察和制衡措施也不可缺少。因為無論教育有多完善,總會有一些無法抑制貪欲或抵抗引誘的人。體制上的監察和制衡措施,就是給這些意志力薄弱的人加設一道防護網,時刻提醒他們犯錯的後果。

菲律賓看似遙遠和落後,但貪腐問題在哪裡的本質都是一樣的。當我們痛斥菲律賓政府和警察的無能,有沒有想過箇中的原因?貪腐真的只是他們國家的問題嗎?我們真的可以肯定,貪腐不會在香港死灰復燃嗎?我們真的有能力長期控制自己的貪欲嗎?

更應該問的是:為甚麼當地的民主政治體制,不能遏止社會各階層的貪污腐敗?是體制不夠完善?還是別有隱情?

記得香港有些人把一切社會問題歸咎於香港畸型的政治體制,認為只要一人一票選舉立法會和行政長官,問題就會迎刃而解。看到菲律賓多年來也無法解決的貪腐問題,在民主體制下繼續滋長,不禁要問:那些人是否太天真、太迷信了?

趙太太說得好:「夏商有鑒當深戒,簡策汗青今具在。」八月二十三日在馬尼拉發生的悲劇,除了讓我們感悟生命的脆弱、公義的可貴,更應該警惕我們反腐倡廉的重要。

Thursday, 26 August 2010

What a Nation

Three days have passed since the bloodbath of the Hong Kong tourists taken hostage in the Philippines by a former police officer demanding reinstatement. All victims and most of the injured were brought back to Hong Kong last night. Before seven o'clock tonight Jason Leung, the 18-year-old son of Mrs Leung, who lost her husband and two daughters in the horror, returned to Hong Kong and was immediately hospitalised for further treatment. He has been accompanied by his heart-broken mother all along.

May God have mercy on the young man and his mother, as well as all those who have been affected by this tragedy. Get well soon, Jason! Millions of fellow citizens are praying for you and looking forward to seeing you walking out of the hospital with your mother.

When people continue to criticise the Philippine government of the appalling rescue operations, some legislators have jumped on the bandwagon demanding the Hong Kong government to put pressure on the Philippines to conduct a fair and thorough investigation into the case. Of course we all want the full details of the case and justice for the victims, but we must not forget that Hong Kong is only a Chinese enclave that has no diplomatic rights. Demanding a role in the Philippine government's investigation can be seen as an intervention into its sovereignty and is doomed to be rejected. International laws and relations are not at our discretion. We have to respect rules of the game even when we are in despair and dismay. The reality is not going to change for our sake but we can sort out ways to work around when times may not always be on our side.

Opening the coroner's court is certainly one of the few things we can do. As Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee has told the Legislative Council today, a magistrate of the coroner's court has demanded an autopsy of all the victims. The findings thereof should be able to answer some of the key questions many of us have in mind.

Attacks on the Filipino nation were renewed when pictures of Filipino police officers and students smiling cheerfully and taking photos in front of the tourist coach, as well as opening the coffins for reporters to take pictures of the victims inside, were widely circulated. No doubt these would only add fuel to the boiling anger of Hong Kong people. Some radical remarks about the nation are, therefore, by no means surprising.

To me, it all reinforces the fact that ignorance and naivety is really hard to forgive at times. Having dealt with Filipinos at work on a number of occasions, I strongly believe that none of those people in the pictures meant to be rude and disrespectful. They probably just DO NOT KNOW what they did was offensive to someone else. They were just trying to take a picture in front of something big and striking that will go into history. They were just trying to help the reporters do their job. What they did probably happen in the Philippines from time to time, but for outsiders like us, those behaviours were simply disgusting and outrageous.

The more I read about the tragedy, the more I wonder what kind of a nation the Philippines is. From the identity and demands of the hostage taker to the poorly coordinated rescue operations and the response of the Philippine government after the bloodshed, too many have been told about the problems the nation has been facing.

It is not the first time for someone with grievances in the Philippines to take hostage to attract attention from the media and the authorities. In this incident, both the hostage taker and his family said he had no choice but to make himself heard in such a manner. If what they said were true, what kind of a nation it is when the authorities are not trusted and law and order being neglected at all? How many more human lives will have to be put at stake and sacrificed before the problems would be addressed?

Corruption is notoriously rampant in the country, but only in this incident did we know that the police are not even properly paid. Some reports said this is why the police have to exert bribes to make their ends meet. Insufficient equipment and poor training can only be the next consequences of financial problems in the government. But where has the money gone when the local economy saw an unexpected boom of 7.3% in the first quarter of 2010? Not to forget that the Philippines is the fourth largest economy in Southeast Asia and has seen remarkable GDP growth at least since 2006.

For those who are not sophisticated enough to realise that taking pictures cheerfully in front of the wreck of the coach and opened coffins are extremely improper and offensive, I wonder what kind of education is in place. Living in harsh conditions certainly needs extraordinary optimism, but it does not justify any neglect of sense and sensitivity.

What a nation it is for the genuinely kind and joyful people to keep smiling at the long-lasting hardship and poverty? What a nation it is for those people to endure corruption and incompetence for so many years and yet the eradication of the deep-rooted problems still remains invisible? What a nation it is to have so many contradictions in human nature and social development for so many years?

Let me be absolutely clear: I do not have any answer to these questions and the manner they were raised above does not imply any presupposition. Perhaps there is some truth in an open letter by a Filipino teenager that his country "is now in a sea of problems" to which a strong address is urgently required.

Monday, 23 August 2010

What a Black Day

At least seven Hong Kong tourists who were held hostage on a coach in Manila today died in the horrible bloodshed that drew the curtains of the 11-hour drama. Two others were seriously injured and are still struggling to survive. Some seniors and children were released earlier the day, however.

Tonight there were heavy downpours in Hong Kong as if God were weeping.

May God have mercy on the victims and their families.

May I ask the media to respect the victims and their families at such a hard time and stop harassing them for stories? Notwithstanding the low chance of disgusting pictures on the front pages, I would like to call on newspaper editors to think twice before they decide which photos to be published.

May I also ask those who criticise how incompetent the Filipino police had been to stop talking and pointing fingers? What really matters is the well-being of the victims and their families. They need help and prayers and we should spare no time to give a hand.

It had been a sad day for all of us. But it is by no means any excuse for more abuse.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

The Tyranny of Public Opinion

Since coming home, I have been confronted with an overload of news, which is more alarming and worrisome than ever. Notwithstanding the potential uproar, it is hard to resist the temptation of highlighting the signs of an emerging tyranny of public opinion.

The public uproar against the court case of Amina Mariam Bokhary is a vivid example of this worrisome trend. As many of us take pride in the judiciary independence in Hong Kong, more of us seem to have taken it for granted and thus, don't even know what it truly means. By definition, judiciary independence means the court should be insulated not only from the executive and legislative powers of the government but also from the improper influence of private and partisan interests. Understandably the public uproar against the verdict of Ms Bokhary, who has committed the same offence for the third time, stems from suspicions of bias and inclination towards the rich and powerful. But the key question is: how certain are we that our self-proclaimed justice is based on ration and impartial judgement rather than a brewing (or boiling in fact) hostility towards the rich and powerful?

Law is a profession that undertakes rigorous training and highest possible integrity, which forms the base of its credibility and public trust as a self-governed profession. Since most of us have not been trained in law schools, we trust that properly trained and qualified lawyers and judges would carry out their duties in a strictly defined professional manner. We do not necessarily have the knowledge or capability to verify so we have to believe in the professionals' goodwill and professionalism.

What we can see from Ms Bokhary's case, however, is the lack of trust in the professionalism and independence of the magistrate. When the verdict does not meet public expectation, a blast of opinions in the media and on the internet is hardly surprising. But we can't jump to the conclusion (which is not much than a contagious speculation) that the magistrate is biased towards the well-established elite families and therefore the verdict has to be overthrown. Such a public view should have been confined to the press, blogs, Facebook and other forms of interpersonal exchanges. But it was incited, magnified and "formalised" into a political interference into the judiciary independence, which, following a political decision by Secretary for Justice, eventually led to a judicial review of the case.

Notwithstanding the outcome of the judicial review, the emerging trend that public opinion prevails is truly alarming and intriguing. Public opinion is often emotional, impulsive and irresponsible. It can be easily distorted, manipulated and exploited. How can we ensure the so-called public opinion is more impartial, fair and rational than a verdict by rigorously trained professionals?

The root cause of this unfortunate distrust and scepticism of professionals, in my opinion, stems from the suffocating frustrations that began accumulating since the financial crisis in 1998. The incompetence of the post-1997 administrations in maintaining a respectable standard of living for the local people only proves to fuel the resentment. Looking at economic indices such as Gini coefficient, purchasing power parity and the proportion of low-income families, one does not need a doctoral degree in economics to realise the dwindling standard of living in Hong Kong. When everyone's livelihood is at stake and no effective solution has been visible, it is hardly surprising to see anger and frustrations being transformed into hostility towards the better-off. Yet not many of us seem to remember that this is an extremely dangerous ground that had groomed absolutism and Nazism.

This is why I think the distrust and scepticism of the professionals is alarming. If we allow it to spread further and internalise, are we ready for the consequence, the demise of judiciary independence? Does it mean we will overtake the court and judge by public opinion? If so, how do we ensure it is a consensus of seven million residents in the city? Are we ready to have a vote or referendum on every single court case?

Where freedom of speech rather than rationality and sense seems to be hailed and worshipped like almighty gods in any religion, I can't help wondering how capable its people are in finding the right way in the labyrinth of our arbitrariness, complacence and prejudice.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

So Sick

Hard to believe this blog hasn't been updated for almost two months. Even harder to believe what happened over the past two months now seem a century old.

In the second week of June I embarked on a longed trip to China, trying to trace the footsteps of my favourite writer who lived nearly a millennium ago. Having witnessed how much China has transformed over the past two decades on various occasions, I didn't really have much expectation about the trip. To tell the truth, I was more anxious than excited, praying for little disappointment when I was on my own.

The trip was completed pretty much as planned, although disappointments are inevitable. Having been on the road all these years it seems more and more difficult to get excited in a trip: not for the unpleasant being seen and experienced, but the absence of nice, heart-warming surprises.

The worse was yet to come, however. Just days after returning home, I was plunged into an abyss of confusion and nonsense. How disgusting it was to see the glory-hungry politicians and opportunists feed themselves by sucking the blood of their prey. How frustrating it was to see high respect and great reputation evaporated almost overnight as a result of not only external exposure but internal decay. Worse still, how irritating it was to see so many companies with serious problems still survive in the market as if poor management is the common practice rather than an unwelcome exception.

By pulling myself into this so-called crisis the balanced pace of life was ruthlessly disrupted. The energy and good spirits built up during the month-long trip was drained away within days. The brain had no more room for Korean study and my grades this term have been unforgiveable. It has been quite some time since I crept out of the swirl but the physical and mental recovery is still half the way.

How much I regret my giving in and endurance of such sheer exploitation. How much I hate myself when it felt so difficult to say the two-letter word earlier.

Only the scent of books in the library and the colourful campus under the bright sky and glittering sunbeam could provide some meaningful consolation.