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.

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