The world is watching

The attacks on the nation’s image have come one after the other.

The first came from the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) which certifies the eligibility of graduates of foreign nursing schools for work in the United States.  The commission had made it known they would deny Visa Screen Certification to passers who fail to retake and pass the leaked portions of the June 2006 Nursing Licensure Examination.

The second came in the form of the almost simultaneous visits of the United Nations Human Rights Commission’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Philip Alston, and the European Commission’s Director General for External Relations, Eneko Landaburu.  Both expressed the deep concern of their respective organizations over the unsolved murders of hundreds of Filipino activists and journalists in the last five years.

The third is the hearing being conducted by the US Senate foreign relations subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs on the implications of these killings.  The Chair of this subcommittee, California Sen. Barbara Boxer, has upbraided the Arroyo administration for failing to take “sufficient action to address unsolved killings and bring those responsible to justice.”

The fourth is the release by the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (Perc) of their findings on perceptions of corruption in the Asian region.  In the latest Perc report, which synthesized the responses of almost 1500 expatriate business executives, the Philippines was adjudged the “most corrupt” in a list of 13 countries in Asia.

These unsolicited warnings are telling the Philippine government to shape up if it is to continue enjoying the respect and support of the outside world.  How have we responded?

A Philippine delegation led by Rep. Monico Puentevella and the Chairperson Leonor Rosero of the Professional Regulation Commission, went to the US to appeal the CGFNS’s decision.  They were, of course, rebuffed.  “The key question was not what Philippine authorities did, but what US authorities would have done in similar circumstances,” said the CGFNS.

On the visit of the UN human rights envoy, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile said that foreigners should not come and lecture us on human rights if they have no experience on fighting insurgencies in their own countries.  Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, for his part, rudely dismissed the importance of Alston’s visit, calling the man a mere messenger of the UN.  Armed Forces officials accused the UN representative of being biased in favor of the leftist groups. More recently, Sec. Gonzalez called the US Senate hearing an affront to Philippine sovereignty.

Malacanang did not quite know how to react to the Perc corruption report.  Ms. Arroyo was in a state of denial.  She said in an interview: “Our credit ratings are fine.  The political analysis, they (Perc) work on old data.  They don‘t work on up-to-date data.”  This line was uncritically echoed by one of her most loyal defenders, former Cabinet member Michael Defensor.  Corruption is an “inherited” problem, he said, adding that the Perc perceptions were based on the unfinished plunder case against former president Joseph Estrada. Another official lamely said the survey measured perceptions of corruption, not corruption itself.

These interventions are reminders that nations are no longer the selfenclosed systems they imagine themselves to be.  The more they deal with the outside world, the more they will be measured by the standards of modern societies.  Our government, the most globalized in this part of the world, should know that more than anyone else. We cannot expect other countries to blindly receive the workers we send out to the world without minimum guarantees of the qualifications they are supposed to have.  Neither can we expect foreign investors to come and invest in our country if, in their opinion, doing business here means having to pay off corrupt officials at every turn.

More important, no government today can preside over the senseless murder of its own citizens and hope to escape accountability before the world community.  Especially if such a government professes to be a democracy.  Indeed, less and less are governments able to invoke national sovereignty to defend themselves against international criticism.  Every society today, with the exception of a few hermit nations, finds itself participating in a modern global discourse on justice and fairness that allows little room for excuses based on claims to uniqueness.

It is not to say that powerful nations like the United States will not try to shape this discourse, or to use it to browbeat smaller countries. But, even as they do, the usefulness of the modern values being promoted is undiminished.  In many societies where citizens are at the mercy of callous dictatorships, the modern global community that actively defends these values often functions as the only shield against barbarity.  Even the Burmese military junta knows it has to recognize limits to its brutality if it is to avoid total isolation.

It is significant that Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo, who has been arrested on murder charges which bear all the marks of judicial arbitrariness, has recorded his appeal for justice on a cell phone and uploaded the short video clip on YouTube.  The use of this medium and this popular Internet site underscores the global character of what is at stake here.  The world is watching us, warning us, and the Arroyo regime is running out of excuses.


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