THE LEGAL FRONT
By JUSTICE ART D. BRION (RET.)
Volcanic eruptions are nothing new to Filipinos; we have known all along that Taal would someday erupt, although we had been acting as if no eruption would ever take place.
We still built homes around the volcano to enjoy Taal island’s rich volcanic soil and take advantage of its expanding tourist trade. The richer ones continued to build their 2nd homes in nearby Tagaytay because of the view and the city’s cool climate.
In the meanwhile and in the usual course of nature, the fiery elements inside Taal Volcano – hidden from view – continued and still continue to percolate, fueling mother nature’s pressure vent.
Parallel with the course of natural history, we continue to make our lives more exciting and interesting through interactions that are not always wise, driven as they are, at times, by ambition and pettiness. At the official level, these interactions – wise or unwise – constitute our politics.
Interestingly, in our reactions to nature and the conduct of our politics, we tend to demonstrate a common trait – we do not always learn from the lessons nature and politics teach us.
The residences near Taal volcano confirm this trait. Despite repeated eruptions and contrary advice from the authorities, people still insist on residing on Taal island. Some, of course, will die if the seemingly rested Taal erupts anew.
Our political experiences are no different.
The Spaniards “discovered” and took over several island villages and thereafter declared sovereignty over the whole archipelago. After almost four centuries, the Americans joined the imperial game; fought Spain; and in the process colonized us while we were struggling against Spain. Long thereafter, they recognized our independence, leading to our present republic.
Through all these times, we mostly failed to significantly resist our colonizers, although we excelled all throughout in fighting one another in endless internal battles. Internal politics contributed in no small measure to our failed revolution against Spain.
One epic political battle took place in 1986 after an election that the Americans maneuvered President Marcos into calling. The losing party took advantage of a military mutiny and a Church-inspired demonstration and, with a good measure of American intervention, joined in ousting President Marcos.
It was a power grab, plain and simple, as the losing party openly later declared: victory came through a revolution, not through the election.
America, of course, declared that it had intervened for democracy, and thereafter led in labelling the ouster of its former Philippine ally as the EDSA revolution, a bloodless pro-democracy uprising. We obligingly acquiesced and thus became America’s poster model for regime changes in other countries.
Not all American interventions and sponsored changes, however, produced democratic advantages and greater freedom for the people. In several notable cases, the taint of international power politics and the raw pursuit of strategic objectives only produced dire results for them.
Yet, people everywhere often conveniently gloss over these intrusions and meekly bow to the intervening parties’ dictated interpretation of events. In this manner, the baser (or, many times, weaker) side of human nature and its follies prevail.
In Iraq, for example, Saddam Hussein ruled with an iron hand but nevertheless instituted far-ranging social reforms that benefited his people. His manner of governance, foreign policies, and quest for regional leadership, however, were disturbing to the Western powers. Less obvious (except to keen observers) were the covetous eyes the West cast on Iraq’s substantial oil reserves.
The clashing views and interests, at some point, led to direct confrontation between Saddam and the US, and to accusations – subsequently proven false – that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and had ties with the terrorists Al-Qaeda. These accusations were not without their reason: they served as justifications to the public, American and worldwide, for the invasion of Iraq. Saddam Hussein was eventually captured, tried, and hanged.
The Iraqis, though, did not live happily ever after in democratic heaven. Iraq now suffers from political turmoil; it could even be the focal point of regional unrest, as it is caught in the middle of another brewing conflict, this time between the US and Iran.
These two countries are now in collision course because of their respective quests for leadership in the Middle East and because of Iran’s yearning for an equalizing nuclear bomb. The welfare of the Iraqis is not foremost in anybody’s mind, although cries for democracy still fill the air.
Libya is no different from Iraq in terms of the factors that led to the ouster of Khadafy and the country’s present turmoil. Khadafy assumed office through the military’s ouster of King Idris – the monarch that the Western powers chose to reign after World War II.
Like Iraq, Libya enjoyed massive oil revenues and Khadafy used these for his people; he instituted social reforms with enhanced educational programs and access to transportation, housing, and health care.
However, he also adopted independent internal and foreign policies that eventually led to the deterioration of his relations with the West. In particular, he had links with terrorists fighting the Western powers. He had also been harsh towards those locally opposing him.
In 2011, an innocuous demonstration for a human rights campaigner turned ugly, and led to wider unrest. A confluence of events — the Libyan security forces’ overreaction and UN and Western intervention through air power and supplied arms – converted the conflict into a full-blown civil war. Khadafy, of course, was no match for Western prowess and was ultimately captured and killed by a mob of his own people.
What happened to Libya and the Libyans after Khadafy? His overthrow led to a power vacuum, economic instability, and the collapse of the Libyan social welfare system. The country is in disarray and the people are back to where they had been before Khadafy.
In the Philippines, no major political eruption has recently taken place, but President Duterte – the populist and surprise 2016 election winner – has taken positions opposed to US interests.
His drift has been towards China, an open US rival in Asia. He has not also given the local political opposition any quarters; he has even crossed swords with big business, a battle that only President Marcos dared to fight in the past.
Though low key, the US has signaled its displeasure with the President. Among others, three US senators recently authored resolutions banning the issuance of visas to those involved in the imprisonment of oppositionist Sen. Leila de Lima.
The International Criminal Court has likewise brought criminal charges against President Duterte based on allegations of extrajudicial killings in his war on illegal drugs. Thus, as in the case of Khadafy, the international community has begun flexing its muscles.
We have yet to see what Western moves will follow, but I hope the Filipino people will be wise and discerning in their responses to eruptions, current or future, natural or political. Only we can love and look out for ourselves.