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Susan Ople: Confucius says …

Susan “Toots” Ople is the youngest daughter of the late Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas F. Ople. She has a Sunday column in Manila Bulletin’s Panorama Magazine and Tempo and two public service radio programs, “Bantay OFW” at DZXL RMN 558 every Monday to Friday, 12.30-2 pm and “Global Pinoy” at DWIZ 882 every Saturday from 5.30-6.30 pm.

Confucius says, “When anger rises, think of the consequences.”
by Susan Ople
First posted in susanople.com

Filipinos around the world sympathize with the family of Hung Shih-cheng, a 65-year old Taiwanese fisherman killed in the high seas when officers of the Philippine Coast Guard aboard a maritime patrol ship fired at the fishing vessel where the old man was.

Whatever the outcome of the formal investigation, a man’s life perished, and his family led by widow Hung Chen A-lun cry out for justice.

I recall the passionate portrayal of Ms Nora Aunor in that movie where her younger brother was shot to death by an American soldier while rummaging through a heap of garbage. The soldier said he thought the boy was a wild boar. That was cinema. This is real. Raw emotions stoked by Taiwanese media’s relentless reportage have affected 87,000 innocent Filipino workers in Taiwan.These Filipinos who have yet to see the innards of our maritime coast guard fleet, now squirm with discomfort, if not fear, while earning their keep.President Benigno Simeon Aquino III (PNoy to us Filipinos) has sent a personal letter conveying his apology over what happened. But Taiwan wanted more. The four demands from Taiwan were for a formal apology, the speeding up of the investigation into Hung Shih-cheng’s death, punishment of the perpetrators, the payment of compensation to the fisherman’s family and talks over fishing rights in the disputed area.

Perished at sea, Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-cheng, 65 years old; photo courtesy of theage.com.au

None of these demands, even when complied with, could bring the fisherman back to life. In the Philippines, injustice is our middle name. Think of the Maguindanao massacre. Think of Doc Gerry Ortega. Think of Jonas Burgos.We know how it is for a family to want closure, and justice, and ultimately, inner peace.

So, we understand the demands, but unfortunately, cannot meet all of them. The president’s apology cannot be conveyed through the Department of Foreign Affairs. The Philippines adheres to a one-China policy. We have been doing so since 1975. The death of the Taiwanese fisherman is sad and tragic. However, it cannot be an occasion to set historic, geopolitical precedents.

Does that make our President’s apology insincere? Certainly not. He extended the apology even before a formal investigation into the shooting incident began. Logically, a head of state would await the conclusion of a formal investigation before issuing a statement or acting on a request from an aggrieved party. That apology was made in behalf of the Filipino people, including those who work in Taiwan’s factories and who have been caring for their elderly.

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou was quoted by news media as having said, “We will continue negotiating the issue with the Philippines and I hope everyone can calmly and peacefully resolve the issue to avoid hurting bilateral ties.”

Yesterday, a Taiwanese gang beat up a 30-year old Filipino worker and stormed a dormitory where Filipinos stayed. To its credit, the Taiwanese police immediately launched an investigation leading to the arrest of two of the six gangsters. According to MECO POLO, the six gangsters have met with the victim and apologized to him in front of the prosecutor handling this case. A settlement that included payment of medical bills, among others, was reached.

Still, given this incident and some other acts of harassment and discrimination, shouldn’t we now doubt and question the motives behind statements issued by Taiwan’s leadership?

I don’t think so. And here’s why.

First of all, their president is a politician. He has a role to play as father of Taiwan. The demands and deadlines that he issued were not made to make us Filipinos feel terrible; rather he uttered those words and demands to make his people less sad, less hurt, and yes, less angry.

Second, a vast majority of Taiwanese employers continue to care for our workers, instructing them to stay put to avoid physical or verbal confrontations. None of our workers have had their contracts cut short. Taiwan has deferred hiring more Filipinos, which is just as well since now is not really a good time to go there.

The ties between many of our workers and their employers run deep, spanning years of mutual respect and friendship. Political acoustics and complex geopolitical considerations should not get in the way of such relationships.

A factory worker earns on average, a monthly salary equivalent to Php 28,000 without overtime pay – something that he or she could never hope to earn in the Middle East or elsewhere in the Philippines. Our OFWs in Taiwan enjoy 3-year contracts and can work there for a maximum of 12 years. A Filipino caregiver earns around Php22,000 a month. Not bad for someone without a college degree.

I know of a caregiver in Taiwan whose annual vacations are paid for by her elderly employer, complete with “pasalubongs” bought for by her boss to make the worker’s family happy. We have a lot of success stories among OFWs in Taiwan. Some say that our OFWs should just come home. To what? That they are still there signifies mutual appreciation – they are workers, gainfully employed and peacefully contributing their share to two economies.

Filipino workers in Taiwan. Photo courtesy of pinoy-ofw.com

We turn to the Luneta hostage-taking incident for cues on how to resolve this impasse. At its height, our OFWs in Hong Kong experienced dirty stares, indignant and arrogant market vendors, and harsh words directed at PNoy. Today, the wounds are not as evident, and our OFWs continue to work there in peace.

Our overseas workers are the best goodwill ambassadors this country can ever have, in any crisis. They instinctively know what to say, how to act, where to go. They are non-combatants and active participants in building economies including our own.Though often scared and anxious, these workers possess inner strength and moral courage that defy description.

Confucius also says, “Recompense injury with justice, and recompense kindness with kindness.”

Should we bash Taiwan for the handiwork of juvenile thugs, insensitive market vendors, and a political leadership out to assert the rights of an aggrieved family?

If we do, then our words are no different from baseball bats wielded by hostile Taiwanese gangsters.

Are we surrendering our sovereignty by wanting to de-escalate tensions between Taiwan and the Philippines? No. We are preserving friendships, built over time, while fully aware of our own strategic interests. Our OFWs in Taiwan, both land-based and sea-based, remitted US$13.4-M for the month of February 2013 alone. Last year, total remittances sent home by OFWs in Taiwan reached US$167.9 million.Taiwan is also fifth in terms of tourist arrivals in the Philippines.

Hey, but they need our workers and tourists, too. As I’ve said, the relationship has and always will be mutually beneficial.

What now? We need to support the President in his effort to calm the waters.The burden is now on the shoulders of the National Bureau of Investigation to uncover the truth about the shooting incident. It is heartening and encouraging to see the full cooperation extended by the Bureau of Fishing and Aquatic Resources and the Philippine Coast Guard to the ongoing probe. These institutions are known for valiantly protecting our fishing and maritime rights. They deserve to be heard.

In time and with God’s grace, the people and leadership of Taiwan as well as the Philippines will get past the pain and start looking more intently at the ties that bind.

Confucius says, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”

Revenge is not the healer of wounds, no matter how bold, popular and proud he appears to be at this moment.

Time does, and so do truth and justice.