Saturday, December 30, 2006

Consummatum est (or Ladies and gentlemen, we hanged him!)

It is quite impossible to write anything today that wouldn’t at least touch the subject of Saddam Hussein’s execution which took place in Baghdad earlier today.

Therefore, without wanting to go deeper into a discussion over the justifiability of capital punishment as such (neither the Czech Republic nor the Philippines support it, for that matter), I will say this: I don’t think there will ever be a regime in Iraq that will designate November 30th as “The Day of Saddam Hussein’s Martyrdom”. At least I hope not.

The fact that Saddam was hanged in a building his secret police once used for executions, speaks for itself. What goes around comes around. Well, now that I got it off my chest, I can proceed to the other execution that I originally wanted to write about, the one which happened also on this day - but 110 years ago - and there are no prizes for guessing which one that might be.

To call Jose Rizal’s execution "martyrdom" is, of course, justified in every sense of that word and it makes perfect sense to commemorate it year after year. Besides, it is not just on November 30th that people - including visiting foreign dignitaries - go visit the hero’s monument in Luneta.

I will never forget the strange sense of satisfaction I felt while watching the new Vatican’s ambassador to Manila bow down in front of the monument (as the protocol demands, of course). I sincerely hope there is a way for Jose Rizal and for Ferdinand Blumentritt (wherever their souls may roam) to know that these ceremonies regularly take place today.

The dramatic circumstances of Rizal’s heroic end obviously left mark in the correspondence between JR an FB. The last letter of their more or less regular mail exchange has been given number 211 by the editors of the National Historical Institute. You can find it on the page 539 of the second volume of the two-part Rizal-Blumenritt Correspondence published in the year 1961 by the NHI and reprinted in 1992. It is obviously very short and very dramatic:

My dear brother,

When you receive this letter, I shall be dead by then. Tomorrow at seven, I shall be shot; but I am innocent of the crime of rebellion.

I am going to die with tranquil conscience.

Adieu, my best, my dearest friend, and never think ill of me!

Jose Rizal

Fort Santiago, 29 December 1896

There are certain things we gain and also some things we lose with modern technologies. I don’t want to sound ridiculous but I think it is a pity that in the age of e-mail communication it is virtually impossible to get a message from someone already departed. Oh, that romantic era of fin-de-si├Ęcle!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

F.B. - The First Blogger

If Ferdinand Blumentritt was alive today, he would be a blogger.

In fact, he was already “blogging” some hundred years ago using the traditional modes of communication of his day - writing articles for and exchanging letters with various institutions and people who were, one way or another, involved in then emerging field of Philippine studies.

Thus the high school professor from a little town in a faraway land that is today known as the Czech Republic, became a widely respected figure in the struggle for Philippine independence, without even having to leave his town.

He never set foot on the Philippine soil, yet his death in 1913 was earnestly mourned in Manila by the nation in whose emancipation he invested much of his intellect. Doesn’t that sound like every blogger’s dream?

This blog is taking the liberty of “stepping into Blumentritt’s shoes” with the best intentions of reviving the tradition he established, i.e. observing the continuing struggles of Filipinos from the Central European perspective and taking part in the debates about what are the best paths to be taken by the nation for its own sake.

Making the kingmakers

Much has been said about the benefits of the parliamentary system of government by the proponents of the intended shift towards such system in the Philippines. However, much more has been left out of these debates, especially when it comes to the system’s weaknesses. And one doesn’t have to look only to Italy, known for its notoriously short-lived governments, to prove that it is often virtually impossible to form a viable cabinet after the elections.

It is now more than half a year since I had reluctantly left the Philippines to fulfill my so-called civic duty, i.e. vote in the elections for the new parliament in my own country - the Czech Republic. Had I known what was to come, I probably would have stayed to enjoy a few more splendid sunsets over Manila Bay. The sad truth is – we still do not have a new government in place today which would enjoy the necessary support of the parliamentary majority.

It has to do with the fact that the election produced a maximally divided House of Representatives (the lower chamber of the Czech bicameral parliament) where the parties of the right (Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats and the Greens) and the parties of the left (Social Democrats and Communists) got exactly one hundred seats each. The question whether the Greens are actually right or left has no relevance here since the party’s preferred coalition partners were rightist.

What to do with one hundred votes, then, when you really need at least one more? Sure, you can always try to form a minority (or in this case more precisely, a non-majority) government and hope you get lucky when it comes to the vote of confidence, but no one really likes to go that way.

Therefore, we have seen much bickering and political grandstanding during the somewhat weak-hearted attempts at forming a cabinet in the previous months, but the cruel arithmetic made it quite clear that we might be stuck with the caretaker government without a proper mandate for a long time.

That is, until an all-important political defector was found recently: Mr. Melcak of the previously ruling Social Democratic party had a sudden falling-out with his colleagues and announced he would not be voting with them anymore. The right’s block took it as a sign and revived the once considered and later dropped idea of the three-party coalition with exactly 100 votes.

It remains to be seen whether the unpredictable renegade will actually allow the creation of the new government, but it should be noted this is not for the first time we have seen such an unexpected kingmaker appear.

Nobody is really suggesting that some sort of a bribe necessarily had to play a role in Mr. Melcak’s political rebirth, but one doesn’t have to stretch his imagination too much to foresee where such a setup would lead to in the politically much more opportunistic and much more corrupt Philippines. No offence intended, just a little something to consider in the future debates.