Our man in Manila

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HARRY, THE new US Ambassador to the Philippines, and the first African American to hold that post in this country, is surnamed Thomas, as in USS Thomas, the US Army transport ship that arrived in Manila on August 21, 1901, about a month after it sailed from San Francisco. The ship was carrying some 500 teachers from the United States — the first batch of about a thousand tasked with teaching “natives” the English language and establishing the beginnings of the public school system.

As everyone should know who has gone through that system, or even the private one that co-exists with it, from the ship’s name came the American teachers’ label as “Thomasites” and not from that of St. Thomas Aquinas. After all, the US policy of encouraging in its newly acquired (through conquest and at the cost of about a million “native” lives) colony the use of the English language and the creation of a public school system was meant, among others, to undermine the obscurantist system of which the University of Santo Tomas was such a sterling representative. In that system, learning was by rote and infused with Church dogma, the Spanish clergy, despite its antipathy to the “natives,” being the teachers. Thus did Rizal’s Noli me Tangere devote one chapter (The Class in Physics) to exposing how racist, stupid, and anti-learning the system was.

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Aquino against impunity

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THE incoming government of Benigno Aquino III is being greeted with a level of optimism that includes the hope that it will seriously address Philippine poverty by, among other policy options, putting in place an authentic land reform program to abolish the archaic land tenancy system. But its coming to power in the wake of the disastrous watch of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo also presents it with the opportunity to address, mitigate, and possibly end the culture of impunity.

“Impunity” refers to the exemption from punishment of the killers of journalists and media workers, human rights and political activists, lawyers, even local officials and judges. A weak justice system is often blamed for impunity. At the community level that weakness is manifest in the collusion between hired killers, local officials, and police and military officers, or even in the killers themselves’ being police and military personnel, or assassins in the pay of local officials.

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…And now, the hard part

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PRESIDENT-elect Benigno Aquino III ran his campaign on the slogan “None Poor Without Corruption” ( Walang Mahirap Kung Walang Corrupt). His platform of governance not only emphasizes the same theme. The same platform also links corruption to mass despair, apathy and cynicism.

That document (http://www.malayanghalalan.com) declares that “We have lost trust in the democratic institutions we so courageously re-established after the dictatorship. Our proven capacity for collective outrage and righteous resistance has been weakened. We have ceased to depend on the patriotism and civic engagement that used to animate many of our efforts.

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Clueless

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ALTHOUGH he went out of his way to deny it, acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra would not have reversed himself without the media and public outrage provoked by his April 16 resolution.

That resolution found no probable cause for the inclusion of two members of the Ampatuan clan in the multiple murder charges arising from the November 23, 2009 Maguindanao Massacre in which 57 men and women including 32 journalists and media workers were killed.

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