(Fr. Shay's columns are published in The Manila Times,
in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)
The social and religious activists that hungered and thirsted for justice for so long and courageously endured torture and survived assassination now rejoice in the democratic victory with the swearing in of their honestly elected president. The former television newscaster and journalist was chosen by the leftist party to be its forerunner for the top post after years of armed insurgency and political struggle. The nation dominated by a traditional elite of corrupt politicians found the ideal candidate in this charismatic champion of the poor and the oppressed.
They had opposed the injustice and oppression of the US-backed dictatorship and the oligarchy of the rich that had succeeded it. They mobilized the people and democratically brought about a historical political change to this nation of impoverished people.
This scenario could be the wishful dream of every freedom-loving Filipino considering that the Philippine vice-president is a former television broadcaster and journalist and is now a presidential candidate that is compassionate but moderate centrist figure.
But in reality, I am describing the stunning election of Carlos Mauricio Funes Cartagena of El Salvador who was inaugurated last 1st June before dozens of presidents, prime ministers and the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As the candidate of the leftist party FLMN, former guerrilla fighters, he replaces 20 years of conservative government and dedicated his administration and himself to work for the “poor and the oppressed” and for closer ties with the United States being an admirer of Barack Obama.
The inauguration came also close to the anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador by right-wing death squads almost 20 years ago. The new president saw his election as a fulfillment of the hopes of the courageous Archbishop. He was a conservative priest caring for the spiritual needs of his flock in the capital San Salvador, without any interest in the social and political oppression that cause so much human poverty and suffering. He was looking but did not see. He was made archbishop and had a radical change when his close friend, a Jesuit priest, was brutally assassinated for opposing injustice. The archbishop said his eyes were opened and justice became his mission.
He appealed to the Government and the United States to stop the vicious oppression and military attacks on villages and innocents. In his famous challenge to the military he said: “We are your people. The peasants you kill are your own brothers and sisters. In the name of God, in the name of our tormented people whose cries rise up to heaven, I beseech you, I beg you, I command you, stop the repression.” He died in a hail of assassin’s bullets as he elevated the consecrated chalice during the celebration of the Eucharist a few days later.
It all began when a group of rich landowners staged a coup with military and US backing in 1980 and the killing began, as many as 10,000 dissidents in the first year, among them priests, religious and social activists working for justice. When I was there that year as a journalist, I was advised to leave as journalists were prime assassination targets. What followed was 70,000 deaths and 2 million in exile and it’s all for nothing. The US had a change of heart after spending $6 billion to keep the elite in power and to “draw the line” on the spread of Communism in Latin America as Reagan said. “The US realized that an all-out-war would never win and that reconciliation and peace was the only future.
The elite and the army were as corrupt as ever and the rebels were open to accept a just UN-brokered deal that reduced the army, reformed the judiciary, and implemented genuine land reform, guaranteed civil rights and amnesty for the rebels. Elections would be UN-supervised but despite that, the ruling elite cheated and held onto power. Few of the promised reforms were implemented. But the former rebels still worked democratically. It took 17 years from 1992 until June 2009 and the final democratic ascendancy of the former guerrilla freedom fighters.
Perhaps a similar process will work for the Philippines but it would have to stop corruption and cheating and powerful international pressure would be needed to make it work. END
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