Sunday, January 02, 2011

Rule of Flaw

Further to my post about the absentees from the recent Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony, it later emerged that the Philippines was also among those countries refusing their invitations to attend - one of only three democracies to do so (the others being Colombia and Ukraine).

It is hardly necessary to comment on the irony of this decision coming from the son of a father who was murdered for opposing the Marcos dictatorship and a mother who led the successful People Power revolt to overthrow it and restore democracy - for which she herself was nominated for the Peace Prize. But why was this decision made?

Reports suggest several reasons: close trading ties with China; a desire to buy Chinese weaponry; a desire not to be sen as caving in to American pressure (always a sensitive issue in this former US colony); and a wish not to further offend China when the Manila bus siege has already left scars on the relationship. After the Philippines government initially suggested that its Ambassador in Oslo had a "scheduling conflict" (as if they couldn't send a substitute), Philippine President Benigno Aquino Jr. did eventually come up with a more noble reason (though qqually implausible, suggests one commentator) - the decision was, he explained, intended not to prejudice the fate of five Filipino citizens on death row in China by angering the Beijing government.

It is not yet clear whether this will lead to any leniency deal for the five, but neither Aquino nor the Beijing authorities, who publicly welcomed the decision, appear to have noticed the deeper irony at work here. The Philippines' decision makes it clear that they believe political relationships, rather than judicial decisions, will determine the fate of the convicted Filipinos. In other words, they are agreeing with Liu Xiaobo's argument that China lacks judicial independence and the rule of law. So by supporting the Chinese government in its objections to Liu receiving the Prize, they have unwittingly reinforced Liu's case against that same government.

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