Calls to 'punish Manila' smack of revenge, not justice

Jim Rice says cynical politicians are inciting hatred over hostage tragedy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 November, 2013, 6:37pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 November, 2013, 9:10pm

While it is heartening to see the rest of the world responding positively to the latest natural disaster to affect the people of the Philippines, here in Hong Kong, key pan-democratic politicians as well as the administration itself have reached for new moral lows.

Masquerading under "democratic principles", lawmakers have been engaged in a myopic and obsessive bid to extract an apology from the Philippines more than three years after a lone gunman killed eight Hong Kong tourists following a botched rescue attempt in Manila.

To these individuals, I would only ask: have you no human decency at all?

While they employ the language of justice, we should look more closely at their real motives, while considering the distinction between justice and revenge.

The families of the victims and survivors of the tragedy are seeking compensation and a "sincere" apology from the president of the Philippines, among other things. This has come to a head following lawmakers' inflammatory statements, inciting hatred against one of the two largest ethnic minority groups in Hong Kong, while threatening punitive measures against Filipinos here, lifting the visa-free status for Philippine tourists and imposing unilateral economic sanctions.

All this is being done at a time when Filipinos are struggling to cope with a severe natural disaster. To these individuals, I would only ask: have you no human decency at all?

Regrettably, it would seem that appeals to hatred and demonising the "other" are an effective political strategy in Hong Kong.

Let's look beyond the rhetoric. First, the Philippine administration has already expressed its condolences and regret over the incident. Second, there has been an official inquiry and report made to the Philippine justice secretary.

Third, the criminal actions perpetrated by a rogue individual cannot be imputed to the government (not to mention the people). Fourth, the resolution of any such dispute should be on a state-to-state basis, between Manila and Beijing. Fifth, at this point it is clear that control of the issue seems to be in the hands of the victims and their families, led by the populist legislators (and not the Hong Kong government per se). It would be pointless for the Philippines to try to appease such a group.

None of the main players - legislator James To Kun-sun, Albert Chan Wai-yip, Regina Ip Lau-Suk-yee, et al - actually represents the state. Rather, this is merely a collection of individuals who, as part of their dual agenda of scoring points against the Leung government and appealing to popular racist sentiments, are directing their crusade against the president and the people of the Philippines and even Philippine nationals living here. They do not represent or act in the name of Hong Kong, let alone China.

Furthermore, it would appear that the manner in which the chief executive expects the issue to be resolved will depend not on a definitive legal standard, but on the condition of the victims and families being emotionally satisfied.

The political personalities involved are not engaged in a process of seeking justice, but rather, are bent on extracting revenge. Revenge is based on arbitrariness; on personal sentiment and extra legal steps to redress perceived wrongs. Justice, by contrast, is based on settled law and principle.

Also, the victims seek a "suitable punishment" for all those they deem responsible. This is not realistic, but, rather, an attempt to humiliate the political independence of a sovereign state.

The actions by the pan-democrats have cost them many of their best friends. But, far worse, by using race and ethnicity as a means of gaining popular support, they have lost their moral standing in the community.

Jim Rice is assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy, Lingnan University