HomeCommentaryPost-Independence Day reflection: 'Where were you?'

Post-Independence Day reflection: ‘Where were you?’

When Nikita Khrushchev succeeded Joseph Stalin as the head of the Soviet Union, he denounced the atrocities committed by his predecessor who tried to eliminate all those who opposed him. Indeed, millions may have died during the purges done during the time of Stalin. (Probably a significant fact in the current stand-off between Russia and Ukraine is that Stalin allowed millions to starve in Ukraine for their opposition to enforced collectivization.) Thus, Khrushchev initiated the process of de-Stalinizing the Soviet Union.

But in one of the speeches of Khruschev denouncing Stalin, somebody from the audience shouted, “But where were you when these atrocities were committed?” It was a sensitive question since Khrushchev was a trusted ally of Stalin and was involved in the purges. The silence that greeted the question was so total that it was deafening. After regaining his composure, Khrushchev asked the person who raised the question to stand up. Nobody dared to stand up. Thus, Khrushchev finally answered, “I was where you are now. I was afraid to stand up.”

It is a fact that Khrushchev denounced Stalin. That someone dared to question Khruschev is more probably anecdotal. But anecdotal or not, it is a good question to ask to our leaders today.

We note that there is an obvious trend to reverse the abuses of the unlamented Duterte regime. Consider the following:

1. Save but one, the cases against former senator Leila de Lima, a vocal critic of the war on drugs, have been dropped. She now enjoys her freedom after she was allowed to post bail in relation to the last case.

2. The Ombudsman has recommended the filing of a graft case against Duterte’s administration’s Health Secretary Francisco Duque and his undersecretary over the illegal transfer of 41 Billion Php from DOH to DBM to procure medical supplies to fight COVID. The Ombudsman said that there was evident bad faith in granting Pharmally Pharmaceuticals, the firm that cornered multimillion contracts despite its measly capital. Pharmally was given unwarranted “benefits, advantage(s) or preference according to the Ombudsman. In an apparent slip of his tongue, Duque has said that the transfer was approved by Duterte.

3. The Committee on Human Rights in the Lower House has started to investigate the extra-judicial killing that happened during the time of Duterte. Personally, I do not think much will come out of this investigation. But the very fact that the investigation is about to take place means that the political winds are changing direction.

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4. The Court of Tax Appeals has cleared former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno in a tax case that would have obligated her to pay 8.85 million. The Court concluded the Formal Letter of Demand and the Final Assessment Notice were void and it castigated then BIR Commissioner Ceasar Dulay who failed “to give due considerations to (Sereno’s) defenses, explanations, and supporting documents.”

5. Many senators and representatives now openly support the stand against China’s territorial claims. One senator, in an obvious attempt to circumvent the law against early campaigning, has a TV commercial where he claims to fight for the Filipino fisherfolks’ right to fish in our waters. But during the Duterte administration, he defended the President’s verbal agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping and asserted that the President has absolute power to craft foreign policy without the Senate’s approval. His current stand is typical balimbing-ish.

Many more examples can be given, including the current criticism against Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator, which proliferated during the time of Duterte.

One does not have to be a genius to explain the pivotal changes. Of course, at least in theory, court cases (in the cases against Leila de Lima and Sereno) are decided independently from the chief executive. But in practice, it is doubtful that the judges could have been brave enough to go against an administration that does not tolerate opposition.

But the possible prosecution of those involved in the anomalies committed at the height of COVID-19, the plan to investigate extra-judicial killing, and the current brouhaha over POGOs, clearly could not have taken place if the situation was not ripe for them.

But then we ask a question similar to the query a heckler asked Khrushchev, “Where were you when there was evident corruption even while people were dying? Where were you when drug users were summarily killed without the benefit of a court trial? Our convictions cannot be based on the changing political winds. For this country to mature, decisions have to be made based on principles.

T.S Elliot once wrote, “The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right thing for the wrong reason.”

Fr. Ramon D. Echica is the Dean of Studies of the San Carlos Major Seminary. He obtained his doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Catholic University of Leuven (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) in 1998.

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