How fortunate that the foolish counsel of presidential legal adviser Salvador Panelo and others in the Duterte administration did not prevail in President Duterte’s search for the proper course to take in regard to the major controversy he stirred up by conflating the Jewish Holocaust with his war on drugs?
Against all reason and common sense, Panelo persisted in denying the need for an apology by his boss.
“Why should he apologize?” he intoned. “There’s no reason for him to do it. The problem is that his critics had a wrong impression of what the President meant.
“The Jews misunderstood the President. They cannot comprehend the context. He was not comparing drug addicts to a race. He’s not into genocide.”
Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr. attri buted the festering furor to “a malicious spin to sow hatred against President Duterte and destabilize the country.”
Yasay attested, “Clearly and contextually, the President assured the people that he was not waging a war against illegal drugs to exterminate the more than 3 million addicts and drug users in the country, in the same way that the Jews were exterminated by the Nazis during World War II.”
Some Duterte associates and supporters took to blaming two reporters of the Reuters news agency for twisting the words of the President and igniting the controversy.
An act of moral individualism
President Duterte would have none of this amateurish and irresponsible counsel. He cast them aside. He knew he was to blame.
Instead, he said forthrightly, humbly and with a measure of dignity: “There was never an intention to derogate the 6 million Jews killed. I apologize profoundly and deeply to the Jewish community.”
This expression of regret and contrition was imperative for the President to surmount the controversy and close the wound that he had cauterized with his offensive words.
The apology was a personal one. He alone committed the offense. It was what ethicists call an act of moral individualism, meaning that he alone was responsible for the deed, and he was not apologizing for the acts of countrymen, ancestors and predecessors. He did it his way, as always.
Duterte’s offense lay in his incredible conflation of Hitler’s extermination of 6 million Jews in WWII, and his targeted elimination of some 3 million drug suspects in the drug war.
He disrespected the memory of the victims of the Holocaust. And he heartlessly avowed his intent and readiness to slaughter 3 million Filipinos in his drug war.
Strictly speaking, Dutertre said only this in his remarks in Davao City: “Hitler massacred 3 million Jews. Now there are 3 million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them.
“At least if Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have you know, my victims, all criminals, I would like to finish the problem of my country and save the next generation of my people from perdition.”
Scratching the scabs of history
DU30 has the unusual ability to scratch the scabs of history to the point that the wounds bleed again.
He did it first with the scabs of the American conquest and colonization of the Philippine islands.
He did it likewise with the scabs of the American oppression of African-Americans and the horrors of slavery.
And now he has done it to the scabs of the extermination of the Jews.
Why referencing Holocaust aroused anger
Why did Duterte‘s referencing of the Holocaust cause such widespread condemnation and anger?
The fact is, much of the world still has to fully come to terms with the horrifying plight of the Jews. Many still deny that the Holocaust really happened.
DU30 has reminded everyone of Hitler’s Final Solution and its utter madness.
He has shaken anew the uneasy conscience of mankind about the evil deed.
Celebrated historian Barbara Tuchman wrote an essay entitled “The Final Solution,” which squarely names the acts of omissions that have put many to shame, viz:
1. The repeated opportunity and the repeated turning away of western governments in a conspiracy of official silence;
2. The failure of the Vatican to confront the reality of Jewish extermination;
3. The extent of the Jews’ cooperation in their own destruction; and
4. The wrenching into life of the state of Israel in the aftermath of the Holocaust.
This is to say that this episode of man‘s inhumanity to man was so colossal and unprecedented, that we shudder before it. Up to now, I confess that I flinch from the horror of viewing footages and pictures of what transpired in the Nazi concentration camps.
The moral damage upon mankind is so great, that it is indubitably offensive for anyone to trivialize it, let alone make a joke of it.
Germans never questioned the goals
Tuchman relates the minutes of the Wannsee conference of 1942, at which the grandiose plan for the Final Solution – extermination of Europe’s Jews – was adopted. Thirteen departments of the German government were represented at the meeting. Not one questioned the goals, only the methods.
Wrote Tuchman, “The immensity of the task suggests the number of Germans involved in it, lawyers to draw up the decrees, civil servants to administer them, virtually the whole of the SS to carry out the program, the police and certain sections of the army to assist them, the trainmen and truck-drivers to transport the victims, the clerks to keep the statistics, the bank tellers to tabulate the gold teeth and the wedding rings salvaged from the millions of corpses.”
Little wonder then why DU30 roused so much fury. And why it was imperative for him to apologize.
The power of apology
On March 13, 2000, Pope John Paul II celebrated a day of pardon mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
The purpose of the mass was to confess the sins of the Church in order to purify memory.
By sins, John Paul meant primarily the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Vatican’s terrible inaction and silence in the face of the Holocaust.
John Paul desribed his mass of pardon as an attempt to purify memory. But whose memory exactly?
The essayist Lance Morrow has written eloquently about the point of the Pope’s apology. He wrote: “It was to set in motion the dynamics of apology and forgiveness and transcendence, a powerful and liberating force.”
President Duterte’s apology to the worldwide Jewish community triggers the same dynamic of transcendence. By issuing the apology, and the Jews’ acceptance of it, he paves the way for climbing over these past two weeks of controversy.
But we, Filipinos, must still confront the awful reality that many of us have not said that DU30’s beastly determination to kill some 3 million of our people is unacceptable. Many of us just look away.