Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.
Great anger and violence can never build a nation.
Reconciliation means working together to correct the legacy of past injustice.
— Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013
As the Philippines joins the world in remembering with fondness and admiration the recently departed South African statesman and freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, the country’s leaders would do well to learn from the heroic South African who struggled and suffered not only to end the racist apartheid regime, but also to forge national reconciliation and forgiveness after decades of cruel oppression and bitter conflict.
Without denigrating our own esteemed leaders, it is hard to imagine that some of their ways and words would find echoes in the public life of “Madimba,” as Mandela was respectfully called by his people.
Take the recent salty privileged speeches by Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago and Juan Ponce Enrile. The two senior legislators offered Congress and citizenry some memorable lessons in parliamentary discourse, complete with juicy helpings of unsavory personal shenanigans.
Wishing adversaries well
How such lurid details would advance policy making and legislation, we shall leave for political scientists and historians to make up. For this article, suffice it to say that such excoriating attacks had no place in the late black statesman’s phrasebook.
Among countless conciliatory gestures in his 95 years, Mandela met privately during his 1962 trial with the prosecutor who got him convicted for illegal travel and incitement to strike. Just before his sentencing, the dissident wished state attorney P.J. Bosch well, then went to jail for the next 27 years. Mandela also shared food with his police escort during his arrest that year, and helped his prison wardens in writing essays.
Could there possibly be far greater enmity and bitterness between veteran lawmakers in Manila than political prisoners and their jailers in Johannesburg? Go figure.
The very worst politics . . .
Moving on, consider the apparent politics that fatally delayed national government assistance to Yolanda-devastated Tacloban City, according to its Mayor Alfred Romualdez, testifying on Tuesday to Congress.
After the megastorm, the beleaguered mayor recounted: “Secretary [Mar] Roxas said we should legalize everything. I could not understand why I could not get support from the national government. Secretary Roxas said that ‘we have to be careful because you are a Romualdez and the President is an Aquino.’”
Roxas justified the Romualdez-Aquino remark. As quoted in Rigoberto Tiglao’s Wednesday column, the Interior and Local Government Secretary told GMA7’s Arnold Clavio: “Is it not true he is a Romualdez? Is it not true the president is an Aquino? Secondly, is it not true he said the local government cannot handle it on their own, so he sought our help?”
In sum, Roxas saw a problem involving Romualdez and Aquino clans which was serious enough to interfere with life-saving succor and desperately needed relief for a city crushed by Yolanda, with countless citizens needing food, shelter and protection, or dead and rotting on streets and in trees.
Congressional hearing chairman Senator Antonio Trillanes 4th rightly lamented: “Recalling what Mayor Romualdez mentioned, if politics got in the way of disaster response, this is the worst thing we could ever do.” The very worst, indeed.
. . . and the very best
So different was Nelson Mandela. When the head of state arrived at the presidential building the day after his inauguration in May 1994, he also encountered someone who thought decades of political animosity could not be set aside: John Reinders, the chief of presidential protocol under two white leaders, F.W. de Klerk and his predecessor, P.W. Botha, whose intense apartheid advocacy made people call him The Crocodile.
When Reinders said he was packing his things for Mandela’s own protocol head to come in, the latter urged him to stay: “You see, we people, we are from the bush. We do not know how to administer a body as complex as the presidency of South Africa. We need the help of experienced people such as yourself.”
What governance! What humility! Here were government people far worse than “midnight appointees”; for years or even decades, they served a regime that systematically oppressed and repressed the great majority of South Africans for their skin color. Yet there were no mass sackings of bureaucrats. Instead, to build the new South Africa, Mandela harnessed the bureaucracy and the security apparatus he had struggled against.
Why couldn’t it be that way between Aquino and Romualdez, Santiago and Enrile, and other feuding politicos, shelving grievances and just working together for the nation? Isn’t it harder to cling to painful animosities? Why must our leaders punish themselves like that, and deprive the people of their combined talents and service? Such arrogance, such stupidity.
A tale of four presidents
A final lesson on magnanimity and national unity: After defeating incumbent de Klerk in the first presidential elections where most adult blacks voted, Mandela was empowered to select a deputy president. Against the wishes of fellow anti-apartheid activists, the new Chief Executive appointed as the second-highest official in the land his predecessor de Klerk.
There’s more. Instead of moving into his designated residence, Mandela chose to live elsewhere and let de Klerk continue residing in the presidential palace. “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy,” the late statesman wrote in his 1994 autobiographical book, Long Walk to Freedom, filmed the following year. “Then he becomes your partner.”
Partnership, by comparison, was clearly not on President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s mind in dealing with his predecessor. Since November 2011, Gloria Arroyo has been jailed without bail and trial. In the electoral sabotage case, the judge found the only evidence against her weak: an affidavit by accused mass murderer Norie Unas, who was promised immunity from prosecution. He is among the principal accused in the 2009 Maguindanao Massacre, in which 56 people were killed.
In the plunder case involving sweepstakes agency intelligence funds, the first investigation found zero evidence, since no one was found to have received any illicit money. So Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales ordered a new probe, which dutifully gave her the finding she needed to send Arroyo to jail without bail. In the latest turn, the Philippine National Police has stopped her husband Jose Miguel Arroyo from sleeping over her detention facility in the Veterans Memorial Medical Center.
Our leaders truly have much to learn from the great Madimba.