Invictus, OPAPP and the incoming administration

I am writing this note here in Bangkok where I am participating in a series of reflection sessions with social activists in Thailand and drawing lessons and insights on the work of political and conflict transformation in Asia with the hope of applying them to the conflict between the “reds” and the “yellows”.

Yesterday, to culminate the day’s activity, we watched the movie “Invictus” (Academy award winner Morgan Freeman plays Nelson Mandela). The movie offers a powerful statement on conflict transformation, change, and personal conviction.

One scene that really tugged my heart and almost brought me to tears was this scene in the movie when Nelson Mandela entered the Presidential Palace for the first time as President of South Africa and was greeted by an almost deserted place. Mandela later learned that most of the staff and employees (who were predominantly white and had served the former President De Klerk) were placing their personal stuff in boxes and were about to leave. Mandela immediately called the staff to a meeting and addressed them:

“Some of you may know who I am. I could not help noticing the empty offices as I came to work this morning and all of the packing up. Now, of course, if you want to leave, that is your right. And if in your heart you feel that you can not work with your new government then it is better if you do leave right away. But if you are packing up because you fear that your language or the color of your skin or who you worked for before disqualifies you from working here, I am here to tell you to have no such fear. What is today is today, the past is the past — we look to the future now.”

It felt like home. The scene was personal.

Though I am not with OPAPP anymore (being a political appointee, I resigned immediately after the elections), my mind and heart is with my friends and colleagues who compose the rank-and-file of the Office and who are feeling right now the same anxiety and fear felt by those staff of former President De Klerk in the movie. Just like in the movie, most of my friends are packing their stuff as they prepare to leave the office on June 30. Nobody has informed them of their status after June 30. The future looks bleak for all them. The future looks bleak for their families as well.

Their situation has become more bleak because of the allegations of corruption in the agency. Such allegations of corruption, specifically in the “rebel returnee” program, has been the flavor of the month of newspapers these few days.

It is sad. If there is one thing that OPAPP needs in order to be effective in its work for peace, it is integrity. Without it, OPAPP cannot exist. The only currency in the work for peace is integrity. Because of this, I believe that the first order of business is to investigate thoroughly and prosecute, without fear or favor, those who are responsible for permanently damaging the institution. OPAPP cannot continue its other work – negotiations, peace building, etc. – if the question of corruption remains hanging. It must be resolved quickly.

The problem with the charge of corruption, as published in the media, is that it does not provide clear details of who are responsible and therefore has the effect of lumping together everyone – the good, the bad and the ugly. The allegations, without clearly naming those who are involved in the betrayal of public trust, taints the reputation of everyone and ultimately, the institution itself. That, I think, is unfair. I know of friends in OPAPP who are now ashamed even to wear their office IDs because people immediately and inevitably judge them. They are seen as belonging to a corrupt organization therefore must be corrupt as well. It is not just fair.

By and large, I have never seen an organization of people who seek the higher good, who are honest and who are competent as those I people I have worked with in OPAPP. The good outnumber, a hundred times over, the few “bad” apples. They should never be judged based on “association”, or the “color” of their support (or non-support) in the past elections or who they previously worked for. These are “small” people who silently and diligently worked for peace in our country.

In the end, I hope that we can all aspire to be a Mandela – a person animated by hope, generosity and a sense of greatness. I hope we all can aspire to say: “This is no time for petty revenge. This is the time to build our nation using every single brick available to us even if that brick comes wrapped in green and gold.” ###

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Author: Bong Montesa

I teach children how to think. I am engage in the work of ending armed conflicts and bring about a just, inclusive and sustainable peace in the Philippines and in the world.