[Pinoy voices] Healthy families mean healthy societiesAccording to Immanuel Kant, the conditions for sustained perpetual peace among and within nations are emotional healing, political and social justice and economic empowerment. In East Timor there seems to have been a lot of emphasis on economic empowerment (especially material infrastructure), but little on emotional healing.
Author Sankaran Krishna once described the “supposed gap between what politics was in reality and its public perception of it” as a “knowing leer [that] essentially bridges the gap between a simplistic view of politics as, at some level at least, the exercise of power for the sake of the betterment of the nation and the people, versus an understanding of politics as a domain constituted by crime, corruption, illegal and unethical activities.”
So I present a conversation on the topic between a Korean, a Filipino and a Timorese in Dili.
“What are they doing?”
“Cleaning up the streets in Dili. PM’s orders.”
“But we just heard about all the sex scandals with state officials and also those in the opposition. Shouldn’t they be cleaning that up first? In other countries, high public officials having scandals in their personal lives would be investigated and punished in some way. Here, it seems that no one really cares. Aren’t public officials accountable to any ethical standards?”
“But whose ethical standards? Western, African, Confucian? In Africa, it is common for chiefs to have multiple wives and dozens of children. But of course, they also have to own a lot of land and cattle and make sure each wife is treated fairly.”
“In Vietnam, the Communist Party would kick you out if you had the kinds of riveting sex scandals you have here in Dili. Don’t they have political party reforms here?”
“Some political parties do. But how could the presidents of political parties impose ‘party discipline’ when they themselves have violated it? They have no moral authority.”
“Why is the state not focusing on structural and institutional housecleaning instead?”
“Because it’s so much easier to do external street cleaning.”
“In Korea, we had all kinds of social problems after the war and throughout the post-conflict recovery for at least another 20 years or more. Things festered until they exploded: When the first woman lawyer opened her office in Korea, she found a huge line of women at her front door, saying, ‘I need help. I want to seek justice for me and my children.’ And that’s how the ‘No Mistress Movement’ started.”
“Amazing! There is a landmark case of an MP, from the opposition party, who abandoned his wife and child for his mistress and refuses to pay child support. He has never been punished for violence against his first wife either.”
“In Korea, universities teach courses in domestic violence under faculties of family studies and childhood development. It is not something to keep silent about. We also learned that it is not fair to blame the woman for not leaving a relationship because if the systems and institutions do not support her, it will be very difficult for her.”
“Here there is silence, partly due to the long-standing resilience of clandestine practices - no open public discussion of domestic violence. Most people do not even acknowledge womanizing and its consequences - mental, psychological and verbal abuse as a form of domestic violence. They think that violence is only physical.”
“Be careful comparing Timor to nations like Korea, which had at least 50 years or more of self-reflection after the war.”
“Do you think womanizing and domestic violence is prevalent because of the post-war, post-conflict situation?”
“Not really. In the Philippines, even while they were still waging a revolution, men already behaved badly. The Filipino historian Vina Lanzona wrote an article called ‘Love and Sex in the Time of Revolution’ where she did research on how the Hukbalahap movement had to come up with disciplinary measures for their party cadres because there was too much sex going on and not enough revolution.”
“I thought it was just high-ranking public officials drunk with state power and money who are corrupt and unethical. I didn’t realize revolutionaries were as bad. “
“Hey, do you think womanizing has any impact on policy and development?”
“Of course it has an impact. If state officials are busy with ‘harem management’ [which is how one female lover of a high official described his office]. It is not only time consuming but actually costs a lot of money, not to mention how confusing it can be. As for MPs, no wonder they have no time to pass the domestic violence law.”
“But what if the high-ranking official who has the sex scandal is female? Is there a society in this world which accepts multiple lovers for females?
“If she were female, she’d probably be beheaded [or at least be made to die some kind of social death]. Or perhaps not. We don’t really know of any society where women publicly have multiple husbands and lovers and still maintain their office.”
In the past, Timorese became experts at fabricating scandals in order to fight their Indonesian colonizers. Now, they have become virtuosos of political drama and the sex scandals have become more electrifying than thinking about how to provide basic services like electricity.
There seems to be little serious illumination of the psychological needs of war veterans, and very few in the international community have paid serious attention to the long-term importance of emotional healing and family stability as a basic condition for the achievement of sustainable peace. As one Korean friend put it, “The happiness, resilience and stability of our family is the happiness, resilience and stability of the nation.”
The writer is an associate professor at the Seoul National University Graduate S
chool of International Studies.
by Jacqueline Aquino Siapno