Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Role of Parliamentarians in Achieving UN MDGs and Peace Building in Asia

*** note from blog administrator: the author of this blog was invited to speak at a leadership conference in bangkok, thailand less than a week ago. posted below is his address at the conference.


 The Role of Parliamentarians in Achieving UN MDGs

and Peace Building in Asia


Francisco S. Tatad

Former Senator, Republic of the Philippines


Delivered before the First Asian Parliamentarian Leadership Conference on Peace, Emerald Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand, Oct. 9, 2009


My assigned task in this conference is to examine the role of parliamentarians in achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Peace Building in Asia.  The two objectives are inter-related, for indeed the other name of development is peace; without peace there can be no true human development.  


At the 2000 Millennium Summit, the international community agreed to eight MDGs----  1) eradicate extreme poverty and hunger;. 2) achieve universal primary education;. 3) promote gender equality; 4) reduce child mortality; 5) improve maternal health;. 6) combat malaria; 7) ensure environmental sustainability; 8) develop a global partnership for development. 


These were reaffirmed at the 2005 World Summit. 


Not a single one of these goals is new.  They are as old as the liberal democratic state. What is new is the firm resolve to mobilize  every moral resolve and every material resource to turn back, if not altogether end, human poverty and inequality within the lifetime of this generation.  


It is an extremely ambitious project. A casual look at the landscape, however, provides us little reason to hope that we would  exceed our targets by the year 2015.   The record of the 111th Congress of the United States alone shows that  from the beginning of this year until the first part of  September , only one bill---the Serve America Act---has passed both Houses of Congress, out of a total of 37 MDG-related measures filed.  What about our own parliaments and  congresses?


They will have to  enact all the MDG-related programs and policies.  But hand in hand with that, they will have to make sure that those programs and policies put man and his love of truth, freedom, justice and peace at the center, not at the far fringe, of all development.  For there is a great worldly temptation to regard all development associated with technological progress as the pure triumph of  man’s genius alone.  This tends to  unhinge many of us  from our First and Last End, instead reconnecting us ever more firmly to our natural origin and our supernatural end, to the source of all knowledge, all wisdom and all inventions, to Him who, as Benedict XVI reminds us in Caritas In Veritate, commanded man at the dawn of  creation  to do technology----to till and keep the land.


Even peace, the Pope reminds us, now runs the risk of being considered a technical product,  the mere outcome of technical agreements that calculate mutual self-interest and self-advantages rather than the outpouring of truth and justice based on our respect and love for one another  as children of the same God.


Poor countries, hobbled by their chronic inadequacy of resources, exacerbated by the global economic downturn,  not to mention the unmitigated impact  of political corruption, natural calamities and man-made disasters, as in the mega floods that recently hit Metro Manila and environs and have just returned to northern Luzon even as we speak, could find themselves demoralized by their lack of deployable resources and technological progress and may seek to procure both by putting their deepest moral, cultural and religious values at risk.


Parliamentarians must assert their moral and political ascendancy  and point out that that is always an unfair and onerous exchange, a swindle if ever there was one, where the human being loses everything and gains nothing. Man is both matter and spirit; he is not to be split between the two parts so that one part may be sacrificed for the other. The development of peoples, as Benedict’s Caritas points out, is not merely a technical matter.  It is not simply a matter of financial engineering, the freeing up of markets, the removal of tariffs, investment in production, and institutional reforms. Development includes the ethical building up and nurturing of upright men and women who should be at the frontline in our  effort to serve the common good. 


The MDGs, properly interpreted and pursued, could raise  our peoples to new heights.  But they could also be corrupted,  perverted and misused for certain ideological or political ends and end up with toxic and harmful results. We need only look at what’s happening with MDG 5---namely, to improve maternal health----to see what I mean.


At the surface there is  nothing controversial about  it.   Mothers have long deserved it.  They need not die during pregnancy or childbirth. They also need not die when they are not pregnant or giving birth. But far more women die  from the major diseases than from anything associated with pregnancy or childbirth.   Nonetheless the MDGs do not seem terribly concerned about this. Rather they seem totally committed to MDG 5 to the exclusion of the major women killers, even though the problem could be competently addressed by providing adequate, basic obstetrics services without neglecting the more deadly diseases.


It appears that one agenda riding on  MDG 5 not necessarily seeks to save mothers from death or disease, although that is not an unwelcome consequence, but rather seeks to save women from becoming mothers. Abortion appears to have become the foremost prescription against maternal death. This is promoted by international civil servants at the UN who claim that international law has made abortion a basic woman’s right. This is unhappily boosted by US President Barack Obama’s order authorizing the use of US funds to support abortion in developing countries, and by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement to  the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives that reproductive health includes access to abortion and that the US is resolved to remove all obstacles to such access. 


Parliamentarians everywhere must find the courage to say this is wrong. No global UN treaty contains the word “abortion.” Therefore no right to abortion may be inferred from any such document. They must now call upon the UN to adhere strictly to the true spirit of the MDGS and the letter and spirit of its treaties. They must find the courage to tell the UN that the best way to achieve MDG 5 is to put in adequate and competent obstetrics care, just as fastest way to achieve MDG 4, reduce child mortality, is to outlaw and penalize abortion in the same manner that the law of nations outlaws and punishes genocide.    


Parliamentarians everywhere must now stand together in defense of the most helpless and the most innocent who are destroyed routinely by unjust laws.  In every single one of those lives we see a unique and incomparable gift that can only come from God.   No one has a right to destroy it, or even knock it.  In every other kind of gift-giving, the recipient must first exist in order to receive the gift from the giver.  In the gift of life, however, the gift, which is life, creates the one who receives it; in the process the recipient becomes the gift himself.


We must read our commitment to the MDGs or to any political, economic or social program within the framework of this profound mystery, no less than our own respective constitutions and cultures. Only then will the MDGs rise to the true meaning of development.


All over Asia today there persist conflicts internal to certain countries or affecting neighbors bound by common borders. They have long defied an easy solution. They demand a new vision of peace which the contending parties should be able to share. Where governments remain in stalemate, parliamentarians, businessmen, civic leaders, humanitarian peace workers and plain citizens could begin building human bridges that communicate solidarity, self-giving and goodwill without attempting to play on the weakness of others.


But over and above all these conflicts that disfigure relations among peoples and nations, there is one conflict that precedes all, one that cries to the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of all men for a permanent solution. It is the conflict between the forces of life and light and the forces of death and darkness----the conflict between the life-forbidders and the unborn. 


There must be peace, not enmity, between those who exercise power over others and those who lie powerless inside their mother’s womb. If there is to be peace anywhere at all, it must begin with the closest neighbors. And none could be closer than the fetus and its mother. The killing of those helpless innocents must stop, and we stand a good chance of making it happen if we could but make the world see that human life is not a piece of private property where we who sit inside could keep everyone else out. 


A new vision of peace should allow us not only to look at all men as brothers but above all to look at each one as his brother’s keeper. Their being brothers did not prevent Cain from slaying Abel, as Scripture tells us, but would he have committed the same vile murder  had he known, had he believed, that he was his brother’s keeper?  I wonder.


The work of peace, the gift of peace, needs men and women who cannot look at the face of their enemy, if any human being may yet be so described, without seeing themselves  or the face of their own Maker.  The formula is not new. It is as old as the Gospel,  yet as  the Gospel new. It is a solution waiting for courageous souls to make it happen.


Will it work? History provides the answer.


At the Nobel Peace Prize awarding ceremonies in Oslo in 1993, two men who had fought each other all their adult lives stood side by side to receive the world’s applause after they had embraced in peace. From the lips of Nelson Mandela came these words:


“He (referring to his old archenemy, South African president Frederik Willem de Klerk) had the courage to admit that a terrible wrong had been done to our country and people through the imposition of apartheid. He had the foresight to understand and accept that all the people of South Africa must, through negotiations and as equal participants in the process, together determine what they want to make of the future.”


And from the lips of de Klerk we heard:


“We needed a fundamental change---a change of heart on both sides. It was not a sudden change, but a process---a process of introspection, of soul-searching, of repentance, of realization of the futility of ongoing conflict, of acknowledgment of failed policies and the injustice it brought with it.”


A couple of years ago  I sat with President de Klerk at a conference in Doha and listened to him put it even more simply than he did to his Nobel Peace Prize audience.  Asked how he finally decided to end apartheid, he said, “All I had to do was put myself in the shoes of the other fellows and ask myself why they wanted what they wanted.” That did it.


Let me end with something woven from ancient lore.  It is told that one day Patanjali and Lo Tzu were walking in the forest when the river began to rise.  Not wanting to get wet, Patanjali began  to walk on the water. But Lao Tzu pulled him back.  “No need to cross,” he said. “This side is also the  other.”


 A new vision for peace, I believe, must help us see this side is also the other.  Thank you very much.

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