Friday, September 2, 2016

OPINION | Persona non grata

by Mekmek

I’m intrigued by the concept of punishing a person, who offends a government official, by declaring him “persona non grata”.

Wikipedia has two definitions for “persona non grata”.

First, a diplomatic definition: “In diplomacy, the term persona non grata (Latin, plural: personae non gratae), literally meaning "person not appreciated", refers to a foreign person whose entering or remaining in a particular country is prohibited by that country's government. It is the most serious form of censure which one country can apply to foreign diplomats, who are otherwise protected by diplomatic immunity from arrest and other normal kinds of prosecution.

Under Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, a receiving State may "at any time and without having to explain its decision" declare any member of a diplomatic staff persona non grata. A person so declared is considered unacceptable and is usually recalled to his or her home nation. If not recalled, the receiving State "may refuse to recognize the person concerned as a member of the mission".

Second, a non-diplomatic definition: “In non-diplomatic usage, referring to someone as persona non grata is to say that he or she is ostracized. Such a person is for all intents and purposes culturally shunned, so as to be figuratively non-existent.”

Since recipients of the “persona non grata” label in Bicol so far have been non-diplomats, the second definition would be applicable to the following discussion.

The first case I know of a person declared “persona non grata” in Bicol was the case of the hapless American travel blogger who was unhappy with services received in some local tourism office, and he complained about it in his blog. Unfortunately, somebody’s feelings were hurt (Filipinos, especially government officials, are very sensitive creatures), and he ended up being declared “persona non grata”. Naively, the blogger thought “freedom of speech” means you are allowed to say bad things about Filipino government officials. Well, this is the Philippines, not America, sucker! We do things a little bit differently around here!

The second case, more recently, is that of three broadcasters who offended another government official in Bicol. Apparently, as part of their punishment for being declared “persona non grata”, they are to be prevented from entering city offices, talking to city officials, and receiving city benefits.

Well, federalism is just around the corner. Local governments will be able to exercise greater powers than they have now. And we Filipinos are a very creative race. I see a near future when our local governments will discover more fun ways of punishing an offending citizen by labeling him “persona non grata”. The sky is the limit on the various ways the status of “persona non grata” can be applied. Since by definition the “persona non grata” is being ostracized or shunned, the local government can require his fellow citizens to do just that: make it illegal to talk to him or even acknowledge his existence (the way the Amish do to punish their erring flock). Or the local government can cut off his water supply or electricity, or refuse to collect his garbage or taxes. (Although the last one seems to be a bad idea for the local government.) Or they can do to him what Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones did to Jorah Mormont for his act of betrayal – exile him from the city!

I realize that the above suggested measures seem unconstitutional and contrary to our justice system. But it is debatable whether we still have a constitution. And our justice system is slow and the results merely based on happenstance. The advantage of the “persona non grata” code of justice as described above is that it is quick, cheap and can be tailored to the needs and caprices of the particular local government unit. No need to squander valuable government resources hiring lawyers and filing cases.

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