A matter of innocence

By PNG Echo.

Graham Romanong did not deserve to die.
Graham Romanong did not deserve to die.

For the tragic death of student Graham Romanong and the subsequent ransacking and burning of property, blame is being apportioned to almost anyone and everyone.

The opposition are blaming the government, the government are blaming the opposition while some are blaming non -student opportunists.

They all seem to agree, however, that the students themselves, and especially the dead student, are all’ “innocent.”  They’re not!

How do you plead…?

Students hold a meeting on campus
Students hold a meeting on campus

To suggest that the country’s recognised young intellectuals, who were politically agitating for a legally and democratically elected Prime Minister’s downfall, are sweetly “innocent,” is drawing a very long bow.

God help PNG, if these students, the future leaders and hope of Papua New Guinea –all young adults – were not aware of the possible consequences.

If they weren’t aware, then they are abjectly stupid, if they were aware, then where is the innocence?  Neither scenario is exactly desirable – there’s no third alternative.

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Kenneth Rapa “My students are but human.”

In his press statement, Kenneth Rapa, student leader at UPNG, went to great lengths to condemn the murderous actions, yet he couldn’t resist the mitigation “…my students are but human…” while urging the public to have an “empathetic understanding” of what happened.

He at least didn’t use the word ‘innocent’ but that’s what he meant.

If you are not an infant and you commission an act – you are the one responsible. Not the 40-years-ago-exited colonial government for being…well…colonial, nor the beaten and murdered woman for being a woman, nor the government/opposition/police for urging/suppressing/provoking you.

No one was holding a gun to the students heads – in fact, it was the students holding the gun (metaphorically, in the form of blackmail – more on that later.)

The students provoked, intimidated and from there went on to commit murder – in an act of free will

Victim status

A campus building set alight.
A campus building set alight and burning

The word on the street is that the killing was retaliatory for the earlier stabbing of an Engan student. In other words, it is highly likely that the murdered student was not all that innocent.

The targeting of this student was not totally random – they knew who they were after.

Nevertheless, he did not deserve to die and the murderers must take responsibility for their actions.

A murder is a murder, and is not more horrifying because of the status of the victim’s virtue. One life is as precious as the next.

It is why I am against state-sanctioned murder (ie – the death penalty). It is the slippery slope. If we can happily agree to this type of penalty to legally kill a human being that is judged not worthy of life, how long is it before we start to decide outside of legal processes who should live and die?

And that’s exactly what’s happened here, it seems.

Enter the Commission of Inquiry

A popular British political satire called ‘Yes Minister’ that ran from 1980-1984 had the wily and savvy Permanent Head of Government (Public Servant) educating the forever bewildered Minister on Commissions of Inquiry thus:

The terminally bewildered Minister with his public service advisors in the political satire "Yes, Minister."
The terminally bewildered Minister with his public service advisors in the 1980s British political satire “Yes, Minister.”

Take an honorable retired judge, a doddering old fool, and put him in charge of the inquiry, with a sizable honorarium. Help him to arrive himself at the required conclusions. Feed him the appropriate facts and hint at a peerage. From there on, everything will work out as desired.

This is an overly-cynical parody of what is about to happen in Papua New Guinea.

And while there will be, no doubt, people uncovered whose role, behind the scenes was less than exemplary – ie vested interests – let’s not get carried away.

If there were those, in the political opposition, that will be proven to have bankrolled the students, inspired them and urged them on with promises, threats or whatever, then they should be brought to account. But, as my mother used to say,  “would you jump off a cliff, if she told you to?”

It all comes back to free will.

For while I suspect that the students were merely collateral damage to someone’s political ambitions, it’s not as if they were conscripts, they joined up.

As for the accusation that all this could have been stopped if the Prime Minister had stepped down – as per their demands. That argument is fatally flawed.

Demanding that the Prime Minister step down (or else) is blackmail. Blackmailers are never satisfied.

This is in evidence when the Prime Minister answered all the students’ queries and issues, in a very comprehensive statement – but they still weren’t satisfied. They wanted more.

Had the Prime Minister acceded to their demand and stepped down there would have surely been yet another demand.

The Prime Minister is right to protect his office from these sorts of extra-legal, unreasonable political demands.

All the students would have achieved is political mayhem and anarchy – a scenario that would have favoured the political opposition but not Papua New Guinea as a whole.

They need to wait until next year and try to remove this Prime Minister legally, if they can. It’s only then we’ll see who this ‘silent majority’ is that keeps being bandied around as justification for their actions.

The inquiry may well find that the students have been used by the unscrupulous and I concede that the finding of ‘cannon fodder’ wouldn’t surprise me – but make no mistake, ‘innocent’ they’re not..

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