By FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER JOSE C. DE VENECIA JR.
For more than a week now, speculations and conjectures abound over the health and whereabouts of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, following his absence at the celebrations marking the 108th birth anniversary on April 15 of his late grandfather and founder of North Korea, Kim Il-Sung.
Also known as the Day of the Sun, April 15 is a sacrosanct date in North Korea, so the young North Korean leader’s non-appearance at the occasion has sparked a barrage of unconfirmed media reports and rumors surrounding his condition.
Unverified news reports said that Kim underwent heart surgery and is in critical condition or he either has coronavirus or is in isolation to avoid exposure to the coronavirus, among others. Speculations flourish and will continue to do so until the North Korean leader is seen again. As of this writing, there is no statement from Pyongyang in the midst of talks about Kim Jong-Un.
Truth is, it is very difficult, almost impossible, to ascertain a factual or near factual information about Kim Jong-Un, given the well-known profound secrecy concerning him and his family.
It may be safe to assume though that his unprecedented absence during the festivities for his late grandfather meant that something has gone awry.
We had much earlier written in this column about our journey to Pyongyang in 1990 where we had the rare privilege of conferring with North Korea’s Founder and President Kim Il-Sung in his mountain villa. We were then acting chairman of the Philippine House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Our visit, together with several senior House members and civic leaders, eventually led to the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and North Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). We still hang in our office a painting, a personal gift to us by President Kim Il-Sung, who founded and ruled North Korea from its establishment in 1948 until his death in 1994.
In 2011, a year after we retired from Philippine politics, we also received an invitation from the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) to visit Pyongyang. The WPK is a member of our International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP).
Several leaders of the Workers’ Party of Korea met with us, accompanied by our Special Assistant Aldwin Requejo, in the course of our speaking engagement in Bangkok.
During our meeting, we told the WKP representatives that in view of their kind invitation, we wished to pay a courtesy call on then North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, who was also the general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea. We told them about our much earlier visit to the North Korean capital where we had the privilege of conferred with their country’s founder and first president.
The visit did not materialize as few months after the Bangkok meeting, Kim Il-Sung died.
In the midst of numerous speculations about the condition and location of the present North Korean leader, South Korean President Moon Jae-in was quoted in news reports as saying that the global coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic could be “an opportunity for inter-Korean cooperation.”
Indeed, as international solidarity and support are needed to surmount the raging worldwide scourge, mutual cooperation between North and South Korea in battling Covid-19 would be another important step in building trust and confidence between the two Koreas.
It will help sustain the momentum and goodwill established by President Moon Jae-in and Chairman Kim Jong-Un during their summits in 2018.
The road to peace is long and winding, replete with challenges and obstacles. However, we cannot give up on peace as the alternative, which is war, is immeasurably costly and will make all of us losers.
We in the international community must contribute, even in a small way, in helping North and South Korea advance their journey to peace, reconciliation, and eventual reunification.