Lawmakers or lawbreakers?
By Cho Jae-hyon
Rep. Cho Jeon-hyeok is a brave man. He did something none of his colleagues in the ruling Grand National Party have ever done: exposed the sensitive list of unionized teachers on his homepage.
The lawmaker had the guts to look down on a court decision that outlawed the disclosure of their names. He made public the teachers' names, their schools and other information on April 19 on his homepage.
At the end of April, a Seoul district court told him that the teachers' information should not be revealed, obliging the lawmaker to pay 30 million won ($27,000) to the teachers' union for each day he did not remove the data.
Even after the court warning, Cho didn't budge. He braved his wife's opposition to the exposure of the list. In an interview with the Chosun Ilbo, he proudly made public a text message his wife sent him. He had his cell phone display showing the message photographed and printed in the paper.
In the message, his wife called on him ― in somewhat resolute tone ― to delete the list, saying that her right to live is more important than the people's right to know.
He must have thought that his wife's views on his quixotic act should also be made known to the public ― for the public's right to know.
But just one day after the interview was printed, he announced that he would remove the list. In a statement, he said he lost what he called a ``money battle'' with the teachers' union as he does not have enough money to fight on.
The four-day exposure of the list was costly ― the fine he had to pay to the teachers' union is estimated at 120 million won. Cho says his net wealth is about 100 million won and if the court ruling is enforced, he would go bankrupt.
With his heroic act, he is drawing a lot of followers ― some of his fellow lawmakers and a group of parents also made the list public on their own Web sites.
They even raised funds to help cover the fine. But to his chagrin, the National Election Commission ruled that such funds raised by his supporters cannot be used for the payment of the penalty.
Still, the lawmaker wouldn't flinch. On Monday on his homepage, he made public some high school test questionnaires for its politics curriculum which he said a member of the teachers' union had written. The purpose of the disclosure is to show that the union is plotting to instigate an anti-government sentiment among students.
The legislator has a long history in his fight against the progressive teachers' union or ``jeongyojo.'' As a member of the conservative New Right Union, he wrote a book titled ``I want live in a world where there is no jeongyojo,'' in 2006 before becoming a GNP lawmaker in 2008.
It seems like that his primary job as a legislator is to uproot what he calls the leftist teachers' group. Obsessed by the self-imposed, lofty mission, the lawmaker disobeyed the court ruling.
He deleted the list only because he couldn't afford to pay the cumulating fine. If the penalty was affordable, he would never have removed it from his homepage.
He is so worried that the teachers will ruin their students with anti-capitalist theories and brainwash them in the wrong direction. He believes the public's right to know whether their children's teachers are jeongyojo members or not is much more important than observing the law.
The court ruling is based on a special law on the disclosure of information about education-related entities, which was initiated by GNP members. The law stipulates that personal information about students and teachers should not be made public.
The very GNP lawmakers who made the law disallowing the disclosure of teachers' personal information are now collectively breaking the law. Calling the court decision a ``gangster ruling,'' GNP legislators said in a statement that they will not let Rep. Cho be beaten by gangs of leftists.
Cho is not alone in his struggle. He and his peers are united as one to deny the teachers' union. Rep. Chung Doo-un of GNP went as far as claiming that students taught by jeongyojo teachers underperform at university entrance exams.
His GNP colleagues are gutsy enough to collectively rebel against the judiciary. They act as if they stand above the law. For them, laws are optional and bendable ― they can choose which they will follow or ignore. But they turn zero-tolerant when they are applied to others.
Whether the registry of the union will be open to the public or not is a matter that is up to the teachers themselves at least under current laws. So let them decide and let the law govern.