Still no to ‘Obvious ba?’
It isn’t farfetched to surmise that in early history, vox populi, the voice of the people, evolved into the beliefs and guidelines of a people. But it could be twisted or manipulated such that now, it hardly counts, is ignored and legally rejected.
Thirty years ago on Edsa it surged dramatically. Marcos was toppled by a magnificent burst of vox populi that saw the “obvious”: Tama na, sobra na! Enough!
Even before Y2K, we were reaping the harvest of a forgetful people “condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past.” The political landscape was again crawling with corruption, and the practice of law and governance was full of loopholes. I bemoaned the death of the “obvious” in a commentary titled “Obvious ba?” (Opinion, 9/2/01).
I wrote to this effect (now tweaked a bit): “Lawyers will never accept the obvious. In the name of democracy, they will laugh it away. But the layman rues the rejection of the obvious and of the self-evident. I am not even including intuition by which any mother infallibly knows when a suitor is not good for her daughter, or plain common sense that tells you not to talk to strangers.
“I refer to a people’s gut feel and knowledge that certain persons are obviously guilty or innocent whether proven or not. Weightless before the law, the ‘obvious’ is vastly disregarded and vastly underestimated, unfortunately for us, and fortunately for suspects.
“Granted that evidence is a boon of democracy: cornerstone, safeguard, pillar; still, a fanatic demand for evidence can also be a bane of democracy. When much else is declared ‘inadmissible,’ and only a foolproof paper trail without any missing link or defect will do, who can be proven guilty or innocent? Big-time crimes do not leave any paper trail (how l-o-n-g has government been on the trail to the Marcos loot?).
“This insistence on literal and object evidence is a variant of the letter of the law over its spirit, especially when it belittles anything merely spoken. It can abort the law as much as the absence of evidence or the presence of dubious evidence. It’s another triumph of technicality over essence. You have no papers? No affidavits? No certifications? No originals? Sorry, you’re wasting our time.”
Now, 30 years after Edsa, we are witnessing a surreal replay: different cast, different scenes, but same nature with expert imitations, original innovations, with amusing and scary performances thrown in.
Apart from a genuine tribute to sterling public servants, “obvious” corruption is holding sway. Congress, the Senate included, can be a hatchery for “bad eggs.” There are “hoodlums in robes” (like the nine who managed an unbelievable turnabout of Marcos from heel to hero), hoodlums in uniform (“corrupt to the core,” according to the President), hoodlums in coat and tie, hoodlums. Accusers of misconduct are cut short, put on the spot, and told to “name names.” If a whistle-blower declares, “I’m here and alive,” some wise guy in the gallery might pipe in, “Prove it!”
Who determines if a witness is credible? So, “you believe Yasay but not Lascañas?” Who searches for evidence destroyed or spirited away? Now, demands for “solid evidence” or “corroborations” are coming out of our ears. Where is Lady Justice? Gone with the wind.
The very people who have turned this country into a Wild, Wild West are still roaming around, maybe not with guns in their holsters, but cash stashed in bottomless pits. Do we need to name names? The people know, as painted on jeepneys, “Judas not pay.” Obvious ba!
And now here come plunderers after long, laborious, expensive trials again free as birds, followed by a line said to be in waiting to fly the coop. And wonder of wonders, here is the presidential spokes-person declaring, “We don’t have extrajudicial [killings]… none. That’s not applicable to us” (Inquirer, 3/12/17).
Do you believe that statement, or the “obvious,” which they know and which we know and which they know we know? And how “obvious” must things get before we really sit up and take notice?
Asuncion David Maramba is a retired professor, book editor and occasional journalist.