You hear all sorts of things these days. One of those is that there would be no impeachment trial next year because Renato Corona would resign before it starts.
I’d be very disappointed if he did, and not just because I am a Filipino and hell hath no fury than Filipinos deprived of a mighty entertainment. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.
Impeachment trials are nowhere near the kinds of trials lawyers, judges and even justices are used to. They are the most transparent thing in the world. They are the most revealing thing in the world. They are not a courtroom drama, though there’s that too, and part of the entertainment. They are a morality tale, as riveting as a soap opera but one that imparts profound lessons in life. The easiest thing to do is to put up a brave front and dare the world to do its worst. The hardest thing in the world to do is to face the cameras and have oneself made an object of scrutiny by the peanut-crunching gallery.
I wasn’t at all surprised when Merceditas Gutierrez resigned before she got dragged to the Senate. Look what happened to Erap. Before his impeachment, he was one of the most popular persons on earth. He had won by more votes than any president in this country, and though he had fallen out of grace with the upper crust, not least with repeated displays of “ABS” (alak, babae, sugal) during meetings of the “midnight Cabinet,” he still carried the masa with him. Not so after the impeachment began. A month or so later, Erap was no longer being looked up to by the masa, he was being laughed at by the masa. Text jokes were flying thick and fast, which had none of the qualities of the “Eraptions” which made him an endearing simple fellow. These ones were far more biting, making him out to be a harmful buffoon.
The impeachment dragged out every detail of his life, from the mistresses he housed in luxurious places all over Metro Manila to the shady deals he made, not least in illegal gambling, all over the country. Clarissa Ocampo’s testimony proved telling, not just because of her revelation that Erap was Jose Velarde but also because of her revelation that he signed a check that way in her presence, giving the impression of someone trying to impress a woman with his boundless power. Erap’s battery of high-powered lawyers did not help, they made things worse. They merely reminded the country of his own movies where the contrabida, chiefly Manoy Eddie Garcia, a wonderful actor and person (which only shows how deceptive showbiz can be), had a retinue of thugs in three-piece suits arrayed against the hard-luck bida with the heart of gold. The symbolisms sent a far more powerful message than what was actually said.
Corona by no means enjoys Erap’s popularity. The surveys alone show in how low esteem he is held by the public. The same surveys show in how low esteem his arguments about “rule of law” are held by the public. The people are not fools and can see through palusot with the instinct of the oppressed. They can see through the kinds of legal technicalities, or plain gobbledygook, that have deprived them of land, decent wages and opportunities in life.
The public’s capacity for discernment is magnified 10 times in an impeachment trial, with the cameras giving a face to utterances. The public won’t buy their legalisms. It will see them the way they see the madrastas in Sharon Cuneta’s movies, people trying to disguise naked power with twisted logic. And will regard them in exactly the same way: as the characters they love to hate.
Far more than that, the impeachment trial won’t just turn Corona’s life inside out, it will turn his family’s life inside out. Chief of them his wife, who also stands accused of all sorts of things, not least evading taxes. We will see what stuff they are made of.
The point is simple: Corona and his cabal may imagine that trials are their turf. Trials are about citing obscure passages from the statute books, trials are about holding court in more ways than one. They may imagine that they can control the environment, they can manipulate how things will go. If so, then they are wrong, dead wrong. Impeachments have their own dynamics. Impeachments have own set of rules. Not least, in an ordinary trial, the judge is the person sitting on the bench, in an impeachment, the judge is everyone watching TV. Erap learned that the hard way. In the end, they weren’t pleading their case before Hilario Davide and the senators, they were pleading their case before the people.
Which brings me to why I wish Corona would stick it out. That is because he is not the only one being tried in this case, the whole judicial system is. The whole Supreme Court is. The whole system whereby the justices use the law the way the Pharisees did religion, to lie and obfuscate, to abuse and oppress, to grow wealthy and more powerful, is.
For far too long have the justices managed beyond the public gaze, under cover of darkness or their courts, over which they hold absolute power, or the power of life and death, to unleash a not very petty tyranny. The kind where by the mere invocation of a law they can make wrong right, the way a sorcerer by the mere invocation of secret charms can turn black into white. The kind that would push back finality the way embalmers push back death.
About time the glare of public attention was put on them. About time the searchlight was aimed at them like prisoners of a camp trying to escape. About time the light of truth penetrated into the dark corners of their corridors. The impeachment trial will expose their doings to the world. The impeachment will bring every shady deal they have made, every corner they have cut, every injustice they have committed to the light of day.
The people will know.
The people will decide.