I write this one Saturday in February, on a week when the crime stories have forced their way into the daily seven-o’clock newscasts in spite of the impeachment of the Chief Justice. This is Manila, where priests promise love and success and jobs overseas to the souls who touch the cross of the Black Nazarene.
The sun burns hot here, melts the skin off electric posts and strikes bright white against steel. A man runs over his girl, smashes into her standing body, then stabs her with a knife and runs over her again. A 16-year-old girl is raped and killed by teenage boys, and they smile for the cameras from behind bars. In the country’s premiere university, a graduating student is assaulted by robbers in the student council office, her skull fractured by a trophy slammed against her head.
Many things are stolen here. Like laptops off coffee shop tables. Or mobile phones from the inside pocket of a boy riding a train. Or the bag off an old lady’s shoulder while she stands waiting for her husband in front of a posh Ortigas mall. Votes are stolen, along with fields of sugar canes and yards of copper wiring, copper so precious that sometimes the electricity dies on January mornings because young men have spent the night stripping the lines. Early in the year, the head of a bronze sculpture is stolen from the inside of a caster’s workroom. The body is abducted weeks later from the studio of a sculptor shining its skin. It takes four men to lift it, and a quarter of a million to replace it. Monuments to heroes lose their ornaments. The revolutionary is left without his bolo; the mayor sits by the bay reading an invisible newspaper.
People are stolen too. In Tawi-tawi, a man dives off a fishing boat on the way to Sulu, after he is kidnapped along with a pair of foreigners out on a trip to photograph birds. A four-year-old boy is taken from the Laundromat where his Daddy lies bleeding from knife wounds.
This is not a story about dead boys and girls, although there are many, or about desperation, or even about what it implies when the result of a near-fatal assault in the state university results in the addition of a single security guard in Vinzons Hall. Instead this is a story about the price being paid by a country where the single national interest has been defined by politicians as the doings inside blue-carpeted room on the second floor of a building in Pasay City, where men in suits wax eloquent over the evils of corruption and the betrayal of public trust, while the same public discovers hunger does not care who betrayed who.
Whether or not the impeachment is necessary is no longer a point of argument. It is there, and must be completed in the most ethical and correct manner possible in an attempt to progress to some semblance of judicial respect after the process ends. And while the gentlemen from prosecution and defense tangle over whether a discount is a reduction and whether a lying Chief Justice is a Chief Justice who betrayed the public trust, bills are left on back burners, a population without contraception balloons, and the Palace claims that although starvation is a problem, poverty is not.
Watch your daughters. Warn your sons. This is the country that God forgot, and good men walk the streets willing to cut throats for food. The 2011 GDP has dropped down more than 3 percent, and even with more jobs available, the number of job seekers has ballooned, and the President – and may he find joy and peace starring in his very own Korean telenovela – has been known to put the practical secondary to the political.
The trial stretches on. Quezon, Iloilo, Aurora, Ilocos Norte, Isabela and Cavite have lost their representatives. Old men with grievances are forced to troop to the Senate in the hope of catching a few seconds with the men they voted into power. The senators of the republic spend their days in red robes and their nights on interviews, while a process that could have run the same 18 days of the Bill Clinton impeachment stretches to months.
It took three full weeks for one of eight articles of impeachment to reach its vague conclusion. It takes the senator-judges almost a day to examine a single witness, interspersed with long, tedious and often necessary attacks on a prosecution that took a day to pass the articles of impeachment and weeks to explain it. The merits of the case are buried in technicality and redundancy. A hundred witnesses are slated for examination, although the prosecution claims they don’t intend to present all – another sterling example of how well the prosecution cobbled together its case for the conviction of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
I write this in February, a month where the sun outside the Senate burns hot, and the gallery is filled with a confused citizenry bundled in denim jackets against the freezing cold. There is much I do not understand about the state of the nation and the workings of government, and about how the prosecution hopes to prove crimes of bad intentions. Perhaps there are undertones that cannot be seen from the public gallery, perhaps some of the nitpicking is a result of senators afraid for themselves and of the day news reports will enumerate their condo units and luxury cars and discounts that are not discounts placed in the name of physical-therapist daughters. This is the opening act, only the actors have gone off-script, the director is on leave, and the audience has gone home to lock their doors for the night.