Midas Marquez offered a most astonishing observation last week. There’s a “wave of defiance” against the law today, seen variously in Leila de Lima’s refusal to bow down to the Supreme Court’s TRO on Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Joel Reyes’ refusal to surrender, and SM’s refusal to stop its plan to mow down pine trees to build a parking lot.
P-Noy’s “relentless battering” of Renato Corona, Marquez said, hasn’t just brought down Corona’s approval ratings, it has done so the entire judiciary’s. The Supreme Court’s rating dove from 53 percent in November to 37 percent in March, sparking the defiance. “The problem when the preconditions of independence and public confidence are not met is that the judiciary loses its capacity to uphold the rule of law.”
Well, I don’t know that SM’s defiance is part of a wave, but I do know that is a defiance that ought to be crushed. The perfect response to that atrocity is Joni Mitchell’s “They paved paradise to put up a parking lot.” That was the line that sprang to her head, she said, when she looked out of her hotel window in her favorite vacation spot in Hawaii to find the trees gone. The refrain of her song (“Big Yellow Taxi”) supplies the very wise thought: “Don’t it always seem to go/ That you don’t know what you’ve got/Till it’s gone…”
But that’s another story. Meanwhile, you have to wonder if Marquez doesn’t have the Midas touch in reverse. Everything he touches, including thought, turns into dross.
First off, his argument assumes that when you get relentlessly battered by the president, you naturally fall in the public’s esteem. When its refutation is right there before his eyes. Arroyo never failed to relentlessly batter her enemies, and all she got for her pains was to endear her enemies to the public and get herself even more despised. A case of it being Ping Lacson. She sent him fleeing from a murder case but never got the public to revile him. Rather than presuming flight to be a sign of guilt in this case, the public presumed it to be a sign of an instinct for self-preservation. It didn’t bring Lacson’s ratings down, it did so Arroyo’s, such as her ratings could still fall.
When Lacson came home after Arroyo was gone, he had no problems resuming his interrupted term as senator.
The point is clear. A relentless battering from the president gets you down? Depends on the president. And depends on what he’s saying. But then Arroyo was never a real president, which is the only thing going for Marquez’s argument.
Second, on the contrary it’s Corona’s and company’s (which includes Marquez) defiance of law that is encouraging a wave of defiance—if there’s that at all—against the law. The first is defiance of law in every possible way. It is defiance of law in the sense of law having to do with justice, in the sense of law as being a means to justice, in favor of law that has to do only with lawyers, in favor of law that has to do only with palusot. It is defiance of law in the sense of law as having historical experience for its foundation, in the sense of law as being anchored on common sense and an appreciation of reality, in favor of law that bids the waves hold still, in favor of law that makes right wrong and wrong right.
Why shouldn’t SM and Reyes defy the law? Corona does. His cabal does. A chief justice who owes his job to a midnight appointment does. A Supreme Court that reopens final rulings does. The latter, the invention of a finality that is never final, is truly staggering. It’s a declaration of war against the poor, a thing that makes sure the rich—who can afford a case to drag on hanggang sa dulo ng walang hanggan—will never lose.
Corona resigns, as he ought to have done so long ago, and SM will surrender. Corona resigns, and Reyes and Jovito Palparan will surrender. Corona resigns, and even philandering spouses will surrender. One thing is sure: Corona resigns, and Filipinos will experience a wave of relief, if not of “law-abidingness.” Corona resigns and the sun will shine, the birds will chirp, the earth will be at peace, God is in his heaven, there is justice in this world.
Third, which is what makes Marquez’s observation oppressive, you want to see a wave of defiance against the law, just cast your mind back to a few years ago. Except that what we had then wasn’t just a wave, it was a tsunami. Except that what we had then wasn’t just a pattern, it was a culture. It was the tsunami of lawlessness. It was the culture of impunity.
The term, “culture of impunity,” was expressly used by the foreign press to apply to the mind-boggling number of journalists murdered in this country, which turned us into the most dangerous place for journalists next only to Iraq. But it needn’t have been confined to it. It’s the perfect term as well for the murders of the political activists, which were far more plentiful, for barefaced wrongdoing in government, for criminals plying their shadowy trade under the glare of the sun. “Defiance of law” is a ridiculous way to describe it. So is “law-breaking.” The plague was universal, contagious, obdurate.
The cause of it was government itself. Why shouldn’t the dregs of this earth rape and pillage, maim and murder? Government was doing it itself. Why should criminals fear retribution? To be wicked was to be rewarded, to be just was to be punished. You blew the whistle, you ended up in jail, or holed up in La Salle Greenhills. You coddled wrongdoers, you got appointed chief justice in the midnight hour. Paraphrasing Marquez: The problem when the preconditions of decency and public trust are not met by government is that the entire country loses its capacity to uphold the rule of law.
Some things you need to relentlessly batter. That is one of them.