What a difference a decent president makes.
When Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had Joseph Estrada arrested shortly after she came to power, she might have been a lawful president, courtesy of Edsa 2, but not a welcome one. The public had no problems with Erap (Estrada) being punished, but they had every problem with Arroyo doing the punishing. The sight of Erap being fingerprinted like a common criminal in a police station did not give the unadulterated feeling of justice being done, it gave the uneasy feeling of an upstart trying to consolidate her foothold on power.
The result was “Edsa 3,” a parody of the first two Edsas but one that showed a lack of moral starkness to Arroyo’s cause. The unshod crowd (literally in some cases) was even bigger at its swell than that of the other two Edsas. It lost steam on its own, but Arroyo never got any traction from it.
After P-Noy (Aquino) ordered Arroyo arrested last week, the near-universal reaction was satisfaction, if not jubilation. The sight of Arroyo being served the warrant in St. Luke’s did not spark a burst of awa, it launched a wave of text jokes. Only Arroyo’s allies, who can now be counted on the fingers of one hand, decried it as persecution, everybody else lauded it as justice.
The sight of Gloria being fingerprinted in a police station—if that ever happens—will not stoke fires of fury, it will spark sighs of relief. Her reduction to a common criminal (despite being an uncommon one like Marcos) will not induce cries of anger, it will unleash explosions of merriment. I don’t know that her camp can raise more than a dozen people to protest it. I do know it will not include Mikey Arroyo who has done a Ramona. And I do know it will not include some relatives, including a sister, who will be rejoicing with the rest of the country.
I did worry for a while that the Arroyo camp might be able to milk her medical condition dry or exploit the public’s capacity for awa with it. That is, that they might go for the emotional pitch, which has a way of getting places in this country. The public might never forget its detestation of her, but it could always pity her. But that camp did not, which only shows how little they sense the public mood. They chose instead to fight back through law and feistiness.
Maybe it was because being an object of pity was alien to Arroyo, or the notion of trying to become so was anathema to her. She had after all loomed as one of the most powerful persons in the world, even preening in Davos as economic adviser to it. Or maybe they figured that with Renato Corona as chief justice, law was their comfort zone, they were nakasandal sa pader with it. Whatever the reason, and it is enough to believe in Providence, she has missed the only opening available to her.
In fact, the law is not Arroyo’s ally. The spectacle of her lawyers frothing in the mouth, even threatening P-Noy with impeachment if he does not bow to Corona, does not fill us with awe, it fills us with revulsion. It reminds us of the time when she, like Marcos, used the law against the law, or wielded the law to thwart justice. It reminds us of the law that jailed Brig. Gen. Francisco Gudani and Col. Alexander Balutan who testified against her, the law that put the country under emergency rule, executive privilege. The more they cry law, the more the public sees blood. Or the more it wants to put the Arroyos behind bars.
Neither is feistiness Arroyo’s ally. There is a difference between being feisty and being overbearing, between being resolute and being tyrannical. Leila de Lima is feisty, Arroyo is overbearing. P-Noy is resolute, Arroyo is tyrannical. The difference is not lost on the public, particularly when given ample reminders of it. Arroyo’s decision to gut it out at the airport reminds us of the time she chose to gut it out after “Hello, Garci” spilled out and the country was astir, demanding she step down. She did not. She traipsed in the Luneta in white to proclaim her innocence. That is not katapangan, that is katapangan ng apog. Not surprisingly, the antic did not rouse public sympathy, it roistered public hostility.
Finally, government might have spared itself all its troubles if it had moved against Arroyo from Day One. Had it filed a case against Arroyo long ago, it would have avoided the kind of legal complications that came with the Supreme Court’s TRO. But better late than never. The arrest warrant against Arroyo has, as Court spokesman Jose Midas Marquez acknowledges, trumped the TRO, making it moot and academic.
P-Noy himself has proven he is far from the weakling his enemies have tried to make him out to be. When it comes to matters of fundamental national interest, he is unyielding, he is uncompromising, he is resolute. More than anything he has done, this is the one thing that shows he is perfectly serious in carrying out his campaign against corruption. This is his defining moment. He has been judged, and found full.
Not so the Supreme Court, which has proven yet again it has no right to exist. Above all Renato Corona, who continues to demonstrate why Arroyo appointed him beyond the bounds of duty and who clings to his position beyond the bounds of decency. The point is not that the Supreme Court has blinked in its confrontation with government, it is that it has put an obstacle in its path once more on so fundamental a matter as elemental justice. The courts are there to practice law in the grand manner, they are not there to advance technicalities. The Supreme Court most of all. The Arroyos committed a crime, they must be punished. The Arroyos committed a wrong, it must be righted. The Arroyos are trying to dodge the law, they must be stopped.
P-Noy is making sure they are. In the face of a TRO, he has just delivered a TKO.
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