I came home from Hong Kong last Sunday with a couple of thoughts in mind, apart from a couple of gifts in hand.
The first was a sense of oppression, if not of despair, from having seen another place leave us biting the dust. Hong Kong is one place that has been visited by prosperity while we are only one place that has only been visited by calamity, natural and (wo)man-made, the more devastating by far being the latter. Hong Kong looked nothing like the cosmopolitan thing it is today only a few decades ago. It thrived commercially even then of course, but it didn’t have the polish, the sophistication, and, as a friend pointed out, the friendliness it does now. The cold at this time of year merely help to highlight the newfound fashionable chic of its inhabitants.
The impression was just a little more dramatic with Hong Kong since I hadn’t been there for some time, but I have gotten the same impression in varying degrees visiting other Asian countries. Everyone has gotten, or is getting, ahead of us. I’ve always said that in the pecking order of things, we’re now only better off than Burma. But the way things are going, give it time and even Burma might zoom past us.
That brought me again to wonder what’s so wrong with us that other countries are able to work their way from the bottom to the top while we’re able only to work our way from the top to the bottom. Clearly it has nothing to do with our genes because when we go abroad, we succeed swimmingly at what we do. Just as clearly it has nothing to do with our stars since we are not cursed, we become underlings only because we seem to have a talent for messing up things.
A reasonable answer to all this is that it’s our system. Other countries have discipline, we don’t. Other countries have rules, we don’t. Other countries obey the rules, we don’t. Other countries have order, we have chaos. Other countries have pride, we have shamelessness. Other countries have a culture of propriety, we have a culture of impunity.
That brings me to the second thought I had in mind. That is an appreciation for what P-Noy is doing for the country by prosecuting Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. He is pushing back our culture of impunity.
I disagree completely and violently with those who say P-Noy is wasting time and resources by making putting Arroyo behind bars his number one priority. Not at all. I can’t see anything more important, more compelling, more urgent. It spells life and death for the country. It holds the key to the future of this country.
We have always associated the culture of impunity with the ease with which murderers ply their trade in this country. There’s that too, of course. The Maguindanao massacre in particular brought impunity to unimaginable heights, or gave new and entirely horrific meanings to it. The utter barbarity of it, wrought without pity, without compunction, and without fear of punishment made even impunity seem like a euphemism. It’s by far the goriest thing to have happened to us. Enough to have shocked the world. Enough to have stoked furious condemnation from the world.
But I have always thought the culture of impunity meant much more than that, or ought to mean much more than that. I have always thought it was the best way to describe not just the breathtaking ease with which people could commit murder in this country but the breathtaking ease with which people could commit any kind of crime in this country. I have always thought it was the best way to describe not just the mind-boggling blitheness with which people could ignore the preciousness of human life but the mind-boggling blitheness with which people could sweep aside every stricture of right and wrong, every command of instinct and conscience, every law of heaven and earth.
If the Maguindanao massacre gave whole new and horrific meanings to impunity in the taking of life, the Arroyo rule did the same thing to impunity in the taking of everything that meant something to us. Nothing was sacred anymore—not money, not the vote, not life, that of the body or the soul. During the course of that rule, even an old restraint to pillage itself, which was a mechanism to “moderate the greed,” was done away with. During that rule, even an old fetter to cheating in elections, which was not to blank out opponents completely, was done away with. During that rule, every crime became permissible, the limits being imposed only by the imagination and not by law or conscience. Such did wrongdoing become the norm that wrongdoers were openly and routinely rewarded and whistle-blowers punished methodically and mercilessly.
How can any country with that millstone round its neck possibly move, never mind float upward?
What is P-Noy saying by wanting to jail Arroyo but that the ways of impunity are over, or should be, no one is too high she may consider herself untouchable, no one is too low he may consider himself a pariah? And what is Arroyo’s cabal saying but that the ways of impunity are very much alive, or can be kept so by artificial support, Arroyo may get away with executive privilege now as she did then, Juan de la Cruz may never know justice now as he did then? What is P-Noy saying but that henceforth we will have discipline and responsibility and accountability the way our neighbors do, it’s time we rediscovered our pride and held our heads high in their company? And what is Arroyo’s cabal saying but that now as then, we will have anarchy and recklessness and oppression, everyone for himself, the devil take the hindmost, who cares if we rise or fall, we are mongrels, we are bastards, we are Pinoys?
Is it a wonder P-Noy has the overwhelming support of the people? This is where it starts, this is how it starts:
With fighting impunity.
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