Impunity turned puny
The way Jovito Palparan reacted to his arrest order was, well, typical Palparan. He flew off his handle after airport authorities prevented him from leaving the country, calling Judge Teodora Gonzales of the Bulacan Regional Trial Court, who issued the warrant, ignorant and Leila de Lima who enforced it luko-loko. You remembered that Palparan was also a lawyer, quite apart from a soldier, a member of the tribe that has turned law into lokohan in this country. Patriotism is not the last refuge of scoundrels in this country, law is.
Of course a great deal of it probably came from fear, disguised as bluster. It was the same reaction Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo showed when she was barred at the airport, shock, dismay and incredulity chasing each other in her face. It was the same reaction Benjamin Abalos showed when he materialized before the authorities before they could serve the warrant on him, the question, “Is this really happening to me?” plainly written on his face. Palparan’s own bravado little veiled the tremulousness that had finally found its way into his heart, such as what he has might be called that.
But probably an even greater deal of it was just habit. This was after all someone who made the biggest contribution to the culture of impunity. Someone who murdered without compunction, without pity, without fear of retribution, dismissing threats to bring him to justice with a wave of his hand, if not indeed looking balefully at his accusers with the not-very-veiled threat of including them in his order of battle. Aided by a real luko-loko of a justice secretary, Raul Gonzalez, who dismissed Philip Alston, the rapporteur who accused Palparan of the massacre of political activists, as a “muchacho of the UN.”
Well, the bluster didn’t work. After calling De Lima a liar for suggesting that he was trying to hide when all he was doing was trying to get a vacation; after saying he had given his word he would not hide and he was a man of his word; after suggesting he was not one to flinch even if he had to walk up to his berdugo:
And now the man who had once hunted down his enemies with the appetite of a big-game hunter is being hunted with the implacability of the furies. The man who once did not mind being unloved so long as he was feared is now only despised and laughed at. The man who, like his boss, had reached such heights of power he had become untouchable has fallen to such depths of disgrace he has become a pariah.
All this gives us to see with new eyes again not just the scale of Palparan’s crimes but also that of Arroyo’s.
Palparan’s excuse for what he did, before he fled from the eyes of God and man, was that he was merely following orders. That was what he said when Judge Gonzales ordered him arrested: He couldn’t be prosecuted because when he “salvaged” people or made them disappear, he wasn’t a civilian carrying out a personal vendetta, he was an officer carrying out a national policy. He was following the orders of his commander in chief. He didn’t deserve jail, he deserved medals.
Well, as a lawyer, he would have known that the Nuremberg trials voided that defense. Where the national agenda was murder, where the agenda was genocide, where the national agenda was a crime against humanity, a soldier’s duty was not to say yes, a soldier’s duty was to say no. At least a soldier’s duty was not to carry it out gleefully, bloodthirstily, fanatically, it was to reject it forcefully, resolutely, angrily. There was still such a thing as reason. There was still such a thing a conscience. There was still such a thing as right and wrong.
Other generals had killed too in the course of prosecuting a war, but they had not done so with wanton disregard for civilized behavior, with utter contempt for human life. Several hundred activists do not constitute casualties of war, they constitute a crime against humanity.
What made it all the blacker was that all this was done in the name of a war that was just as fake as the president who waged it. What made it all the more reprehensible was that the killings were done for the most cynical purposes.
Communism was not a threat to this country. It had ceased to be so a long time ago. The activists were not a threat to the country. They had ceased to be so a long time ago. They were not a threat to the country, but they were a threat to Arroyo. That was what turned the activists into communists in the first place, by the same definition Ferdinand Marcos used to define communist, which was anyone who was against him. By launching her splendid little war, Arroyo served notice that she was going to use armed force against those who opposed her.
You know how cynical that war was from the fact that Arroyo vowed to defeat the communists in two years’ time and they are still around, stronger than when she left them. That wasn’t just the product of ineptitude, that was the product of cynicism. Arroyo’s war wasn’t aimed at the communists, it was aimed at the Filipino people. What it sought to push back was not rebellion, it was dissent. What it sought to push back was not uncommon lawlessness, it was common decency.
It did not end the reign of anarchy, it began the culture of impunity. Under cover of war, Arroyo and her chief executioner unleashed murder without compunction, without pity, without fear of retribution. Why should the Ampatuans have shrunk from contemplating the crime of the century? They had role models for it, they had examples for it, they had precedents to suggest they could get away even with that.
Well, Arroyo has been arrested and will soon face trial. And Palparan is running for his life. Suddenly the untouchable have become very touchable.
Suddenly impunity has become very puny.
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