Triumph of justice
First off, some appreciation ought to go Leila de Lima’s way.
It’s no surprise that Jovito Palparan, before he disappeared for parts unknown (what’s this, he means to do a Ping Lacson?), sent some very choice words De Lima’s way. Maybe Judge Teodora Gonzales, who issued the arrest warrant after finding merit in the case against him, is courageous in her own right. But it helps greatly to know you have a wall of support behind you. It helps greatly to know you have a bastion of fortitude behind you. It helps greatly to know you have a secretary of justice you can expect to enforce justice and not subvert it behind your back.
Over the past several months, De Lima has been quietly but forcefully reshaping the moral landscape of this country. A thing she capped by standing her ground, like a sheriff coming out with a loaded shotgun to face the bunch threatening to spring the outlaw from jail, against the efforts of Arroyo’s justices to spring her out of the country. And just as you thought that would be hard to top, out she comes now throwing the weight of the justice department behind the effort to bring the outlaw’s chief gunslinger, Palparan, to justice.
None of this she has done with much grandstanding, though her critics complain so. It’s not she who seeks out the media, it’s the media that seek her out. For good reason. Finally, merit is getting some attention. Finally, doing the right thing is getting some traction. Certainly, none of this she is doing with a lot of machismo, though she has more balls than all the tough-talking idiots who called for death and destruction to rain on Muslim Mindanao from their safe perches. Palparan can use all the curse words he likes, De Lima will continue to be civilized. That, after all, is the hallmark of justice. That, after all, is what it takes to get things done: Walk quietly and carry a big stick. Don’t swagger loudly and carry a small, well, you supply your rhyme.
It’s a sea change from the Orwellian world not so long ago when we had a justice department dedicated to fomenting injustice and a justice secretary dedicated to being ugly—in the moral sense of the word, though the physical isn’t so far behind. Then you knew that every perfidy, every iniquity, every grotesquerie would find not its scourge but its champion in that department. Its real name was the Department of Impunity. That was what it existed for.
Finally, that Newspeak version of the Department of Justice has been laid to rest. Finally the world is being turned back on its feet. Finally impunity is being sent running, justice hard on its heels.
We have De Lima in part to thank for that.
We have P-Noy to thank for the rest.
Just as we thought too that it would be hard to top stopping Arroyo from leaving the country and calling for the impeachment of Renato Corona, out he comes throwing the entire weight of government behind the prosecution of Palparan. Maybe the Armed Forces of the Philippines has discovered that conscience is the better part of valor, maybe it has learned virtue in its own right: It has taken the lead in hunting down the man who used to hunt down Arroyo’s enemies like dogs—and butcher them in the same wise. But it helps to know there’s a commander in chief in front of you who can inspire you to heroism. It helps greatly to know there’s a commander in chief in front of you who means to lead you in a righteous cause. It helps greatly to know there’s a commander in chief who means to see justice through to the end.
I’m glad the military is leading the charge in capturing one of their own. There’s a culture that’s just as baneful as impunity and that’s the one of false brotherhood, encapsulated in such things as the “mistah system.” That’s the one that says, “We don’t particularly care what he has done, he wears our uniform, he’s one of us, we won’t give him up.” False fraternity is kindred to true impunity. The one is to the other as fuel is to fire. About time we pushed that back, too.
In the past, what happened to military thugs like Palparan was, they became the objects of “vigilante justice,” such as you could call the New People’s Army vigilantes and such as you could call what they did justice. That was what happened to Rolando Abadilla and Rodolfo Aguinaldo, two of Marcos’ most vicious henchmen in the military. Both were gunned down by NPA hit squads, or Sparrows, long after Marcos disappeared from view, the first in 1996 and the second in 2001 to show that the NPA did not forget blood debts.
The problem, however, was that though few mourned the victims, and though many expressed satisfaction in private while issuing official condemnations in public, the assassinations brought more harm than good to the country. It deepened lawlessness and impunity by demonstrating that while mayhem could be a public, indeed governmental, venture, retribution could only be a private, indeed underground, one. It did not hold government to account, it did not demand that government do its duty. On the contrary, it freed government from the responsibility to uphold the law, it freed government from the obligation to dispense justice.
By ordering Palparan arrested, by hunting him down after he went into hiding, by moving heaven and earth to bring him to justice, government has taken back that responsibility, P-Noy has reclaimed that obligation. Indeed, by doing the things he has done of late, from arresting Arroyo, to impeaching Corona, to hounding Palparan, P-Noy has given hope things might finally change for us. This is the first time I’m seeing this—not even Cory went this far, going on to right wrongs, to undo the mistakes of the past, to pave the way for the future.
It is a triumph of vision. It is a triumph of will.
It is a triumph of justice.
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