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There’s The Rub

Not very tragic

By the time this comes out, I’ll be abroad. I won’t have seen the proceedings in Renato Corona’s trial over the last couple of days, but I figure much of it will be anticlimactic. The culminating point of the impeachment was last week. Corona’s camp was right about that. It would be the point when Corona crossed the Rubicon, when the die would be cast, when there would be no turning back. They were right—but in ways they never imagined.

As I’m writing this, the verdict already seems clear. Most of the senator-judges, probably the overwhelming majority of them, will find Corona guilty as charged. I don’t know that all, or much of that, will owe to their scrupulous appreciation of the evidence laid out before them—they are politicians, after all, and will be duly influenced by it. But I do know that even if they were to weigh things solely by what was presented in court, they would be convinced so. Last week in particular drove home the point.

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In the end, it’s sublime irony that he was laid low not by the sharpness of the prosecution, not by the shrewdness of government’s maneuvers, not by the depth or height of public outrage, but by something he and his formidable de campanilla army in the defense, never saw coming.

Himself.

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In the end, it was Corona himself who dug his own grave.

It would be good to remember that when the claim-making starts. Or when everyone crawls out of the woodwork, the way they did after P-Noy won in the last election, to proclaim to the world how unbeknownst to it he or she had actually engineered the brilliant coup that made it all possible. No, it wasn’t the exceptional talents of the individual members of the prosecution that clinched the deal, although they have to be commended in the last two minutes for at least following Napoleon’s dictum not to interrupt the enemy when he is making a mistake. It wasn’t Mar Roxas, Liberal Party head, who tried to persuade Juan Ponce Enrile to see things his way by offers of rewards and succeeded only in pissing him off, who delivered the coup de grace.

And indeed it wasn’t the public itself that did it, though it made its sentiments about the midnight-appointed Chief Justice perfectly clear in survey after survey. They never rose to a fury comparable to Erap’s time, when they drove him out of power by another burst of People Power.

It was Corona himself.

It helped that his very own formidable de campanilla contributed epically to his downfall. That took the form of summoning the Ombudsman, Conchita Carpio Morales, along with several others as hostile witnesses with a view to shredding their claims of Corona holding a fortune in dollars in the banks. They only proved that the Greeks knew a thing or two when they said that whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. It turned out to be madness of the first order. They did not shred the Ombudsman’s claims, they bolstered them. They welcomed through the front door the one thing they had dragged out of the back door, which was any talk in the court about Corona’s dollars.

I did say after Morales’ appearance that the matter had become simple. She had reduced it to one thing: Does Corona have millions of dollars in the banks or not? It didn’t really matter how much. He never declared them, he never paid taxes for them.

Corona’s appearance in court, one presaged by much fanfare, did the rest. It proved truly decisive—against him. He took the final gamble, raising the stakes to breaking point, by doing the one thing that nobody expected. He settled for drama, climaxing his performance with a walkout. Which succeeded only in pissing off Juan Ponce Enrile such as he hadn’t been pissed off in a long time. Enrile reduced him to a fugitive from the law, the lowest any highest juridical authority has sunk, by ordering him cut off from all the exits. He never recovered from it. When he came back, he was a broken man, prone to making mistakes.

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And he made the biggest mistake of all, admitting $2.4 million and P80 million in the bank. After that, tapos na ang boksing, though he might still have another boxing match coming in the criminal courts with that admission. For the public at least, it was over. The lawyers can debate till they’re blue in the face whether or not failing to declare $2.4 million is an impeachable offense and whether or not “commingled funds” are taxable, but not so the public. For Juan de la Cruz who will never get to see a million in the bank in his lifetime, let alone in dollars, or grasp the concept of someone having that kind of money saying “Simple lang kami,” that is evidence enough. For Juan de la Cruz who has always understood instinctively, if not apprehended intellectually, that the highest officials of the land, especially the one person presumed as the embodiment of sagacity, are there to set examples in good manners and right conduct and not in pagkatuso, that is proof enough.

Guilty as charged.

I don’t know how Corona will look on the day of his judgment. But it can’t be far from the way he looked last Friday when he made a desperate pitch to tug at the heartstrings of his audience. Someone would text me to say that in the end he looked like a tragic figure, one felled by his own pride, one brought low by his own hubris. But if I recall my tragedy right, tragic figures become so not merely by having a tragic flaw but by having a heroic stature. That was not quite the figure he cut last Friday, and that was probably not the figure he cut yesterday. He has not gone out with a bang, he has gone out with a whimper. In a way, that is probably his real tragedy. That at the end of things, the one person Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo raised to the highest pedestal of law did not loom awesomely tragic, he merely looked sadly:

Pathetic.

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TAGS: featured column, impeachment trial, opinion, Renato corona
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