Glimmer of hope
I imagined that once Renato Corona would be convicted he would look like the most pitiful man on earth. That was the way Ferdinand Marcos looked when the pictures came out of him dazed and confused, bent and ill, heaving himself onto the plane that would take him to Hawaii. That was the way Erap looked when he wrenched himself from Malacañang, slipping into a barge by the Pasig that floated funereally on water.
That was the way Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at least tried to look when she went to the airport armed with a TRO from Corona to flee to parts unknown, propped on a wheelchair, staring fixedly ahead from the neck brace she was wearing. An image she would cling to, the way she clung to power, in the months ahead. Alas, soliciting little sympathy from the public, alas sparking only text jokes.
And that is the way, I imagined, Corona would look when the verdict would be handed down on him. Probably soliciting more sympathy than his boss, probably eliciting less text jokes than before.
This is a country with a tremendous culture of awa, something its less than sterling citizens, something its more than abusive leaders, have banked on to bail them out of the consequences of their transgressions. The attitude that accompanies their fall is not “Time to see the inexorable march of justice”; it is “Time to forgive and forget, they have been humiliated enough, they have been punished enough, to do more would be vindictive.” Which makes their clones appear again and again. Which makes their crimes happen again and again.
You’ve got to wonder when we’ll direct the culture of awa at ourselves and ask: When will we start pitying ourselves? Kailan ba tayo maaawa sa sarili natin?
Two, it’s just the beginning. Before we bring out the champagne, let’s remember that this isn’t the end, this is just the beginning. The point of the impeachment was not to bring down Corona, it was to pave the way for the prosecution of Arroyo. For the theft of more things than just earthly possessions. For corruption in the sense of the poisoning of the well, in the sense of the perversion of institutions.
Corona’s impeachment though hasn’t at all been a waste of time. I did think at the beginning it was a huge distraction from the real project, which was to finally bring a tyrant to justice, which was to finally give this country a lesson in crime and punishment, a lesson that has eluded us all this time. But Corona’s impeachment also taught us a vital lesson in justice by drawing attention to how tyrants make it a point to alienate law from it, to disconnect law from it, to make the world forget that law is just the means to an end, and that end is justice.
The first two casualties of despotism are the military and the courts, the first employed to mount and enforce it, the second to justify and perpetuate it. The first is easy to see, both Marcos and Arroyo conscripted the military to keep themselves in power—Marcos unleashing a war of terror against the people in the name of fighting communism, Arroyo unleashing a war of terror against the people in the name of fighting communism. The second is more subtle but it is there. Both Marcos and Arroyo also used the law resolutely to foment lawlessness, to thwart justice, to make right wrong, and wrong right.
Arroyo went on to corrupt a third institution, something Marcos was never able to do. Which was the Church. Marcos only raised Jaime Cardinal Sin, Arroyo produced Fernando Capalla. But that’s another story.
That a chief justice himself should be facing the law, that took on a world of meaning by itself. In the end, it was Corona himself who would show what the law had become in this country in the wake of the Arroyo regime. He would justify not paying taxes on the bulk of his fortune, which was in dollars, because the law allowed him to, because the courts excused him so, because he was the law in and of himself. In the end he would break down and cry, or tried to look so. That was the sound of law catching up with justice. That was the quietness of law rediscovering justice.
Three, there’s hope for the future. This is not the first time a disgraced leader was tried and convicted, but this is the first time a disgraced leader was finally brought to justice.
Erap was the first leader to have suffered the fate, Marcos having escaped to the fringes of America before him. After Erap fell and the new government wanted to preempt any possibility of his comeback, which he hinted at with the abortive and aborted “Edsa III,” he was arrested, fingerprinted and thrown into jail. Such as his quarters in Veterans Memorial Medical Center and Tanay—he also claimed to have developed a life-threatening affliction—could be called jail. A few years later, at the cusp of protest against “Hello Garci,” aided in no small way by the Erap hordes, he was brought to court, tried and found guilty.
There was no universal rejoicing, there was no ringing of the bells. It was all very well and good that Erap was being punished for his sins, it wasn’t so that Arroyo was doing the punishing.
Not so today. Today, a wayward leader will soon be brought to court, which Corona’s dismissal by the senator-judges and the people has made possible. It will be carried out by someone who has shown a determination to lead, a loftiness to dream, a character to bring it all to fruition. When that wayward leader is finally tried and sentenced by his peers, this country will not see it as vested interest, it will see it as justice. When that wayward leader is finally weighed and found wanting, this country will not see it as political opportunism, it will see it as a cause for ringing the bells and dancing in the streets.
It’s still one long road ahead. But there’s a shimmer of light in the horizon.
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