The good, true and just
The story ends with the fall of the tyrant. It is the way most stories should end, especially stories whose narratives are spun as battles between good and evil. The anointed king takes up arms, his steward raises the banner, and the knights of the realm troop to fill the ranks of the brave and the just. The holy war begins, sunlight shoots off steel, blood is drawn, and the mad wizard and his red queen are forced to bow before the combined might of the righteous.
There is, of course, another narrative, where the mad wizard is instead the last vanguard of the people, and the king a despot out to destroy all that stands in his way. The battle cry is truth to power, the hero a weary knight who fights while bleeding on the field of war, standing among the few good men who will not bow before a juggernaut and his red-eyed army.
That neither story is particularly true does not matter in the battle for the Supreme Court. The last year has been a fight for control over the story, irrelevant of bank accounts or restraining orders or the tedious work required to build articles of impeachment whose sources are not limited to links to online news reports. The prosecutors struggle to maintain some semblance of dignity, the Chief Justice jumps from TV studio to street rally, the senators sing and dance and scream in the name of God and ego.
And on the 44th day of the impeachment case against Renato Coronado Corona, 23 men and women fought for the right to tell the story, to impose themselves into the narrative as players and turn out the sound bite that would loop in the evening news reports. The unlimited time offered by the Senate President for every senator to justify his decision is the last chance for judgment, the last of their 15 minutes of fame, the irredeemable moment when an entire country sits to watch the men and women they put in power. The trumpets blare, the clowns are sent in, and the clichés tumble over each other as news outfits began the countdown from the first to the 23rd.
So Edgardo Angara opens with the dramatic prologue, with the story of a man rising to the august seat of Chief Justice. “But there is a story within the story, the story of a family ripped apart by bitter fighting about land and money, a story that lasted 30 years, found itself in court and ended in this trial. Money, power, family vendettas—these are the roots of the story. Not all of this will find its answers in this court, but we hope to put a period at the end of this story.”
So sayeth the senator, so on and so forth. Watch the old dragon blow out of steam, follow the voice of the other son of the once upon a time king. So Joker Arroyo refers to his glory days, remember, he said, remember 1972. So Manny Villar recounts the evils done to him by his enemies, and claims he has forgiven and forgotten all evils done to him as he continues to recount the evils done to him. So Jinggoy Estrada retells the story of the Corona impeachment as “the historic redemption of our justice system,” the redemption of the same process that “failed to achieve justice for my own father, former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada.” Thrice he said “my father” before mentioning Renato Corona.
So follows Alan Cayetano, with another story about another father, and of cancers of the body and cancers of the country. The rhymes march in, “If your client cannot explain,” he says, “I cannot abstain.” If you did not disclose, we have to depose. If you are not fit, you cannot sit. Francis Escudero meanders on, left, right and center before giving his verdict and announcing his moral uprightness. He signed the waiver, does anyone else dare? The Senate President maintains his dignity, hard won after years of playing villain and hero. There are big words from the Marcos son, and it is lucky his Facebook account has his speech ready for the media.
Miriam Defensor-Santiago goes beyond her usual hysteria, and forgets that by repeatedly announcing her credibility as a judge she imposes on herself the standards of propriety demanded of the judiciary. The arrogance of this judge and her belief in the supremacy of the judicial robe perhaps justify her support for the high-handedness of one Renato Corona. She calls all who disagree with her fools and imbeciles, asks God to strike her dead, howls about hypocrisy and corruption and succeeds in making a spectacle of herself and the judiciary in open court. Then she stomps away without a decision, only to make a stuttering comeback against the Senate court.
The prosecutors are correct, that the impeachment is not about Renato Corona. It is, for the justices of the Senate, about themselves. This is not meant to disregard the wisdom of these men and women as they spoke of the law, but this is not that kind of column. This is, instead, a story about the language of narratives told one afternoon in May on the second floor of a blue-carpeted hall, scant months before another national election
“Length is not strength,” says Ralph Recto. “Haste makes waste.” The trial “simmered” because the articles were “half-cooked” instead of “well-done.” The evidence “left a bad taste in the mouth,” thus his vote to convict. And yet in the entire circus of rhetoric and literary gymnastics, many of them claim to speak the language of the people. “Simple” is the operative word for many of the senator-judges. Keep it simple, is it not obvious, why complicate the uncomplicated?
“I do not speak as a lawyer,” says Lito Lapid, and by playing on his weaknesses turns the clown face of the court jester into the philosopher’s. “I cannot talk of Republic Acts, because no one will believe me. I am not pretending to be smarter than I am. I only speak with my conscience.” In the tradition of Rudy Fariñas’ spectacular whip speech the day before, Leon Guerrero rode away from battle, spurs intact.
The votes come in. They “regret” to say they disbelieve the Chief Justice. They speak “with a heavy heart.” They believe the Chief Justice “is a good man,” but they must stand by the rule of law. They find joy in the fact that a vote will mean “pulling the plug on this afternoon political telenovela,” and that “with a sigh of relief” the nation can “go back to our regular programming” done “away from camera lights.”
The story for some may end with the fall of a tyrant, a dangerous conclusion, because the tyrant’s role can always shift to another crowned head. The promise of Benigno Aquino III is the path of righteousness, not the slaying of the enemy and the return of the old guard. The senators speak of forgiveness and kindness and the healing of wounds, but this is not the point of a court of justice. If Renato Corona is a thief as well as a liar, the story is only beginning, and deserves its own conclusion.
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