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Miriam Santiago and Gregorio Honasan had some startling things to say last weekend. Keeping Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in jail while awaiting prosecution, they said, would spark an international backlash. To avoid this, she should be put under house arrest.

Keeping Arroyo in a police facility, said Santiago, “damages democracy and our institutions. Humiliating the former president damages the presidency. Power is not perpetual. It expires after six years, so better think well about what you are doing now. Is that how you want to be treated eventually?”

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“The world is watching,” said Honasan, “and the way we treat the ex-president would send a strong message of what we are to the rest of the world. (With Arroyo in detention), foreign investors would think, ‘If this is how they behave, why would we invest?’”

Of course, Honasan added, “with the President enjoying a high trust rating, an attempt against his administration would be farfetched. But let’s not tempt fate. Let’s not do anything that would worsen how things are right now.”

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You wonder what planet these two have been inhabiting all this time. But of course the effects of Arroyo’s incarceration are sending ripples around the world. And of course Arroyo’s prosecution, which should follow swiftly on the heels of Renato Corona’s impeachment and conviction, would send even bigger ripples, if not a veritable tsunami on the Filipino communities, around the world. But not in the way Miriam and Gringo imagine.

How the world takes Arroyo’s temporary detention—and will take her permanent one if she gets convicted in a trial—we know from the way it reacted when the impeachment court found Corona guilty as charged. There was near-universal elation and popping of champagne bottles, the latter perfectly literally, one news report in the United States carrying a footage of Fil-Ams toasting to God and country afterward. I was there the day the verdict came out, and I heard no Filipino expressing verbally or in writing the slightest dismay over it. At the very least people breathed a sigh of relief. At the very most they exulted that finally something was being done to stop corruption, finally a government was making inroads in the fight to stop corruption, finally a leader had emerged determined to stop corruption.

What, “let’s not do anything to worsen how things are right now?” Things have never been better than right now. Filipinos have never been prouder to be Filipinos, particularly when abroad than right now. Filipinos have never looked at life in a more positive light despite adversity and hardship than right now.

What’s true for Filipinos is true for foreign investors. Why on earth should the world be loath to see Arroyo in jail temporarily or permanently? Why should the ZTE be loath to do business with the new government when the old, and quite illegitimate, one itself jacked up the cost of its products and passed it off as greed on their part? Why on earth should the Germans in particular be loath to do business with the new government when the old, and completely unscrupulous, one had a habit of welching on deals? Why should the Americans and Europeans and other Asians, who have been wagging their heads about the rot and rut of this country, be loath to do business with the new government when the old, and quite swinish, one had shown only a desire to plant its snout permanently on the pig trough?

I have yet to hear any foreign investor complain violently that Korea likes to jail former presidents on suspicion of stealing money, never mind stealing the vote. I have yet to hear any foreign investor rail at the nastiness of the Japanese they force public officials to spill their intestines all over the mat to stop their dishonor from spilling over to their loved ones. I have yet to hear  any foreign investor or (indeed, forget investor), any human rights group complain bitterly that a former leader who stole lives and hope, quite apart from money and the vote, is being detained in a detention center prior to trial.

Elsewhere in the world, fighting corruption of plague-like proportions is not called damaging democracy, it is called restoring sanity. It is not called damaging the institutions of society—something Arroyo almost singlehandedly wrought during her 10 years of benighted rule, perverting the institutions of law and morality, the courts and the churches, themselves—it is called putting back light in the darkness. Elsewhere in the world, punishing crooks and despots, pillagers and tyrants, is not called humiliating them, it is called justice.

I’ll tell you what will cause an international backlash. That is government suddenly backpedaling after having done brilliantly with Corona. That is government being stricken by doubt and debilitation, laxness and vacillation, after having shown commitment and resolve on an epic scale. That is government falling into the pit of forgiving and forgetting, relaxing and reconciling, moving on and moving off, and all the other hoary epithets and silly platitudes of the past. The weeping and gnashing of teeth, the cries of dismay and disillusionment, you will hear from here to eternity.

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You had the chance and you blew it again. You were weighed, and found wanting again.

But of course the world is watching, and how we treat Arroyo will send a strong message of what we are. We do as Miriam and Gringo say and what kind of message will we send? What will that say about what we are? A nation of fools and charlatans? A nation without a past and without a future? A people who are doomed to repeat their history like a reincarnation on loop? The day we get ahead is the day we get angry. The day we get going is the day we get tough.

The day we get it right is the day we get real.

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TAGS: corruption, Detention, featured column, Gloria Arroyo, gregorio honasan, house arrest, Miriam Santiago
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