A matter of justice
Before yesterday’s State of the Nation Address, Bayan posed an interesting perspective. P-Noy, it said, may no longer blame Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for the country’s ills. “He can’t blame the previous administration now. He has to take responsibility for the crisis in the country….. For all its PR gimmicks and rhetoric, the last two years of the Aquino administration have been all about unfulfilled promises and the worsening condition of the people.” To this day, it said, the country remains mired in unemployment, poverty, underdevelopment and the massive overseas migration of workers.
My first reaction when I read this was to wonder what Bayan would have said about the first two years of Manny Villar if he had won as president. Villar of course was the presidential candidate Bayan supported in the last elections, despite several senators charging him with diverting the C5. Would it have said his two years were marked by fulfilled promises and the improving conditions of the people?
But that’s hypothetical. Bayan’s barb is not without sublime irony in a deeper respect. Which is that the one thing activists shouted then (and even now) in the streets as the greatest bane of this country was (and is) American imperialism. Feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism were only second and third. Which drew the reaction—not just from the Americans but from people like Lee Kuan Yew—that it was time we stopped blaming colonialism, retro or neo, for our ills, we had to take responsibility for the wretched state of our country.
In fact, though there was a grain of truth to the reaction, there was a bigger grain of truth to the complaint. The sheer length of our colonial history, and the sheer depth of its impact on our mentality, quite apart from the most conspicuous symbols of its perpetuation even after Independence—the US bases chief of them, which quite incidentally have come back in disguised forms—justified the complaint. You cannot just erase the past, like you do a bad experience, and say let’s begin with a clean slate. The past affects the present in the most ferocious of ways, some more ferocious than others.
The same is true here. We heard Bayan’s complaint before, in the Marcos camp telling Cory Aquino to stop blaming the Marcos regime for the country’s ills, it’s time she took responsibility for those ills herself. We hear it again in the Arroyo camp—with no small help from Bayan—telling
P-Noy to stop blaming the Arroyo regime for the country’s ills, it’s time he took responsibility for those ills himself. There is a grain of truth to it, however it’s coming from vested interest, but there’s a far bigger grain of truth to the complaint. That past affects the present in the most ferocious of ways. That past circumscribes the possibilities of the future in the most drastic of ways. Some pasts are more ferocious than others.
More to the point, there’s a far bigger grain of truth to the complaint—and the need to do something about it. Specifically, punishing the people responsible for the crimes of the past. That is the only thing that will stop their examples from being followed. That is the only thing that will stop what they’ve done from being perpetuated. Hell, that is the only thing that will stop them—look at the Marcoses—from coming back.
That’s the part that particularly distresses me about Bayan’s complaint. Which is that it falls in with that wretched argument that we’ve already spent a great deal of time with Renato Corona’s impeachment, let’s forget Gloria, she’s out of power, she’s been punished enough, let’s deal with the present, let’s focus on stopping poverty, let’s move on. Well, we do that and we won’t be able to deal with the present. We do that and we won’t be able to stop poverty. We do that and we won’t be able to move on. We do that and we’ll just get variations of them in the future. We do that and we’ll just get them back in the future.
Whatever the P-Noy administration’s failings, and I agree that there are many, chief of them in my view the failure to even begin to wrench Philippine politics from its trapo roots, as witness the lack of ideological difference between the UNA and the LP-NP-NPC, prosecuting Gloria, hounding Gloria, and hopefully jailing Gloria are, and will be, its biggest accomplishment. It is the first time a Philippine government has taken a regime of the past to task. At least on grounds of principle and not of self-preservation: Arroyo did jail Erap Estrada but merely to strengthen her slippery hold on power. Not even Cory did that to the Marcoses, which has resulted in their coming back to haunt. It is the first time a decent leader has bestirred himself to undertake that epic task.
As promises go, you can’t have any more fulfilled promise than that.
The notion that if you just set aside questions of morality and focus on life-and-death issues, where you’ll get this country going is not just dangerous, it’s plain wrong. That was Arroyo’s favorite mantra: Let’s forget illegitimacy, let’s forget pillage, let’s forget the lying, cheating and stealing. Let’s just concentrate on the economy. The refutation of which came when a journalist asked her, after she gave a glowing account of her economic performance, why the poor had gotten poorer.
The answer is simple: Justice is a social justice issue. Justice is a gut and gut-wrenching issue. Justice is a life-and-death issue. You forget justice and you might as well forget about ending poverty. You forget justice and you might as well forget about putting food on the table. You forget justice and you might as well forget about life.
You forget Gloria, and she’ll be back.
Fighting poverty is a matter of justice. And justice is the heart of the matter.
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