What you wish for
I AGREE completely with Serge Osmeña when he objects to Malacañang soliciting Senate support for Merceditas Gutierrez’s impeachment. He was reacting to Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang saying, “We hope that they would support Gutierrez’s impeachment.” The “they” meant P-Noy’s party mates Franklin Drilon, Ralph Recto, Francis Pangilinan and Teofisto Guingona III, and allies Osmeña, Francis Escudero and Antonio Trillanes IV.
It’s a horrible idea for two reasons.
Osmeña himself supplies the first. “We are judges. We have to be independent. We have to be able to judge a case based on its merits and on the quantum of evidence that will be presented by the prosecutors. Otherwise, we can take a vote after five minutes. Let’s ignore the evidence. We will just open and read the charges, and ask everybody to vote. “Let’s divide the house.’”
At the very least, Carandang’s suggestion flouts the separation of powers. Of course backdoor politics happens all the time, whether under tyrannical or liberal rule, and the current government is no exception. Certainly it would be naïve not to explore the partisan divide. But it is one thing to explore it and another to reduce the impeachment to it—or give the impression of it. Or worse, propose it in public.
Quite apart from that, Carandang’s suggestion ignores, or fails to see, the separation of intention between legislating and impeaching. Legislating is passing laws, impeaching is trying someone. Bad enough as it is to propose partisanship to passing laws, it is infinitely worse to even hint of partisanship in trying someone. Osmeña is right: When Gutierrez comes to face the Senate, the Senate will no longer be the Senate, it will be a trial court. The senators will no longer be senators, they will be judges. Justice wears a blindfold because she is not supposed to see race, creed, color—or political affiliation.
At the very most, it misses the true value of impeachment. The value of impeachment, especially for a country like ours, does not just lie in its goal, which is to convict the guilty or find him innocent, it lies in its process, which is to educate the public in the ways of democracy.
That was what the Erap impeachment trial was. That was the truest, biggest, strongest “infotainment” ever unleashed upon the country, informing and entertaining with equal ferocity. Not just the middle class but especially the masses. You didn’t have to go far to see it. Watch it, said an ad I saw, in So-and-So Beerhouse with beer and air-conditioning. That was how popular it became. And thanks to Hilario Davide’s sterling performance, it not only had everyone talking like lawyers, including the barbershop philosophers, it even had people trying to copy his accent.
That impeachment never reached its goal, or at least its apparent one, which was to find the president guilty or innocent. But it reached a goal higher, farther, and nobler than it set out for, which was to find the people’s hearts and minds. That it reached it there is no shadow of doubt: The people themselves made the final ruling. The people themselves wrote the ending to the story.
My second reason is not as easy to see, but it is just as real. That is that the suggestion for Malacañang’s allies to gather for the kill turns Gutierrez—and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is really on trial here—into an underdog.
This is a government that strangely enough can’t seem to appreciate, or sometimes even see, the power of images, subliminal messages, symbolic meanings. Strange because it is a government that won because of it, though most of its officials can’t see that either, believing, or claiming, as they do that P-Noy won because of their toil and their brilliance. When it was simply the awesomeness of the image, the subliminal message, the symbolic meaning of the opposite of Gloria emerging from the smoke to do what the opposite of Marcos did in her time that clinched it for him.
What turned Erap from the most popularly elected president of this country ever into at least the most untrustworthy person of his time weren’t just the brilliant arguments of the congressmen who prosecuted or the analytical prowess of the senators who judged, it was also the subtle but deeply suggestive messages beamed by the images in that courtroom. Foremost of which was Joker Arroyo and company on one side, attired in barong Tagalog and feeling a little rusty from not having practiced their skills as trial lawyers in a long time, and Andres Narvasa, Estelito Mendoza and company on the other, dressed in coat and tie and exuding confidence, no, arrogance, in the thought that this would be a no-contest, they were the de-campanilla lawyers pitted against a bunch of losers.
What did that remind the masa of? The movies where Erap was on the side of the first and Eddie Garcia was on the side of the second. Except that this time around Erap was the head honcho of the second.
Never underestimate the power of images. You give the impression of government’s allies in the Senate ganging up on poor old Merci, or even the not-so-poor-and-old Gloria, you are going to provoke a backlash. You give the impression of government’s allies in the Senate eager to convict Merci, saying “No, thank you, merci,” to the painstaking process of weighing the evidence, you are not going to give the public an education in law and justice, you are going to give the public an idea of schoolyard bullying. You give the impression of government’s allies getting back at their enemies—or former friends/patrons—“weather-weather lang ’yan,” the last thing you are going to advance is “’Pag walang corrupt, walang mahirap.” The first is, “Lintik lang ang walang ganti.”
Be very careful what you wish for.
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