Ferdie Topacio is busy earning his keep. He came out recently blasting the government for persecuting the person who is buttering his bread.
“The visits [by various personalities to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center] are not about her health. It’s due to the belief of many people that she is being unjustly prosecuted.
“Many of these personalities were her staunch critics when she was the sitting president. Yet, the same people have now expressed their concern regarding the shabby treatment being accorded her, which has resulted in the deterioration of her health. They have also openly voiced their disapproval of the persecutory policy of the present administration against the Arroyos, and have conveyed their wishes that she soon be granted bail or, at the very least, allowed house arrest. Some medical experts who have visited her have also opined that she needs to go abroad for further treatment.”
Among those who have visited Arroyo since November are Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Eddie Villanueva, Archbishop Oscar Cruz, and Noli de Castro.
I don’t mind that people sympathize with Arroyo’s physical plight and drop by to commiserate. Her emaciation is truly pitiful, a condition one would truly not wish on one’s enemies. It’s a hellish plight, not being able to swallow food, which is not made less hellish by thoughts of karma. You don’t have to be Christian to feel Christian charity, you need only to be human, you need only to get a sense of mortal frailty. Whatever you think of Erap, you have to admire his capacity to show bigness of heart for the one person who did persecute him—her motivations were personal, independently of whether he was guilty or not.
But I do mind that people like Topacio try to squeeze more meaning from this than it can possibly yield, which is like squeezing blood from stone. He keeps suggesting that the people who visit his employer do so out of sympathy for her political plight rather than her medical one, or specifically out of a belief she is being persecuted for being in jail, or its equivalent for the ailing, which is hospital arrest, and he will succeed in depleting her number of visitors fast. It’s a horrendous way of repaying at least some of them, conscripting their compassion into the service of propaganda.
While at this, what a horrendous way to repay Filipino doctors, suggesting that she’d be better off elsewhere. At the very least, it’s silly: In her condition, which is barely able to move around, she’s better off staying put and having a specialist visit her from abroad if at all that is needed. At the very most, wasn’t it Filipino doctors who saved her husband’s life after he was flown in by helicopter after he suffered a massive heart attack in Baguio on Easter Sunday? Wasn’t it Filipino doctors who managed to, well, resurrect him after he seemed brain-dead? Of course he had been brain-dead before that in other ways, but that’s another story.
The notion that government’s shabby treatment has contributed to the deterioration of her health is not just silly, it’s idiotic. Pray, what constitutes shabby treatment? Jailing people who have been charged with plunder and other monstrous crimes? Or in lieu of jail, and in consideration of the suspects’ fragile health, detaining them in a hospital? That is shabby treatment only in the sense that haling “persons of interest” to congressional investigations is shabby treatment: They have a way of suddenly experiencing various ailments, not least of these the instant elevations of levels of blood pressure.
Which brings us to the heart of the matter: I myself pity Arroyo, I myself am aghast at her condition, I myself would not wish her plight to befall anyone, even her. But I myself would not want to see her sprung out of Veterans, I myself would not want to see her given bail, I myself would not want to see her under house arrest. The first is humane, the second is human. The first is a matter of compassion, the second is a matter of justice. Since Marcos’ time, we’ve had too much of the first and too little of the second.
By all means let’s give Arroyo the best medical treatment money can buy, even if it’s our money, even if it’s money we earned with the sweat of our brow, which is an act of compassion already on our part. But let’s keep her there, where she belongs. Springing her out sends all the wrong messages to the people, it imparts all the wrong lessons to the country.
As it is, we’re weighed down by a perverse belief system that finds it the easiest thing in the world to forgive and forget. An Angelo Reyes shoots himself in the heart, and he is forgiven and forgotten however his ill-gotten gains continue to benefit the living. Though arguably he at least had the decency to try to make up for what he did. A Ferdinand Marcos is overthrown and flees for dear life, living out the rest of it in the grip of disease and exile, and he and his kin get entitled—at least in our minds if not in our laws—to leniency and forgiveness. A Gloria Arroyo falls into crippling disease and we are told compassion compels us to leave her to the tender mercies of heaven and the even more tender ministrations of kin at home.
What happened to right and wrong? What happened to crime and punishment? What happened to heaven and hell? Compassion, like charity, begins at home. By all means let us show compassion, but let us show compassion first of all to those that most deserve it. Who are the victims of greed and oppression, who are the victims or tyranny and corruption, who are the people who bore the weight of the second most hated rule in this country. True compassion, unlike the fake kind, is the easiest thing to spot.
It always goes with justice.
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