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There’s the Rub

At last

At last it has happened. Last Friday the Ombudsman announced the indictment of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla and six others for graft and corruption. The others include Janet Napoles, the alleged brains behind the pork barrel scam, and Gigi Reyes, Enrile’s chief of staff.

Rejecting the motions for reconsideration of the accused, Conchita Carpio Morales said her ruling is the product of careful thought. The Ombudsman’s determination of “probable cause,” she said, “is not based on suspicion but on the sworn complaints, testimonies of witnesses, PDAF public documents, COA  Report, business ledgers, corporate papers of Napoles’ NGOs, results of field verification, and admissions of some respondents themselves in their submissions…. (The accused) willfully, unlawfully, criminally amassed, accumulated and/or acquired ill-gotten wealth… through a combination of overt criminal acts.”

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The indictment paves the way for the nine to be arrested.

And the warrant of arrest can be served on the senators even while the Senate is in session. A senator’s immunity is voided in cases where the crime is grave, and the law rules that plunder is as grave as it goes. “But as a matter of courtesy,” says Senate President Franklin Drilon, “I will not allow them to arrest the senators in the session hall while we’re having a session. Not as a legal issue, but as a matter of respect for the institution.”

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Why ever not? It’s the best thing that can happen to us in a long time. I can’t think of a more forceful, and completely instructive, lesson in crime and punishment, in law and justice, than that. I myself would like nothing better than to see on TV, played again and again in the news, a group of law enforcers barging into the Senate floor, asking the three senators to put their hands behind their backs, and clamping handcuffs on them. With or without telling them, “You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can, and will, be used against you in a court of law.”

Some movies are better than others. Some fantasies are more real than “Ang Panday.” Nothing will drive home the point about our seriousness in fighting corruption more than that. The image of them being handcuffed in the Senate should have more impact than the one about Erap being fingerprinted in a police station. What you will see underneath the mug shot isn’t just a set of numbers, it is the caption “common criminal.”

In fact, nothing will show more respect for the institution than that. You can’t have a better respect for the Senate than ridding it of its dregs. You can’t have a better respect for the institution than cleansing it of the elements that have tainted it, that have brought shame to it. The Senate is more than its individual members, it is even more than the sum of its parts. The Senate will not be demeaned by the law enforcers coming in to enforce the law in the halls of the Senate, it will be elevated by it. The Senate will not be lowered in the nation’s esteem by the authorities coming in to impose the authority of law in the Senate, it will be raised in it.

But however the three senators are arrested, it will be the biggest thing to have happened to us since Independence. That is so for a couple of reasons.

First is that it will be the most satisfying (potential) arrest of “big fish” we will ever see. In fact it will be the only one.

At first blush, the arrest and detention of Erap more than a decade ago represented bigger fish—he was nothing less than the president. But that is so only at first blush. The whole process was tainted by political motivation—and machination. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, said Shakespeare, and so it was for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo after Edsa 2. It wasn’t merely that the ousting of Erap was being challenged not least by the American press, it was, and far more so, that the taking over by her of Erap was being challenged not least by the Edsa 2  advocates. So long as Erap remained free, so long would the crown teeter precariously on her head.

That is quite apart from the fact that from the start, the public saw her as a bigger crook than the one she jailed.

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Today, of course, the three senators, Jinggoy especially, have been trying to cast their indictment in that mold. To no effect. Nobody believes it, probably not even themselves. And while at that, nothing feels more satisfying, particularly for the victims of martial law, than for them to see one of their greatest nemeses finally felled—if not by God, at least  by greed. And like Arroyo seemingly at a moment of triumph.

Second, it will demonstrate to us with stunning force that it can be done. The unthinkable can become thinkable. It’s the psychological impact of their jailing—permanently if they can be proven guilty in court, and Morales has importuned the Supreme Court to form two divisions to devote themselves full-time and full-force to this case—that will have the deepest and most lasting effect on us. On the way we think, on the way we do, on the way we naturally expect things to be.

Far from showing selective justice, it will show universal justice. Not least because it makes it worlds easier, and not harder, to prosecute the others as well. The others are just as guilty? Well, their time will come, and forthwith.

But more than that because it makes us see something our neighbors have seen all this time, whether they are democratic or authoritarian, whether they are communist or capitalist, whether they are religious or secular. Justice, like rain, falls on the rich and the poor, or it’s not justice at all. We need to punish the guilty however high up they go, not because it is a nice thing to do but because it is the right thing to do.

The arrest of the three senators should open our eyes.

At last.

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