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There’s the Rub

A face of justice

Before he turned himself in last Friday, Bong Revilla waxed alternately defiant and tearful.

Facing a group of family, friends and supporters in his home in Cavite, he cried: “Mr. President, I’m ready to be jailed, wherever it may be, because I believe I’m innocent. And I’m not afraid, Mr. President.”

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When his passions died down, he said wearily that it had been a nightmare waiting for his arrest. The night before, he said, he got only two hours of sleep. The whole thing felt like he was attending his own wake. Except that in his case, he said, he was waiting to be buried alive.

It’s still a bad script.

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Whether someone who is about to be arrested surrenders himself or not is beside the point. Whether he is ready to be jailed or not is beside the point. Whether he is afraid or not is beside the point. It is not a matter of choice, it is a matter of course. It is not a matter of concession, it is a matter of compulsion. It is not a matter of prerogative, it is a matter of imperative. That is the nature of justice, that is the nature of crime and punishment. You commit a crime, you are punished. Whether you like it or not. Whether you agree to it or not.

As to the nightmare Revilla went through before he surrendered, who the hell cares? That, not quite incidentally, is what Jinggoy Estrada complains about too. He hasn’t been able to sleep, not knowing when his arrest will be ordered. He has been left only to make tearful goodbyes to his children. Who the hell cares too? They’re supposed to.

The Ampatuans have families too, the Ampatuans have children too, the Ampatuans have friends too. Their loss can only be the country’s gain. Their grief can only be the country’s revelry. I don’t know what they expect from his paawa effect, but awa is not the effect they will produce.

In fact, all Revilla will produce is grumbling from some sectors about his fairly special treatment. He is occupying a 32-square-meter cell with a kitchen and bathroom, and although it is not a room with a view, it is only slightly smaller than where I live. And he complains about the heat being bad for his migraine? You’re tempted to say again, that’s the point of being jailed.

Certainly, those huddled in hovels beside esteros who might not have had to if they had gotten a small part of the hundreds of millions of pesos he and his coaccused are accused of stealing, would like nothing better than to endure his ordeal.

Arguably, Revilla’s jailing remains bitin, or leaves a great deal to be desired. Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile remain free, both contending due cause, and Enrile in particular contending old age. You don’t know exactly when—or if—they themselves will surrender or be arrested.

While at this, you wonder what’s taking the Sandigabayan so long to issue the arrest orders for them. It has three divisions handling each of the three senators, and all every division  has to do is go through what the Ombudsman already has. What in God’s name are they doing entertaining Estrada’s and Enrile’s lawyers in their courts? Thank God for the Fifth Division, which is handling Revilla, for knowing what to do and doing it.

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As well indeed as the Philippine National Police. I have to commend them for refusing to sensationalize Revilla’s jailing, or allowing Revilla to grandstand along the way. They took him inside Camp Crame professionally and with dispatch, fingerprinting and photographing him en route to leading him to his cell without fanfare. Which caught the spirit of the way it’s done abroad, projecting the law as something impersonal, stern, inexorable. Something I’ve particularly admired about the United States: The way the authorities took in Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, the founder and CEO of Enron respectively, is a lesson in how to do things professionally, without fuss.

Of course the PNP allowed Revilla’s kin to stay on with him for a while—it would just be for his first day, they said—but it’s a concession to culture we can live with. That culture isn’t going to change overnight. Otherwise, the police, with Chief Supt. Theodore Sindac—what a glorious name!—to speak for them, did a good job.

But this is just the beginning. A long road still lies ahead and it is a rough and stony one. In the United States, it took two years for the Enron bosses to be tried, convicted and permanently jailed after they were arrested. Which brings us to a crucial point: In the United States, the public may safely leave it to the courts after the culprits are arrested to see that justice is done. The law is institutionalized, the law is nonnegotiable, the law is on autopilot. And after a wait, long or short, justice is done. Here, it is not.

Two years is a long time, and that is assuming the case against Enrile, Estrada and Revilla will take only two years. As it is, two years is all

P-Noy, the initiator of the prosecution of the three, has. In the United States, a change of government does not affect a criminal case at all. Here it does, materially, monumentally, decisively.

The need for continued, indeed unrelenting, public vigilance is there. The need for the antipork campaigners to see this case through, quite apart from seeing to it that the same fate befalls others, is there. The need for social media to monitor it, comment on it, keep the public fires burning on it, like a Greek chorus in a tragedy, is there. The need for the schools, the Church, the business community, the NGOs (the real ones, not Napoles’), the activists, the nonactivists, the inflamed Filipino, the outraged Filipino, to not let go is there. That is the only way justice will be done.

But for the nonce, I’ll take a step back and revel at what we have. Revilla, if for the nonce too, is in jail. That may not be the face of justice, but it is a face of it. Who knows?

Maybe it can make all the difference.

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