Friday, December 9, 2011

Missing the Point: GMA and the Marcoses BY ALLEN GABORRO

There is something terribly askew with the arrest of former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Unless you are an Arroyo loyalist or sympathizer, you won’t be pleased when I tell you that her arrest for her alleged crimes can be chalked up more to setting a scornful example and to scoring political points rather than having the ends of justice put on a comparable footing with those of a solidly democratic society.

It is not that Arroyo does not deserve to be ignominiously prevented from leaving the Philippines or arrested for electoral fraud. The standing case against her is far from implausible as much of the known evidence fits, or comes close to fitting, the damning conclusions of her accusers. Those who go along with this will also agree that each page of the Macapagal-Arroyo saga reads like an augury to those who would dare to take on the explicit authority of the law in order to fill their bottomless pockets.

But justice in the Philippines is a precious commodity, even on one of those rare occasions when one of the one-percent of Philippine society that is the socio-economic and political elite gets what is coming to them. Out of the historical debris that is Philippine justice, Filipinos would be too hasty to imagine that justice is being coldly served with Arroyo’s incarceration. They are missing the boat here. What they don’t seem to understand is that justice in the greater context of things is being applied against Arroyo with extreme if warranted prejudice, but at the same time it is being sundered from our conception of it as a human moral ideal.

Justice with a small “j” is being served to the former president, but “Justice” with a capital “J” is being left to wither on the vine in the Philippines. By focusing so much on Arroyo, Filipinos can’t see for the forest for the trees. They are distancing their national conscience and consciousness from the people who more than anyone else in Philippine history—including Arroyo and Joseph Estrada combined—made the country internationally synonymous with plunder, corruption, political machination, and financial greed, the very charges that are hanging over Arroyo. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to re-introduce your favorite malefactors and mine, the Marcoses.

I fear that Filipino children are growing up ignorant of the ignoble story of the Marcoses and how they have gotten away with their looting and pillaging. If Filipino children are growing up ignorant of the Marcoses and their enduring body of crimes, it is because Filipino adults are fostering a sense of that ignorance. Time may heal a lot of wounds, but simply because these crimes took place more than a quarter century ago does not mean Filipinos get to spare their collective memory and shared conscience the burden of the past. Indeed, statutes of limitations cannot be applied to mitigate the egregiousness and destructiveness of the Marcoses and their actions.

There is a competing vision among Filipinos that encourages them to move on from the past and to look to the shining lights of the future, to give up on trying to fix “passé” historical grievances and offenses. Ok, let’s go there for a moment for the sake of argument. What if we were to forget––not absolve mind you––what the Marcoses did during their twenty-year reign? Knowing full well what they have done and thus what they are capable of, I shudder to think of the possibility of another Marcos presidency down the road, one that has Bongbong Marcos following in his father’s footsteps.

If there is a saving grace to a potential Bongbong presidency, it is that the son lacks the intellectual prowess, the political smarts, and the laser ruthlessness that were mainstays of the father’s rule. Yet it is no less true that such an ineffectual presidency would invariably be fraught with weaknesses that will leave it at the mercy of a singular power behind the scenes, a power that would pull all the strings. In the case of Bongbong, can anyone guess who that would be? Here’s a hint: shoes, lots of them.

Good for Noynoy in going after Arroyo. But shame on him, and on the Filipino people as well, for letting the bigger fish like the Marcoses continue to be at large, ubiquitous, and safe and sound from prosecution as they are in the Philippines.


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