Still, be careful what you ask for

May 2, 2011

Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer
May 2, 2011

THE SENATORS are elated that Merceditas Gutierrez has resigned.

Their effusive words are variations on a theme. Her resignation, says Juan Ponce Enrile, is the “best move” she could have taken. It “spares us a long and arduous impeachment process,” says Francis Pangilinan who was the first to call on Gutierrez to do so. It spares us “the very tedious and divisive process” of impeachment, quite apart from saving us precious time and resources, says Ramon Revilla Jr.

I wrote about this before when they called on Gutierrez to resign, saying they should be careful what they asked for. I said that despite Gutierrez’s display of toughness, repeatedly saying she would face her accusers with head held high, that was something she would very likely do when things got hot. That was so not just because, like Arroyo’s other traveling companions, she shares her boss’ passion for vowing one thing and doing another, that was so because that decision never lay in her hands, it lay in her boss’. If the impeachment created a stir, or expectation, in the public, she was likely going to be pressured to resign.

That is what she has done.

It is not without its merits. Certainly it is not without its triumphs for government.

At the very least, it removes a stumbling block in government’s campaign against corruption. The Office of the Ombudsman is an important one, indeed a vital one for a government dedicated to fighting corruption. Gutierrez’s resignation deprives Arroyo of a protector in that office, someone who can make evidences of her pillage disappear, or continue to muddle up cases like that of Carlos Garcia. It opens the door for the appointment of someone who can live up to the demands of so lofty a job.

At the very most, it shows that P-Noy’s anticorruption campaign is getting some traction. He has won the first battle almost without firing a shot. Flight is an admission of guilt, whether flight takes the form of fleeing to other shores, shooting oneself in the heart, or resigning to escape an impeachment trial. It is a personal victory for P-Noy in particular who has campaigned vigorously to rid the Office of the Ombudsman of a thorn on the side of government. That thorn on the side may now be turned into a sword in the hand.

But it has its drawbacks too, and far bigger ones.

That Gutierrez has resigned should demonstrate forcefully the true value of her impeachment trial. That value did not lie in the conviction of Gutierrez, it lay in the indictment of Arroyo. Gutierrez was just the means to an end. Her trial would not just have shown that she was deaf and blind, it would have shown what she was deaf and blind to. That was the awe-inspiring scale of wrongdoing of the person she tried to defend and protect.

Far more importantly, that value did not just lie in exposing it, it lay in driving it home to the people. Indeed, driving it home in the most dramatic, vivid, gut-wrenching way. That was the true value of the Erap impeachment trial, the telenovela to end all telenovelas. It gave a face to wrongdoing in the courtroom drama that the public devoured every day for months, a drama far more gripping than the serials that ended on the note of “Abangan.” In the end, that was what led to Erap’s undoing.

Why should Gutierrez’s trial have been long and arduous? Why should it have been tedious and divisive? Why should it have cost us precious time and resources?

The Erap impeachment trial was not long and arduous, it was short and bitin. We know that from the clerk and CEO, the housewife and the philanderer, the urban poor and the urban rich, who felt deprived by that trial coming to a sudden close, like addicts robbed of their fix. The Erap impeachment trial was not tedious and divisive, it was enlightening and uniting. That trial gave the public an education in democracy, quite apart from giving the public to glimpse the true face of corruption, which was uglier than anything they had seen in horror movies.

It was divisive only in that it alienated the corrupt from the public. Which was as it should be. The point of unity is not to unite the oppressor and the oppressed, it is to unite the oppressed to fight their oppressor.

That was what the Gutierrez trial would have done. It would have given the public an education in democracy, which is that the people rock, or rule. It would have given the public a glimpse of the face of corruption, which in Arroyo’s case extended well beyond the theft of money. It would have given the public to unite behind P-Noy’s campaign against corruption, which is as it should be.

Of course, as Pangilinan says, Gutierrez’s resignation is just the beginning, the campaign against corruption goes on. That may not just mean going now after Arroyo with renewed energy, though that is a consummation devoutly to be wished. That was the not very veiled intent of Gutierrez’s impeachment to begin with. It’s time more cases were filed against Arroyo, which I should hope go far beyond merely making her out to be a crook.

That should also mean finding ways to draw in the public into the fray. I propose in this respect that the prosecution of Arroyo not just for fraud, which Frank Chavez has already initiated, but for such things as “Hello Garci,” the kidnapping of Jun Lozada, the massacre of political activists, be televised the way Gutierrez’s impeachment trial would have been. A government campaign against corruption, whether corruption is defined simply as pillage or more broadly as the corrupting of all the institutions of democracy, cannot succeed without the people’s participation in it. This time around don’t ask for Arroyo to flee abroad like Marcos to spare us an arduous and divisive process.

Be very careful what you ask for.

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