Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Sick Soul

There's The Rub : Virus

Conrado de Quiros dequiros@info.com.ph
Inquirer News Service

TO ARCHBISHOP Oscar Cruz belongs the quote of the day. "What kind of government is this? Are we in a military state already? There are no more principles. There are no more values and morals. Everything is just about money, money, money."

He said that last week out of sheer disgust, as his witnesses began to recant and apologize to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, whom they had earlier implicated in the "jueteng" illegal lottery. The sudden turnaround took place shortly after Jose Pidal, a.k.a. Mike Arroyo, arrived from abroad looking like Santa Claus. He must have given some people an early Christmas.

Cruz's words are today's equivalent of Emmanuel Pelaez's agonized cry in the twilight of martial law, as he was being lifted into an ambulance after being ambushed on his way home. The brazenness of the attack and depths of blackness it spoke of overwhelmed him. He turned to a military officer at the scene and still trying to grasp the enormity of the deed asked: "What is happening to our country, general?"

Days after Cruz expressed his own near-disbelief at the blotting out of all light in this country, the recantation did not abate but became a full-blown epidemic. Even people who were dying from liver cancer preferred to look after their mortal fortune rather than their immortal soul and risk the wrath of the permanent master of Heaven rather than the temporary squatter in Malacañang. Overnight, recantation became the fastest growing cottage industry in the country, people discovering the value, if not the virtue, of turning their back on their word.

It's not entirely new of course, although it has some novel features. The media have known the trick all along in the form of "AC-DC," or "attack and collect, defend and collect." That is the practice, done by opinion-makers in particular, of attacking public figures and collecting from their enemies, then turning around and defending them and collecting from them.

The underworld has another, and better, word for it: blackmail.

What is happening to the country? Quite simply, all decency is being stamped out of it. All the values and institutions this country holds dear are being perverted to support the lie that Ms Arroyo is its president.

At the personal level, the value of the Filipino word today has turned to Japanese money. (My apologies to Japanese money which, even at its worst, during the Japanese Occupation when Filipinos brought basketfuls of it to buy mouthfuls of rice, never became this cheap.) I know we are a forgetful country and cannot remember a time when "palabra de honor" [word of honor] meant something, when one's word was one's troth, when a "gentleman's agreement" (my apologies to the feminists, but that phrase is historical, not personal) was more ironclad than a written contract, but I don't know why, or how, we have sunk this low. These days, it has become the easiest thing to swear by everything you hold dear. You can always break it when it becomes inconvenient, or unprofitable. At worst, you can always say "I am sorry" with the voice of a zombie.

Can you blame the citizens for treating their word as a commodity to be auctioned off to the highest bidder when they have a president that has just shown that you could become president by doing so? Or indeed remain so for doing so? The wonder is not that Cruz's witnesses retracted, the wonder is that they held out for as far as they did. Indeed, the wonder is not that Faustino Dy has gotten cold feet, the wonder is that they ever got warm in the first place.

At the national level, the value of laws has been cheapened even more. Laws are as good only as the collective will is willing to enforce them. Bans and proscriptions mean nothing if someone can easily flout them and get away with it. Or if someone can just say, "I don't care about the law, this is what I want," and the people just shrug their shoulders and say, "Well, OK then."

The reason I am not particularly enthusiastic about an impeachment trial is not that, even if it passed in the House of Representatives, it can be railroaded the way the counting of the votes in the last elections was railroaded by Francis "Noted" Pangilinan et al. to find Ms Arroyo not guilty of stealing the presidency. It is simply that even if, after massively trying to buy off the impeachment court, Ms Arroyo were somehow found guilty as charged, what of it? She can always ignore, or refuse to accept, the verdict of the impeachment court and say she will not step down because the impeachment court is wrong. And dare the world to force her out.

She has already done it. What can an impeachment court determine that Ms Arroyo has not already admitted? When she confessed some months to be the person who "helloed" Garci, she admitted not just to an impeachable offense but to a criminal one. This is not a case where a president betrayed the public trust, this is a case where a non-president thwarted the public will. Yet all she said was: I refuse to accept that it is a crime, I refuse to believe I do not deserve Malacañang, I refuse to step down. And we seem powerless to make her do so. Why should we expect anything different after an impeachment trial? Indeed why should we expect anything different even after 2010?

The current occupant of Malacañang is the single biggest virus in this country. Not least literally: She is making people sick physically, some of them, including a couple of her electoral foes, have already died. But more than making this country sick in the body, she is making this country sick in the soul. You have a country where neither the individual's word nor the nation's laws mean anything anymore, you have nothing. Just a vast black void where the Philippines used to be.

Ask Faust what it means to be sick in the soul. Or lose one.

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