The butchers of Burma may have made their country the most frightening in the world. But the Arroyo administration has made itself the most corrupt and morally depraved in Southeast Asia, if not in the world. Everyone else may only run for second place.
The moral decay did not begin on Oct. 5, 2007 when lawyer Roberto Rafael Pulido and Laguna Congressman Edgar San Luis initiated, reportedly for a fee, what is generally seen as a nuisance complaint for impeachment, purposely to protect rather than prosecute President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for her role in the now-cancelled, highly overpriced, bribery-ridden $329-million ZTE National Broadband Network contract.
It did not begin on Oct. 11 when 190 congressmen in the morning and more congressmen in the evening, and 48 provincial governors in-between, reportedly received brown bags containing P200,000 to P500,000 each from unnamed official functionaries in Malacanang.
It did not begin when Pampanga’s priest-Governor Ed Panlilio revealed that he had received one such brown bag containing P500,000 in five bundles of P1000 bills, and showed the money to the public during a press conference.
The moral decay had long set in. It was well in progress in 2001 when Mrs. Arroyo first seized the presidency in a judicially assisted military coup, supported by probably well-meaning but myopic and misguided members of the perfumed elite.
It was in an advanced state in 2004 when Mrs. Arroyo claimed victory in the presidential elections despite evidence of massive fraud, participated in by well-positioned military and police officers named in the infamous tape-recording of her highly incriminatory conversations with former Commission on Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, Jr.
The rot spread when none of the generals so named were investigated or court martialed, but were promoted instead and put on top of their far worthier and more honorable comrades. It continued to assail our senses whenever a major scandal erupted, and the questionable transaction was cleared, the palpable wrongdoer absolved, and the whistleblower ended in the soup. One could expose the ugliest details of the most sordid crime by those in power, and the only response he got was: “So what? Is there anything you can do about it?” And there seemed to be no stopping it.
Constitutional and legal shortcuts abridged human rights and civil liberties, thrashed the principle of check and balance and the separation of powers, and made certain laws subject to whimsical and wrongful modifications by the Executive. The Supreme Court justices legitimated many of these abuses; on their own, they single-handedly destroyed the constitutional law on impeachment.
No public distinction seemed to exist anymore between truth and falsehood, between right and wrong, between good and evil. The strength of the law has been replaced with the law of the strong – the law of those in charge. And the only distinction that seemed to matter to them was between “we” and “you” ----“we are in power, and you are not.”
After years of seeing their civil and political rights violently suppressed, many had come to believe it no longer made sense to protest against the criminal syndicate that has replaced government. All the syndicate had to do was to buy those who could be bought, and arrest, intimidate and physically silence by temporary or permanent means those who could not be bought.
It took the priest-Governor of Pampanga brandishing that venal bundle of cash on television, and Mrs. Arroyo maintaining a Sphinx-like silence for days while the headlines screamed rape for the people finally to see that official corruption and depravity had gone too far ---far beyond what they were prepared to tolerate.
No one is naïve enough to believe this was the first time money of this kind was ever distributed inside the Palace. The last two failed impeachment attempts against Mrs. Arroyo had been marked with similar stories about congressmen being bought by the Palace. But not a single courtesan squealed.
This was the first time physical evidence of political loot ever made the prime time TV newscast, courtesy of a political novice who was not suffering from a severe surplus of funds nor nursing a political grudge against Malacanang. But while all of Mrs. Arroyo’s men with an IQ below room temperature were trying to explain the unexplainable, Mrs. Arroyo kept herself scarce, as though nothing had happened, nothing was happening, and nothing could ever happen to disturb her peace.
That TV footage, played and replayed over and over again, could yet do to Mrs. Arroyo what that famous photo of a Vietnamese officer about to empty his handgun on the head of a kneeling Vietcong man did to the United States and its allies in Vietnam during the war.
Had this incident happened in Japan, where we recently saw a spate of Cabinet resignations, Mrs. Arroyo and her entire government would have immediately resigned, with a profuse apology to the Filipino people. If she was impelled by a greater sense of honor and duty to the people, she might have committed sepuko and disemboweled herself within hours. Instead, she went missing from the scene for seven days and tried to distract herself and the nation from the burning issue of the day. Only then did she finally say the “cash gift” should be investigated.
Some senators also want it investigated. But it is no longer the season for such kneejerk. Almost everything in this country has been investigated; we are suffering from a surfeit of probes without purpose and without result. We must now compel Mrs. Arroyo and her entire government to act. They must learn from the Japanese and other civilized races and remove themselves from the scene, while it is yet possible to do so with some dignity and grace.
Otherwise, we must now do our duty and claim our rights, reclaim our country from the deep abyss where gross immorality has grounded it. This is no longer the time for anyone of us to be sending frivolous or insulting text messages as a way to get even with the object of our outrage. This is the time to be angry, as Jesus before the money-changers in the Temple got angry, yet to decide calmly and soberly that we will confront the evil and end it, whatever the cost or consequence. This has to be the point of no return. There should be no turning back.