The Long View: Cheap and easy guarantee

Cheap and easy guarantee
By Manuel L. Quezon III

The President looked relieved, elated, even, when Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim said he would guarantee that she’d stay in office until 2010, and that there will be no disorder, “most especially in Malacañang.” What Hizzoner the Mayor probably meant was, he would personally ensure that no mob would try to storm the Palace gates. But as for what goes on inside the Palace, the disorder, for example, within the President’s official family, some of whom seem to have refused to submit to a revamp, some things are beyond anyone’s control, most especially the Mayor of Manila, and even, it seems, the President.

But did Lim issue a gallant guarantee? The President definitely thought so. But rather than being an act of gallantry, Lim’s reassurances were really sweet nothings, a kind of political flirtation, a flattering but essentially meaningless exchange of compliments, with a patronizing undertone neither the President nor her boosters managed to grasp. “Ah, hello, you’re here! So it seems, you are the President; don’t you worry, little lady, Lim the Brave and Bold is here,” is what he essentially said.

The President should have been furious; her media trumpeters should have issued rootin’ tootin’ statements to the effect that the chief executive can defend herself and doesn’t require a mayor’s assurances. Instead, she grinned broadly and shook his hand.

Obviously, Lim’s expressions of gallant tolerance were what the President deeply, even desperately, wanted to hear, and so Lim gave the President what she wanted, since it cost him nothing. There won’t be a mob. And even if there are those raring to come knocking at the Palace gates, they no longer have the numbers, means, or motivation, to put either the President’s job or life in peril, or to force the Manila Mayor’s hand.

The Mayor’s confidence – who’s the boss? Why, himself! was best demonstrated by a dismissive remark he made, when leftists complained the Manila Mayor had only opened up half of Mendiola to protesters. Hizzoner said, “They used to be banned on Mendiola, and now I’m allowing them to use half and they’re still complaining.” Anak ng pucha naman, o: “the law applies to all, otherwise none at all.” Lim, in Manila, is the law. Got it?

But it’s the President’s insecurity, and not Mayor Lim’s swagger, that should interest us. When Franklin D. Roosevelt advised his countrymen that the only thing they had to fear was fear itself, he went on to describe fear as that “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” After the trauma of May 1, 2001, fear has so conditioned the President”s mind that her first instinct is to close the Palace gates, erect barricades across all roads leading to it, and sound the alarm whenever the name Joseph Estrada is mentioned.

When it finally became clear that the Sandiganbayan would have to wrap up the Estrada trial, and as it became obvious that a verdict would have to be handed down sooner rather than later, an unreasoning, unjustified terror seized the President. The alarm was sounded; advertisements were placed that enriched newspaper owners but only showed just how impoverished the Palace is, when it comes to either prudence or actual courage.

A Palace that doesn’t think its own propaganda are lies, that really commands loyalty and doesn’t have to buy it, and which has a genuine constituency instead of having to fake it, wouldn’t be running around waving full-page ads in the air, would it? And it wouldn’t end up visibly exhaling in relief over a Manila Mayor’s guarantees.

Whatever the actual merits and demerits of the case, regardless of whether or not the court rules on the basis of law or tempers its decision on the basis of various political considerations, what’s undeniable is that no one will really be surprised by whatever decision the court hands down. For Estrada’s supporters, the whole trial has been a farce; for Estrada’s detractors, the whole thing has taken too long and the man has been treated too kindly. As for the rest of the public, the whole trial is simply another case in which justice is for the great but beyond the reach of the small.

The Marcoses, for example, have been winning case after case in the courts after a long drought of legal victories. Their political rehabilitation is well underway: so Estrada may be down today, he will be up again some time in the future. In the end, what matters is to draw it out, engage the best lawyers possible, be secure in the knowledge everything is negotiable and that while one’s ability to bargain may be weak or strong, as Amang Rodriguez famously said, “in the long of time, we shall success!”

I mean no disrespect to the courts, indeed I hear only complimentary things about the presiding judge in the Estrada case. I do think, though, that whatever questions of evidence or law are tackled in the Sandiganbayan decision, too many have already made up their minds and too few will try to keep their minds open. From the time the authorities made a martyr of a disgraced former president by the manner in which they dragged him off to detention, the cause of justice has been ill-served.

It’s the President’s being held hostage by fear that keeps giving her predecessor a self-perpetuating new lease on political life. The former president would have been handed down a verdict, not with a bang, but with a whimper, if the Palace had only played it cool. The great weakness of generals and politicians is that when they try to fight the next war using the tactics of the last war, they are doomed to fail. May 2001 proved it wasn’t worth even his loyalists’ while, to either suffer or die for Estrada. They will vote for his candidates, and hold him in affection: but they won’t die for him, which places him at par with the President.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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