Almost thirty years ago, Ninoy Aquino was assassinated in the Manila International Airport whilst it was under the heaviest military protection second only to Malacanang Palace. The murder was grotesque in its arrogance, in the message that nobody was safe from the long arms of the dictatorship – not even with international media on the watch.
Against that arrogance was born a rage. One of its name was JAJA or Justice for Aquino, Justice for All. Ninoy Aquino was not the only martyr of the Marcos dictatorship. There were thousands more who were killed and tortured. We never knew most of their names, but their families will never forget. Millions, though, who were suppressed and oppressed in an official environment of force and fear stripped of freedom, seem to have put in deep storage the memory of an evil incarnate by forgetting.
Before this national amnesia, or apathy, before younger generations grew up with little or no information about martial law and a dictatorship, the struggle to give justice to the assassination or execution of Ninoy Aquino was intense, sustained, and ultimately successful in removing the Marcoses from power. JAJA culminated in the EDSA People Power Revolution, justice delivered to the dictator not by a formal legal process but directly through the collective sentiments and actions of citizens.
Twenty-eight years later, another JAJA is emerging. The current drama, or circus according to others, of a former president and her husband trying to leave the country, and stopped from doing so despite a Supreme Court TRO, finally dislodged the Ramgen Revilla murder and family drama from the headlines and front pages. This drama could very well be called Justice for Arroyo, Justice for All, the JAJA of the 21st century.
Ironically, though, the justice sought for Arroyo is not in the same direction as the justice once sought for Ninoy Aquino. In fact, it is its opposite. The contrast between Ninoy Aquino and Gloria Arroyo is quite obvious. Ninoy became a hero by anticipating the possibility of being killed, yet not allowing that risk to stop him from returning to the people and country he loved. Gloria has become the object of suspicion, and even derision, by trying to leave the country posthaste. She says for medical reasons; many say to run away from the short arms of Philippine justice.
The contrast does not stop with Ninoy and Gloria. It deepens with the stark comparison of their spouses. The widow and famous housewife, Cory Aquino, stood against the dictator and forced him to cheat in presidential elections so he could be proclaimed winner by a compliant parliament. Gloria and her husband, Mike Arroyo, stand accused as orchestrating massive cheating in the 2004 and 2007 elections. The charges may have not yet be all filed, but they have long been charged with that crime in the hearts and minds of tens of millions of Filipinos.
That the present moment coincides with the second anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre all the more heightens the sense of drama which surrounds the Arroyo situation. The arrogance of the horrible massacre is like a repeat of martial law, albeit in a more localized territory. The known relationship of Gloria Arroyo and then ARMM Governor Ampatuan gave him power beyond imagination, including cooperation from the military and the police. In return, Ampatuan delivered votes, or ballot boxes stuffed with votes often written by the same hands.
Justice for Arroyo is another kind of justice from that which was sought for Ninoy when he was executed in the tarmac of the Manila International Airport. It is a justice that seeks her prosecution and conviction. It is a justice that is running after her before she escapes. It is also Justice for All who may have been robbed of the truth, robbed of their resources, robbed of their votes.
When the Marcoses flew the coop, it saved their lives. No matter their claim that they did not want to, they they were forced to, they live today because they ran away from an enraged people. If they had been there when thousands penetrated and ransacked Malacanang, they could have experienced what Khaddafi went through.
If the response of the Filipino public today is milder, it is because democracy has taken root, because Cory Aquino did not use the military and police to kill and torture even those who nearly killed her only son, Nonynoy, because Cory Aquino did not seek reelection and transferred power deliberately and peacefully to an elected successor, and because P-Noy intends to strengthen democracy even more.
Today, it is only popular sentiment, not mobs, that supports government’s move to prosecute the Arroyos and prevent them legally from going beyond the boundaries of our legal system. This will work for Gloria and Mike, not against them. They still have their money, they still have a network of personalities in all fields whom they had favored and pampered, they still have their freedom to speak and choose the comfort of St. Luke’s or their home instead of being detained in government facilities intended for non-bailable accused.
The Philippines is far from perfect and its justice system is far from perfect as well. If Gloria is acquitted, many will feel that justice was not served. If she and Mike are convicted, their supporters will claim it is justice denied. The journey to political maturity and the return of finer cultural vales and higher ethics as the foundation of our sense of justice and societal relationships will continue to be a great struggle. With the freedom to express our views, the journey will be a most noisy one, too.
Filipinos, though, must choose to embark on this sacred journey. It is the legacy we seek to bequeath the younger generations and those yet to be born. We cannot give up, we cannot fail. In the drama, we must remain aware that honesty, integrity and honor must find their way to reign in our hearts – and that only courage ca see us through.
“There is always a philosophy for lack of courage.” Albert Camus