One Can Smell Change

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

I noticed that I had written about the impeachment trial, the Chief Justice and the Judiciary in my last few articles. I know that the topic has been a hot one, but I also know I had wanted to write about other matters closer to my heart but passed them over for the impeachment trial. I think I gave in to a human desire to check on my readers’ responses – which are more if the subject matter is on the impeachment and less when it is about poverty, about hunger

There are facets of life that need even more attention than the impeachment of a Chief Justice whom I believe to be utterly unworthy to be the chief symbol of justice, of integrity and transparency. There are other cancers that have to be addressed, great challenges that should be welcomed, great opportunities that have to be embraced. Life goes on with or without Renato Corona in the Supreme Court, though I admit the kind of life with Corona as Chief Justice will be very different than life without[with]** Corona in the Supreme Court.

In the past few months, all economic forecasts and ratings on the Philippines have been very upbeat, not from the pronouncements of P-Noy’s finance and trade people, but from international agencies and economic experts. When I had been reading about modest growth rates, I had also thought that the Philippines will not be rated so highly. The opposite is true, however, and the doomsday soothsayers who cry, “It’s the economy, stupid!” must be so disappointed that reputable international economic agencies and experts who owe P-Noy nothing are so optimistic about the immediate and long-term future of the Philippines. Where else can their positive outlook come except from a sincere effort from P-Noy to confront the corruption that has kept many a legitimate investor at bay?

From the presidential campaign in 2009 and early 2010, because of the entry of Noynoy Aquino as a game changer candidate, volunteerism went on high gear. The spirit has not visibly dipped despite the impeachment trial, or despite the desperate attempts of P-Noy’s enemies to bring down his credibility, popularity, and envious trust rating. The trust rating, especially, is much higher than any of his most vociferous critics, whether in media or in politics. But I guess these critics, many of whom I suspect to be guns-for-hire, never had much credibility. Why else would they be guns-for-hire in the first place?

And why else would volunteerism remain on such a high plane if Filipinos are not themselves feeling more hopeful – whatever difficulties they face today. There is an initiative called Pilipinas Natin that springs from Malacanang. It is not an organization, it is not recruiting members, it is seeking out all Filipinos with a desire to help the country, and it is being received enthusiastically especially by the youth. Of course, there is, or will be, a strong political color that could arise. But it is the kind of politics that ideologues wish for, the kind of politics that seek to contribute, to build. The theme song is music to the ears of nation-builders, to the ears of any administration, because it carries a simple challenge to every citizen – “Anong taya mo para sa bayan?”

There is hope that political transformation will be fueled by the people themselves. With the thrust of P-Noy to clean up, more and more Filipinos are not waiting for other politicians and bureaucrats to take charge towards changing a most partisan and corrupt system. It may be because there is no bright light of a national legislator, no personality admired enough by members of both Houses of Congress, who could be P-Noy’s counterpart in the Legislative.

In the Judiciary, the Chief Justice is the subject of distrust and even scorn from more than enough Filipinos. He does not inspire, he discourages. Yet, his position is the natural brightest light of trust and faith that would assure Filipinos of justice. Instead, he is on trial and even an often fumbling Prosecution cannot dismantle a population’s perception already so suspicious of his integrity and convinced he has no transparency. As the Defense presents witnesses who are supposed to bring out the better side of the impeached and accused Chief Justice, more questions arise.

Why would someone who buys properties from the Coronas worth a million pesos not have the title transferred to his name, even when it needed only P2,500 twenty-two years ago? Why would the Defense highlight a twenty-one million peso income for ten years yet remain totally silent on the expenses of Renato Corona? I heard a Defense lawyer in a talk show so smugly try his arithmetic on the audience, showing a questionable 11-million peso loan from a controversial family corporation and adding the 21-million peso ten-year income of the Chief Justice as roughly equivalent to the peso deposits he withdrew posthaste from PS Bank. As though in maintaining the lifestyle of Corona as a Supreme Court Justice and later as Chief Justice did not cost him anything. If the Prosecution had stumbled every so often, the Defense can be seen as guilty of sleight-of-hand or squid tactics out to confuse the truth. I can only say that with the Corona bank deposits, pesos and dollars, plus the intervention of the Supreme Court to stop the opening of foreign currency deposits, the Defense has adopted a strategy to hide the most sensitive of controversial details instead of quickly revealing them.

A people’s march to change and reform, a people’s wish to build a brighter future for themselves and their children, is being stoked by a President who is risking so much to make this happen. One way he is doing so is by questioning the fitness of the Chief Justice to continue serving as such. And P-Noy is telling his branch of government that he is putting himself into a corner when it comes to running after the corrupt in the Executive. Truly, one can smell change.

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