Open the envelope

And let our nation’s development begin. By a happy coincidence, “to develop” means literally “to free from that which envelops.” It is ironic that the contents of the envelope whose suppression triggered People Power II remain unknown to the public until now.  Its opening should have been the first business of the new leadership, a symbol of its resolve to be different by being transparent.

Open that second envelope now, and let the nation know the whole truth about the behavior of its highest public officials.  Our development can only begin when we have freed ourselves from that which keeps us from seeing the way we actually think and act in our daily lives.  What are we afraid of?  Are we afraid that our outrage would turn out to be disproportional to the envelope’s actual contents?  But it is bound to be so if we think this is just literally about an envelope.

That envelope is the best metaphor for everything we have refused to see about ourselves, not the least of which is our tendency to disregard the law by a resort to palusot, or if this fails, by a personal request for accommodation.  The companion of this bad habit is the propensity to invoke rank and status to avoid the application of regulations.  How else do we explain how Joseph Estrada could hide billions of pesos in various banks under assumed names?

We routinely set aside our concept of what is right because we tend to be awed by authority and celebrity or because someone makes it easy and profitable for us to do so.  We excuse our complicity and neutralize our guilt by telling ourselves that everyone does it anyway. We use laws and formal requirements as resources for extorting bribes and kickbacks, and we hire the best lawyers to hide such practices.

People Power II is that historic moment in our lives when we realized we could not maintain our self-esteem as a nation if we continued to live like this.  Our awakening came when the 11 senators who conspired to protect a corrupt president used the power of their numbers to suppress the envelope that contained the truth about the president’s Jose Velarde account.  While a vote to divide the house is a prerogative they could invoke under the rules, in choosing to exercise it when they did, the pro-Estrada senators fatally disregarded the question of the legitimate use of power.  Legitimacy is not something one finds in the letter of the law; it resides in the context of the law’s application.  Senator Francisco Tatad’s motion to vote on the issue of the opening of  the envelope pre-empted the presiding officer, Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., whose participation was the single factor that gave credibility to the trial.  In this context, Tatad’s motion stood out as a brazen act that synthesized for every Filipino the illegitimate use of formal power.

People Power II is a repudiation of this brazenness and everything else it sought to preserve – the rapacious presidency of Joseph Estrada, trapo politics, the use of public office for personal enrichment, the collusion of institutions in corrupt practices, and the general indifference of a public that learned to live in a culture of corruption.

Though it was not among its chief objectives, People Power 2 made it possible for Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to become president.  It did not choose Ms. Macapagal; it gave her permission to govern as a transition president.  We draw this important distinction because President Macapagal is acting as if she is a winner in an election. Instead of appointing individuals who could best personify the people’s yearning for a decent and professional government, she has been distributing Cabinet positions to politicians belonging to her coalition as if these were the spoils of war.

But more important, the new president does not appreciate the impulse that propelled People Power II.  That it was born of disgust with a shameless presidency that felt no accountability after it was elected by an overwhelming plurality.  That it was driven by a powerful urge for self-examination and renewal as a nation.

In her first formal televised message as president, she addressed those who might be plotting to destabilize her administration and sternly told them that she would crush them.  She said she would defend the government, but she did not say where she was headed as a government.

On the single issue that would have defined how passionately she felt about the message of People Power 2 – namely, what to do with the deposed president – President Arroyo was at best equivocal.  She said that cases would be filed, but in the next breath she opened the door to voluntary exile.  Private lawyers and other citizens have taken it upon themselves to gather all the evidence they could get so that the case left hanging in the Senate could be given a just and proper closure.

Nearly the whole nation is demanding to see the former president behind bars, and his properties immediately frozen if not seized.  But President Arroyo does not seem to think this should preoccupy her presidency.  Clearly, her concern is to quickly normalize her rule by getting her political enemies to recognize her presidency.   She is however addressing the wrong people.  Her biggest problem is to earn the trust of the young warriors of People Power2 whose singlemindedness made her president.  Perhaps a good start is to request the Senate to immediately free the contents of that accursed envelope.


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