THE CAPACITY of men for cruelty was once assumed to be proportional to their size, the English satirist Jonathan Swift once wrote in his book “Gulliver’s Travels”, only to change his mind about it. Cruelty, or its opposite, can come from any human size, and we may add, regardless of color or creed.
There are many moral pygmies in our time, or moral Lilliputians, to borrow Swift’s dimunitive fictional characters. It’s uncertain if there are more of them here now than there were previously, as during the dictator’s regime which has been bought hook, line and sinker by many as a “golden age” in Philippine history, spread like cheap and stale butter by the son and his choir.
Or, there could be more in the future, which is quite dicey and strongly likely, if not inexorably,given 1) the shameless and unabashed attempts at erasing historical accounts and records of the martial law period ,which have been facing sustained revisionism in the late two decades and 2) the strong possibility of philosopher Santayana’s caveat that those who forget (or don’t understand) the past are likely to repeat it.
For the last five years, Sen. Leila de Lima has been the victim of moral pygmies in our society. She has been In jail on propped-up drug charges on the basis of testimonial evidence from cherry-picked witnesses, most of whom criminals, some now dead, while some have started recanting their false stories about the lady senator. At least, one of three charges has already been dropped as the accusations against her appear to crumble like a deck of cards.
The latest to say he was sorry he did swear falsehoods against the senator is no less than the government’s so-called star witness. Now, he’s singing a song with a familiar tune some before him had sung : he has been coerced into badmouthing the senator, in his case, this time by no less than the former head of the country’s justice department.
For what? As they put in street argot: puri or buhay?
That’s what former Bureau of Corrections chief Rafael Ragos essentially said in his affidavit of recantation, revealing that no less than former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre allegedly coerced him into testifying against De Lima. It must have been his way of getting his pound of flesh for the embarrassment he drew from former senator Miriam Defensor Santiago during a Senate hearing. Or, it had something to do with the irresistible desire of a small-town despot that the senator rot in jail.
Of course, incentives are the modern currency of human transactions, good or evil.
“I said,” Swift wrote in Gulliver’s, “there was a society of men among us, bred up from their youth in proving with words multiplied for the purpose that white is black and black is white, according as they are paid.”
Or more direct to the point: “ It is maxim among these lawyers that whatever hath been done may legally be done again, and therefore they take special care to record all the decisions formerly made against common justice and general reason of mankind.”
“These”, Swift added “ under the name of precedents, they can produce as authorities to justify the most iniquitous opinions; and the judges never fail decreeing accordingly.”
Apropos Ragos’ recantation, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has done or said two things: !) did a Pilate, virtually washing his hands by saying he wasn’t the secretary yet when De Lima was being being crucified for alleged drug-related crimes and 2) he has passed on the job of finding out the truth if men in his department were guilty of Swift’s indictment to the Office of the Ombudsman.
It is interesting as a footnote to Guevarra’s course of action so far that the Ombudsman has ruled, consistent with President Duterte’s earlier opinion, that statements of assets, liabilities and networth (SALN) can be weaponized against people and,therefore, should not be accessible as the law and the Constitution provide.
Up until the turn-around made by Ragos and company as witnesses versus De Lima, many, if not most,people bought the government narrative without question that De Lima was guilty as charged, the way more people seem to buy , without thinking as Sen. Tito Sotto would want from voters, the “golden era” of a dark time in Philippine history.
It would have made difference if all the court hearings against De Lima were publicly televised, in the same manner that court hearings of a defamation trial against English actor Johnny Depp are a YouTube spectacle, and the public is given a more objective, clear and independent assessment of her case. It would have shown the public who tried to make white look black and vice versa, according as they are paid or coerced, as the case maybe.
It would have been better if, as De Lima said, Ragos changed the wrong song for the right one much earlier. De Lima’s lawyer is convinced Ragos’s conscience bothered him he eventually made the retraction. The late Martin Luther King Jr. was prescient. This is bound to happen, he said, when one’s conscience prevails. It may not be popular, politic and safe , you do it anyway because it is the right thing to do. Better late than never.
“Small men, seeking great wealth or power, have too often and too long turned the highest level of public service into mere ersonal opportunity,” a former American legislator and statesman once said.
In other words, Philippine politics, then and now.