Sunday, May 27, 2012

Dinner in Munich after an acquittal

"So, you're so into judging beauty contests but not into this judging that's been going on for five months that will affect the course of the Philippines?" My friend in New York asked, in another early morning phone call today. This time, it was actually more than unwelcome because I'd stayed up blogging until 1 AM and now here was my phone ringing at 530 AM. That meant a measly 4.5 hours of sleep.

I replied: "I had fun judging Ms. Philippines Earth last night." He'd obviously read my last blog entry about how I had been one of the judges for the grand finals of Ms. Philippines Earth 2012.

He said: "Well, none of you will have fun after Tuesday if your Chief Justice is convicted. Unless you're part of the conviction camp. Then it's party time and free-for-all. Everything will be centralized under one power -- and just imagine what you can do with that."


For those coming late into the game on this blog, I'd met this new friend from New York at the JAL lounge in Narita Airport in Tokyo in February. We'd struck up a conversation over breakfast at the lounge because he'd been reading the Philippine Star and I actually thought I could have it afterwards to read on the plane on my way back to Manila.

It turned out that he'd just come from Manila and was on his way to the States, and he was incredibly well-connected with the Philippines and also extremely knowledgeable about Philippine affairs. Certainly more knowledgeable than I.


We'd kept in touch, although our one-way phone calls (New York to wherever I was in the world) centered mostly on politics -- a topic I usually didn't (and don't) want to discuss but which he always attacked with relish like a political studies professor at the Ateneo de Manila.

Anyway, he didn't even wait for a reply. He seemed content to carry on a conversation with himself. Maybe he'd been on the debating team in Penn.


He said: "Do you understand how the Philippines will look to the rest of the world if they convict a Chief Justice on the issues at hand? First, the prosecution case is full of holes: little ghost ladies bringing documents and complaints being filed by self-righteous and self-proclaimed vigilantes wanting to get into the limelight; laws being overturned to get information, and witnesses who don't know how to count assets properly."

He added: "In a court anywhere else in the world, just one of these would be enough to throw the case out. The court always errs on the side of the defendant."

Wow, he's certainly been reading the news, I thought to myself. Then I thought: I know he didn't take up law, but he certainly sounds like lawyer. Just what we need in this world. Another guy who can debate an issue to death.

He continued: "Second, every single government official in your country files an inaccurate SALN because it's just a protocol issue for them. Until now, no one really thought an inaccurate SALN was a crime. And if that's the basis for an impeachment, you must be kidding. They'll be able to impeach every government official on this issue alone."


I know what he means but I just don't want to know. As I've been saying for the past months, everything I know as right and wrong has been overturned by politicians and the media.

We don't know what's wrong or right anymore because the media, the politicians claiming their 2 minutes of fame on TV and media interviews, and the populist public that doesn't really look at the facts are all suddenly determining what's wrong and what's right. Reality now boils down to a sound byte and a headline. But how unpleasant this topic is, so I usually stick to travel.

But as we were on the phone already, I said: "But what about his ties to Gloria Arroyo?" This is the line that many people use when they go public with a conviction. Even when I look at Facebook, the people I see pushing for a conviction are doing so because they say they dislike Gloria Arroyo and they think this will end supposed corruption. Our legal process -- and in fact, the legal process of most of the Western world -- does not operate this way if we observe it correctly without railroading.

My friend laughed for the first time today. He said: "Yes, that's right. He was picked by Gloria Arroyo. And if they convict him, the next one will be picked by the President Aquino, and I'm sure it'll be someone sympathetic to him. And then what? Will that person be convicted by the next president because he was picked by someone else?"

He added: "This is way more than about Gloria Arroyo. This is about your rights as citizens to be protected by laws and about the soundness of your justice system."


Then he continued. "Doesn't it bother you at all that some very corrupt politicians have now captured the moral ground and are basically trying a Chief Justice for corruption on the basis of an inaccurate SALN? Suddenly they're good and he's bad? That's psychological money laundering."

Sigh. You're telling me, I said to myself.  Anyway, I asked him: "Can't we talk about Europe instead? Can we please, please go back to planning for Munich?"

We were supposed to meet for dinner at the best tafelspitz restaurant in the world in Vienna next month, but it's going to be Munich instead because we've got to see a car-thing near Munich for some reason -- and not for tafelspitz but for something else (a beef stew) that's supposed to be the best in the world. It doesn't matter what city I change the meeting place to, this guy seems to be willing to fly in from a business thing he has in Geneva, and he seems to know a very good restaurant in every city in the world.

He laughed as he knows I really hate thinking about current politics. Sometimes I think he does this just to torture me. Then he said, rather sweetly for once: "There'll be lots of time to plan our dinner in Munich."

I was almost exasperated by now. I asked: "When?" I was tired of talking about politics and things I can't really change. My Europe trip is basically three weeks away.

He replied, right on my heels: "After the Chief Justice is acquitted."

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