“The greatest treason,” wrote the poet T.S. Eliot, is “to do the right deed for the wrong reason.” Me, I’d rather see the right deed done for any reason, as long as it works.
Sometimes, in spite of dark motives behind the deed, the mere fact that it is right can straighten out a crooked situation.
Thus the House of Representatives of the Philippines impeached the chief justice of the country’s Supreme Court and the Senate found him guilty. All for the wrong reasons on the part of many of those involved.
Some senators said they voted to find him guilty because that was the will of the people. The will of the people had nothing to do with the impeachment. In a popularity contest, the devil would beat former Chief Justice Renato Corona by a landslide. But that was not what the impeachment was about.
Earlier, most of the congress members signed impeachment papers they had not read. Driven by the instinct for survival, they simply obeyed the command of President Benigno Aquino III, who was frothing at the mouth because he was convinced Corona was protecting Aquino’s predecessor and political enemy, Gloria Arroyo, from charges of corruption. He was also smarting from a Supreme Court decision to break up Hacienda Luisita, a 6,443-hectare farm estate owned by the president’s family, and distribute it to the farmer tenants by virtue of the land reform law.
The impeachment was a grim procession of wrong reasons. But the verdict was not unjust. Testifying on his own behalf, the former chief justice admitted he had $4.2 million in the bank that he should have declared but did not. That cooked his goose.
And it’s not just a case of “all’s well that ends well.” There are big dividends for the Filipino people — in terms of, first, a surge of investor confidence as corruption beats a retreat and, second, the enormous pressure on all public officials now to divulge all their bank accounts, after the example set by the former chief justice in the course of his self-incriminating testimony. This could lead to a transparency in government that is unprecedented anywhere.
As for former Chief Justice Corona, the worst of his ordeal is over. May he rest impeached.
But he does not leave public office without a legacy. To the hundreds of farmer-tenants of Hacienda Luisita, he is their hero. Over the decades no government could make any progress on the issue of land reform because none dared touch Hacienda Luisita. Now that barrier to land reform has been cut up and shared out, thanks to the Corona Court.
If the souped-up land reform program can be integrated with a well-advised modernization effort, the Philippines will finally industrialize the way Taiwan, South Korea and Japan did. And if the country keeps up its fight against corruption and keeps investing heavily in education, barring a war in the South China Sea or a tectonic cataclysm, the fearless forecast of the HSBC that the Philippines will be Asean’s largest economy by 2050 may yet come true.
But first the Aquino administration must again do what is right: it must appoint a new chief justice who is not subservient to the president and to the legislature. There must clearly be no attempt to cow the Supreme Court; it must have credibility with equal standing to the two other branches of government. The system of checks and balances so essential to a democracy must be preserved. Then, perhaps, all will be well.
Tomorrow, the Philippines, Asia’s first republic, marks its 114th birthday. It also celebrates a 6.4 percent GDP growth for the first quarter of the year, a rate of growth second only to that of China. It must be doing a few things right. Even if sometimes for the wrong reasons.