Forgive and forget

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 November, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 November, 2003, 12:00am

Prisoner Joseph Estrada: accused of plunder and corruption, depart in peace. Ferdinand Marcos: late tyrant, murderer, torturer and thief. Rest your bones, you are forgiven. Imelda Marcos: kleptomaniac, cosmic shoe collector and colossal spender of public funds: keep your loot and retire in luxury; you, too, are forgiven.

Have we missed anybody? Only petty thieves, murderers and other criminals in jail. They are too small-time to receive any consideration under the 'total reconciliation' scheme proposed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

She wants to bury the hatchet with her political opponents, setting up a Truth Commission to 'bring closure' to acts ranging from the wholesale depredations of Estrada, the Marcoses and their cronies, to human rights violations and coup attempts committed by military officials. As a first step, the administration has said it will not oppose a request by the disgraced Estrada to travel abroad for medical reasons.

Appalled prosecutors do not expect the deposed president to return. Mrs Arroyo's critics say her 'reconciliation' is a brazen attempt to buy off all opposition to her election campaign next year. In effect, the administration will settle the cases if the defendants promise to support, or at least not to fight, the president.

One official said that Estrada, the Marcoses and notorious crony Eduardo Cojuangco would all be asked for proposals on how to resolve the cases against them. This is like a judge asking the accused how they would like their trial to turn out.

It is hard to see how there can be any reconciliation when not one of the accused has ever admitted to any wrongdoing. I have this vision in my mind. The president tells a roomful of accused torturers and looters: 'Now, promise, you won't do it again, you hear?' And the entire room responds solemnly: 'We promise, cross our hearts and hope to die,' before gleefully scampering off to withdraw money from their Swiss and Netherlands Antilles accounts.

Mrs Arroyo has been loudly touting her administration as one of a 'strong republic'. Perhaps this strong republic needs to do more press-ups.