Sorry, couldn’t help it. Atrocious pun, I know, but no, I’m not referring to the government’s decision to apply the law to ex-general and former revolutionary-president-to-be Fortunato Abat. I am referring to the critics of his arrest: Does Abat’s advanced age (he is reported to be 80) excuse him from the legal consequences of his actions? To advance the thought is, well, to give in to a bad idea.
In the first place, I am not too sure whether the same people who now castigate the government for arresting "a harmless old man" would have praised the government if it had decided not to detain Abat at all. Some critics are, well, only critics; to paraphrase (and then to apply) a principle of realpolitik, for them there are no permanent criteria of criticism, only a permanent object of criticism.
In the second place, didn’t Abat in fact call for an unconstitutional end to the Arroyo administration? Didn’t he in fact try to establish (in typical Philippine-coup-plotter fashion, that is, by calling a news conference) a revolutionary transition government? Didn’t he in fact name himself head of the new government and, by reasonable inference, commander in chief of any military unit heeding his call? Didn’t he, in fact, break the law?
I think I do understand the sympathetic nature of some of the criticism; we can reduce it to a rather simple formula. We are saying, Give the old man a break. Show some tolerance, for goodness’ sake. Learn to laugh a little.
But my understanding is that clemency comes after conviction (and no, I’m not using strictly technical terms here). He violated the law? Then charge him. Only then will mitigating circumstances come into play.
The emphasis on Abat’s age is also misplaced. Nobody makes the mistake of ridiculing Sen. Johnny Enrile’s potency (political, I hasten to add). But he is as old, or as sprightly, as Abat. So it can’t be age that excuses Abat from the consequences of his acts. It is, precisely, the lack of consequentiality. He is not a consequential player in politics, at least not enough to bring the multitude streaming back to Club Filipino. (That’s what the critics mean by "harmless.") But does the lack of consequentiality make his declaration of a revolutionary government legal? I’m sorry to say, but I don’t think so. It only makes his precipitate act pathetic.