President Aquino: Ups and Downs

I’ve written in the past that President Aquino has the opportunity to be recorded in the history books as a superb president, a perfect combination of his mother’s good will and his father’s courage and determination. As a statistician, but not a gambler, I would put the odds at about 60 to 40 that his legacy will be the most memorable since Marcos. . . and maybe even before.

How long has the Philippines been corrupt?
You read of corruption in Rizal’s works. That was one of his main complaints, along with classism reflected in the overbearing power of the Catholic Church and the land barons. History also records that the last half of Spanish rule was characterized by rotating governors who had no real interest in the well-being of the Philippines and a great deal of interest in self-enrichment. So add to the 150 years of corrupt Spanish rule to 115 years of Filipino-sanctioned corruption begun when Aguinaldo grabbed onto a huge pile of borrowed Mexican pesos for his nation and his personal estate, and you have at least 265 years of corruption.
Corruption has been rampant from the Palace to Jose’s pig sty where the tin roof was extracted from some rich guy’s construction project by a contractor who swapped it to Jose for a small piglet. Theft in the Philippines is not really a crime. It is business as usual. How many ways do Filipinos cheat the system? I was a math major and I can’t count that high. Johnny Lin’s abacus would probably sizzle and catch fire from the heat of the calculations. We have old math, new math and Filipino math, which is base 10 plus a markup of 35% for all the “gratuities” along the supply channel.
It will take 20 years to root corruption out of the Philippines IF we can find future presidents willing to dig it out all the way from the Palace to the pig sty. President Aquino has only gotten to the first circle of corruption. It is an important circle because it curtails much of the big ticket thieving. The first circle includes his cabinet officials, top generals, and maybe a governor or two.  He might get to the second during his term, the junior lieutenants in each of the executive departments.
The legislature is supposed to be policing its own but seems rather to take pride in a kind of corruption of values, avoiding good ethical behavior like the plague, sitting on SALN’s, jamming up the FOI Bill, plagiarizing away and threatening the very foundation of democracy, the freedom to speak, with a bizarre and harsh internet libel clause in the Cybercrime Bill.  When the Legislature operates with hidden agendas, sits on laws aimed at transparency and women’s rights, passes laws aimed at intimidating expression, and coddles its own ethically challenged members, it burden’s the President’s legacy with non-action and bad deeds.
Face it, the Legislature is not leading the charge for freedom and transparency and high ethical standards. It does not have the same sense of righteousness and purpose as the Executive Branch.
And what about the third co-equal branch of our government, the Judiciary? Sorry to report that the courts have not even gotten to the first circle because Chief Justice Sereno’s bench is still being fumigated. We should check back with the Supreme Court in a year to see if anything has improved.
But I digress. I’m talking about President Aquino here.
To get past the first circle of corruption, President Aquino has to take three big steps and he appears reluctant to take two of them.
  1. Work the de-corruption effort through the cabinet posts into the top management layers across the nation. Then broader and deeper.
  1. Prosecute extra-judicial murders.
  1. Aggressively pursue transparency in government acts.
He is doing number 1, having given Corona the boot, jailed Arroyo, and being actively in the hunt for generals and governors who have been riding high on the taxpayer hog. Work is likely to become slow and hard because the corruption “out there” is smaller and sneakier and not always easy to spot. Take the matter of vote buying. Think we will see any in 2013?  Ahahahahaha ROFLMAO. Decentralized corruption is business as usual, as we saw regarding the roof of Jose’s pig sty. Customs officials dipping, DENR dipping, LTO dipping, PNP dipping, judges dipping. I certainly have no statistics because it is a sumbitch to count, but I bet thousands of officials are dipping a hand in some poor slob’s wallet. And that slob’s wallet was probably obtained in a tax free swap or five-finger discount.
The two biggest achievements of the Aquino government are financial stability and the hammer brought to bear on corruption. And his cabinet secretaries are actively engaged in building better processes and results. But the President has to deal more explicitly with extrajudicial murders and freedom of information.
There are also some clear “downs” that the President might choose to learn from. We had a little flare-up about Under-Secretary Puno a few weeks ago. That buried the Sotto plagiarism and it was in turn buried by the Enrile-Trillanes mud-wrestling match on the floor of the Senate.
The media hereabouts certainly are single-minded, eh? They mosey from one scandal to the next, forgetting to cure, tie off or otherwise wrap up the previous one.
Some people were critical of the President on Puno, but I don’t see what the big deal is. Robredo died, things were up in the air, and follow-through got a little disjointed, much akin to the chaos of the battlefield. It will all work out fine. Puno will be dealt with by proper investigation, not blogger investigations, and, if the President is wise and able to separate personal friendships from job performance, Puno will be invited to leave government. He’s what is known as a “stigma” now.
The Trillanes back channel eruption revealed another stigma. It displays the President’s main weakness, a tendency to adhere to friendships even when they go counter to the grain of his own success. Just as he supported Puno, the President backs Senator Trillanes even though it is fairly evident Trillanes is a hot-head with a non-diplomatic mouth. The incident seems simple enough: Trillanes has a contact of some clout in China and asked if he could work it. President Aquino said “yes”. Indeed, the contact was instrumental in getting ships to stand down from the face off over Scarborough Shoals, but it did not get all Chinese boats to leave. The President’s mistake was not saying “yes” to Trillanes. The mistake was not putting him under the direction of Foreign Affairs Secretary Del Rosario. It is never wise to go around one of your trusted executives. Plus it is a mistake to keep coddling Trillanes when he is clearly a loose cannon.
But these are minor incidents. They don’t reflect the progress of the nation or the steam the economy is gathering.
The President often walks into the slapdash of media sensationalism when he speaks off the cuff, before all the facts are known and pieced together. The press then digs up its own facts and puts the pieces together in generally unkind picture that suggests the President is not trustworthy. The President would benefit by adopting a discipline of holding off on public comment regarding flare-ups until the facts can be put together and delivered to the press more comprehensively.
The President is not responsible for the incomprehensible ineffectual Legislature. He could get a lot more done if they worked harder on the RH Bill, FOI and other acts aimed at building a progressive Philippines. He should definitely work his contacts there, and jawbone them in public.
I rather see the President’s “downs” as transactional, minor in the big-picture flow of history. Of concern, sure. Worth panic? For sure, not.
His ups are substantial. The Philippines is growing and stable and modernizing. Corruption is on the way out as a mainstream value.That’s what I think will emerge as his legacy. To solidify that legacy, he needs to do more to:
  • Push both openly and privately for Legislative action on key bills.
  • Track down murderers and definitively end the era of extra-judicial killings.
  • Actively back FOI and RH bills as essential steps toward a progressive Philippines. There is no reasonable reason for them to be held back.
  • Develop two new personal disciplines: (1) be less reliant on friendships, and (2) refrain from speaking off the cuff to the press during flare-ups until all the facts are known.
The main point of this article is to suggest it is best to keep things in perspective, and not let a sensationalist press paint the picture we view as reality. The secondary point is to muse about what the President could do to build a striking legacy for himself and the Aquino family.
9 Responses to “President Aquino: Ups and Downs”
  1. andrew lim says:

    I may sound repetitive Joe, but combatting corruption will be a sputtering affair here. When Pnoy ends his term, expect some of it to come back. And based on my research, Catholicism's ineffectiveness is a huge cause of it. It simply cant do its job well in keeping people on the straight path. All those hierarchies and intermediaries, and the quick rinse cycle of that washing machine- the confessional box, makes corruption a repetitive endeavor.Btw, Joe, Pnoy dropped a hint in that Cavite speech about Jun Abaya possibly becoming President one day…. maybe we should start something in that direction…a non-trapo to combat Binay? Or after Binay? sounds interesting…

  2. Agree. If you have followed my "Presidential Candidate" series, you will see that I advocate for the "good and young" who are more interested in achievement than personal enrichment. My slate of candidates is INSTEAD of Binay, who I think is a huge step backward. Abaya and Angara are on my list of top candidates, and I will add a third and final later this week. From the three, I will rank order them and invite readers to knock them off with one of their own recommendations. Their arguments will have to be convincing because these guys are competent and have the proper character to extend the Aquino break-out. The real question is, are Filipinos bold enough to drop the trapos.Here is my write-up that sets the scene and picks Abaya as a top choice:

  3. up NN Grad says:

    A legacy both personal and for history will be for PersiNoynoy to get answer to "…Who Masterminded Ninoy Aquino Assasination?". Why he (son of Ninoy) is ignoring this historical question is something I do not understand.Because Pressi-Noynoy should know —- the "Who mastermind??" question does not go away. History will in fact be grateful even if it were under BongBong's watch that A TRUTH COMMISSION gets formed to give more closure to the Ninoy-on-the-tarmac murder and the other transactions of Marcos Martial Law Years.

  4. up NN Grad says:

    Now PersiNOY has, with a signature, obtained more power to make society be more attentive to "Daang Matuwid". The details are in the newly-signed CyberLibel law, and atty Harry Roque writes:…This means that electronic libel is now punished with imprisonment from 6 years and one day to up to 12 years, while those convicted for ordinary libel under the RPC are subject to imprisonment only from 6 months and one day to four years and two months. And because parole, a means by which a convict may be spared from actual imprisonment may be granted only to those sentenced to serve a prison term for no more than 6 months and one day, anyone convicted for cyber libel will inevitably serve a prison term.

  5. Perhaps because he is more interested in moving forward than getting embroiled in the past. Perhaps because he is certain he knows who did the deed. It would be a tremendous waste of emotional energy, I think, when there is so much to do now.

  6. Yes, it is absurd. I expect that the provision will be tested and found wanting, and the libel provision declared unconstitutional. It is a shame that our ethics deficient legislators have no comprehension of fundamental democratic principles and how speech is a cherished "check and balance". I would note that the rules for implementing the law have not been written, it is under the President's auspices, and there are opportunities to put it into proper perspective in the implementation. Better, of course, is to get it out.Furthermore, it would have been damaging to veto the bill and have the needed provisions of the Bill cast back into that wasteland called Legislature.

  7. Edgar Lores says:

    Andrew,To a certain extent, I agree with your cynicism.Question is what can we do?1. The President has started the ball rolling by:1.1. Condemning corruption in no uncertain terms. This is a cultural change.1.2. Proving he is serious by having a lying and allegedly corrupt Chief Justice impeached. This is a great political change that has affected the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judicial branch including the ombudsman office.1.3. Double-proving his sincerity by having the ex-President up on electioneering charges. This is a political change that revalidates and reinforces the plunder case against ex-President Estrada.2. You have identified the churches as agents of corruption.2.1. In this blog, it has been suggested that the threat of taxation may lessen the influence of the churches.2.2. If we read the commentary in papers and in the blogs, there are a lot of believers undergoing a crisis of faith. The membership of the Church is bleeding. Among the intelligentsia, the only tourniquet staunching the flow is the pyrotechnics of Father Bernas.2.3. In spite of this the cultural and political influence of the Church will remain for some time into the future unless Rome collapses.2.4. Rome is aware of this possible collapse and is indeed taking steps to avoid it by recognition of its errors and in the espousal of liberal theology. Father Bernas is the main proponent in the country.2.5. It is hoped that the entire Catholic hierarchy in the country recognize their shortcomings and commence to join the government in this fight against corruption if only by teaching the eighth commandment. I know this is a tall order for the Church. This would be a religious change.3. The office of the ombudsman must be given all the support the government can offer in terms of funds and skills. In Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong, the commissions against corruptions are highly independent, have teeth and are feared. Their current rankings in the Corruption Index of Transparency International are 5, 8 and 12 respectively. The Philippines is ranked 129.3.1. The ombudsman must raise and prosecute high profile cases in each branch of the government and in the most corrupt departments and bureaus. Corona would be a good start.3.2. The Internal Revenue must also prosecute high profile cases as it is currently pursuing with Corona.4. An anti-political dynasty bill, as discussed in this blog, must be correctly configured and passed. The unseemly Enrile-Trillianes fight stems from dynastic forces. This is a legislative change. This is another tall order.5. The social media is becoming the Fifth Force in the fight against corruption. Presently our greatest contribution is in this area. Let us fight the good fight.In summary, items 1, 3 and 5 are ongoing while items 2 and 4 are near-impossibles. But if all of these changes – political, executive, legislative, judicial, religious, cultural and technological – could be marshaled by the President and brought to bear on the problem of corruption, I would increase Joe's odds and unequivocally state that PNoy will be among the greatest Filipino president for all time.

  8. andrew lim says:

    Tnx for the reply. Wow you're a very comprehensive commenter. I like the "fighting the good fight" part. Makes this all worthwhile.Btw, Joe and Edgar, read today's Phil Inquirer. There's a front cover story on the illegal ivory trade here in the Phil. and how two Catholic priests (one is even a monsignor in Cebu) are involved in the smuggling of these into the US. Read how they justify it. Amazing. Nat Geographic has made a docu on it. Apparently, ivory is a favorite material for Sto Nino statues. They protect sperm but not elephants! LOL

  9. Edgar. Wonderful summation of the conditions of corruption. I particularly think about 2.5. You ought to write Father Bernas and ask how to get the Church to see how simple it would be for the Church to become a partner to solutions rather than a contrarian advocate bitching all the way.Andrew. I didn't know priests were engaged in that. Wow. What an exclamation point to Edgar's synopsis.

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