“I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.”
*From “I Had a Dream” taken from the Broadway Musical, Les Miserables
Les Miserables of Victor Hugo is one of the longest novels I read when I was young, curious, venturesome and foolish. It took me a long, long time to read a novel of that length. It must have been a decade when I bumped into one of my fondest friends – on the level of the heart and mind – Thomas Wolfe whose novels like Look Homeward Angel and You Can’t Go Home Again haunted me for so long, not so much for the plot but the enchanting poetic mellifluence you can hardly put the books down.
The musical version of Victor Hugo’s book on stage I watched at New York’s Broadway and London’s West End sometime ago. The characters that haunted me in the book as well as the musical are Jean Valjean, the criminal, and Javert, the police pursuer.
In the current Philippine scene where the poor and the powerless are mowed down with impunity and the rich and privileged enjoy special treatment, you cannot help remembering Jean Valjean and police inspector Javert. We see the reincarnation of these two characters in the relentless drive against illegal drugs in this country as we clearly portrayed it in our last Thursday’s column. But it is needless, for the moment, to write again with verve and a lot of passion on the illegal drug problem. It consumes you when you are presented with the continuing temptation to take a stand and do battle against the irrational and intellectually bankrupt.
Ramos and Duterte – the unidentical twins
To escape the dust of battle, I have decided to write about two Philippine Presidents – one intellectually prepared with academic credentials from some of the best academic institutions where he graduated and the other a lawyer with a provincial flavor confessing to having the lowest academic credentials in the schools where he studied. Comparing them is a study in stark contrast – in academics, in style and in areas of achievement.
Let me deal first with President Fidel Valdez Ramos. He finished high school at the University of the Philippines. Then and now, finishing in UP High is considered an outstanding achievement for any high school kid. He went to West Point Military Academy of the United States of America, one of the best military schools in the world, comparable to France’s St-Cyr and Britain’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where he graduated.
I was not for Ramos in the 1992 presidential election as he was President Cory Aquino’s candidate and I parted ways with Cory long before that on matters involving fundamental principles. So dismayed was I with Cory that I accepted the engagement of being one of two lead lawyers of Miriam Santiago in the national canvassing in Congress of the results of the 1992 presidential election. The other lead lawyer was Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas. My being a lawyer in that national canvassing almost led to the non-proclamation of President Ramos within the deadline.
In the course of the debate as Miriam’s lawyer, I argued with so much passion and vehemence that Miriam was the winner in that election. But despite my arguments, Fidel V. Ramos was proclaimed the duly elected President.
Ramos looked and spoke like a President. In measured but highly intelligent style and form, he presented a convincing vision of the country – Filipinas 2000. But long before that, I left the Miriam legal group when the case went up to the Supreme Court as the presidential electoral tribunal, despite Apin Cuevas’ reasons why I should stay.
As a student of developing events and dreaming dreams for this country, I watched the Ramos administration very closely. There were other reasons for monitoring the Ramos administration. The executive secretary of FVR was a close friend, an associate in a law firm and a Mindanaoan who also shared with me the ever elusive dream of Mindanao independence – Edelmiro “Edel” Amante, congressman and Member of Parliament.
Though I was not convinced with the Ramos presidential style of complete staff study (CSS) before evolving national policy or doing things, Ramos did a good job as President a thousand times better than Cory Aquino. I have always argued that a President of a developing country should be able to evolve policy and respond to situations with intelligence and knowledge based on stock learning without having to do complete staff study. I understood his CSS style considering he finished at West Point and based on long-held operational tradition, American Presidents, senators, congressmen or generals do not do things without CSS.
FVR has an engaging personal style, finesse befitting a presidential statesman, knowledgeable on domestic and international affairs, coming out with an intellectual flavor every time he had press conferences without neglecting charismatic personal touch. He wrote books that defined national and international objectives so reminiscent of one President I admire, JFK.
Ramos never took offense at people who differed with him, including people who criticized him every now and then. He was never personal in his style of national governance. He resolved issues on the basis of the national interest. He did not have a closed mind. He welcomed unsolicited advice. Despite my being the lawyer of Miriam in the national canvassing case, Speaker Joe De Venecia and Congressman Edel Amante, supposedly on instructions of FVR gave me a choice of three positions – Secretary of DOJ, Chairman of the Comelec and Solicitor General. The last two positions were vacant but I rejected them both for my own reasons. I told the duo that I would accept Secretary of DOJ, if FVR would offer it to me with the caveat that if I cannot streamline prosecution of cases and contribute to a new dawn in the justice system within a year from my appointment, I would offer my irrevocable resignation because if I could not do it nobody else can do the job. FVR did not offer the job to me because his sister, Senator Letty Shahani, and five members of the Cabinet objected to the appointment because I am not a team player and I’m too independent-minded. This is what Edel told me.
Nevertheless, I accepted the job as Immigration Commissioner because of Doy Laurel’s insistence that I should accept because he promised FVR. Since Doy was the President of the Nacionalista Party and I was Vice President for Northern Mindanao of the party, even as I told Doy that the job should be offered to the Associate Commissioner of BID, Boogie Cabochan, but Doy rejected the idea, I accepted the job.
This shows how much of a statesman Ramos is – thinking of the country first even in hiring men and women for government service.
And now comes Duterte
Rodrigo Roa Duterte is a very controversial President. He has a style that is more mayoral than presidential. He does not have any hesitation to speak out his mind, regardless of possible consequences. He has a mind of his own and it is not easy to rein him in, if it is at all possible. As one member of his inner circle once told me – nobody can tell Digong what to say if he does not believe in it. This is the possible reason why he is not at home reading prepared speeches either the hard copy or in the teleprompter. He is best when he extemporizes. He is at his element there. Whether the projection is mayoral or presidential, his audience loves him when he is at his element – naming names, denouncing what he sees as wrong, warning or threatening the whole participants in the illegal drug trade and responding to individuals or institutions in very colorful Cebuano verbalisms, which are wrongly interpreted by those who do not speak Cebuano and who do not understand the culture of the Cebuano-speaking world.
I was highly critical of him during the presidential campaign. I did not like his style both in language and body movements. He was, based on my standards, weird and unfit to be President of a country like the Philippines in the modern world. He was always vituperative, reactive and not pro-active. When he was caught with his pants down, he would say he was just joking. But when confronted with some of his serious mistakes like the comment about the Pope and the Australian beautiful woman who was gang-raped, he explained his position, and in the case of the Pope he apologized like he did a few weeks ago to Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on a mistake that could have been verily avoided. This attack-and-apologize-later style is totally alien in my world.
Even as I was critical of Durerte during the campaign, there were things that he said that I liked, if not admired – among them were his statements that he would declare a revolutionary government the moment he gets elected President; he would pursue relentlessly those involved in the illegal drug trade and the grafters and the corrupt; he would do something to alleviate the dismal lives of the poor and downtrodden; and he would improve the fighting capacity of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Thus far he has not declared a revolutionary government. While he has pursued relentlessly those involved in the illegal drug trade, there is a chink in his armor because of the inequality in the enforcement of the pursuit. The grafters and the corrupt are still in the House of Representatives, the Senate, the judiciary, the local government and the workforce of the government – civilian, police and military. There is no perceivable effort in alleviating the lives of the poor and powerless except the one sack of rice per family among the beneficiaries of this highly controversial program known as Four Ps. In the military, there is no immediate effort to improve the fighting force of the military.
Maybe it is too soon to expect results. Operating within the system makes it very difficult to achieve dramatic results. Six months or twelve months are too short to expect any game-changing results – even six years. If Duterte wants immediate and dramatic results, he must declare a revolutionary government now and not wait for the counter-revolutionaries to undermine the expected systemic changes.
The mouth that roared and listening to advice
As I wrote in my column a few weeks ago – PDU30 is the right President at the right time. I have not totally changed my assessment of the man. But right now, this country needs disciplining – Duterte is the man of the moment. How long will his moment last – only God knows! He has a mouth that roars. This is one mouth that has disciplined the overwhelming segment of those involved in the illegal trade and terrified many who are involved in criminal acts except some people in high places who seem to enjoy the Duterte show.
I was glad when PDU30 solicited the help of FVR in the West Philippine Sea problem by sending him as his point man to China. FVR is the right choice –experienced in high statesmanship, both actual and vicarious. PDU30 should give FVR full support and the man will likely deliver positive results. It may not be amiss to suggest here that FVR could be the best point man for PDU30 and the country to the UN and the USA.
For me, the task at hand is to continue to document the events of my time – in columns and the books I continue to write. I have no heroes but friends on the level of the heart and the mind, as I usually punctuate my writings. They are all done for God and country hoping that PDU30 will declare a revolutionary government and succeed in the pursuit of his goals. But if he does not, he has done enough to lay the ground for the next man who will declare a revolutionary government and succeed.