… our message to those who oppose our agenda of reform is clear: If you are ready to engage in sincere discussions, the state is open to a reasonable and honest dialogue. But if you continue to put the people in danger, we will not hesitate to run you over.
— President Benigno Aquino 3rd at Philippine Military
Academy, March 15
Unfortunately, an already tragic event has been made worse by President Aquino’s response to the national clamor for the truth about Mamasapano. … He invited Members of the House [to a March 9 Palace meeting], ostensibly to talk to them about saving the Bangsa Moro Basic Law, but in reality to convince them that he was “fed lies” by his subordinates on the hourly developments in the [Philippine National Police Special Action Force, PNP-SAF] mission. I did not expect our colleagues who were present in that meeting to fall for the president’s story, and they did not.— Resigned Representative Walden Bello in speech barred from House delivery
FOR Palace strategists, the most worrisome phrase in resigned Akbayan congressman Walden Bello’s undelivered privilege speech are the last three words.
If pork-barreled allied lawmakers did not fall for President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s claim of being deceived by relieved PNP-SAF Commander Getulio Napeñas, no one does.
Certainly not his audience at last Sunday’s Philippine Military Academy graduation, who have far more interest and access to information than most Filipinos about security issues like the Mamasapano massacre of 44 police commandos.
Nor did the just-released PNP Board of Inquiry report on the January 25 carnage accuse Napeñas of misleading Aquino, amid mounting commentary that the BOI spared the Commander-in-Chief and other top security officials. They refused to give testimony and evidence crucial to assessing the operation and the failure to reinforce beleaguered SAF units.
Still, like many leaders faced with rapidly eroding credibility, Aquino is talking tough, and his threat of “running over” opponents is beginning to sound like the strident pronouncements of then-strongman Ferdinand Marcos before his fall.
Yet the resignation of Congressman Bello, who maintained support for nearly five years, points to doubts about Aquino even in administration ranks. (Bello’s exit and his muzzling in Congress also show that despite the rhetoric about “reasonable and honest dialogue.” the President has a problem listening even to his own allies.)
Whither the pillars of Aquino’s rule?
So who else after Bello may be thinking of withdrawing support for Aquino, especially among the pillars of his rule: Congress, the Cabinet, and the security forces?
Leading figures whose leanings for or against Aquino are most crucial and seemingly uncertain are Vice-President Jejomar Binay and Senator Grace Poe. Both are seen as likely future presidents, whose stance would affect the political establishment’s backing for Aquino.
VP Binay has no shortage of reasons to break away, given the attacks on him, his family, and his fellow leaders in the opposition United Nationalist Alliance, Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada. For now, the UNA head, while speaking his mind on issues, has not directly criticized Aquino himself or called for his resignation.
With no mass movement against the President, Binay may bide his time till the next elections, since his voter ratings would probably stay between 25 and 30 percent — enough to be among the top two presidentiables. That seems more prudent than leading an uprising or mutiny, which may fail or eventually set him aside.
But if there are moves to oust or arrest him, Binay and his supporters, including masses from opposition bailiwicks in Metro Manila, would almost surely mount a resistance. And until it was restrained by the Court of Appeals, the Ombudsman’s suspension order against his son, beleaguered Makati Mayor Junjun Binay, was shaping up as a test of sorts for public reaction to a possible move against the VP.
The Poe factor
Poe’s swift rise in voter surveys — garnering 21 percent against Binay’s 26 in the latest Laylo Research Strategies poll, and way ahead of others — has made her political stance and plans required watching for politicos, especially those in the ruling camp. If Poe joins the Liberal Party, widely rumored to be courting her, she would assuage fears in administration ranks and prevent more breakaways.
If she turns against Aquino, however, then many allied lawmakers, especially those worried about incriminating pork barrel papers in the Budget Department, may begin distancing themselves and perhaps eventually jump ship to wherever Poe goes, either to UNA as Binay’s future VP running mate, or to her own party or coalition.
Poe’s decision will likely be in the latter half of the year, so most Aquino-allied legislators would probably stay put till then, at least to keep their pork documents under wraps. That fear of investigation and prosecution for spending anomalies is perhaps the main factor determining whether more administration lawmakers would follow Bello’s lead.
What about the Cabinet? They stayed loyal through past debacles, and they probably believe Aquino would weather his latest bloody fiasco. Talk of Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas resigning over his exclusion from the Mamasapano chain of command, seems unfounded, for the simple reason that he doesn’t have any base of political and election support outside the LP.
And the security forces? Can they still support a leader who circumvented the command structure, held back reinforcements from troops under vicious attack, mouths untruths and evades responsibility, heaping blame on an officer who did his bidding?
Maybe the military and the police can forgive one transgression. Maybe. But definitely not a second. And neither would the nation.