The term “on sufferance,” according to Oxford Dictionary, means “sanction or acquiescence under conditions of bare tolerance.”
In American English, the American Heritage Dictionary defines “on sufferance” as
“Absence of objection rather than genuine approval; toleration”; “agreed to but unwillingly”
It offers a second meaning (archaic): “The suffering or undergoing of something bad or unpleasant.”
It was in the sense of being “barely tolerated,” that the Economist described electoral democracy in Hong Kong as “Suffrage on sufferance.” It is barely allowed by the Chinese mainland.
President Aquino, as president and commander-in-chief in the Philippines, has crossed into this dubious realm. Filipinos can barely tolerate him as president and commander-in-chief of our men in uniform.
You get the drift of the times from the many comments being reported in print, broadcast and digital media.
One broadcaster called the President “mamasapanot” (a wordplay on the site of the SAF 44 massacre and Aquino’s baldness).
One texter said he/she would prefer 10 GMAs (Gloria Macapagal Arroyos) to one Noynoy Aquino. What a turnaround!
After loyally adopting the administration line that the Maguindanao massacre was a “misencounter,” ABS-CBN experienced a rebellion. Its radio arm DZMM dumped the word and used “massacre.” And then Teddy Boy Locsin in his Teditorial called it a massacre and blasted the weasel word out of the building.
A crisis of the presidency
President Aquino is experiencing today the gravest crisis of his presidency — one that has been triggered by the massacre of the 44 commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, and the resulting shock, anger and outrage of the Filipino nation.
Nothing in the five years in office of our 55-year-old president rivals the impact and damage of this tragedy on Aquino’s leadership.
Not the battering of East Visayas by Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan on November 8, 2013, despite its awesome size and destructiveness.
Not the Luneta hostage-taking incident in August 2010 (he was barely two months in office), which resulted in the death of 8 Hong Kong tourists and inflicted great damage on Philippine relations with a valued neighbor.
Not Aquino’s setback on his Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) in the Supreme Court, which ruled in June 2014 that his diversion of billions of public funds to his discretionary control was illegal and unconstitutional.
While all these episodes were each marked by grave shortcomings of leadership and competence, the massacre of the SAF 44 towers over them all because Aquino’s failure and accountability in this one is total (from the conception and execution of the mission to its aftermath) and it is nowhere mitigated by any factor.
With Yolanda, he could plead that an Act of God was involved. He did not cause the catastrophe. He just aggravated the human misery afterwards.
With the hostage-taking incident, the botched rescue was a failure of lower-level officials. His failure came when he froze in the face of crisis, and doggedly refused to apologize to Hong Kong authorities afterwards.
With the spectacular downfall of his crooked DAP scheme, he could claim that his Rasputin-like budget secretary Butch Abad orchestrated the looting from start to finish. He only signed the orders and documents. The Supreme Court provided him an out; he can claim he did the crime in good faith.
Six unpleasant scenarios
As Aquino stands today, he is staring at several looming and unpleasant scenarios:
1. His possible overthrow and ouster from office by people power backed by police-military action.
2. His possible impeachment for betrayal of public trust and unconstitutional acts.
3. His voluntary resignation of the presidency which an evident majority of the people are demanding.
4.The total evaporation of his legacy that he once fantasized would include winning a Nobel prize.
5.His demotion from kingmaker to mere observer of the national elections next year.
6.The takeover next year of a reform-minded government that will not hesitate to file charges of plunder against him, which would mean detention.
7. The collapse of the Aquino dynasty and political brand.
In sum, Aquino is facing a crisis of survival. He must find life support fast for his presidency to survive.
One movement for regime change
The idea that Aquino is now a leader governing on sufferance by the Filipino people constitutes the greatest threat to his presidency.
Everywhere, we can sense the erosion of support for Aquino.
Many Filipinos are ashamed of him as their president. Soldiers and policemen can barely think of him as their commander.
Many who voted for him in 2010 have professed voter’s remorse. And those who did not vote for him wear that rejection now as a badge of honor.
Various groups have been moved to action by anger and shock over the SAF massacre.
The Catholic Church and other religious congregations have coalesced into a movement that agitates for Aquino’s resignation, and seek to install a National Transformation Council in his place. They are openly agitating for “regime change.”
Groups representing the various social sectors are also demanding resignation. Only business seems slow to find its voice.
Not surprisingly, leftist groups are a major part of this growing movement.
The historian Howard Zinn has written: “Those who have power and seem invulnerable are in fact quite vulnerable. Their power depends on the obedience of others, and when those others begin withholding that obedience, begin defying authority, that power at the top turns out to be very fragile.”
The massacre has caused massive demoralization and restiveness among military and police personnel.
Members of the bureaucracy are similarly agitated because of stagnant salaries and benefits, and the looting of the treasury by top officials and politicians.
Civil servants and men and women in uniform are close to disobeying orders and refusing direction, because of Aquino’s failure to do right by the fallen 44 or 64, and his coddling of Muslim rebels.
When this happens, left, right and center will fuse into one powerful movement for regime change. For Aquino that will signal the beginning of the end.
President Aquino will discover, at last, the meaning of what he told his countrymen at his inaugural five years ago: “kayo ang boss ko.” You are my boss.
He did not mean it then. He will know it now.