If a company hires a CEO who has never run even a small business all his life, and did not even distinguish himself in policy deliberations with other business people, whose fault is it if the chief executive screws up?
Or worse: What if shareholders applaud the boss even when he plays fast and loose with company by-laws, abets incompetent and anomalous golfing buddies in the firm, and gives generous bonuses to board directors after they voted out the vice-chairman who pointed out the chair’s violations?
Is it then just the head honcho to blame if he proceeds to repeatedly break corporate rules, play favorites with the executives, and raid the treasury with no regard for the board-approved investment and expenditure plan?
If you are thinking that this scenario is an allegory for the current administration, you’re absolutely right. President Benigno Aquino 3rd would not have betrayed the public trust as much as he has if the public, especially mainstream media, weren’t so trusting and even fawning, swallowing the hype against common sense and contradictory actions.
From grieving son to president
Perhaps it was understandable that a nation mourning democracy icon Corazon Aquino would believe that his son, grieving with dignity on national TV, would uphold her avowed ideals of democracy and good governance.
Still, the more seasoned watchers of government should have known that funeral goodwill and illustrious forebears are no guarantee of presidential ability, especially when the grieving scion had shown no great achievement in school, business or Congress, and no interest in the presidency before his mother’s death.
During the campaign, Aquino declined forums in which his fellow candidates expounded on issues. In those debates, it was his cousin, former Defense Secretary and Tarlac Representative Gilbert Teodoro, who usually won straw polls conducted among those who heard the speakers.
Ominously, while other presidentiables accepted the Supreme Court decision allowing then-President Gloria Arroyo to appoint the next Chief Justice, Aquino openly opposed it and snubbed her chosen CJ Renato Corona. Even before he had won, Aquino was already willing to take on the High Court and its head.
Cronies and contraband
Understandably too, the public welcomed the Aquino administration with high hopes and the benefit of the doubt. So when he failed to take command during the Luneta hostage crisis in his second month as president, the public accepted his tack of not letting top officials handle the incident, even though Arroyo-era Cabinet members had successfully defused far bigger threats with hardly any loss of life, including the Oakwood mutiny involving 300 heavily armed rebel troops.
Both nation and media also quickly forgot Aquino’s refusal to investigate his shooting buddy Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno over Pangasinan Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz’s direct accusation of receiving jueteng payoffs.
The short memory continued with Malacañang trashing the DOJ’s Luneta crisis incident report and its recommended sanctions against Puno, then-Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, and senior police officials, roiling relations with Beijing and Hong Kong.
After Puno, there were more instances of Aquino failing to discipline and even defending the so-called Kakampi, Kaklase at Kabarilan (KKK) clique of close associates. Among other controversies dismissed with little or no investigation were Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa’s reported P40-million White Plains mansion, Political Adviser Ronaldo Llamas’s firearms and pirate video incidents, and gaming czar Cristino Naguiat’s Macau junket and the P400-million casino loss in state casinos in May 2011.
None of that affected Aquino’s ratings, as mainstream media never pursued KKK issues, partly reflecting the public’s own disinterest. Filipinos also shrugged when more than 2,000 uninspected and untaxed containers disappeared in transit between Manila and other ports in 2011.
That was the biggest surge of contraband in the country ever, boosting estimated smuggling under Aquino to $19 billion a year in 2011 and 2012, over six times the average in the Estrada and Arroyo administrations, according to International Monetary Fund trade data.
Congress and the courts
At least KKK cronyism and containerized contraband left democratic institutions intact. But the assault on the independence of Congress, constitutional bodies, and the courts undermined our Republican system’s checks and balances and the separation of powers.
As early as late 2010, the Palace already threatened to impound legislators’ pork barrel funds if there were problems in passing the national budget. That same tactic was used to push the bill postponing the 2011 elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and empowering the President to appoint ARMM officials.
Aquino also harangued then-Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez for allegedly failing to prosecute former president Arroyo. With promised releases of their Priority Development Assistance Funds, the House impeached her, leading to the resignation of the constitutionally independent official.
The courts, too, felt pressure from the Palace. Just months into his rule, Aquino meddled in the mutiny case against Senator Antonio Trillanes and other rebel soldiers in the Oakwood mutiny. And after spats with the Supreme Court over decisions he didn’t like, Aquino campaigned for then-Chief Justice Corona’s removal, allegedly using PDAF as well as the Disbursement Acceleration Program to induce the House to impeach and the Senate to convict.
The trusting public finally awakes
With his trust, approval and satisfaction ratings staying high despite such actuations, it’s no surprise if Aquino and his allies felt they could get away with something as blatantly unconstitutional as taking funds from budgeted programs and projects and channeling them to unbudgeted PAPs, as the Supreme Court has ruled. The same Palace confidence in public approval despite failings in law, may also be behind the speedy forging of the Bangsamoro pact and the US security agreement.
And having intimidated or ousted opponents in cohort with Congress, the President may yet believe that they could repeat the feat with the current Supreme Court led by his chosen Chief Justice. They may also think that the citizenry, having believed in Aquino through all those controversies and excesses, would trust in his word again.
The latest Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations surveys, which do not even reflect much of the DAP decision fallout, suggest that nearly half of Filipinos are no longer so trusting. That proportion has likely swung into a majority who doubt or disbelieve the President, now that the Supreme Court’s July 1 ruling has been more widely deliberated since the SWS survey ended on June 30 and Pulse Asia’s poll on July 2.
Of course, Filipinos could again regain trust in Aquino and forget about DAP, as they did to past controversies. Then it would only show that Aquino’s governance failings are ours as well.