As crises threaten, should Aquino step aside?

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RECENTLY, fellow columnist and former senator Kit Tatad expounded on moral and governance reasons why President Benigno Aquino 3rd should resign, as cited by the National Transformation Council of religious and civil society figures led by the revered Cardinal Ricardo Vidal.

The NTC’s Lipa Declaration, reiterated in Cebu this month, said Aquino had lost the moral authority to lead for having grossly violated the Constitution by bribing Congress, undermining judicial independence, usurping the power of the purse, and electronically manipulating elections.

This article looks at national conditions and asks if relinquishing power would benefit the country as well as the President. It might just. Reason: a confluence of crises looks set to overwhelm a leader never good at handling even single drastic situations like Luneta in 2010 or Yolanda last year. Hence, Aquino should seriously think about quitting now before coming debacles plunge the nation into grave distress and erase his remaining public goodwill.

Daunting challenges ahead
Picture this: Next month the Manila ports congestion, now starting to afflict Subic and Batangas too, begin jacking up prices of Christmas goods. The cargo crisis also slows or shuts down factory and construction work for lack of industrial and building materials, idling workers by the hundreds. And exporters unable to ship products suffer huge losses in costly air freight and canceled contracts, squeezing payrolls, too.


As prices and losses rise, so do road tempers from time-wasting city traffic and Metro Rail Transit queues, even as suspect MRT maintenance and railcars contracts further infuriate commuters. One hopes no November super-typhoon repeats to compound woes, especially with Mayon Volcano already occupying disaster agencies. And come summer, the capital will fume and sweat amid hours-long brownouts.

Congress too feels the squeeze. Before January, Aquino wants next year’s budget and the Bangsamoro Basic Law passed, plus a Senate-House resolution granting him emergency powers to contract generators needed to avoid summertime power interruptions. Meanwhile, legislators grumble over the much diminished largesse from now-illegal pork barrel and “disbursement acceleration”.

Still on legalities, the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement allowing US forces increased deployment and use of Philippine bases. Under EDCA, the Americans have reportedly taken over Subic’s airfield and are building facilities on an island off Zambales. The issue is now complicated by the murder of a transgender outside Subic, allegedly by a US marine.

Crime and security challenges loom as well. New Metro Manila police chiefs must slash crime, or else — just when the holidays bring hoods out of the woodwork. Add to security strains the terrorism uptick spurred by victorious Sunni extremists in Iraq and Syria. Plus restiveness among Muslim rebels over the delay and dilution in carrying out the Bangsamoro agreement. Oh, and there’s the visitor from the Vatican in January.

As if those daunting concerns weren’t enough, health and immigration agencies must guard against Ebola, especially when thousands of overseas Filipinos return for Christmas, some from countries or on flights exposed to the virus. With all those issues, the economy, already tipped to slow next year, may lose momentum sooner, due to ports congestion and a feared slump in the job-creating property sector.

Lastly, on the corruption front, pressures and schemes for payoffs will rise nationwide as elections approach. Since pork barrel is down, other illicit sources will be tapped more greedily, from smuggling and jueteng, to public works and red tape. And grafters are emboldened by Aquino’s unrelenting defense of allies facing accusations.

So expect more scandals like the MRT anomalies and the PNP Chief’s wealth, with hefty emergency power contracts and over P300 billion in public-private partnership projects on the block. Moroever, the media and political campaign against Vice-President Jejomar Binay will drive the opposition to hit back in kind.

Can Aquino cope?
Any of the challenges mentioned can spawn a full-blown crisis, from a commuter train crashing on gridlocked EDSA, to Ebola spreading amid the devastation and stretched health facilities in a Yolanda repeat. Not to mention OFW hostage-taking in the Middle East or terrorist attack on the mammoth crowds thronging Pope Francis. Plus headline exposes on dubious power deals rushed before summer. All in a few months.

To expect none of these scenarios to happen is dumb. To think two could materialize isn’t outlandish. And to prepare for contingencies not even on the radar is wise.

Now, judging from past events, Aquino would likely falter with multiple crises. Those who hoped he had learned from the fatal 2010 Luneta hostage fiasco could only sigh in dismay at his inept handling of last year’s Zamboanga siege and Yolanda catastrophes.

After three years, he still offered nil leadership, dropped out of sight at crunch time, and blamed others, even the hapless, inundated authorities of storm-surged Tacloban. Nor has he pressed agencies on measures to avoid crises, like new power plants, proper train maintenance, and calamity protection (the 2012 People Survival Fund is still starved of money). And he remains reluctant to reprimand or replace failed appointees.

In sum, Aquino’s poor crisis prevention and management do not augur well for him and the nation. Hence, he should seriously consider letting others take charge of troublesome areas. Otherwise, he faces more debacles—with grave fallout for the nation and the administration.

For sure, allies clinging to power, especially those fearing graft investigations, will downplay risks. They’ll insist Aquino can brilliantly handle any crisis. Some may offer advice to counter potential woes, even those whose mismanagement gave rise to the looming crises. And as before, the crafty will keep pocketing their portion of administration largesse.

How exactly can the President step aside? If he won’t resign, he should designate crisis managers with ample powers.

VP Binay can oversee disaster and medical preparedness and relief, as well as OFW security, especially in the Middle East and Ebola countries. Mar Roxas should address economic, power, transport, and peace and order problems. Can the Liberals work with Binay? Well, that’s far better than having him lambast them at every crisis.

If Aquino stays directly in charge, his debacles would escalate public anger. That would heighten fears of losing in 2016, and could prompt the administration to avoid defeat by taking out Binay and pushing the fraud-prone PCOS election system. Then, as in 1986, Filipinos may just give up on votes and seek change by other means.

Don’t let that crisis happen, Mr. President.

[Former Cabinet Secretary Ric Saludo co-authored Beating The Odds, a book on crisis management in the Arroyo administration.]

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3 Comments

  1. Designating additional powers to Binay and Roxas to handle problems will simply not work. Keeping all the imbedded incompetent appointees in their positions will just have them continue to pour gasoline on the fires. Aquino is not even a poor manager he knows nothing about management.

    • “…Keeping all the imbedded incompetent appointees in their positions will just have them continue to pour gasoline on the fires…” Correct as far as the latter (Roxas) is concerned, pero dun sa una (Binay) mong binanggit, wala pa akong nakikita na pagiging incompetent sa trabaho nya.