First of three parts
When somebody [said]Daang Matuwid, formerly I was also clapping my hands but whenever I hear Daang Matuwid now, come on, let’s be real. Sometimes I say: ‘Ang matuwid na daan tungo sa kanal.’ [The Straight Path leads to the sewer.] That is terrible, but I find it harder and harder to trust the President’s intention.
— Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz
Let’s all get real, especially those still cheering every move and missive by the Palace and the administration. Some do so out of sincere if misinformed or blind admiration, others act out of political expediency and personal gain, especially those whose sycophancy quickly turned from outgoing to incoming leader back in 2010. As it surely would when Malacañang’s occupant changes again in 2016.
But in these last 30 months of the incumbent administration, it is high time and in the overarching national interest, at least for those who do care for our sole republic, to remove any blinders, especially those put on by fawning media and politicians, and, as the good archbishop said, get real about Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino 3rd.
In particular, the nation and its leaders and key sectors must open their eyes to his major failings, willfully downplayed, totally missed or even defended by mainstream media. Perhaps also too subtle for most citizens to notice, these pernicious qualities have spawned governance tendencies which threaten long-term fundamental damage to Philippine democracy, rule of law, development, and social welfare.
One leading columnist wrote that Aquino could go down as the second-best president ever. Consider the following failings, to be discussed through the week, and go figure:
a) Aquino disregarded and even undermined established statutes and institutions.
b) He practiced highly partisan governance, especially in anti-corruption efforts.
c) His combative, fault-finding approach (rather than problem-solving) created difficulties in addressing issues and crises.
These failings may not affect opinion polls much, and could even boost them with help from politicized media, but their effects are already creeping across the government. If they are not stopped, their impact on the culture of both politics and governance will be immensely adverse.
The lawless presidency
First of these PNoy failings, for which he remains utterly unrepentant, is the sweeping disregard for democratically enacted laws and established institutions. This trait was seen early on in his first Executive Order back in 2010 and the Palace insistence on its constitutionality despite a 10-5 Supreme Court decision declaring EO 1 unconstitutional.
The order violated the principle of equal protection under the law by singling out one administration for investigation by the Philippine Truth Commission it created. The High Court ruling suggested that the EO could clear this bar by simply expanding the PTC’s explicit scope. In short, adding an ‘s’ at the end of the commission’s mandate covering “the past administration.”
Former appeals judge Magdangal Elma, appointed Palace legal adviser, who had served in the Presidential Commission on Good Governance created by the president’s mother Corazon, urged that the PCGG be used to do the PTC’s job. Also created by the first Executive Order issued by the first Aquino president, the PCGG is empowered to undertake any probe the Chief Executive may order.
No dice. Aquino did not bother with those perfectly legal solutions. Instead, he unleashed the first of his many diatribes against the Supreme Court. The issue was put to rest only after Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez quit after being impeached by the House of Representatives in the first use of pork barrel releases to unseat a constitutionally independent official. With his chosen Ombudsman ready and willing to target the Arroyo administration, Aquino found no need for the PTC.
Malacañang above all
Other open disdain and even disregard for law followed, prompting close Aquino family friend and veteran lawyer Senator Joker Arroyo to deplore shoddy work by Palace lawyers, which got three other early EOs haled to the High Court. But that well-meaning and much-deserved criticism fell on deaf ears: Aquino did not care much for legalities.
He went his merry way ordering the Department of Justice to withdraw the Oakwood Mutiny case in 2010, after six years in court and despite nationally televised evidence. With presidential approval, DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima also desisted in appealing the junking of the Dacer-Corbito double-murder case against then fugitive Senator Panfilo Lacson. Thus, Aquino added two allies in the Senate, including amnestied mutineer Antonio Trillanes 4th.
The biggest affront to the rule of law came in November 2011, when the administration went against a Supreme Court decision voiding de Lima’s travel ban on former president Gloria Arroyo and her husband Jose Miguel. Even staunch Aquino ally and her mother’s former Justice secretary Senator Franklin Drilon found reason to caution against the willful disregard of the nation’s highest judicial authority.
But Aquino did not care to take orders from the Corona court. He lambasted it weeks later at the Criminal Justice Summit hosted by the Palace. Soon after, the President launched his unprecendented campaign to oust the Chief Justice, reprising the pork barrel inducements which ousted Ombudsman Gutierrez.
‘Pork Barrel King’
Aquino bristled at online posts calling him “Pork Barrel King.” Sadly for him, the label befits his rule in several ways. In his annual General Appropriations Acts since the 2011 GAA, the Priotity Development Assistance Fund disbursed with the assent of legislators, trebled from the past administration, topping P20 billion a year.
As widely believed and attested by legislators themselves, the Palace used PDAF releases to get administration measures passed and Gutierrez and Corona impeached. Thus, President Aquino’s own kingly clout in enacting laws and taking down perceived adversaries was built on pork barrel.
The Internet label itself was coined in reference to hundreds of billions of pesos in public funds which the President disburses without specific allocations enacted by Congress. Those monies include the Malampaya offshore gas royalties, the Presidential Social Fund, and most recently, the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
Last November, the Supreme Court rightly declared PDAF unconstitutional and set restrictions on Malampaya and PSF use. This month and next, it must further rein in President Aquino’s lawless ways by trashing the DAP, which circumvents the budget law by taking funds from GAA allocations, then spending the billions of pesos in false savings on programs and projects never even proposed in Congress.
President Aquino has assaulted the rule of law and the independence of co-equal branches of government. It’s time to get legal with him.
(The second and third parts will run on Wednesday and Friday.)