EXCITEMENT is in the air what with the end of term of BSA3 and the start of a new administration from the mayor of Davao City, the first Mindanaon to reach Malacañang. The 16th President is the first to reach the highest position from city mayor. It is also the first time that a woman from Naga, with just three years in public office, would reach the vice presidency. The 14th Vice President is the second woman to occupy the position.
Though both victors come from separate parties, there will be no joint oath taking. This does not augur well since inaugurals are steeped with traditions and symbols covering institutions, democracy, transitions, leaders and the source of power, the people.
Change is good and simplicity best but one should not forsake traditions and symbols that have been with us since time immemorial. Inaugurals are very public events. Before the people, transition of power is made. There is a reason why we have the “sunduan” or when the incumbent does one last official act to pick the President-elect and bring him to the inaugural event. That symbolizes peaceful transition of power and unity before the people. What happens inside the vehicle is something quite private and personal. Only a few would know exactly what were the exchanges made.
By tradition, the first official act is the swearing in of the Vice President. This is important because there needs to be someone to take the place of the President if something has happened to the President. So the Vice-President-elect is always sworn in first. And then the President-elect should take his oath by 12 noon, which is a constitutional mandate. Again, the tradition has been set.
The results of the election are announced by Congress and the oath is administered traditionally, by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. This is symbolical for it represents check and balance. In fact, the President-elect and the Vice-President-elect do not participate in selecting who will administer their oaths. The tradition, though, has been set aside in the oath taking of BSA3. Interestingly, Duterte should have added more meaning to his oath taking had it been Chief Justice Sereno doing it. Gender parity on stage would have evoked more meaning than having a law classmate doing the oath.
One should not also miss the point that there are only two instances when all branches of government are in one frame: the inaugural and the impeachment. And again, there are reasons for that, foremost of which is the co-equal nature of the branches.
The rituals of inaugurals are also provided for by tradition. After the oath taking done before the people (not in Malacañan Palace), there are the inaugural address, panata and the symbolic possession of Malacañan Palace (climbing of the stairs, oath taking of Cabinet members and first Cabinet meeting, inaugural reception and the inaugural ball).
It is one thing to be simple and save money from too ostentatious display of pomp and circumstance. But leaders should not miss the point that these events are public for the power emanates from the people. The inaugural reception is essentially for the diplomatic community, which, in these day and age, is vital for the survival of any nation. One can do away with the ball but still the activity can be replicated with another public activity with the President and the Vice President seen publicly together by the people. That symbol can’t be missed. Duterte, as President, will have to show to the public that he can work with and recognizes Robredo as Vice President sans politics.
What is significant about the way we inaugurate a President? “First, it’s a regular and routine change of government.” It happens every six years. This “regular, routine nature of a presidential inauguration lends a stability and continuity to our form of government. It reassures the public. It reasserts the faith our nation has in democratic government, in elected representatives forming the government of our nation. Historically, democracy is an experiment. And the regular and routine nature of a presidential inauguration reassures the people that the experiment is continuing and succeeding.”
It is also a peaceful change in government. The political party can change who controls the presidency. The agenda may change from one President to another, but it changes peacefully. Our inaugurations are also public events. The inauguration takes place, when weather permits, outdoors, in the presence of the public, the electorate who chose the President. And it involves all three branches of our government.
The inaugural week should also be used to communicate to the public, pre- and post-oath taking, the vision of the leaders. This week sets the tone for the presidency. The news arc should be in place to generate the best mileage of setting the agenda for the next 100 and 1,000 days in office. It signals to the people that the incoming leader has set in motion the fulfillment of his campaign promises.
The inaugural week covers much talk about institutions and leaders. The glare is on both, for this is the time the persona of the leader is blended with the institution of the presidency. This is also the time to educate and inform the public on the nuances of institutions and inaugural traditions.
Finally, the theme of most inaugural speeches has been a plea for national unity, coming, as it is, from very divisive campaigns. There are two inaugural speeches written by Lincoln that spell the enormous burden a President has. In his first inaugural, Lincoln wrote, “I am loathe to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
As history showed, the quote fell on deaf ears in the South and the US was plunged into four years of bitter and bloody civil war. Lincoln then was inaugurated, for the second time, in 1865 as the war was drawing to a close and he again called for unity and for charity. The famous ending was, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
May the leaders and our Republic have fair winds and following seas in the next six years.