These past weeks I have been badgered by friends on why I have refrained from commenting on the relentless persecution of Vice-President Jejomar (Jesus, Jose, Maria) Binay in the Senate and the media.
I could not say outright that I did not have anything yet – no solid piece of research and no interesting insights–to offer on the subject. I only had random pickings from gossip and sensational media reports — and an instinctive sympathy for Binay as a member of my post-war generation, his small-town background and his underdog status.
This reticence has now materially changed with the discovery by some intrepid journalists that there is a full-blown conspiracy to assassinate him politically, that there are oligarchs funding the plot, and that President Aquino may have given this contract his blessing.
Above all, the picture changed for me when I saw – like a bulb flashing – that there are two Shakespearean dramas being played out in the Vice-President’s ordeal: Julius Caesar and Hamlet.
Assassination in the Senate
What’s happening to Binay in the Philippine Senate hearings looks like an elaborate restaging of Julius Caesar’s assassination in the Roman Senate.
As most will remember, Brutus, Cassius, and other senators brutally ganged up on Caesar and knifed him to death. Mark Anthony rose from the tragedy to avenge him and become a Roman consul in his own right.
In this Filipino version, the villainous senators are Alan Peter Cayetano, Antonio Trillanes, and Koko Pimentel, who all take turns stabbing Binay. Senate President Franklin Drilon assists them by allowing the slaying to happen on his turf. Witnesses are paraded in the Senate ostensibly to show the extent of Binay’s betrayal of public trusts. TV networks televise the hearings live.
From a distance, watching merrily are the masterminds – the Zamora brothers and a certain Eric Gutierrez, who, according to Jojo Robles, are funding the enterprise, and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, who stands to benefit from Binay’s political demise.
There’s a lot of buzz that this drama won’t be taking place without President Aquino’s blessing. There’s much anxiety in the Palace that Binay might be unstoppable in 2016 unless cut down to size.
One line from Julius Caesar is most fitting for this adaptation:
“Men at some time are masters of their fates…
Cowards die many times before their deaths.”
In the Shakespearean tale, the conspirators meet their comeuppance by falling on their sword.
Let us watch and see how this real-life drama will be resolved.
A Filipino Hamlet in politics
The other play that is being incarnated is Hamlet.
This tragedy of a prince who is torn between avenging his father’s murder and giving way to madness, and ends up dead because of indecision, finds a mirror in Binay’s inability to decide whether to break away from the Aquino administration, or to become the leader of the political opposition.
His irresolution is frittering away his early lead in opinion polls of the presidential race in 2016. It gives ammunition to opponents that he has plenty of skeletons in his closet which he fears may be exposed by an administration that will stop at nothing to crush its enemies.
Binay sentimentalizes that he owes to President Cory Aquino the start of his political career and that he therefore cannot be a political opponent of her son.
Supporters and media analysts, on the other hand, believe that Binay has to wean himself from the Yellow manger to prove that he’s ready to lead the country.
Without the courage of his convictions and a serious program of governance, the presidential opportunity will pass him by.
History on Binay’s side
If Binay’s presidential dream is trapped in its own cocoon, it would be a terrible irony, because Philippine political history points to a high percentage of our vice-presidents becoming president themselves.
Our first constitution, the Malolos Constitution, did not provide for an office of the Vice-President. The 1935 Constitution, which set the recovery of Philippine independence in 1946, created the twin office of President and Vice President.
Since 1935, the Philippines has elected 12 vice presidents. Vice president Jejomar Binay is the 13th in the line. He would be the 15th if Fernando Lopez is counted three times because he was elected to three separate terms, once as vice president to President Quirino in 1953, and twice as vice president to President Marcos in 1965 and 1969.
Of the 13 personages to grace the office, six went on to become president, four by outright succession (Sergio Osmena, 1941; Elpidio Quirino, 1946; Carlos P. Garcia, 1957, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, 2001), and two by winning a presidential term in their own right (Diosdado Macapagal, 1961; Joseph Estrada, 1998).
The following VPs did not reach the highest office of the land:
Fernando Lopez – did not run for president, despite serving three terms.
2. Emmanuel Pelaez—term expired in 1965, did not run for president
3. Salvador Laurel— term expired in 1992, did not run for president
4. Teofisto Guingona – term expired in 2004, did not run for president
5. Noli de Castro—term expired in 2010, did not run for president
A relationship of mistrust
In a famous essay for Atlantic magazine, “Is the Vice president necessary?”, the American historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. ruefully observed:
“It is a doomed office. No President and Vice President have trusted each other since Jackson and Van Buren. Mistrust is inherent in the relationship. The Vice President has only one serious thing to do: that is, to wait around for the President to die. This is hardly the basis for cordial and enduring friendships. Presidents see Vice Presidents as death’s-heads at the feast, intolerable reminders of their own mortality. Vice Presidents, when they are men of ambition, suffer, consciously or unconsciously, the obverse emotion.”
So in the end, the vice president is in John N. Garner’s classic formulation, “a spare tire on the automobile of government.”
In one sense, it seems like destiny for the vice-president to succeed to the presidency.
In another sense, it seems not destiny at all, because the highest office within the gift of the people ought to be earned at the ballot box, not inherited.
Jejomar Binay clearly wants to win the office on his own. He declared his candidacy for president, on the day he was sworn in as vice-president.
But there is a determined gang of conspirators out to ambush him.
Hamlet said: “To be or not to be, that is the question.”
“To be” should be VP Binay’s answer. Or there is no tomorrow.