Back from his 12-day five-nation European and American jaunt, President B. S. Aquino 3rd told his home audience that his trip had earned the country $2.3 billion in foreign direct investments, and given the world a new image of the Philippines. The FDI claim may or may not be true—you can believe it when you see it—but it is one way of saying the P39 million he got for his junket was well spent. As for this “new image” thing, we have heard worse claims before, but we’ve been told there are things you can’t buy with money.
Not knowing what the image was before, and what it is supposed to be now, I will let that pass. What I know though is that Aquino’s visit was hardly noticed in the places he visited. His Belgian and German hosts did not make him forget that there were court cases in Europe arising from his government’s failure to honor certain perfected contracts. He said he would abide by whatever the court says on those cases. He could not have said anything else.
More significant though is that he did not sign a single significant agreement with any of the countries he visited. Not Spain, not France, not Belgium, not Germany, and not the United States. On each stop, Aquino tried to meet as many overseas Filipinos as possible, so Philippine embassy, consular and labor officials had to nearly bodily carry some of them just to provide him with an audience. However, the result must have been disappointing, for at the end of the day the government decided to abolish the 2015 budget for the registration of overseas voters.
Aquino was picketed and heckled in and out of the University of Columbia, in New York, where he said nothing of substance. At the UN, where he was supposed to give a big speech at the summit on climate change, he repeated the same platitudes which speakers who had nothing to say on the subject had said a thousand times before. And the photo report that appeared in one crony newspaper showed him speaking to a scattered audience of 32 individuals inside one small room.
This was embarrassingly smaller than the crowd that listened to Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez in another room. And certainly more embarrassingly much smaller than the audience that listened to a nonentity like myself when I last spoke at the UN Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium with the papal biographer George Weigel on one death anniversary of St. John Paul II.
On his first UN visit at the beginning of his term, Aquino made news by having a hotdog lunch at the sidewalk outside UN headquarters. This time he failed to book the same sidewalk for lunch in Manhattan, so he had, I suppose, to dine indoors. But he tried to make up for it in San Francisco by stopping at a local McDonald’s for lunch, with his motorcade and its “wangwang,” stopping traffic in the process. This was what probably produced the “new image” in his mind about the Philippines.
Some people had hoped (rather wishfully, I thought) that he would give the nation some kind of break by going away for 12 days. He didn’t. Although physically absent, his “political mischief,” as the New York Times put it, gave us no rest. In his absence, the House of Representatives rushed floor action on his pork-laden P2.6 trillion budget, in contemptuous disregard of the Supreme Court ruling that outlawed the pork barrel system and directed the government’s “prosecutorial organs” to prosecute all those involved in the misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund and the much larger Disbursement Acceleration Program, which the Court had unanimously declared unconstitutional.
In his absence, the alleged corruption and unexplained wealth of his former bodyguard and foremost shooting partner PNP Director General Alan Purisima burst like a boil and the pus threatened to spread all over the entire organization. At the same time, one of his closest political lieutenants, DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, was ordered investigated by the Ombudsman in connection with a questionable maintenance contract of the Metro Rail Transit Line 3, which has been breaking down.
Aquino’s first act upon his return was to deny Purisima’s allegedly “luxurious lifestyle” and shield him from mounting public demand for his resignation. The PNP chief, whose declared net worth does not amount to very much, is said to own at least one huge villa in San Leonardo, Nueva Ecija and an extensive poultry farm in Cabanatuan, which is listed under the name of his son, who is no more than a nurse. There is also supposed to be an undetermined huge pile of cash. For his part, Abaya has offered to go on leave while under investigation, but Aquino ordered him to stay put. Two typical illustrations of Aquino’s “daang matuwid” (straight path).
In his absence, the long recurring power blackouts continued, even as his demand for emergency powers to address the electric power crisis provoked intense opposition from the public. To his credit, we did not hear him say that the extensive power outages were a sign of progress, just as he told his meeting with some Filipino expats that the unrelieved traffic gridlock in Manila was. Or were we just not listening attentively when he said it?
And while his proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, which seeks to create a new political entity for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, continued to hang fire, the Abu Sayyaf Group struck again by kidnapping two German nationals, whom they threatened to behead by October 10 if no ransom was received for their release. At the same time—and this is the more troubling development—the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which is spreading death and destruction in the Middle East and beyond, was reported to have started recruiting members of the Abu Syyaf, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and the MILF into its ranks. The recruitment appeared to be gaining ground in at least one university and several other schools in the South. And Aquino’s knee-jerk response is to think of joining the US-led coalition against the ISIS, while trying to fast-track the BBL!
In Cebu today, the National Transformation Council will convene a citizens’ assembly, led by delegates from the Visayas and Mindanao, to review its position on Aquino. This will be the second such assembly since the Council’s founding in Cebu City three years ago. The first was held in Lipa City, Batangas on August 27, 2014, under the leadership of Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, Archbishop of Lipa, and with a number of Catholic bishops, Protestant pastors, and Muslim imams participating.
The Lipa Declaration, issued at the end of that Assembly, condemned the Aquino regime for the “unbridled and unpunished corruption and widespread misuse of political and economic power in all layers of society,” and called upon Aquino to relinquish his position now. “Far from preserving and defending the Constitution, as he swore to do when he assumed office, Aquino has subverted and violated it by corrupting the Congress, intimidating the judiciary, taking over the treasury, manipulating the automated voting system, and perverting the constitutional impeachment process,” the Declaration said.
It declared that by bribing the members of Congress to impeach and remove Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona and railroad the widely opposed Reproductive Health Law, Aquino damaged the moral fabric of Philippine society, lost the moral right to lead the nation, and became a danger to the Philippine democratic and republican state and to the peace, freedom, security and moral and spiritual well-being of the Philippine people.
Since the Lipa assembly, many have asked the Council, how will it compel Aquino to vacate the presidency without resorting to “people power” or the use of arms? Does the Council expect or hope to remove Aquino solely by the power of its moral declarations and the prayer of its spiritual and moral leaders? While they do not hesitate to talk of radical and revolutionary change, they are ever careful to specify that only non-violent means are to be used. But as old as the idea of revolution is the question, “can you ever make an omelet without breaking the eggs?” Or is the only other option to eat boiled eggs?
People expect these questions to be answered in Cebu. The event could be overshadowed in the media by the stories about ISIS and the “Occupy Central” protesters who want to bring democracy to Hong Kong. I will be speaking at the Assembly, and I will have to ask the delegates whether, after showing the world twice how to change government without any violence or blood-letting, we now need the “Occupy Central” protesters to teach us what to do.