WHATEVER motivation former Senator Lacson had in joining the Aquino government and serve as its Yolanda rehab czar is not even worth discussing right now. But after his short-lived term with the Aquino government, his post-resignation thoughts are worth discussing as Filipinos contemplate – and Mr. Aquino himself contemplates – on the verdict of history on his presidency.
Mr. Aquino is confident that he will be rated favorably. In his own mind and in the view of his flacks, he will be remembered as a colossus who presided over sustained periods of economic growth and one who dealt with systemic official corruption.
Mr. Lacson has been offering an altogether divergent, darker view, not at all pleasing to Mr. Aquino and his nodding, admiring posse.
In his first salvo, Mr. Lacson questioned the close to P50 billion lump sum in the 2016 budget, then asked, obliquely, this question. Is this kind of budgetary malevolence the practice of Daang Matuwid? I framed that question because that was the sense of Mr. Lacson’s line of thought. He was just to civil to say it bluntly, perhaps due to a residue of respect for the President.
There was so much hand-wringing and tongue-twisting from the Aquino acolytes after Mr. Lacson’s pointed questions on the alleged lump sums. Mr. Lacson was backed by research and his staff had prepared a graph on where the lump sums are and under what items were these placed in the 2016 budget proposal. Finally, the Senate said that the lump sums are temporary lump sums. They will have specifics once they are appropriated. Temporary lump sums – governance has not heard of such animal – finally entered the budgetary lexicon.
The political Left, always on the alert for any issue that would damn the Aquino administration, took up the cudgels for Mr. Lacson and his expose. Now, the left’s party list members in Congress have adopted the figures of Mr. Lacson and are looking for more lump sums to unravel. Only, according to the Left, the hidden items are not just “lump sums” but “ congressional insertions.” Thanks to Mr. Lacson, a weak underbelly of the Aquino administration has been laid bare, slapping the “Daang Matuwid” narrative all around. If there are critiques that give Mr. Aquino’s restless nights and put his government into a defensive mode, they are critiques that tend to show that the “Daang Matuwid” is just a long-running con game and has no basis in reality.
In his second salvo, Mr. Lacson questioned the sincerity of Mr. Aquino’s Yolanda rehabilitation work, an ultra important act of government that Mr. Lacson presided over, though for a short time and as a “rehab czar” with very little authority over the pace of the implementation.
Mr. Lacson said it was government as usual, bureaucratic, snail-paced and with its heart and mind not really caring a bit about the Yolanda victims. Mr. Lacson was expecting too much. Or, he perhaps read too much of the literature about the Marshall Plan and of the noble and bright men that made sure Europe would rise up from its massive devastation. Indeed, the men behind the Marshall Plan complemented the Plan’s nobility of purpose and grand agenda with their own mastery of the budgeting, programming and implementing process. One of the chief overseers of the Marshall Plan, in fact, was a law professor of Juan Ponce Enrile at Harvard Law.
Lacson’s lament was a valid one. Only he failed to realize that this is the Philippines and the incumbent president has no tolerance for the concerns of his vulnerable, victimized constituencies.
The Aquino government is at a loss on how to deal with a critic like Mr. Lacson. He is relentless and Mr. Aquino’s weapon of choice against critics – which is to slime them – will not work on the former senator. The COA records and audits on pork barrel use, Mr. Aquino’s weapons of choice against critics, have nothing on the former senator. Mr. Aquino had availed of his PDAF while Mr. Lacson had not.
Should they slime him on the horrible human rights record of his police unit during the martial law regime. Should they slime him as a sour-grape? Should they tag him as a political has-been looking for a third act? The Aquino flacks have yet to decide on where to hit Mr. Lacson.
Mr. Lacson is sure guilty of one thing – naivete. Or, gullibility. Or, lack of discernment. How he failed to realize that the “Daang Matuwid” is just a long-running con game in governance is beyond us. He should have realized the obvious early on. That serving the vulnerable has never been part of the agenda of the Aquino government.
And that fulfilling the state’s social contract with the vulnerable, needy sectors has never been a concern of the Aquino administration.
Why did Mr. Lacson miss these things? Mr. Aquino likes waltzing with the Davos Crowd, the Makati Business Club, the foreign chambers of commerce people. He likes inaugurating office towers that are being built on the backs of exploited construction workers, without the faintest notion that the office towers had a cost so many lives, so many maimed bodies, so many bagged cadavers from the dangerous construction sites sent home to many remote, poverty-stricken spots in the archipelago.
Despite his gullibility and lack of discernment, Mr. Lacson is still doing the country a service after his Yolanda stint. This is speaking truth to power. All his expose may not lift him to a competitive run for the presidency. But his efforts in exposing the truth that the “Daang Matuwid” is nothing but a long-running con game are well-appreciated.