Just a year ago, the opposition to President Aquino was the loneliest, tiniest political movement in the country. No leader. No big cause. And the most tragic of all was media’s snub of the opposition. Media needed major story pegs and the whining of the opposition was not enough to attract media hordes. A mere mention by the president of a love life akin to “Coke zero” merited more media coverage than the collective sighs of the opposition.
It was, of course, most peripheral during the first few months of President Aquino in power. That was perhaps one of the few transfers of political power in our contemporary history that incapacitated the Left’s effigy-burning resolve.
If there was a great stampede, it was in the enthusiastic, exuberant rush to welcome a new president.
The marginalization of the political opposition enabled the president to do what he wanted to do: move for the impeachment of a chief justice, appoint a new associate justice as chief justice, use a mid-term election to place his allies in total control of both chambers of Congress and place the imprint of presidential power in almost all areas covered by the public sphere.
The passage of the budget as outlined by the president under his hybrid budget planner called the Development Budget Coordinating Committee had been smooth, hassle-free and question-free.
A law even a Methodist president had failed to pass, a law on reproductive health, was rammed through the two chambers of Congress by the coalition around the president. And after that passage, there was talk of a new challenge to another issue the powerful Catholic Church holds sacrosanct—divorce.
Even the problem that unexpectedly popped out of the international arena, China’s territorial ambitions including full control over the West Philippine Sea, enhanced, not diminished, the popular support for the president.
Enter the Luys, the Napoleses and the SARO-for–Cash exchange and a special audit report from the COA that spared but a few among the major political players. Overnight, questions have been raised, focused on the integrity of the major public institutions, Congress especially. The presidency, however, has not been spared from the doubts and serious questions.
Suddenly, the mass protests used anti-Aquino language that had not been used before, and the most strident, unrepentant anti-Aquino forces, from the left to the right, reveled in the anti-government ferment in the streets.
Two things unheard of, a proposal to impeach the president and accusing the president of plunder, have been the most biting of the developments post-Napoles.
The People’s Initiative proposal of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno comes at a critical juncture of the protest against all lump sums in the budget, be they congressional pork barrel or pools of money that can be moved around by the president via the thin legal veneer of realignment. Puno made the proposal at an opportune time— the protesters are about to run out of creative juices on how to push through with the total evisceration of all lump sums in the national budget.
The protest crowds, too, have been thinning. Man-made and natural calamities have competed for the headlines. The polls have showed that on a personal level, President Aquino has not been tarred by the insinuations of fund abuse and misuse. Capitalizing on that popularity, the president on Wednesday drew the line between his spending and those he called “thieves” who are out, he said, to muddle the SARO-for-Cash exchange.
The holier-than-thou, riding-on-a-high horse attitude of some of the protest leaders have been turning even the most intense adherents off. The efforts of professional Aquino-bashers to hog the limelight in the anti-pork rallies and even in the legal fight have been also frowned upon by ordinary citizens whose desire is to let the lump sums go—no more, no less.
The People’s Initiative, even it were to fail in the end, will still serve a very important purpose. As envisioned by former CJ Puno, the multiple sectors opposed to lump sums in the national budget will coalesce around the Initiative. They will be given specific tasks, from getting signatures to organizing anti-lump sum groups at all levels.
The Initiative will keep the flame of the protests against budgetary lump sums alive. There is now a guarantee that the fight will live another day. Without a vehicle such as the People’s Initiative, there is a real danger that the starting bang would end up a whimper.
The groups and individuals that would coalesce around the Puno initiative will be headed for a head-on collision with the efforts to the administration to defend the presidential prerogative to realign, juggle, move around pools of money in the national budget for purported development and growth needs. After both the House and the Senate failed to defend the PDAF on an institutional basis, the president and his men decided they would not cower in fear like the legislators.
In fact, the presidential pronouncements that have been defending the presidential prerogative on fund movements are just the start of a general campaign to battle, toe to toe, with the anti-lump sum movement.
What is playing out right now is a battle for the hearts and minds of the people over the mechanics—and higher purpose—of the national spending program. The less observant just don’t see it but, borrowing from Dylan, a battle outside is really raging.