Is a self-taught man running our government?

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IN academic circles, a self-taught person is usually or technically called an “autodidact.” According to the Random House Dictionary of the English Language, an autodidact is a person who has learned a subject without the benefit of a teacher or formal education. It is derived from the Greek word, autodidaktos.

To say that President Benigno Aquino 3rd is self-taught is not extraordinary or off-the-wall. Former senator and executive secretary Joker Arroyo has called him an autocrat and fiscal dictator in a country that is a constitutional democracy. Former senator and former information secretary Francisco Tatad has called him a “demented president.” Columnist and former ambassador Rigoberto Tiglao has called him “a big liar.” Columnist and political science professor Alex Magno has branded him an egotist.

The labels are not mutually exclusive. They are all describing the same man—the 15th president of the Philippine republic.

I cite these critics’ credentials as former public servants to show that their opinions of Aquino are not willful partisan attacks, but the well-considered judgment of men who think highly and seriously about our public life.


To say that he is an autodidact does not conflict with these characterizations, because he can logically be self-taught, and autocratic, demented, mendacious, and egotistical at the same time.

I offer this fresh perspective on Aquino as a tool for making sense of the bewildering kaleidoscope before us that shows us by turns a president discoursing on the budget and public finance, a president discoursing on the law and the Constitution and arguing with the Supreme Court, a president discoursing on art and culture and its awards of achievement, a president undertaking jaw-dropping decisions in our foreign relations, a president haranguing us on infrastructure and public works, a president discoursing on education, a president embarking on a major peace initiative in Mindanao expending billions of public funds, and above all a president who is making new and unprecedented demands on Congress.

All these initiatives and decisions have taken place without the visible signs of the advice and counsel of reputable think tanks and expert advisers.

He is a product of self-study. And his decisions, like them or not, are entirely his own.

The signs of self-education in the presidency are many, and we can only discuss a few of them here.

1. The President on the budget
First on my list of curiosities are Aquino’s actions on the budget, and his obsession to redefine and change the way we have traditionally prepared, approved and spent the national budget

In July 2010, in his first State of the Nation address, Aquino excoriated his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, for allegedly having spent already over half of the year’s budget, leaving him with virtually nothing for the rest of the year.

He declared.

“Our budget for 2010 is PhP1.54 trillion. Of this, only PhP100 billion—or 6.5 percent of the total budget—can be used for the remaining six months of the current year. Roughly 1% of the total budget is left for each of the remaining months.

“Where did the funds go?”

Almost immediately, it was uncovered that the president was wrong and confused.

As of June 30, 2010, according to the national treasurer, cash disbursements of the government amounted to close to P789 billion. This meant that close to P752 billion pesos or 48 percent of the budget remained unspent.

He was challenged by accountants and the political opposition on his understanding of the budget and fiscal accounting.

Aquino did not acknowledge his mistake. Instead, he embarked the following year on a policy of underspending. When the economy tanked, sending the GDP down to just over 3 percent, he and Butch Abad invented the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which defunded many public works projects, impounded the budget for the modernization of Tacloban’s airport, created savings illegally where there was none and implemented the cross-border transfer of funds.

Flash forward to July 14, 2014. In a nationwide TV address, Aquino delivered his defense of the DAP and his criticism of the Supreme Court’s ruling on DAP.

In paragraph 3 of this address, he declared without batting an eyelash:

“When we assumed office last June 2010, the 2010 budget was still in effect, and we likewise inherited the proposed 2011 budget. Of the P1.54 trillion set aside for the government for the whole of 2010, only P100 billion—or 6.5 percent—was left for the remaining six months of the year. You really have to wonder: Where did the money go?”

His thinking is the same. The words and the figures have not changed. He is invincibly ignorant about the budget. Not even God can force him to acknowledge that he made a mistake.

Now, he is engaged in a campaign to make Congress pass a law and resolution that will overturn the SC ruling and enable him to enjoy the fruits of the DAP.

2. Aquino on the law and the Constitution
In the same SONA of July 14, 2014, Aquino displayed his self-taught knowledge of the law and the Constitution.

He declared:

“We did not transgress the law when we implemented DAP. The Constitution and the Administrative Code are not at odds with each other.

“In fact, we were surprised to find that the Supreme Court decision did not take into account our legal basis for DAP. How can they say that our spending methods are unconstitutional when they did not look into our basis? Even until now, Section 39 of the Administrative Code is in effect, along with its other sections.

“It is clear that the Supreme Court has much to consider that they may better clarify their decision regarding DAP; perhaps they can even identify DAP’s negative effect on the country.

“We will appeal the Supreme Court’s decision. We will do this by filing a Motion for Reconsideration, which will allow them to more fully and more conscientiously examine the law.

“There are those who say that this decision might be a personal vendetta against me—that I am being dared to act in the same vindictive manner against them. All I can say—as the President, as the father of this country—is that we need temperance and forbearance—we must comply with due process…

“My message to the Supreme Court: We do not want two equal branches of government to go head to head, needing a third branch to step in to intervene. We find it difficult to understand your decision. You had done something similar in the past, and you tried to do it again; there are even those of the opinion that what you attempted to commit was far graver. Abiding by the principle of ‘presumption of regularity,’ we assumed that you did the right thing; after all, you are the ones who should ostensibly have a better understanding of the law. And now, when we use the same mechanism—which, you yourselves have admitted, benefit our countrymen—why is it then that we are wrong?”

The effrontery of a non-lawyer lecturing 14 Supreme Court justices on the law and the Constitution is beyond cringe-worthy. It is a slander against our democracy.

It is curious that we will not find in any of Aquino’s speeches —not in the DAP speech, and not in the fifth SONA—the term “the rule of law.” He apparently does not believe in this.

He does not intend to be ruled or tamed by law and reason. He believes only in his powers and privileges as president.

3. Aquino on art and culture
As my last exhibit of Aquino’s apparent auto-didacticism, I will cite his handling of the proposed national artist award for Nora Aunor, which shows his total lack of understanding and appreciation of the field of art and culture, and his unflinching belief that what he thinks is always right.

The award was proposed in keeping with the time-honored process of vetting and selection that has been observed by the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

With little awareness of what the award seeks to honor, with no background or interest in art and culture, and without the slightest curiousity in the career and achievements of the actress-singer and what she signifies to millions of Filipinos all over the country and the world, Aquino inexplicably refused to endorse Nora for the award, and raised as an issue her arrest in the US for drug possession (despite her being cleared of charges).

The incident triggered a firestorm of controversy, and the public, and our arts and entertainment communities rallied behind Nora.

It was felt by many that nobody could be more worthy of the title of national artist, and no one could bear the award with more dignity than her.

Nearly everyone believed that it was a serious misjudgment on Aquino’s part to refuse her the honor. Some in the Left thought that this is the straw that could break the back of his presidency.

And then there are those, including this writer, who believe that it is wrong to mix culture and politics in the national artists awards. It is no service to art and culture to place the final decision in the hands of the President.

But on this matter, Aquino will swear till his last day in office, that he did the right thing.

Beware a lame duck democracy
Because President Aquino is now on the last 22 months of his term, before he departs on June 30, 2016, it is now fitting to call him “a lame-duck president.” He cannot succeed himself.

This closing period will be a critical time for our nation because besides Aquino, key members of his administration will remain in charge, unless sooner replaced or resigned.

And also because the 16th Congress is proving to be the most subservient and irresponsible the nation has ever known.

The executive has never been more dominant in our political system than it is today– ironically under this president who brought the barest credentials to the presidency, and the least training for running a government and the shaping of public policy.

As long as Butch Abad is around, we the people have to fear for the integrity of the budget and the security of the national treasury.

As long as the 16th Congress is in office, we have to brace ourselves for new laws and regulations that could shake up national life.

As long as a self-taught man is top banana, our constitutional democracy is hostage to fortune.

We have to guard against our democracy becoming “a lame-duck democracy.”

yenmakabenta@yahoo.com

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27 Comments

  1. I agree with your article. the worst parts of it is 1. On the arts and culture, he has politicized the whole national artist awards which is a dis service to others who are already proclaimed. he bannered that GMA even stoop so low as to meddle with the national artist award by inserting those that were not screened…he was on a legal path to deny confirmation but he should have not slandered or libeled anyone. 2. Now he is on the path of destroying the system of the entire government. by threatening the SC for defying him!!! and again planning to extend his term, again unconstitutional. So we now know that the platform of the liberal party led by Mar Roxas has no regard and respect for CONSTITUTION which should be held sacred. It is the counterpart of what the Bible is for catholics and the Constitution for every Filipino…

  2. Pnoy is the most honest, unselfish, unblemished and incorruptible President/Leader we the Filipinos ever had. You Makabenta, Tiglao and Joker Arroyo are the dishonest loyal followers of Groria Arroyo what else do the Pnoy administration expect from you except lies and disinformation. No matter what you all say and do, most of the Filipinos will take Pnoy against your kind anytime.

  3. All these corruptions did not happen if the members of Congress (House / Senate) are not in cahoots with Bobo – Thief Executive, Liar Executive and Spoiled Brat Executive.

    Lecturing the Legal Luminaries of the Country (members of the Supreme Court) about law – shame on you, Thief Executive. Who are you to lecture on them about their decision. You are not even a lawyer. Not even your appointees are with you in that decision.

    Nakakahiyang presidente ng bayang Pilipino. Pinagtatawanan ang Pilipinas ng buong mundo for having a Bobo President. And Congress is shielding him from impeachment?

    Speaker Belmonte should file the impeachment complain like in the Speaker of the House of Representative of America but you are shelding him. Shame on you too, Speaker Belmonte – you did it to Chief Justice Corona. Why can’t you do it to the President – because walang DAP ang mga taong Bayan?

    Ang Pilipinas ay hindi “Hacienda Luisita”.

    Bobo

  4. Roldan Guerrero on

    The best word that I know which is appropriate for the THIEF EXECUTIVE is BOBO nothing more,nothing less!

  5. What are this presidential staff doing, the think tank, the battery of intelectuals around our president doing? The so called brilliant lawyers around, congressmen, senators in the party some legal appointees, are’nt you researching for the president.? The phil, has 7100 islands with more than 100 million people on different tribes & ethnicities with different dialects in provinces, cities, barangays & sitios, all places should be considered. Our president could be considered a superman if you who belong to his party does’nt help & participate in the preparation or formulation for the good of the country. you all benefitted but only taking advantage of him being a boy in politics. Please call his attention on his move. The thoughts & mind of the president is only borderline. He does’nt know that he does’nt know that’s why his move is palpak from the beginning. If you won’t act for the good, you are only enriching yourself taking advantage being near to the president. His term still a little far for people who is dissatisfied of him but so near for you who connive in stealing taxpayers money.. Do it now for the good as you will not pass this way again.

  6. We Filipinos can be considered smart as we are the only country in the world that most countries considers when looking for service assistance in any field. International needs, Doctors, Lawyers, Nurses, Caregivers, Domestic Helpers ( now HSP House service provider, Engineers, etc so many that people say you name it and you have it in the philippines so time will come Pilipino people covers the world. But in our country, we are not lucky because of smartness, we are all outsmarted by a person who has a little learning but the people has to respect because he is the president. What we can do now is just to keep watching and monitoring him until the end of his term as almost all his move are unconstitutional and not beneficial but destructive to our country. Every citizen should work for the good of all even those who has benefited by the administration should act & participate as we are in a place of a ticking timebomb waiting to explode. GOD BLESS THE PHILIPPINES.

  7. President is not the right position for him to be called, he should be addressed as, his highness King Benigno Aquino III since he is dictatorial in our democratic form of government. He ruled like dictator in a democratic country, Pnoy is still lucky to have a easygoing citizenry since his action will not be tolerated in a muslim country like Libya or Pakistan maybe he is already killed by rebels or a suicide bomber.Filipino people are so tolerant, always have a tendency to do some sacrifice, it is in our religion that we learn to do this act. Pnoy should be thankful that most of us Filipinos are God fearing if not I am sure he will not last long as president or a living person.

  8. Ex-Ambivalent on

    Ummm, the speech quoted after “2. Aquino on the law and the Constitution
    In the same SONA of July 14, 2014…” was not the SONA but the televised address. Correct date, though.

    Are you saying there is something wrong with being self-taught? Isn’t the lesson more important than the process (which is why I slog through even ad hominem columns for grains of truth)? Or are you merely introducing a novel word as an entertainment and a framework for your points, as you did with ‘zugzwang?’

  9. “Invincibly ignorant”. Like very much the description. LOL. Beyond the cloak of “invincibility” is the lack of humility and, as lawyers are wont to say, the preponderance of arrogance and pride. And, to use Aquino’s style of argument, is this the kind of leader we deserve?

  10. I will ask this question to the President (who? )before the end of his term on 2016. Do we have a President now running our country? it is better to appoint an OIC ( Officer in Charge ) like in the Chief of Police or a newly appointed military man than a president who acts not like a president.

  11. Who God wants to destroy, He makes them crazy. All PNoy’s actions are leading him to his destruction.

    Not yet late PNoy. Listen to reasons.

  12. The effrontery of a non-lawyer lecturing 14 Supreme Court justices on the law and the Constitution is beyond cringe-worthy. It is a slander against our democracy.
    – It also fitting that he can express his disappointment specially of the majority of our people needs only an honest to goodness governance which the supreme court missed to acknowledged.

    “He does not intend to be ruled or tamed by law and reason. He believes only in his powers and privileges as president.”
    – It is a fact he has prerogative to execute what he believes is right and just.

    Aquino inexplicably refused to endorse Nora for the award, and raised as an issue her arrest in the US for drug possession (despite her being cleared of charges).
    – The president was right not to include Nora because she was not fit for the award. A drug addict a common knowledge in the industry.

    Because President Aquino is now on the last 22 months of his term, before he departs on June 30, 2016, it is now fitting to call him “a lame-duck president.” He cannot succeed himself. – You are wrong Mr. Makabenta. there was never a lame-duck democracy because six years is six years it is a part of his term.

    • nod if you agree on

      “- It also fitting that he can express his disappointment specially of the majority of our people needs only an honest to goodness governance which the supreme court missed to acknowledged.”

      -Disappointed that what, 13 men and women, all experts on the Law tell him that his DAP is unconstitutional?

      “- It is a fact he has prerogative to execute what he believes is right and just.”

      -And then he uses the Media to convince the people that the SC is anti-Filipino because they have ruled DAP illegal.

      “- The president was right not to include Nora because she was not fit for the award. A drug addict, a common knowledge in the industry.”

      -A way better actress that the first sister, KriSTD. Besides, the criteria for being named as a National Artist should be based on the body of work.
      Also please read again that the charges were dropped, or are you telling me that you are better than the Judge who decided that the charges were not worth the merit.

    • Yup, there was never a lame-duck democracy but certainly there is a lame-duck president…and that is PNOY for the rest of his remaining 22 months.

  13. The biggest thing this self-taught idiot has learned is how to bribe in order to get what he wants. The next biggest thing he learned was to only tell those parts of any story that show his side. Straight path is defined by him as getting what he wants. So I have now seen him increase the pork each year. Some of the intended bribees at first held out but as the amounts became bigger and bigger they gave in. Now most of our Senators and Congressmen are bought. How sad.

  14. I fully agree with you Yen Makabenta for your scholarly or erudite dissertation of the issues besetting Abnoy’s abnormal governance of the country’s affair. Continue your incessant crusade against the ignorance of a so-called “autodidact” President. May his tribe decrease, not increase. God forbid!

  15. Selftaught not steal peoples money is great when you compare it to old politician, media and critics that who knows too much of everything.

  16. I agree with what you YOUR DESCRIPTIONS OF PNOY. He now has a lame duck government. I feel so disillusioned and disappointed when he challenged the Supreme Court decision on the unconstitutionality of DAP, when he acted as ABOVE THE LAW.

    However, I am glad to hear his RECENT about face by declaring that he WILL VETO any Senate redefinition of SAVINGS. I think, it is a little too late to redefine himself to be back in tract with MATUWID NA DAAN. However, I still believe that IT IS BETTER LATE THAN NEVER.

  17. P. Akialamiro on

    There is a saying:I remember from grade school which says: “A little learning is a dangerous thing”. What more, if the one you called ‘autodidact’ is so confident he thinks he is always right; a “Man of Still”; still to realize that intelligence doesn’t necessarily go with the position, unless one shows humility, simple logic and reason.

  18. Bing Madrigal on

    self taught? at the expense of the filipino people? has he learned anythign? who is that idiot kidding?

  19. Pete Gabriel on

    We tried lawyers, statesman, actors, economist, housewife and now this guy PNoy, none seem to work. I think it has nothing to do with that, what the Philippines need is someone who genuinely cares about the country and the welfare of the Pilipino people. The voters are ill informed and not qualified to vote. We have a government that is populated by corrupt officials and government servants. I believe that there is a silent majority that cares about the Philippines, but that’s about it, they are silent.

  20. Mr. Makabenta please analyze yourself.

    When you make derogatory statements about others, the centered people in the room know exactly who you’re really talking about… yourself! When an individual lashes out at another, it’s a defense mechanism. Their behavior is a product of feelings and issues they are trying to cope with that have nothing to do with the other person. It is behavior that makes them appear “less than.” They are announcing to others that they are not centered, and that there is an imbalance of harmony in their life which requires them to place blame somewhere.The ego is at work here, and whenever the ego takes over you can rest assured it is not going to be a positive experience. The ego only looks out for number one. It is self-centered, not centered-in-self. Big difference! Respect yourself by respecting others. Honor and love yourself and you will never dishonor or hate another.

    • Mr. Psychiatrist, a real doctor of psychiatry would have a better assessment of the writings of this author, who knowingly reports the facts , in an ethical way a journalist should. Remember he is a journalist doing his job ,has the responsibility to give information ( that many has to know about their country that not only one, but 90 million Filipinos need to be crucially aware of.

    • i wish pnoy reads what you wrote, but i guess he had had enough of a psychiatrist then and now…

  21. Mr Makenta, pls read an Aug 3,2014 article of New York Times – Business Section) ,title ” Strain Infrastructure erodes Philippines growth progress” by Floyd Wheley a caption part of the report where ,it says ” Much of the improvement is linked to the anti-corruption by President Aquino” just another big lies ,desperately making himself be called a reformer when in fact he is not.