My title is frankly speculative and a bit ominous, inviting the question “Tipping point for what?”
I use the term “Tipping point” in the sense that the writer Malcolm Gladwell used it in his bestseller, The Tipping Point, How little things can make a big difference (Little Brown, 2000).
Gladwell defines a \o “Tipping point (sociology)” tipping point as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”
Now much used in many disciplines, tipping point is said to have originated in the field of epidemiology when an infectious disease reaches a point beyond any local ability to control it from spreading more widely.
Journalists apply the term to social phenomena, demographic data, and almost any change that is likely to lead to additional consequences. Marketers see it as a threshold that, once reached, will result in additional sales.
A major catalyst for change
In describing the High Court’s much-awaited ruling on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) of the administration as a tipping point, I mean to suggest that it will serve as a major catalyst for change in national politics and governance.
The issue has become so central to national life, that regardless of how the High Court rules—whether the DAP is unconstitutional or is legal—it will be the subject of much debate and controversy. And it will have far-reaching impact on the Aquino administration and the nation.
If as anticipated and prayed by many, the SC rules that it is unconstitutional, it will be a major setback for the Aquino administration— opening up the possibility of an impeachment complaint against the President, and possible criminal charges after his term.
At this point, of course, we don’t have the decision yet; the High Court won’t issue it until the first week of July. All we have for now are conjectures and speculations by journalists like myself, and the rather bold claim of pollster Mahar Mangahas that he has read a copy of the draft decision, a disturbing revelation that was the subject of Bobi Tiglao’s column yesterday (“SC decision leaked to head of SWS,” Times, June 23).
The alarms raised by Mahar’s revelation and the possible commissioning of SWS to manipulate public opinion will stir political feelings to boiling point this week and next.
In my writing notebook, I wrote down the following entry for
May 22, the date when the Thai military announced that it had taken over the government:
“I shudder to think of what will happen in our country if the Supreme Court rules that the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) is legal and constitutional, thereby giving a free pass to President BS Aquino and Budget Secretary Butch Abad, and forcing us to say goodbye to over P100 billion of public funds.
“This would be the equivalent of the fateful initiative of the Yingluck Shinawatra government in Thailand to move an amnesty bill in the Thai Parliament that proposed to grant amnesty to exiled and fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra—a bill which, if passed, would exonerate Thaksin of the crimes for which he has already been convicted in absentia and would enable him to return to Thailand and recover his seized assets.
“Thailand exploded in protest on this news, setting off a train of events that eventually led to the declaration of martial law and the military takeover of the government by the Thai army.”
In writing down these notes, my idea was to lay down a thought that may be useful for a future column. It was also to remind myself of how important it is for our Supreme Court to reach a wise and just decision on the DAP issue—one which the whole nation can accept gratefully and with equanimity.
I feared that a decision analogous to the crooked decision of the Senate in the impeachment trial of former chief Justice Renato Corona could be destabilizing, and could do colossal damage to our democracy.
I believe this is a thought shared by many of our people who care deeply about our public life, both those who are very critical of what is happening to our country under President Aquino, and those who remain loyal and supportive of him and his policies.
A lesson from Thailand
Recent developments in Thailand are instructive of what can go terribly wrong with the nation, when the constitutional order is shaken, and dangerous political initiatives hold sway.
Significantly, the coup of May 22 can be traced to a bad decision made by the Yingluck government in November 2013.
At the time, the Thai government faced growing public anger among the opposition and even among its own supporters and heated protests over a far-reaching amnesty bill that could allow former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to return home by wiping clean corruption cases against him. The amnesty bill, proposed by Mr. Thaksin’s party, easily passed one house of the bicameral Parliament.
Thaksin, a billionaire tycoon, was ousted as prime minister by the military in a September 2006 coup and later sentenced in absentia to two years in prison for abuse of power. He has lived abroad in self-imposed exile since 2008. The proposed amnesty law offered a broad amnesty for actions and people related to the coup and its aftermath. If passed, it could also restore to Thaksin part of his fortune that a court seized in 2010 on the ground that the money had been illegally obtained through his political influence.
Many leading members of the so-called Red Shirt movement, who shut down parts of Bangkok in 2010 in the name of Mr. Thaksin were also stunned by the breadth of the amnesty law, especially proposals to pardon those who ordered the military crackdown against the Red Shirts.
The leader of a Red Shirt faction in Bangkok, Sombat Boonngamanong, said in a newspaper interview, “I think this is such a shame; it’s unbelievable that Pheu Thai is so brazen to do this. We boarded a train bound for democracy station, but then we suddenly made a turn to Thaksin station. It’s over.”
The DAP decision facing our Supreme Court will have an impact analogous to what happened in Thailand with the proposed amnesty law.
As I suggested in an earlier column (“Catharsis: Tragicomedy of Philippine democracy,” Times, June 10), if the SC strikes down DAP, the central role of the administration in the pork barrel scandal will be officially acknowledged.
“The House could vote to impeach President Aquino because it could serve as its ticket to relevance in the emerging political landscape in the country. Because of poor leadership, it is not listened to anymore on any issue of importance.”
The public and the media, which have been riled no end by the pork barrel scam, the Napoles lists, and the sensational arrest and detention of Sen. Bong Revilla, will breathe a sigh of relief, if the DAP, the president’s pork barrel, like the PDAF is ruled as unconstitutional.
There will be a sense that order and reason have returned in our public life. And the people will be grateful that the Supreme Court has once again demonstrated that it truly is with them and for them.
Conversely, a decision that falls short of affirming separation of powers will be disruptive and loudly protested. The judiciary, speaking through the Supreme Court, cannot abdicate its duty to punish a president for anti-constitutional behavior, and to correct the injury done to the rule of law.
Then and only then will the SC decision on the DAP serve as a tipping point for change in our country.