HOME time flies. How the mighty have fallen. These are the two verities that people now associate with President Aquino, now cocooned in his Palace, a lonely and isolated leader. The reversal of his political fortunes, from a colossus astride the archipelago determined to leave a permanent leadership imprint on his country and people to the Palace bunker where is now, happened so swiftly that the presidency was rendered clueless on what to do next.
From respected to reviled, with the calls for his resignation mounting and gaining traction by the day, Mr. Aquino was so used to bending the country to his will that he does not know how to react to the sad, tragic turn of his presidency. The fact that he is surrounded by what former Senator Joker Arroyo has called a “student council”—a Cabinet lacking in sophistication and strategizing ability—makes the adjustment to an embattled status tougher.
Mr. Aquino had no inkling, not a bit, not a tiny sliver, that his day will come. Let us go back to where he started.
In 2010, Mr. Aquino was the Pied Piper many of us would follow anywhere. If his calls for reform and the passionate plea to the nation to help him end a string of kleptocracies were not stirring enough, the backdrop and the imagery of his presidential campaign – a martyred father and a respected mother and former president – convinced voters he would not let down that legacy.
Even the tortured formulation of his campaign slogan, “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap,” was ignored by voters who, under normal circumstances, would have demanded for a more civil political tongue, a leader campaigning, not in turgid prose, but in poetry. Even in in 2010, we, from the marginal sectors, all knew that the personal integrity of a president cannot move the needle much on poverty alleviation. To rein in poverty, we all knew this, a president had to jettison the weak social safety nets and improve on them in a profound and radical manner. A president had to raise wages to decent levels and copy the French and Swedish models on how to genuinely help the vulnerable.
“Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap,” we knew this even then, cannot stand the test of evidence and empiricism. We hungered so much for change that we all said “pass” to the egregious claims of Mr. Aquino’s campaign slogan.
Many of us, desperate for a leader who would lift us out of the political wasteland, cast all our doubts aside and voted him to the presidency.
Mr. Aquino was off to an auspicious, bold start. He initiated the impeachment of a sitting chief justice of the Supreme Court, then lined up the vast powers of the presidency behind the impeachment effort. The meticulous research that supported the impeachment effort uncovered tons of documents that showed Mr. Corona owning up sums of money and property beyond his means.
If there is one thing that Filipinos loath about their leaders is this – unexplained wealth. After the House voted to impeach, the Senate tried Mr. Corona and found him guilty.
The very state machinery that haunted Mr. Corona was unleashed next on an unsuspecting Congress, his ally in the Corona impeachment. Busloads of evidence showed that many senators and congressmen exchanged their SAROs for hard cash with a slick operator named Janet Napoles. A massive COA audit showed the unprecedented abuse of SAROs, more than P10 billion worth of SAROs were ceded to Napoles’ phony cooperatives in exchange for hard cash. The Special Audit Report, which was released with the apparent go-signal from the Palace, tainted Congress, a co-equal branch of government.
Three senators, including Mr. Enrile, have been detained for ceding their SAROs to Napoles. Several dozens have been indicted for plunder and graft and the latest to be detained is a siting governor. The high-profile investigations against members of Congress had a natural consequence, the singular role of the executive branch, headed by Mr. Aquino, in purging official corruption.
Until the revelation that Mr. Aquino himself masterminded the creation of DAP, an equally obnoxious mechanism to enable the executive department to juggle funds around using a flimsy legal cover. The unraveling of the DAP showed that Mr. Aquino is concerned with the proper use of public funds only when he and the executive branch are not the spending party.
DAP planted the initial seeds of doubt on his leadership. But what rankled people most was his inability to connect with his people, more so those in a state suffering. While Mr. Aquino basked in his associations with success and achievement, from inaugurating towering office towers to assembly plants to BPO centers, anything that said “weak and vulnerable” was invisible to Mr. Aquino.
The President who we thought would champion the weak and the vulnerable was more concerned about impressing his friends in the Makati Business Club and the Davos crowd than caring after his people.
The hard charging, growth-at-all-cost, success-centric president found his Waterloo in an act of imperial overstretch – playing policeman and soldier without knowing the terrain. The senseless death of 44 SAF officers in Maguindanao’s Slough of Despond magnified two things: the sense of presidential hubris and his lack of connection with the victims of a great tragedy.
Mr. Aquino, with no evidence that he stole from public coffers, will be president until 2016. Bungling, insensitive presidents are not impeached. Hubris is not an impeachable offense. Nor is there a will on the part of the people to storm the Palace gates to force him out.
But for all intents and purposes, he is no longer the colossus astride the archipelago. People are just warily waiting it out, waiting for 2016 to end for the peaceful handover of power. The emperor has no clothes.