Whether you have a car or a motorcycle, or just crossing at the pedestrian lane, all of us should follow rules. Let’s not wait to be caught by an officer or on camera, and be penalized before we learn to follow the law and the system.
— President Benigno Aquino 3rd, January 2014
If he had only followed his own advice about following rules and laws, delivered at the launching of the Metro Manila Development Authority’s traffic control system over a year ago, then President Benigno Aquino 3rd might have avoided the Mamasapano mess.
If Aquino had respected the order of his own appointed Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales suspending then-Philippine National Police Chief Alan Purisima, he would have put PNP Officer-in-Charge Leonardo Espina on top of the Special Action Force Operation Exodus to neutralize high-value terrorist bombers hiding out in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
Then there would have been proper coordination, at least with Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief Gregorio Catapang. Even “time on target” notice might have been fine, since OIC Espina would have had the authority to call his opposite number at the AFP and request reinforcements and artillery.
But as he has done time and again in his nearly five years of rule, Aquino broke the rules in his ill-fated Mamasapano operation. And that repeated and, some would say, wanton disregard of regulations and statutes is the root of his many foibles, from the very first month of his regime until today.
Working back from Mamasapano, Aquino’s major failings all involve breaking law, convention, or both.
The Bangsamoro Basic Law, now moribund after Mamasapano, was already having a tough time in Congress even before the massacre of 44 SAF commandos by fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and its splinter group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). Indeed, the Palace was delayed for months in submitting the draft BBL to legislators, because its lawyers had to revise many provisions in the original version submitted by government and MILF negotiators, to comply with the Constitution. Even then, senators and congressmen are finding more unconstitutional items to amend.
Last year’s Disbursement Acceleration Program debacle was rooted in a reckless disregard for decades-old budgeting rules and procedures. Every government official and staffer, from manual workers to Malacañang’s occupant, know that if there is no budget allocation — “walang badyet” — funds cannot be spent. But Aquino and DAP architect and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad flouted this basic fiscal tenet.
If the Bangsamoro peace agreement was fraught with unconstitutional provisions, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement allowing increased US military presence in the country, may also have violated the fundamental law for lacking Senate ratification. Given the unprecedented level of American force deployment and access to Philippine bases, it is hard to argue that the EDCA is just an implementation of past pacts. But insist on that dubious legal position the Aquino administration does.
Disregarding laws led to disasters
Two of the three calamities that hit the country in late 2013 can also be partly traced to Aquino’s disregard of the law. The dismal state response to Supertyphoon Yolanda, especially in Tacloban, would not have been so woefully inadequate if Aquino implemented the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 passed two months before he took office.
The NDRRM Law mandated the building up of the Office of Civil Defense into a billion-peso national disaster response and risk reduction organization similar to the US Federal Emergency Management Agency. The enhanced OCD would have included a training institute set up specifically for DRRM capacity building for local government units. None of that was done, prompting state auditors to lament that OCD reported no accomplishments in its core mandate of improving LGU disaster response capabilities.
The Zamboanga siege by Moro National Liberation Front fighters in September 2013 might not have happened if Aquino’s peace accords with the MILF did not propose to sweep aside the entire Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) created under binding agreements with the MNLF and the ARMM law.
Even the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which has long backed the interests of Filipino Muslims, was disturbed by the way the Bangsamoro pact would undermine the MNLF’s hard-fought stature in Muslim Mindanao, and has pressed the Front and its MILF splinter group to reconcile their peace accords. Why did it have to be the foreign OIC to push for harmonizing the pacts, when it is the Philippine government that signed the MNLF and MILF agreements and should accord respect and validity to both?
If the Yolanda and Zamboanga disasters seem far away for the rest of the country, a third deadly scourge can also be traced to law-breaking under Aquino. The doubling in crime incidence since 2010, concealed for two years until the PNP came out with unadulterated data last June, was fueled by the flood of guns and drugs from the five-fold increase in smuggling under this administration. The President could have stanched the flow early if he only investigated and sanctioned the disappearance of more than 2,000 cargo containers in 2011 — the biggest spate of smuggling in Philippine history.
But then, Aquino’s disregard for the niceties and imperatives of law was there from day one. In his first Executive Order creating the Philippine Truth Commission, he targeted the past administration in violation of the constitutional principle of equal protection under the law. When the Supreme Court and Aquino’s own legal adviser suggested remedies, he did not care for them. Nor did he listen when his own mother’s first Executive Secretary and longtime friend, Joker Arroyo, criticized Palace lawyers.
In his inaugural speech and his first State of the Nation Address, President Aquino lambasted “wang-wang” sirens as a symbol of the powerful jumping queues, skirting rules, and grabbing unfair advantage. If he and his administration had only jettisoned their own wang-wang disregard of laws and procedures, then Mamasapano and his other debacles could have been avoided.