July 28, 2014

SONA: The (sorry) State of the Aquino Presidency

The President delivers his State-of-the-Nation address today besieged from all sides.  Benigno S. Aquino III (BSA) is facing the worst political crisis in his career and it appears, from the way he is scrambling to do damage control, he didn’t even see it coming.

The BSA regime has quickly transformed from a so-called Teflon presidency to one with drastically reduced popularity ratings. With the unfavorable High Court decision against the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), BSA is forced to defend not just the DAP but the integrity of his vaunted “daang matuwid” governance.  BSA is also confronted by three impeachment complaints for culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust (two grounded on DAP and one on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA) casting further doubt on the legitimacy of his rule.

Successive efforts by Malacanang to justify the DAP only clearly shows that people are not buying each attempt, starting from Aquino's July 14 speech to the recent Senate finance committee hearing. 

Speech after speech, BSA baldly asserts that he and his subalterns did no wrong; rather, they did right by the Constitution and by the people. Unfortunately his political capital is no longer enough to support the line “Trust me, I am clean.”  To his claim that the DAP was spent to alleviate the plight of the poor and the needy, the latter cry with disbelief and scorn: where is it?

BSA summons his entire Cabinet to defend the DAP as well.  Without DAP critical flood control projects in Metro Manila would be left uncompleted. (Why didn’t you sufficiently budget for them?)

Sans DAP, state universities like the University of the Philippines and public hospitals like the Philippine General Hospital would not get additional funds.  (Why did you consistently cut their budgets to the bone in the first place?)

DAP gave soldiers housing and improved their ability to fight the “enemies of the state”. (The defense budget has always been a priority in every General Appropriation Act  so where have the gargantuan funds been going or is the practice of “pabaon” and “conversion” still alive and kicking?)

Failing to rally the public to support him, BSA turns to his fellow Liberal party mates notably Senate President Franklin Drilon and the rest of his administration allies - themselves tainted by the anomalies and scams connected to the use of their pork barrel - to perform in a nationally-televised scripted defense of the DAP that strains credulity.

The SC is so far standing its ground despite BSA’s attacks on the Court and the judiciary as a whole.  There is the threat of impeachment for certain erring members to a constitutional crisis should the SC not change its DAP decision; the threat of legislating the abolition of the Judicial Development Fund, a pork-like kitty intended for court employees’ welfare but also waylaid in the past; the threat of probes into the justices’ tax payments; the accusation that the SC engaged in the same practices they adjudged unconstitutional such as cross-border fund transfers.  All these are intended to badger and bully the SC justices to change their vote or amend the Court decision to give the BSA regime more wiggle room even as it attempts to deny them the moral high ground for their earlier unanimous decision.

In his fifth SONA, BSA has to say something that can extricate himself from his growing political isolation over the DAP fiasco.  But we can anticipate nothing new based on what his administration has so far shown.

BSA will stand by his basic line:  “DAP is good. Our intentions, our processes, and the results were correct.”  To this he will add, DAP is legal because it is an established practice by every Chief Executive post Marcos, a mere exercise of executive flexibility for efficiency and to benefit the public.  No other previous administration had been taken to task over the practice.  So, why me? (The justification sounds eerily like the Jinggoy Estrada defense:  Every senator did it so why pick on me?)

The answer is simple: BSA, you got caught by a highly vigilant public fed up with the corrupt-ridden pork barrel system. 

BSA’s other line is to insist that the SC did not declare DAP as unconstitutional, only specific acts and activities.  The regime’s apologists then peddle the argument that the DAP decision is legally complex and a Motion for Reconsideration is pending so people should not jump to conclusions, much less file  “premature” impeachment cases.  Meanwhile, in accord with the general principle of “innocent until proven guilty”, the BSA administration cannot be held accountable politically, civilly or criminally.

Our answer: the DAP is unconstitutional and illegal acts have been committed involving hundreds of billions of taxpayer’s money.  Only an independent audit can determine where the monies were taken from and where they were brought.  Therefore its authors and implementors must be held accountable or as a protest placard put it “Lahat ng sangkot, DAPat managot”.

Aquino's defiant stance on the SC ruling brings to the fore a disequilibrium in the so-called checks-and-balance in governmental powers. That disequilibrium has in fact long been in the making.

It seems ironic that the pork barrel scandal, that is, the plague of graft and corruption and patronage politics, has brought about this looming constitutional crisis. But in fact, it is simply a case of the institutional mechanism of checks and balance now on the verge of being overwhelmed by the very anomalies it is supposed to prevent or mitigate.

This explains why each and every post-Marcos regime was not spared from graft and corruption scandals of truly scandalous proportions (Cory's Kamag-anak Inc, Ramos' Independent Power Producers (IPP) lopsided deals and Centennial Expo scam, Erap's jueteng racket and Jose Velarde caper, GMA’s NBN-ZTE swindle, payolas, etc.) in which Congressional and Presidential pork barrel, patronage and bribery were key ingredients.

On one hand, this has brought about disillusionment among many of those who had participated actively in forcing the removal of erring rulers (Edsa I and II) with hopes for change in governance gradually fading, if not totally extinguished.  On the other hand, it also drives home the lesson to the less faint-hearted that the sitting President is only a symptom - although a crucial one - and not the totality of the problem. Thus, merely deposing and changing an erring President will not solve the problem entirely. The problem lies in the system, and the solution can only be system change. #

Published in Business World
28 July 2014


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