Twist of fateBy Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Erap had some very interesting things to say last weekend. His political sortie in Manila, he said, would be his last. “This is my last hurrah. No more, no way.”
But he will step away from public life vindicated. You will notice, he said, that while Filipinos continue to celebrate Edsa I in February, they do not do so Edsa II in January. “Probably because they are ashamed about participating in what has turned out to be a terrible mistake.” And of course, he said, his nemesis, the one who usurped his position, is now behind bars. “It’s poetic justice.”
Taken at face value, his statement squelches speculation he might run in 2016, a not very dark horse in a looming two-cornered fight between Mar Roxas and Jojo Binay. His showing in the 2010 elections, which was to zoom past Manny Villar and end up second to P-Noy, testifies to a strong comeback potential. He decides to run then—assuming he can get Binay to agree to make way for him—he can very well be the bet to beat.
He says today that won’t happen tomorrow. But he wins as mayor of Manila, and wins big—which seems likely, to go by the betting odds—you never know. That will be no small encouragement, or pressure. Of course he will be 79 by then. But Juan Ponce Enrile is 10 years older and is still going like the Eveready battery. Of course, too, he might balk at doing a Gloria and prove true to his word. But if he changes his mind, he can always point to a public clamor for it, which in his case can look a lot more believable.
But I’ll leave these concerns for another day. As indeed I’ll leave his views about Edsa II for another day. What struck me about all this, however, is how Erap shares some things with Gloria despite their obvious differences.
Their differences, of course, are as day and night. Erap was the most popular presidential candidate ever, leaving his closest rival, Jose de Venecia, too far behind to even bite his dust. Gloria spent her entire rule having to fend off challenges about her legitimacy, becoming president first by accident and second by design. Ironically, Erap got less than three years as president after winning massively and Gloria close to a decade after not winning at all.
But come now the similarities. At the very least, both of them were jailed for corruption. Of course there are differences here, too. Erap was tried and convicted by a regime buffeted by unrest over charges of illegitimacy, not least from the Erap hordes, which gave the verdict a political spin. Gloria will be tried by a government whose legitimacy is beyond question, and if she is convicted, it will be beyond rebuke. But that doesn’t debunk the fact that he was guilty of corruption. That verdict was rendered by a power more supreme than the Supreme Court, who are the people themselves. Erap may take comfort in his tormentor being in jail, but he may not find exoneration in it.
But what Erap really has in common with Gloria is this: They are the only two presidents of this country, real or unreal, aborted or extended, unseated or unsated, who have gone on to run for lower positions after being so. Gloria ran for congressman immediately afterward, Erap is running for mayor now.
I don’t know how it is in other countries. But I have not seen any American president or European prime minister or Asian premier or president doing so. They’ve gone on to become senior statesmen, or, like Al Gore and Jimmy Carter, into larger-than-life, or larger-than-president, concerns such as climate change and habitat. The normal trajectory is to go up, not down.
It’s hugely troubling, and it is a testament to our declining valuation of public office, or indeed the highest office of the land, that we are not hugely troubled. Surely it’s scornful of the position? You’re senator, you can always go down to congressman after you reach term limits. You’re mayor, you can always go down to vice mayor or even councilor when you reach term limits. But you’re president, you call it quits afterward and try to become more than what you were. You do not become a congressman or mayor.
At least as a matter of tradition, at least as a matter of decency, at least as a matter of delicadeza. It does not merely lower you in the eyes of the public, it lowers the nation in the eyes of the world. It is no slight slight of the office.
It’s bad enough over the years that senators and congressmen have been moonlighting while in public office, their argument being that they need it to supplement income, better work over the table than under. True, but even better just work and nothing else. Public office is a trust, not a hobby. The entertainers in particular go on to make movies, while the nonentertainers go on to advertise all sorts of products. That never happened during the time of Jose Laurel, Claro Recto, Lorenzo Tañada, Jose Diokno, even Ferdinand Marcos. Whatever they were, or did, they had reverence for the office, they had deference for the office.
Moonlighting cheapens the office, sidelining demeans the office. If you cannot hold your office in high esteem, if not awe, why should we?
It’s worse that we now have ex-presidents who are a current congressman and a prospective mayor. No other president in the past did that. Not Cory, not Ramos, not (prospectively) P-Noy, to name only the post-Edsa presidents. Only Erap and Gloria. Arguably, Erap never got to finish his term, but some pride at least, if not appreciation for an office that, like the flag, symbolizes the nation, should have kept him from seeking to become mayor all over again. Maybe he just wants to see Jinggoy in Malacañang by that “sacrifice”? Well, that’s adding insult to injury, or injury to insult.
Ah, the twists in this tale of a twist of fate.
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