Hoping against hope, I had hoped something like this would happen at the State of the Nation Address (Sona). P-Noy needed to say something dramatic to offset the impact of the Supreme Court ruling on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), and he would. Toward the end of it, he would show some humility and express a willingness to bow down to the will of the Supreme Court. Its ruling was unanimous after all, which showed how fairly clear and inescapable the call of conscience went. The justices themselves had to bow down to it. So did the President.
Then at the very end of it, he would announce that Butch Abad had resigned.
He would praise him to high heavens for it. He would submit to the fact that the DAP was unconstitutional, as decreed by the Court, but submit as well that Abad truly did it in good faith, believing that it would do the things he promised it would. He knew Abad well and personally believed in him. Without prejudging his liability in whatever abuse might have proceeded from DAP, he was confident in his innocence. But he would rise above his personal prejudices, he would be president to the many and not just to the few.
He would accept that resignation.
Well, that won’t happen. He won’t say those things, he did not accept Abad’s resignation.
He won’t make things better.
I don’t know if Malacañang truly appreciates the implications of P-Noy’s rejection of Abad’s resignation. Those implications are legion, none of them good.
First off, it rattles the credibility of government with the force of a 7-magnitude earthquake. Not least the credibility of Abad’s resignation itself. As the reactions of the past several days show, they are one of widespread disbelief, if not cynicism, several people calling it a moro-moro. Toby Tiangco, for one, does, calling it bad script, bad acting, and bad taste. If Abad had really wanted to resign, he said, he would have made it irrevocable.
He can’t be blamed for saying so. Only recently we had a government official who resigned—or was forced to—and she made it irrevocable. Who was Margie Juico. Juico was only the victim of the intrigues of the people who now find themselves in hot water, she was not guilty of committing a wrong, as Abad has been deemed so by the Supreme Court. Yet she never thought twice about pleading her case. She never thought twice about clinging to her position. She resigned, immediately, spontaneously, irrevocably. That is buo ang loob, that is resolve, that is class.
Secondly, it blunts the whole impact of the jailing of Senators Bong Revilla, Jinggoy Estrada, and Juan Ponce Enrile. That would have been a high point of the Sona, if not the apex of it. For the first time since the War, a Philippine government has had the wit and will to jail not one but three senators for corruption. Of course they remain to be convicted by a court of law for what they have done, but that was a good beginning, that promised the dawning of a new day.
What happens to all that now? How can P-Noy mention that in the Sona, let alone make a big deal of it, without inviting a storm of protest, without provoking hisses and catcalls? It puts into question the nature of the presidential resolve. “You have no problems jailing three senators, but you have a problem merely accepting the resignation of one of your own?” Abad does not merit jailing—until such time as the Ombudsman can show corruption on his part. But he deserves to resign: He knowingly authored something unconstitutional. “You not only cannot find wrong with him, you find only right with him?”
It may not increase P-Noy’s political vulnerability to impeachment—he has the numbers—but it increases his moral vulnerability to it. Not accepting Abad’s resignation removes the buffers or fail-safes to the presidency. It conveys the message that the President was in it all along, he was party to the plot, he gave it his full blessings from start to finish.
And thirdly, it wrecks the whole concept of accountability in government. Being accountable has been one of the things the current administration has been proudest about, contrasting itself with the previous one which considered itself above accounting to anyone. But you start saying things like, “I cannot accept the notion that doing right by our people is a wrong,” and you bring that accountability into question.
Put baldly, it’s just saying, “I cannot accept the Supreme Court interpretation of the DAP.” Or it’s just saying, “I cannot accept the Supreme Court ruling on the DAP.” Or it’s just saying, “The Supreme Court is wrong and I am right.” Or it’s just saying, “I am the ultimate arbiter of what is wrong and what is right.” Or it’s just saying, “I have the right to veto the Supreme Court when I think it is wrong.” Or, a la Romy Neri, “Let me be the judge of that.” Take your pick, but not one of that can make you feel very comfortable about the state of democracy.
Being personally honest and trustworthy is not an entitlement to it.
Of course the President can always say, “In the end, I will be accountable only to my Boss, who is the people.” But unfortunately in a democracy, the people manifest their voice through the judiciary too, through the courts too, through the Supreme Court too. You start disregarding those institutions, you start imagining the people speak directly to you, and you sow the seeds of discontent. You know what they say: You talk to God in your quiet moments, and it is called prayer. God talks to you in your fitful moments, and you should seek help. What is true of God is true of the Boss as well.
Things like “I will be accountable only to my Boss” sound very nice, but in the end they really mean only one thing: “I will be accountable only to myself.”
That’s an engraved invitation to a fallout.
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