#Nasaan ang Pangulo
Social media buzzed when President Aquino was not at Villamor Air Base upon the arrival of the remains of 42 of the 44 Special Action Force commandos killed in action in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on Jan. 25. Where was he?
Flashback to August 2010 in Rizal Park in Manila. A tourist bus had been hijacked, and the daylong crisis led to the death of a number of visitors from Hong Kong, with significant diplomatic repercussions. The same question was raised—Where is the President?—in the belief that leadership required his visible involvement in handling the crisis. But the mean scuttlebutt was that he was in Malacañang playing his favorite video game.
Fast-forward to January 2015, and the even meaner joke was that he must have thought the Mamasapano operation was a video game. Yet, if the outcome had simply been the killing of Malaysian terrorist Marwan without the SAF casualties, the President would have received much acclaim for a major contribution to the fight against international terrorism.
It will be a sad commentary on Mr. Aquino’s presidency if his absence at critical occasions were to take central focus. In this regard, it is noteworthy to mention his remarkable absence in Tacloban City, ground zero of Supertyphoon “Yolanda.” The suffering that Yolanda inflicted on the people was what moved Pope Francis to decide to visit the Philippines. This is compassion personified. Is it beyond the President to transcend politics?
In less than one and a half years, P-Noy will step down and turn over the reins of government to his successor. The image of honesty may be rightfully granted him. But the incompetence label may be the nagging point as the election campaign approaches. The inquiry into what really happened in Mamasapano and its impact on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law can take much of the next eight months prior to the October deadline of filing candidacies for president, vice president and senators. And while the investigation is going on, many issues—the operational participation of a suspended director general of the Philippine National Police, the planning lapses, the bypassing of the interior secretary and the PNP officer in charge, the seeming effort to keep the military chief of staff out of the loop, the nature of US involvement, the constitutional amendments that may be required for the BBL—can undermine P-Noy’s effectiveness to govern.
There have been many positive developments since P-Noy was sworn into office in 2010 by then Supreme Court Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales instead of the subsequently impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona. That swearing-in gesture set the tone for his dogged fight against corruption in government. Former president Gloria Arroyo and Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla—all from the opposition—are among the big fish in detention. Yet no ally of his that may have been involved in the pork barrel scam has been charged.
Fighting corruption has been at the forefront of P-Noy’s administration from the get-go; it was the battle cry of his campaign for the presidency (remember “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap”). But in the light of his perceived incompetence to govern, his crusade may now be deemed a hollow promise. It is true that substantial fund leakages were stopped in the Departments of Public Works and Highways and of Education. But can the same be said in the Departments of Finance (Bureaus of Customs and of Internal Revenue), of Health, of Social Welfare and Development, of National Defense, of Transportation and Communications, of Budget and Management, of Interior and
Local Government? What about the local government units, the legislature and the judiciary? To what extent has corruption been addressed in these areas, if at all?
P-Noy’s inevitable lame-duck status can set in earlier than expected if the perception of incompetence becomes the pressing issue.
Certain sectors may attempt to take advantage of the emotionally charged situation to bring him down. For those groups who have been waiting for a chance to destabilize the administration, this can be the most opportune time. There are problems on various fronts. The Comelec-Smartmatic controversy can be exploited to erode public confidence in the 2016 presidential election. The Senate blue ribbon subcommittee’s inquiry into accusations of corruption against Vice President Jojo Binay may compound the situation if in fact this happens.
There is no better time than now for the administration to finally demonstrate whatever competence it can muster. Whatever credibility it has left in the light of Mamasapano must be used to the max if it is to avert a stability crisis.
P-Noy’s reported acceptance of the resignation of suspended PNP Director General Alan Purisima is a move in the right direction. But this will not suffice.
Those with critical knowledge of Operation Wolverine should have the decency to surface and, for a change, give their president a break. The Filipino people do not deserve their kind of incompetent service. They must allow the duly elected president to finish his term and ensure a peaceful succession by getting out of the way.
Danilo S. Venida ([email protected]) holds undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from the University of the Philippines and the Center for Research and Communication/University of Asia and the Pacific. He is a former president of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and is now a business consultant.
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