Exit from power is hardly a joyful event, unless, tired of it, you wish for and want the pleasure of its antithesis, freedom—that is, freedom from duty and responsibility.
But power, no matter how tightly you cling to it, is not forever. At some point you have to give it up, or be compelled to. Either way, exit from power, such as the presidency, should ideally be kink-free and dignified, if it is to evince what it should: political maturity and respectful grace.
Three of the five presidential turnovers in the last 28 years are far from ideal; put another way, the event could have more delightfully unfolded. Ferdinand Marcos exited in a most sorry manner, flushed out of Malacañang into exile; Joseph “Erap” Estrada exited in much the same fashion, hustled out of the Palace via Pasig River to detention houses and then to court for trial. And Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s exit was no more glorious; its lack of grace is defined by her arrest and detention, although in frail health, with no early resolution of her distress in sight.
Our next exiting president is P-Noy (President Benigno Aquino III), with the event to happen in less than one and a half years. The consensus among political observers is that his exit would be hassle-free, and would parallel the exit scenario of both Fidel V. Ramos and Cory Aquino, neither of whom had postexit torments but went on to reinvent themselves beautifully (FVR as a much-sought-after international lecturer on statecraft, and Cory as an accomplished painter and prime mover of microfinancing). What would P-Noy reinvent himself into when he exits from Malacañang?
P-Noy’s critics say he does not have to reinvent himself for a new pursuit because he’ll supposedly be immensely preoccupied dodging cases and charges that a battalion of lawyers would file against him on his Day One as ex-president.
His critics are serious, and are confident that they can put him in jail. Their chorus line: “No, we are not out to avenge anything, we are just out to stress the majesty of the law, that not even former occupants of the highest office of the land can mess with it and get away unpunished.”
What exactly are the wrongdoing, malfeasance, misfeasance and what-have-you that P-Noy’s critics are so het up about? Did he amass wealth from illegal sources—say “jueteng”? Has he a secret nest egg stashed in the United States, Europe and elsewhere, built from kickbacks, bribes and rerouting of public funds to his pocket?
No, far more serious than those money-related schemes, which are the usual alley of common grafters in government, P-Noy will be dragged to court for his numerous blatant violations of the Constitution, they say. And what are these?
“P-Noy’s violations of the Constitution are palpable even to freshmen law students,” some legal minds, ex-judges and ex-justices say. They cite the PDAF, DAP, BBL, as well as Edca, Malampaya, etc.
Next question: What exit strategy can or should Team P-Noy put in place to weather the “Yolanda”-like storm that his critics are bent on stirring up through legal fireworks that will underscore his departure from power and the dawn of a new reality—that his immunity is gone and he is now vulnerable to all kinds of lawsuits?
Past presidential exit scenarios are a study in contrast—in evolutions and postevent stories. Let’s look at some of them:
Most dignified was Elpidio Quirino’s. On exit day he welcomed to Malacañang his successor, Ramon Magsaysay. He good-naturedly asked The Guy to try for size the presidential chair behind the presidential desk. After a brief exchange of laughs, they rode together to Luneta, the site of the presidential inauguration. At the foot of the stage they shook hands and wished each other good luck. Then Magsaysay climbed the stage’s stairs to take his place at the inaugural podium; Quirino marched back to the car and rode off to his new home, a humble house in rustic Novaliches, and quiet retirement. Simple, neat, no-frills, commotion-free.
Most tragic had to be that of Magsaysay. At the prime of his life, popular beyond description, he flew to Cebu to grace an event. On the return trip to Manila the presidential plane slammed against Mount Manunggal, killing all aboard save one, a news reporter who went with the presidential party to cover the Cebu event. An exit that produced no turmoil, only grief.
Most controversial was Erap’s exit from power. This is recent history, and the details are still fresh in most people’s memory. Suffice it to say that to this day, Erap believes he was illegitimately made to leave Malacañang halfway in his term. And he is wasting no effort to prove he was a victim of a cabal’s plot.
Most meticulously planned, no question, was GMA’s. Correctly projecting that she’d be subjected to legal bombardment once she’s out of power, she saw to it that powerful positions in the judiciary were filled by apolitical individuals who would ensure that at the very least she’d be given a fair shake when the time comes. For good measure she had Congress also covered by getting herself elected a member of the body.
So what strategy should P-Noy take for his exit that will more or less guarantee he’ll escape indictment and jail, which look like the developing de rigueur fate of exiting presidents?
I posed the same question to a group of former colleagues in government with diverse political leanings. The prevailing opinion: Support a successor with unquestioned loyalty and who shares his daang matuwid philosophy. This man can be expected to do what then US President Gerard Ford did for the resigned President Richard Nixon: sign an executive order clearing him of any presidential liability—in short, granting him general amnesty.
Gualberto B. Lumauig ([email protected]) is a freelance writer, author and former governor/congressman of Ifugao.
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