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With Due Respect

Surviving presidential crises

The Mamasapano carnage which resulted in the death of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) officers is the most serious political crisis that has beset President Aquino since he assumed office.

P-Noy’s ouster? Although Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima has accepted full responsibility and has consequently resigned, many militants (including some bishops) and relatives of the deceased still press P-Noy to own ultimate responsibility and to resign from the presidency.

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While I agree with the rage for truth and justice, I believe there is no basis for the President’s resignation, much less for his ouster. For an Edsa-type rebellion to prosper, the military and the Church must combine.

However, my private conversations with the top officials of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) show an outright rejection of any kind of ouster. In fact, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, the highest ranking Catholic prelate in the country, has openly discouraged any such move.

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All that the CBCP officials ask for is transparency in arriving at the truth and in meting out justice to the culprits. None of them, I understand, have been sounded out by any credible military commander to support a peaceful people power revolt, or an unconstitutional coup d’état.

How FVR handled crisis. All past presidents have faced political crises. For example, in April 1994, during the term of President Fidel V. Ramos (FVR), an overseas Filipino worker, Flor Contemplacion, was found guilty by a Singapore court of murdering Delia Maga, another OFW, and sentenced her to death by hanging.

Nonetheless, even after the verdict was announced, the friendly relations between the Philippines and Singapore continued. However, the relations soured after Emilia Frenilla, another OFW, returned from the island-state and alleged that Contemplacion was innocent and that Maga’s employer was the real killer.

This late-breaking revelation sparked outrage among our people. FVR, under the theory of command responsibility, was blamed for the alleged injustice and for not doing enough to save Contemplacion.

In his recent autobiography, “Endless Journey,” Gen. Jose T. Almonte, FVR’s national security adviser, rued that “the outpouring of grief was close to what we had felt and seen when Ninoy Aquino was assassinated…”

To assuage the outrage, FVR asked the Singapore government to reopen the case so Frenilla could testify. However, the request was turned down; it was noted that a year before Contemplacion was executed, the Singaporean authorities ignored a plea for compassion by the US government and penalized an American teenager by lashing him with a cane in addition to imprisoning him for four years for merely vandalizing cars.

Because of this refusal, many Filipinos felt that Contemplacion was denied a fair trial and that FVR did not do enough for her. After the OFW’s execution, rallies and demonstrations became unstoppable and the “fury welled-up, forming a tidal wave” that threatened to unseat FVR.

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Proactively, FVR broke diplomatic ties with Singapore and “forced” the resignation of two Cabinet members, Foreign Affairs Secretary Roberto Romulo and Labor Secretary Nieves Confesor.

Only then did the public indignation subside.

Contemplacion was just one Filipino whom our people perceived to have been denied justice. In Mamasapano, 44 SAF officers perished. Truth and justice must be accorded them, remembering that when our people perceive—whether rightly or wrongly—a palpable injustice, they rage until justice is done.

Other presidents. Serious crises other chief executives have also faced. Ferdinand Marcos thought he fully controlled the country with an iron fist but when our people perceived terrible injustice in the “tarmac murder” of Ninoy Aquino, our masses rose peacefully and overwhelmed the dictator.

Despite her herculean effort to restore democracy, the saintly Cory Aquino, the icon of Philippine democracy, had to subdue several coup attempts.

Similarly, the perceived injustice at the refusal of the Senate impeachment court to open the so-called “second envelope” which was supposed to contain damning evidence against President Joseph Estrada triggered the second Edsa revolution that resulted in the “constructive resignation” of Estrada, and his subsequent indictment and trial for and conviction of plunder.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who succeeded Estrada, initially did well until she mishandled the accusations of fraud during her electoral bid in 2004, especially when she perfunctorily confessed “I am sorry” to the charge that she phoned an election commissioner to assure her victory.

That notorious “Hello Garci” incident, capped by the resignation of the “Hyatt 10,” nearly toppled her. Thereafter, she continuously battled low public approval ratings and struggled daily to stay in office. Though she managed to finish her term, she is now detained, despite her delicate medical condition, while facing trial in a criminal charge for plunder.

The moral lesson from all these is that presidents, regardless of their qualifications, intentions and accomplishments, invariably face serious political crises. How P-Noy will overcome his own crisis will depend on how he satisfies the agonizing cries for truth and justice for the fallen SAF 44. Publicly picking on subordinates will not alleviate the cries. Quite the contrary, such public hand-washing and finger-pointing will just aggravate the agony.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, fidel v. ramos, Flor Contemplacion, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Mamasapano
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