If you are a public official, legacy is what you leave behind that people will remember you by after you’ve moved on. It can be beautiful or forgettable, something to cherish or ignore, something to celebrate or desecrate, or to make you happy or sad.
The odd thing about legacy is that it’s the unwanted, and not the good, that you have done that appears on the radar when you are assessed after you exit public office. How very true the lament of Marc Antony in his eulogy to Julius Caesar: “The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones…”
Let us visit the legacies of P-Noy, the range of his acts and non-acts during his watch as president, which is due to end in a year.
His commitment to “daang matuwid,” or righting what is patently wrongful in government, we have to grant, is one commendable legacy. This is hugely dramatized by his successful effort to oust Merceditas Gutierrez as ombudsman and Renato Corona as chief justice—both of whom were seen as unworthily shoehorned into their respective positions by his predecessor as insurance against potential legal charges that may be brought against her.
The modernization, or at least the start of the modernization, of the Armed Forces is a great legacy. Administration after administration came and went but our military remained decrepit, equipped with vintage assets and eyeing with envy their modernly equipped counterparts in the region. The money realized from the sale of Fort Bonifacio land was supposed to fund the long-needed modernization, but this did not happen for one reason or another. To be sure, it is far from reaching the satisfactory level, but it is ongoing. We have to grant that cranking up the process with definite timetable and goal is one legacy of P-Noy that deserves a round of applause from us.
Bringing peace to Mindanao, assuming that his effort to achieve this succeeds, is a tremendous legacy given what this will mean in terms of alleviating human suffering, putting into high gear the economic engine on the island, and removing the thorn in the nation’s side that prevents us from moving forward with the speed equal to that of other nations not saddled with insurgency.
P-Noy’s fans, I am sure, can cite many other positive footprints he’ll leave behind when he exits Malacañang. Great, be my guest. But what I have cited are all that I can summon at present from my memory, except one other that’s truly exceptional, and which should earn for him the nation’s enduring wonder and gratitude: He has demonstrated that a president, given all the power and opportunities to line his pockets with the people’s money, can spurn all temptations and keep his hands clean of dishonest wealth fleeced from the public or finagled from the national treasury. This legacy of integrity can or should be the template for all who hold positions of great power and responsibility in government.
Now let’s look at the flipside of the coin—P-Noy’s legacy of failures, or what he did but shouldn’t have, and should have but didn’t.
What easily comes to mind is his failure to exercise leadership with intelligence and unambiguous purpose, which is shown in the way he staffs his administration, preferring greenhorns, kabarilan, etc. to tested and experienced professionals for key and sensitive positions. What happens to governance if the leader has this kind of management mentality?
The Philippine National Police is under the Department of Interior and Local Government. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that it is the interior secretary who bosses the entire department, not excepting the police. But P-Noy did what he shouldn’t have: He named a shooting buddy undersecretary and put him in charge of the police desk at the DILG. Result? Confusion on whom to pin responsibility for the bloody Luneta hostage crisis.
P-Noy named Ping de Jesus secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC). An excellent choice. Ping is a professional with an impeccable track record as implementor of infrastructure projects. Under the DOTC is the Land Transportation Office, where P-Noy placed another kabarilan as boss. This kabarilan made a mess of everything at the LTO and Ping sought to put the house in order. He wouldn’t listen to Ping, who had asked that the kabarilan be relocated. He chose the kabarilan to stay at the LTO, and Ping resigned—which is a shame. Ping could have, among other things, put in shape the joke that is the MRT, which bogs down every other day or so.
There are other instances when P-Noy showed a propensity for making choices indicating a mediocre thinking process and an inelegant power of discernment, such as: replacing low-key professional Enrique Ona as health secretary with a publicity-hound politician; letting go effective and no-nonsense John Sevilla as Customs commissioner and putting in his place Bert Lina, saddled though the latter may be with conflict of interest; and choosing to grace the inauguration of a car plant over meeting the remains of the 44 police troopers massacred in Mamasapano (the height of insensitivity, if not callousness).
P-Noy’s popularity rating is today in shambles, pointing to a perception that the man who, throughout his almost entire term, seemed like a Teflon man invulnerable to attack and who did everything right, would be left with a very thin portfolio of legacies, if any, when the curtain falls.
But wait. Beyond the glitches of incompetence and decisions of dubious worth, here’s one act that may merit being enshrined as a notable legacy: his, um, his ban on wang-wang.
Gualberto B. Lumauig ([email protected]) is past president of the UST Philosophy and Letters Foundation and former governor/congressman of Ifugao.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.