In spite of the barrage of
criticism and outright insults that have been hurled at him in recent
weeks, in connection with the pork barrel plunder, I continue to
believe in the good intentions of President Benigno S. Aquino III.
I am convinced that he is trying, in his own way, to live up to
the expectations of those who pushed him into the presidency.
Unfortunately, the saying, “The road to hell is paved with
good intentions” applies just as well to his efforts to trek
the Daang Matuwid.
When Aquino agreed to have alleged billion-peso scam artist Janet
Lim-Napoles surrender to him personally in Malacañang, I
think he actually believed he was doing the right thing.
He must have been persuaded by his retinue of advisers that: (a)
It would portray him as being “on top of the situation”
(especially following criticism that he was “absent”
in the wake of the recent massive floods that hit the country);
(b) he could abort any evil schemes that certain shady characters
in the NBI might have had to foil the ends of justice; (c) it would
send the message to suspected legislative scammers that he was serious
about going after them; and (d) by appointing Mar Roxas to personally
arrange Napoles’ confinement, he would give Roxas brownie
points as a presidential hopeful.
Apparently, neither Aquino nor Roxas saw the disastrous implications
of appearing to give “special treatment” to a person
who had become the object of the worst outpouring of bile since
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was “indicted” and consigned
to “hospital arrest.”
The rationale – or defense – put up by Aquino and his
mouthpieces remind you of Antonio Margarito facing Paquiao. Every
time Margarito covered his body, he got hit on the face. When he
covered his face, Pacquiao delivered a blow to the body.
Can anyone blame NBI Director Nonnatus Rojas for tendering his resignation,
after both Aquino and Roxas suggested that his command was not to
be trusted? Can anyone blame the vigilantes of social media for
suspecting a deal with Napoles that would cushion the blow on Aquino
allies and palace insiders, while leaving Enrile, Estrada, Revilla,
Honasan and Marcos ripe for lynching?
Did Aquino’s PR advisers (among other advisers) actually convince
him that he could emerge spotless after according personal attention
to a fugitive straight out of the pig sty? This was a case of Crisis
PR 101. The most simple, most obvious PR problem to avoid. Those
advisers are either idiots or they want Aquino to look like one.
On the other hand, I hate to think that agreeing to see Napoles
in Malacañang was a decision that Aquino made all by himself.
Then there’s the issue of the pork barrel. For a president
who has repeatedly declared that the people are his “bosses,”
he certainly has not acted liked someone who believes what he has
been saying. He seems more like the Boss of Bosses.
Why did it have to take a groundswell of protest to persuade him
to relent on his indefensible position on the pork barrel? One suspects
that he was cornered by Rasputins, convincing him that the consequences
of depriving Congress of pork was worse than the effect of calming
the storm of popular dissent.
It doesn’t take rocket science to see through the lame rationale
for the retention of the pork by Aquino and the characters in Congress.
It’s power and plunder. Assuming Aquino has no taste for plunder,
he is apparently convinced that the Power of the Pork gives him
control of the legislative piggery.
After much resistance, Aquino finally relented and agreed to the
“abolition” of the PDAF. But the August 26 movement
had already gained momentum. Here was another case of Crisis PR
101. Aquino could have preserved much of his credibility if he had
taken the high road, early on, and had announced a merciless pursuit
of the plunderers while ensuring tighter control of the purse and
the pork. Indeed, tighter control of the purse and the pork –
instead of total abolition - would have been more believable at
that point, although it would still have been a hard sell (for one
thing, a Secretary of the Budget like Butch Abad giving his own
wife’s congressional district more pork than can be justified,
impairs Aquino’s credibility).
By rationalizing the retention of the PDAF for so long and eventually
giving in anyway (but only half-way), Aquino sent the worst kind
of message. Can he blame the citizenry for doubting his sincerity
and for starting to regard him as just another traditional politician
pretending to be a reformist? Doesn’t he realize that perception
is often taken for reality?
Right now Aquino, aside from being portrayed by his detractors as
the Chief Protector of the Pig Sty, has become the Chief Fireman
of the Republic, busy putting out fires.
The headlines are now saying that assorted agencies are facing the
axe for having been used as channels in the pork barrel scam. If
the Department of Justice, the Office of the Ombudsman and the reincarnated
Commission on Audit have their way, Aquino may have to abolish more
and more government departments. Perhaps, they may even make Franklin
Drilon’s belligerent and unthinking statement a self-fulfilling
dare. Although, if you abolish Congress, will the Supreme Court
and the presidency be next?
Say hello to anarchy or a military coup d’etat.
Even his objection to the Freedom of Information Act is the reasoning
of someone who allows a problem to get in the way of a solution.
According to him, the FOI will inhibit cabinet discussions because
the statements would be “recorded.” Apparently, Aquino
imagines himself as Richard Nixon, he with the incriminating recordings
in the White House.
Or, maybe, Aquino’s intentions are correct but it’s
just his way of expressing himself that delivers the wrong message.
And it gets worse when his spokespersons translate it for the media.
Edwin Lacierda announces that “the Executive branch has submitted
its own version of an FOI bill” and “the House of Representatives
and Senate are expected to debate the proposals.” And adds:
“Let them debate it because it’s a concern for all people.
FOI proponents need to work on their constituency. A lot of us are
for it but they need to work and convince the lawmakers that FOI
is good for all of us.”
How does this statement resonate in the minds of an increasingly
cynical populace? (A) Aquino is washing his hands of the FOI bill,
(b) he has a resistance to it, and (c) he wants Congress to handle
it because it’s sure not to pass.
That kind of equivocation was never apparent when Aquino went after
Corona. Conclusion: He really doesn’t want the FOI bill.
And yet, at the end of the day (to use a cliché that Aquino
appears to have given up using), I haven’t lost my faith in
Aquino’s good intentions. He just doesn’t seem to have
the street smarts to enable him to make his way up a straight path
populated by highwaymen.
At the start of the presidential campaign, some of Aquino’s
close advisers asked me to help in my personal capacity as a marketing
communications man. I frankly felt that he wasn’t a sterling
presidential prospect, but I conceded that he was the best hope
for honest governance, after the disheartening Arroyo presidency.
Besides, I was assured that he would be aided by the country’s
best minds and would be given the best counsel conceivable.
Without going into details, I believe I helped Aquino win –
or, more accurately, I helped make his most formidable opponent
lose. Am I sorry for it? Not yet. But I fervently hope that the
advisers who asked me to help will now come to Aquino’s rescue
– as promised.
Aquino is said to be “very hardheaded.” It is said that
when he makes up his mind, he stubbornly sticks to his decision.
He is also said to be like his mother, the late President Cory,
who disliked “unsolicited advice.”
Well, that’s too bad. Firstly, because there’s a difference
between being a hardhead and a bonehead. Secondly, because he’s
supposed to be President of the Philippines, not some spoiled sonnuvafamouspolitician
who can’t tell right from wrong.
And, thirdly, because anyone who doesn’t learn a lesson from
history is bound to see it repeated.