The point of no return for Mr. ‘Straight Path’

By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
Streetwise | BusinessWorld

President Benigno S. Aquino III’s bullheaded and combative speech televised nationwide last Monday has turned the tide against Malacaang in its defense of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). It revealed Mr. Aquino’s dark side. Rather than be introspective, if not a bit humbled, by the majority Supreme Court decision, the “tuwid na daan” President was more self-righteous than ever.

A chorus of voices — from legal experts to pundits to netizens — is thumbing down Mr. Aquino’s barefaced assertion: “The DAP is good. Our intentions, our processes, and the results were correct.”

Apart from the established administration critics and oppositionists, there are the legal experts who opine a principle that they say any law school freshman would know: the Palace cannot anchor its motion for reconsideration on a mere section of the 1987 Administrative Code. The Constitution trumps the Administrative Code anytime should there be any conflict.

But obviously Mr. Aquino is not banking on legal arguments to make the Court see things his way. Apart from berating the justices about purportedly deciding without studying the government’s defense of the DAP, Mr. Aquino effectively threw down the gauntlet before the Court. He even warned that he can sic his allies in Congress and his yellow crowd on the Court, constitutional crisis be hanged!

But the odds are against him. The Court as an institution must hold its ground or risk losing what remains of its credibility and independence. Individual justices who are vulnerable to impeachment because of skeletons in their closet also stand to lose whatever high moral and political ground they attained with the DAP and Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) decisions. But more important, any flip-flopping by the Court at this point can only add fuel to the fire and damage, perhaps irretrievably, public respect for the judiciary.

Mr. Aquino’s massaged popularity ratings have suffered a steep decline. And to think that the Social Weather Station survey was conducted even before the DAP ruling. A majority of the people feel betrayed by another elite administration whose populist rhetoric they had desperately clung to.

Mr. Aquino is deluded if he thinks he can muster a spontaneous outpouring of support from the people who may have been earlier hoodwinked into believing his anti-corruption and good governance rant. Another speech before businessmen added a measure of ludicrousness to Mr. Aquino’s growing predicament. His plea for people to “tie a yellow ribbon” to show their support for his administration has fallen on deaf ears — so much so that his spokesman has had to tell the public not to take it seriously.

Duh? Maybe it is time for Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman to sing “If we hold on together…”

Meanwhile, calls for an independent DAP audit grow stronger even after Malacaang released its list of 116 projects that the DAP had supposedly funded “in good faith.” These are alongside complaints by reported beneficiaries that the DAP funds were misspent or never reached them. The public is just not taking Malacaang’s word for it anymore.

On Aug. 24, the Senate Finance Committee headed by an Aquino ally will be hearing the Department of Budget and Management’s report on the DAP. Perhaps this is a signal that the senators who received from 50 million to a hundred million pesos in additional lump sum from the DAP are not willing to take the bullet for Mr. Aquino and his now isolated Budget Secretary.

An impeachment complaint from cause-oriented organizations and various anti-pork groups is due to be filed today. A significant number of these folk had always stopped short of saying that Mr. Aquino was himself accountable. But last week’s speech infuriated and convinced them that Mr. Aquino is indeed guilty of culpable violations of the Constitution.

Certainly the impeachment complaint faces stiff opposition in the pork-fed, patronage politics-driven Congress. But his hold on Congress can still become unexpectedly loosened as Mr. Aquino’s political fortunes suffer a massive downturn. Remember that many of Mr. Aquino’s current allies were not so long ago loyalists of his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. They are, after all, mostly just politicians in the business of profiting handsomely from public office, and they are not averse to abandoning a sinking ship of state.

At the minimum, the impeachment process means that Mr. Aquino and his DAP will be further subjected to close public scrutiny. He won’t easily get away with his blithe and folksy explanations. Neither will his amateurish legal opinions wash.

Many people are saying that Mr. Aquino’s real character is becoming unmasked: his sense of entitlement as scion to cacique overlords reflects on his unwillingness to accept criticism, his penchant for picking a fight, and bullying those who are not in a position to defend themselves — the peasants in his clan’s hacienda.

Others observe that his high popularity ratings have gone to his head. He believes his own propaganda that the successful impeachment of Arroyo-appointed Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and the Senate conviction of Chief Justice Renato Corona is proof of his political mettle when these were paid off by presidential pork.

No, Yolanda didn’t teach him anything. No matter that international media made him out to be an incompetent Chief Executive with a habit for covering up his administration’s gross failings. The Basic Bangsamoro Law has been mangled by Malacaang even before it can be sent to Congress. It seems his rah-rah people headed by Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Deles even had the temerity to try to nominate him for the Nobel peace prize. But that didn’t go very far.

The call for Mr. Aquino to step down is gaining traction by the day. Filipinos are not new to the ouster of an incumbent president via an unarmed uprising. The shift in support among power centers dominated by the elite bears watching.

But then there is another peaceable way out for Mr. Aquino. Resign.

Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.

Published at The Business World
July 20, 2014

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