Can a President elected in a political exercise, even on a platform of reform, pursue reform without being a politician?
In the present form of government that we have chosen in fidelity with the 1987 Constitution, that is possible. That possibility, however, promises only turmoil, not reform. For reform to happen in the same democratic setting we ratified, with three co-equal branches, the President as the chief executive of the land, has to be a politician as well.
That is the ultimate challenge of once presidential candidate, Noynoy Aquino, and now popularly known as PNoy. He is trying very hard, even succeeding where none has done so before without declaring martial law, but it is getting more difficult by the day.
Addressing corruption was his basic platform, then hoping to hit poverty as a consequence. His battle cry, “Kung walang kurap, walang mahirap” tried to say it all. It was not only catchy, it was radical. The public experience with two former Presidents, Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Estrada, making it to the top ten of the world’s most corrupt, plus Gloria Arroyo’s 9-year stint looking and smelling the same way, had to make corruption the main issue of the 2010 elections. That made Noynoy’s battle cry catchy. But what made it radical is because Noynoy meant it.
The issue of corruption has become even more radical because the public is insistent and demanding. Never in the history of the Philippines have Filipinos been more consistent about something. Of course, Edsa I and Edsa Dos were the most radical expressions of all, barring none. But these were people powered revolts against sitting presidents, not initiatives of government to fight corruption. The PNoy Presidency is now expected to achieve what revolutions achieved, and with sustainability at that.
That PNoy meant it became obvious when his first executive order called for a Truth Commission. The intent was very clear – to run after the corrupt officials of the Gloria Arroyo regime. The Supreme Court declared that executive order as unconstitutional, the same Supreme Court that said the dirty midnight appointment of Rene Corona was constitutional. It was also the same Supreme Court, or at least the majority of them, who flip-flopped on high-profile, controversial decisions that smelled all the way to the toilet.
The main reason why the Truth Commission targeted the Arroyo administration, which means basically Gloria and Mike Arroyo, is because Erap was already convicted and impeached for plunder. Working back on the previous nine years was difficult enough, and thankfully the proposed Truth Commission did not have to cover 1998 to 2000 years of plunder. The Supreme Court said that was precisely what was wrong with the executive order, because it was targeting only the Arroyo presidency. It did not seem as though the Supreme Court found the need to address corruption as the primal need of the nation, that it found an excuse to shoot down the establishment of the Truth Commission.
To Pnoy and many Filipinos, it was a declaration of war by the Supreme Court against the banner program of PNoy to go against corruption. To PNoy and many Filipinos, later measured to be at least 70% during the whole impeachment procedure, the Supreme Court, or most of its members, were trying to protect Gloria Arroyo. The same Supreme Court tried to allow Gloria to leave the country, except that a determined Presidency and a radical Secretary of Justice found a way not to detain her before she could.
It was the reformer PNoy who, in a public setting, accused the former Chief Justice of sabotaging the anti-corruption program of the administration. And soon enough, PNoy moved for the impeachment of Corona, making many lawyers shout “dictator”, as though impeachment is not part of the Constitution. These were also the same lawyers who know more than Pnoy what has been going on in the Judiciary the past decades, the same lawyers who had been practicing in the same environment that people had long concluded as corrupt. Reform was not their program, obviously.
Here is the catch, however. PNoy’s anti-corruption drive is possible only if he is truly a reformer, which he has proven, AND also an adept politician at the same time. As a politician, PNoy has to get Congress to support his anti-corruption initiatives. How else did Corona get impeached? The House of Representatives and the Senate had to see it PNoy’s way, which was to conclude that the actions of Corona and cohorts deserved legal retribution. The impeachment process showed that unexplained money, hundreds of millions, had to be ill-gotten. All of a sudden, it was not just rumor anymore that corruption existed in the Judiciary because its chief officer was found to have stashed beyond plunder amounts.
It is no wonder, then, why PNoy remains sensitive to what he calls as “judicial overreach.” And why there will remain a tension between the Executive and the Supreme Court. One impeachment does not resolve what were then suspect collective or majority decisions. As history teaches us, the removal of Presidents, or Chief justice, does not cleanse away corruption.
The expectation of people, however, and PNoy did much to stoke this, is that PNoy the reformer must only be a reformer. Only his enemies know that PNoy also had to be the politician to get Congress to support him in his total governance, from anti-corruption, to peace in Mindanao, and spur the economy strong and long enough to taste inclusive growth. His enemies, and he has many who are frightfully wealthy and powerful, will have to weaken him as a politician so they can weaken him as a reformer. His enemies know by now that the best way is to rabble rouse the discontented and frustrated among former PNoy supporters.
What is asked of PNoy is impossible but he has to try. The next few months will show us the character of the reformer who made a promise, the politician who has to deliver it. and the President who has to govern the nation at the same time.