Tradition Versus Change

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

It has been a wild and unpredictable four years, the kind that should be expected of a presidency that was born from a clamor for change. And change has been its centerpiece, some intended, and some erupting on its own.

The inaugural speech of PNoy is remembered for two basic pronouncements, “No wang-wang” and “Matuwid na daan.” It was a daring message, daunting and taunting. It meant to reverse the reality of the elite getting more than a fair share of benefits, privileges and opportunities, just as it signaled that a different and straight pathway would be demanded of public servants.

Even during the presidential campaign, many allies of then Noynoy Aquino tried to dissuade him from centering on his key slogan, “Kung walang korup, walang mahirap.” They tried to make him focus on softer, less controversial targets, like the economy.   But these were political allies, not comrade-in-arms. They did not relish radical change, only the kind of change that would install their choice of a president and their takeover of power.

They did not succeed, of course. The campaign was relentlessly run on the issue of corruption, and the promise to fight it with the new presidency. But the traditional politicians did not fail, either. They had their candidate become president, largely because volunteers carried the fight and dominated the spirit of the campaign. And they had themselves getting most of the positions they sought.

The crusader in PNoy showed in his inaugural speech. It set the tone of a presidency that would discourage the vulgar use of position and rank as symbolized by the “wang-wang” or car siren. It also declared that the presidency would not be demanding monetary tribute to itself, would not be setting a “boundary” that each department or agency had to give the Palace.

The presidency, though, of a democratic government, has to contend with two other branches – the Legislative and the Judiciary.   If corruption and poverty had to be addressed, it could not be done alone by the Executive. No matter how determined a president is, a governance that would be defined by a constant conflict between Malacañang, Congress and the Supreme Court also meant a de-stabilized society. Democracy is not meant to be confrontational. At most, it only puts in place a check-and-balance system that can be flexible or rigid depending on the harmony, or lack of it, among co-equal branches.

The traditional, then, was to be challenged but not discarded. Enough of it had to remain stable for governance to deliver public services even if reform was going to be pushed. Tradition and change, however, are a dog and a cat. They may co-exist, but both are driven by a natural distaste, or distrust, for the other. Tradition has been digging in, loathe to surrender any of its advantages. Change, too, is not any less determined. It confronts everything, not just some, as is its nature.

PNoy is riding the back of the tiger, and surprisingly well. He has kept the dog and the cat from killing each other but he has not been successful in maintaining their peace. The Senate was his first challenge even as the House of Representatives quickly and effectively supported him. The Supreme Court of Rene Corona was his bigger challenge, not only because they flip-flopped in high profile, controversial decisions, but because he believed that the majority of the Justices were appointed to protect Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Not surprisingly, both the Senate and the Supreme Court shot down Executive Order # 1 – the establishment of a Truth Commission. The reason? Because they said it targeted the Arroyo presidency, and maybe only the Arroyo presidency.

The radical in Pnoy, again against the wishes of his inner circle, decided to take on the Supreme Court and openly attacked its Chief Justice, Rene Corona. Fighting what seemed to be a losing battle, especially the hurdle of getting two-thirds of the Senate to convict and impeach, PNoy succeeded. It was a battle where 70% of the people agreed from beginning to the end that Rene Corona was guilty as charged, that he was Gloria Arroyo’s protector, and that he hadenriched himself as a matter of course. It was a battle won by PNoy because he, like 70% of Filipinos, was simply right.

The economy then performed beyond anyone’s expectations, catching everyone by surprise, outpacing the rest of the world, except China. International credit upgrade after credit upgrade accompanied the outstanding economic performance three years running. Funny, because his critics said, and still say, he doesn’t know what he is doing. They cannot deny what he has done so they focus on what he has not done. In turn, PNoy points to the fact of what he has done what his political enemies had never managed to do.

The Napoles issue then erupted, literally, It was not a government initiative but it quickly earned the government’s support. In the previous administrations, whistleblowers were silenced, or threatened, or seriously discouraged. But this time, the NBI and the DOJ gave protection and support. The Napoles scam was a can of worms that had long been waiting to be opened, skeletons in a closet that had been hidden too long. Napoles is right in one thing – she did not create corruption in high places. She took advantage of it, though, and now starting to pay the price.

For the first time in history, dozens of high-ranking public officials, the proverbial big fish, are indicted. Some are in detention, and more will be. There are still two sets of accused that the DOJ and Ombudsman have not fully processed, and it may not be dozens but hundreds that will be prosecuted. For the first time in history.

Of course, change has charged where even PNoy was not fast enough, or even reluctant, to do so. By passionate and consistent public demand, expressed largely through social media, the PDAF and DAP were attacked, brought to the Supreme Court, and defeated. And change is only starting. Four years is too short for what is destined to happen. Change cannot be denied, not anymore.

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