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Year Ender and Men and Women of the Year

That was 1967 By Quijano de Manila (1967)

Men of the Year: Joseph Estrada and Chavit Singson (2000) By Manuel L. Quezon III

Corazon Aquino: Person of the Century By Manuel L. Quezon III (1998)

The Survivor: Man of the Year (1987)

Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. Man of the Year By Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. (1971)

Gaudencio Antonino, Man of the Year (1966)

Ferdinand E. Marcos, Man of the Year (1965) By Napoleon G. Rama

Diosdado Macapagal: Man of the Year By Napoleon G. Rama (1962)

Trinidad Legarda: Civil Leader of the Year: (1953) By Quijano de Manila

Ramon Magsaysay: Man of the Year By Leon .O. Ty (1951)

Osmeña: Man of the year By James G. Wingo (1940)

Joaquin Elizalde: Man of the Year (1940) By James G. Wingo

Manuel L. Quezon: Man of the Year (1933) By James G. Wingo

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Philippines Free Press Special 101st Anniversary Issue

Cover photo by Alexander Loinaz, who recounts,
The cover photo of Cory Aquino which I took on August 24, 1983 was during her press interview after the transfer of Ninoy’s body from their time street home to Sto, Domingo church. There were only a handful of reporters from the various news bureaus probably due to fear of reprisal by the authorities. Only Radio Veritas was bold enough to cover the arrival at the airport thanks to Mr. Harry Gasser who was GM of Radio Veritas in 1983. He assigned Veritas reporters Jun Tanya to cover the arrival at the airport with Ben Paipon stationed in the OB van at Baclaran church where Ninoy was suppose to proceed for a thanks giving mass had he been released on house arrest.

Too early the birds of prey, January 13, 2002

Free Press cover story

January 13, 2002 issue

Too early the birds of prey

by Manuel L. Quezon III

 

MAKING an ass of one’s self should be a basic human right, if only politicians could be denied this right because of the problems it causes other politicians and most of all, the public. To put matters in historical perspective, of the past presidents of this country, two were reelected to office (Manuel L. Quezon and Ferdinand E. Marcos), and only two former presidents ran for the position of president after having served as head of state: Emilio Aguinaldo, who went down in grumpy defeat in 1935, and Jose P. Laurel in 1949, though Laurel was the nobler in at least telling his supporters, who were as angry as Aguinaldo’s had been, not to mount a revolution.

Yet in the case of Aguinaldo and Laurel, there were extenuating circumstances in the cases of their candidacies. Aguinaldo was a political enemy of Quezon from 1922 to 1941, and was pushed by his supporters to run as a symbol of the aspirations of the Revolution; Laurel ran as much to vindicate his name as to achieve a mandate, never having been directly elected by the people to a position he served as a well-meaning head of a puppet government -indeed, it is interesting to note that both Aguinaldo, who ran in the first national presidential elections in 1935, and Laurel, who ran in the elections of 1949, were haunted by a desire to achieve what they never had when they were president: a genuine national mandate at the polls.

But one must consider, on the other hand, the cases of the only two presidents reelected: Quezon in 1935 and 1941, and Marcos in 1965 and 1969. Both tarnished their reputations by clinging to power beyond the terms allowed them by the Constitution under which they were elected. To this must be added the inevitability in the minds of many that had Quezon lived, he would have stepped down for a brief 2 years in order to run again in 1946 to be the first president of the independent Republic, and that Ramon Magsaysay would have run —and won— again, after his first term (and there are even those who suspect that Magsaysay, who imitated Quezon in so many ways, would have found a way to stay in office as long as possible as well). But fate decreed Quezon’s death in large part because of the strain of his final battle with Sergio Osmeña to cling to power, and fate had it in the cards that Ramon Magsaysay, like Manuel Roxas, would die before his first term ended, leaving Ferdinand Marcos to make every liberty-loving and democratic Filipinos’ nightmare come true: scrapping the Constitution, ignoring the laws, setting up a dictatorship that only fell when a country regained its dignity and courage and threw the man out of Malacañang.

Now to these negative examples add the examples of past presidents who could have run for office after the Constitutional limitations passed, and yet did not: the list is long. Sergio Osmena; Elpidio Quirino; Carlos P. Garcia; Diosdado Macapagal; Corazon Aquino. Except for Aquino, all the rest suffered defeat in their quest for reelection to a second term, yet had an opportunity (at least in the cases of Osmena, Garcia and Macapagal) to run for president again if they wished. But they never wished to. None of them ever fully retired from politics; they preferred to be consulted as elder statesmen; two of them, Garcia and Macapagal, chose to run for, be elected delegates to, and then presidents of, the 1971-73 Constitutional Convention. But the presidency, having been denied them in the past, was something they never sought again as a political prize.

The fact is that it should be enough for a former president to have had the honor and privilege of serving the country once, or in the old days twice, and end it at that. The exemplar of how a former president should conduct himself after leaving office is of course, Sergio Osmena, who represented many of the political virtues of the country, anyway; to a lesser extent, there are the examples of Aguinaldo and Laurel, the former reconciling himself to playing elder statesman, the latter choosing to serve in the senate as long as he could and even serve other presidents. There are the examples, too, of Garcia and Macapagal: the former went into quiet retirement until the ConCon and then died 24 hours after being sworn in as president of the convention; Macapagal, after a checkered experience with presiding and eventually losing control over the ConCon at least followed Aguinaldo’s path and quietly learned to enjoy the role of elder statesman; poor Elpidio Quirino lived too briefly after leaving office to accomplish much more than begin his memoirs and reach a touching reconciliation with his erstwhile protégé, Magsaysay.

Enter Fidel V. Ramos, former and, to the minds of too many, including quite possibly the mind of Mr. Ramos himself, future President of the Republic of the Philippines. Enter Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, present president and, almost indubitably, candidate for the position in 2004. What of them?

Of Fidel Ramos, one should note immediately what has been whispered about town almost from the moment he left office -the man has never grown accustomed to not wielding the reins of power. He wanted to amend the Constitution to allow himself either two more years in the manner of Quezon, or transform the country to a parliamentary system which was the original Marcos plan to perpetuate himself in power. This grand design failed in the face of the intransigence of Corazon Aquino (former president who seems not to miss being president at all), Cardinal Sin, a multitude of Filipinos, and one Joseph Ejercito Estrada who would be damned if his sure election to the presidency would be postponed even for a minute by a man he loathed.

Result? A lost kibbitzer, which Mr. Ramos is of the first order, as proven by his most unpresidential behavior during Joseph Estrada’s inauguration at Barasoain. The man tried to steal the limelight every moment he could, and then loftily proclaimed that under Estrada, he would be pleased to play the role of Elder Statesman in an official capacity, much to the amusement of everyone who head Ramos say these things. However, neither public derision, or skepticism, or outright hostility has ever deterred Mr. Ramos from doing what he pleases, and it has pleased him to use the time in between his never-ending globetrotting to keep himself in the limelight, including first, playing a lecturing uncle to Estrada, and then supposed pillar of the opposition when Estrada grew impatient with his “advice,” and now, gadfly and thorn in the side of Mrs. Arroyo. Perhaps Mr. Ramos feels that if Cory Aquino can bring down one government after stopping the attempts at charter change of two other presidents dead in their tracks, he has similar powers.

Perhaps. Although if this is the case, then it only proves that the man has an axe to grind against the woman who broke tradition to attend his inauguration (for perfectly legitimate symbolic reasons, the inauguration of Ramos was the first democratic handover of power since 1965) and put country ahead of her having given him her previous blessings in firmly saying “no” to his obvious desire to prolong his stay in office. One is forced to wonder if Fidel Ramos is not only ungrateful when it comes to Cory Aquino, but whether he actively dislikes her now -which would make him a petty, mean, and small-minded man.

Or could it be Fidel Ramos simply is getting old and too dense to realize the reason Cory Aquino can be an influential ex-president and Fidel Ramos may be influential, but not popular, and lacks what he seems to crave: a nation, on bended knee, begging him to return to Malacanang? Were this the case, then at least one can conclude Fidel Ramos is not petty, mean and small-minded but suffering from well-intentioned delusions: of being an irreplaceable man, of believing as gospel truth the insincere flattery of the sycophants that surround any politician, and the quite human refusal to recognize his own mortality and accept being put out to political pasture, since he is by no means, ancient. The reason Cory Aquino has the influence and respect she has, and Ramos does not, is that she is the only president in our history to say one term is enough, I’ve had it, and left Malacanang without looking back and probably murmuring “good riddance” the whole time. In short, she has what Fidel Ramos has never, ever, had in his life or career: moral ascendancy.

Fidel Ramos is too fidgety, too eager the attention-seeker, too enthusiastic the opiner, too happy the meddler, to be respected or have moral ascendancy of any sort. This is not to say he does not have influence, for he does; this is not to say he does not have political supporters, for he does; but it is to say that as far as the public is concerned, Fidel Ramos is history and had better accept the fact that he belongs to the past and not the future. One need only listen to the verbal abuse he was subjected to by the great unwashed at Edsa III to recognize this; and aside from the usual businessmen who value the illusion of Fidel Ramos being “Steady Eddie,” and who crave a man who will be content to go on junkets and turn a blind eye to anything so long as he gets the perks (a bad executive habit he shared with Joseph Estrada except in comparison to Estrada’s being uncouth about corruption, even Ramos’s most vicious detractors give him credit for being suave when it came to the corruption they are convinced he was a party to  during his term).

To be a president or past president is, of course, not to be divine; which means Fidel Ramos is as likely to fall prey to illusions as much as the next man. He probably thinks the can still do good for the country, that the country needs him, and if the country were only given a chance it would fall to the ground in gratitude and kiss his feet were he to have the chance to be president again. This explains the never-ending and, really, tiring controversy of the day, which is the alleged rift between President Arroyo and former president Ramos over an election two years away. Fidel Ramos already suffers from the perception too widely held that he at one point pulled all the strings in the new Arroyo administration, or tried to, which made him as much the object of the poor’s equally deluded wrath in May 2001, as President Arroyo herself. And as for President Arroyo, she suffers from two insecurities: the fact that she was elevated to the presidency by succession and not election, and under the most confused of circumstances at that; and that she is the first child of a president who seems to have a chance to break the long curse, it seems, that has afflicted the children of past presidents -none of them ever make it to Malacanang although the senate and Vice-Presidency have been proven to not be beyond their reach.

For a politician and a businessman and even a soldier, and even for certain members of our uncivilized civil society, Fidel Ramos has the virtue of exuding an aura of dynamism, of calm, of precise, methodical working habits and discipline. How close perceptions are to the truth only those truly close to him can answer; but the fact is that there are those with influence and money who believe there exists a Steady Eddie and wouldn’t mind Ramos back. For the same politicians and businessmen, the problem with President Arroyo is that even if she is equally hard working, she happens to be frugal, as hot-tempered as Ramos but far from being his peer in hiding the fact, and she is a woman who suffers from the idea she has nothing to lose by actually giving the country as honest an administration as is possible given our society’s limitations. That, and the fact there is that onus on presidential children and that they might get stuck with her for nine uninterrupted years. The ramifications of a fairly clean, competent, and hard-working government are simply too frightening for these people to contemplate.

And thus the need to at least obtain leverage on Mrs. Arroyo by way of using Fidel Ramos as a threat. After all, Mr. Ramos is willing and able to be used as such a tool, indeed he may have thought up the idea of using the bogey of a Ramos for President campaign in 2004 as a potential spoiler to exact concessions from the administration, which has enough of a problem on its hands with fulfilling its promises, neutralizing its enemies, and keeping the country together during tough times.

Fidel Ramos would never win another presidential election even if Mrs. Arroyo dropped dead and a way was found to make monkeys run against Ramos the way Marcos engineered his farcical martial law presidential elections. What can happen is Fidel Ramos could ensure that if he can’t win, neither can Mrs. Arroyo, but it wouldn’t be in the interest of either to give away the election in 2004 to the opposition, which is indeed vicious, ruthless, has many axes to grind, and much dirt to dish out against the two.

Hence the view of this writer than Mr. Ramos is either extremely delusional or out to keep himself in the political loop and be a powerbroker of sorts, if not an actual shadow president (the best of both worlds). The fact that Joe de Venecia, who has the biggest chance of being Prime Minister for life were we to go parliamentary, is as usual going out of his way to get into trouble trying to patch things up between former president Ramos and President Macapagal, is no surprise or mystery. De Venecia is simply too nice, too compleat the politician, to give the opposition ammunition when things could all be quietly smoothed out to his party’s advantage.

The spoiler of course is Mrs. Arroyo’s determination not to be anyone’s patsy; she may have, as all presidents have done, tried to pay her dues in the early part of her administration, but she can clearly see, if she has half a brain (and no one doubts she has not just half but quite a complete one), that she needs a mandate, a real mandate, and that her political destiny must be played out as her father’s was -either to a happier conclusion by way of election in 2004, or defeat, as her father endured in 1965. But she has no other option but to stay the course and fight.

That having been said, this is all, then, a testing of the waters. The West Pointer in Ramos is probing the defenses of the administration, looking for its weaknesses. His archskeptics are under the impression his real aim is to simply be done with a Constitution that he could not amend to satisfy his ambitions, and be called upon to trot out on a white horse and restore the lost era of Philippines 2000. No one with any intellectual honesty can deny that Mr. Ramos’s actions to date, down to calling a radio station to muse on the need to file a test case to figure out if he’s entitled to run legitimately in the next election, only serve to reinforce the worst perceptions that exist of the man. Nor can anyone deny the political and even personal imperatives that would drive Mrs. Arroyo to seek election in 2004 come hell or high water, if only to prove her critics wrong, and be remembered not as a woman who inherited the presidential mantle, but who earned it in her own right.

So Fidel Ramos says he is not running —period, period, period. Though the country is used to his three periods being the ellipse that leads to a pregnant pause that leads others to begin to have paranoid attacks (which Ramos surely enjoys). The President, on the other hand, truthfully says she is too busy worrying about the here and now to fuss over 2004, though even in that she is being disingenuous -but then which president entitled to reelection, with the exception of Cory Aquino- ever was anything but disingenuous about the possibility of their running again? Even Cory Aquino, who was not bound by the term limitations of the Charter approved during her term, kept her options open if only to keep from becoming a lame duck. The only president in our history who ever committed political suicide was Joseph Estrada and neither Ramos nor Arroyo are Estrada. There is no surer way to commit political hara-kiri than to say you have no intention of running for reelection when you can -and be believed.

The whole non-issue then boils down to a rift between the Lakas-NUCD people who grew fat and soft under Ramos, and who aren’t pleased that they are expected to stay relatively lean during the Arroyo New Era Part 2. The whole issue is that having abandoned the Liberals, and never having established a cohesive hard-core party of loyalists of her own, Mrs. Arroyo is not in full control of the party she is putatively the chief of, but which recalls its salad days as having been under Fidel Ramos. Ramos may be circulating offering them a chance of reliving the good old days when boys could be boys, businessmen could do business under a regime that was all light and sound, and not hard work as it is at present.

Pie in the sky, Ramos-style, versus the drudgery of the dirty kitchen, Arroyo-style. Were you a politician you would at least give pause to the thought that life would be tough under another six years of Arroyo, and positively miserable if not dangerous to life and limb under a Ping Lacson regime: so why not, indeed, a return to steady Eddie.

We shall have to see who has the last wink. Or who raises her eyebrow last in satisfaction as her opponent folds.

The May Day Rebellion, May 12, 2001

The May Day Rebellion
by Manuel L. Quezon III

May 12, 2001

IF politics, even the politics of a rebellion, is addition, then we must begin with doing the math. At the height of the gathering of the masses at the Edsa Shrine, three million Filipinos gathered in a shared hatred for the administration, the Church, so-called “Civil Society” and their allies in government. A source speculated that of these, roughly a quarter were paid to attend, another third went of their own volition, and the rest either attended out of obedience to the religious allies of Joseph Estrada, or simply out of curiosity and to join in the “fun”. Using these estimates, which are as good as any, this means at its height, the allies of Joseph Estrada, if not his family itself, managed to pay 750,000 Filipinos to go to the shrine; and a full million went there because they sympathized not only with Estrada, but with what speaker after speaker bellowed on stage: resentment and hatred of the prelates of the Church, of Civil Society, of the President, of the politicians and the pervasive nature of the poverty they felt was the fault of big business and their Leftist and intellectual allies.

Reduce, if you will, the crowd to a million, which may have been at the Edsa Shrine on the fatal early May Day morning when the crowd’s patience finally cracked and they either spontaneously decided to stop agitating and actual rise up, or were told to storm the Palace, and the numbers still astound: 250,000 paid hacks, close to 340,000 convinced individuals; and of these, perhaps a hundred thousand dared to actually begin the march to storm the Palace though accounts vary as to whether 50,000 or less actually made it to Mendiola and J.P. Laurel. Government itself said it had to fight off ten thousand of its countrymen in what the media -which suddenly had the courage to dodge rocks and risk bullets, face being lynched and otherwise face the loss of life and property it dared not risk the previous six days- christened “the battle of Malacañang.”

This is the story of the days that led to that battle. A battle which was won by the government but which only in retrospect could be said was one government could inevitably win. At the time, as the Americans put it, it was too close to call. The reasons for the defeat of the mobs at Edsa are obvious: not only the superior firepower of the AFP which backed up the truncheons of the police, the firmness of the President in the face of adversity, but the cowardice of those behind the rebellion and thus, the lack of any cohesive leadership on the field.
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Corazon Aquino: Person of the Century, December 30, 1999

Philippines Free Press Person of the Century:
Corazon C. Aquino

By Manuel L. Quezon III

December 30, 1999–YEAR after year, for nearly three generations, the Philippines FREE PRESS has bestowed the distinction of Man or Woman of the Year on the Filipino who has had the most influence on the country for the year in question. Over the past 91 years of its existence, this magazine has seen leaders come and go; it has seen them rise and fall; and it knows, as no other institution can, which leaders have made a positive difference in the destiny of the Philippines and its people. Having covered leaders, having seen them up close -faults, foibles, virtues and all- the FREE PRESS knows that the leaders (and the leadership) that counts is what the American writer Garry Wills defined as “Trinitarian”: not just the push and pull between a leader and his followers, not merely the stories of people who have had great numbers either pushing them forward or being hectored onward by them, but rather the leaders who mobilized “others toward a goal shared by leader and followers.” As Wills points out, “one-legged and two-legged chairs do not, of themselves, stand. A third leg is needed. Leaders, followers, and goals make up the three equally necessary supports for leadership.”

Of the leaders entitled to consideration as the Philippines Free Press’s Person of the Century a short list of six comes to mind: Manuel L. Quezon, Sergio Osmeña, Ramon Magsaysay, Claro M. Recto, Ninoy Aquino and Corazon Aquino. All of them were leaders, successful in their political careers and admired by their contemporaries; they had followers and they had goals which their followers shared. All of them have been both hailed and lambasted in the pages of this magazine over the years. And yet, time and again throughout its long history, the FREE PRESS has always returned to these leaders as exemplars of positive leadership –in contrast to that other Filipino, Ferdinand E. Marcos, who affected our lives and our history completely negatively: he was, after all, a leader, and had followers; but his goals, many of them achieved only at gunpoint, were rejected by the majority of his people.
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Raul Manglapus: Pied Piper of Democracy

Raul Manglapus: Pied Piper of Democracy
By Manuel L. Quezon III

NO one sings “Blue Eagle the King” anymore, and no Atenean belonging to the martial law baby generation knows his music at all; but of the many songs he composed, one lives on: “Mambo Magsaysay,” the anthem of the Age of the Bakya and to this day, the song of those who believe that democracy can work in the Philippines.

Raul Manglapus, the composer of the Magsaysay campaign song, was born in Manila on October 20, 1918. A noted student orator, he became one of the best-known alumni of the Ateneo de Manila. He represented a generation that came of age during the War (Manglapus would suffer imprisonment at the hands of the Japanese because of his guerrilla activities) and which attempted to reinvigorate the politics of their country so as to wrest it from the clutches of the ward heelers.

After the war, Manglapus was a journalist – he was present at the Japanese surrender on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay- and a professor. Together with Manny Manahan and other Magsaysay die-hards, Manglapus (appointed Assistant Secretary of Foreign Affairs, and then Secretary of Foreign Affairs in 1957 by Magsaysay) found himself in the corridors of power – corridors from which it was hoped the tayo-tayo politics of the past had been banished. But the era of good government proved all too fleeting; the death of Magsaysay returned the control of Malacanang to the old hands that had inspired the revulsion that made people like Manglapus enter politics in the first place. He was catapulted to the Senate in 1961 as the symbol of a new generation that hoped to bring back the principles of politics a la Magsaysay. And Manglapus, together with so many others, would find himself dedicating the rest of his life to the return of honest governance to the people.

In 1965 Manglapus thought that he would be the man to do just that, as president. Instead, he helped divide the electorate between himself and Macapagal, handing the presidency to Ferdinand Marcos. He would try to do his part in the Constitutional Convention in 1971, and yet was mercifully spared arrest because he happened to be abroad when martial law was imposed.

He lived far from splendidly in exile, leading the decimated ranks of the politicians who did not succumb to the blandishments of Marcos. When so many of his peers, so many of his countrymen, avidly embraced the dictatorship, he was among the very few who opposed it from the start. And while it is true he did not starve in exile, neither did he live in luxury or dissipation. For speaking out when so many embraced Marcos, he deserves the nation’s thanks. He spent 13 years as a political refugee, lobbying in Washington against the dictatorship.

The return of Freedom brought the return of Manglapus, who, once more, was returned to the senate in 1987, only to resign his position to serve President Aquino. As Aquino’s secretary of foreign affairs he found his own words to be his biggest liability as a public servant; he played an instrumental part in the botched attempt to extend the RP-US Bases agreement which led to the expulsion of those bases.

When his President departed from office, he agreed to serve the next one.

The less said about Manglapus’s service during the Ramos administration, the better. By then, anyway, he was more of a figurehead put out to pasture.

Manglapus was a learned and polished man, one of the last of the romantics when it came to politics. He genuinely believed in reform, and yet found it too distasteful to engage in the sort of ruthless politics that is necessary to achieve the power necessary to initiate genuine reform. And so he found himself politically frustrated at every turn. In retirement, he returned to writing, and to playing music with old friends. He would not be, as he had so earnestly hoped, become the pied piper of democracy. But he tried his damndest to be just that.

What the nation must recall is the young Atenean with the golden tongue and a musical gift, who spoke out for the common tao before Word War II, and who fought the Japanese. He deserves recognition for being part of the Magsaysay revolution and for keeping lonely vigil during the dark days of martial law. Those are achievements enough for any man.

I remember three faces of Manglapus. In exile in Washington, he was a little dark man bundled up in an overcoat, hat and scarf, dignified but it seemed, so very grim: a man carrying the shame of a subjugated nation on his shoulders. As Aquino’s foreign Secretary he was cultivated and urbane, a man of many languages who dreamed of an Internationale of Newly-Restored Democracies. There was an amused twinkle in his one good eye, as if he wanted to say to all those who saw him that he had trodded the path of power once before and was not too impressed with it the second time around.

Then there was Manglapus the elder statesman, beholden to no one, free to speak his own mind, esconced in his position as titular head of the ruling party. This was the Manglapus who, apropos of constituional amendments for President Ramos, pointed out that what Ramos was trying to do had been done before, so what was the big deal? This was the Manglapus of the Malacañang-dispensed sinecure who bothered his long-time admirers to distraction: but perhaps it was because the young firebrand had mellowed with age, and now had the experience and -shall we say wisdom?- to say the truths that his followers still found hard to believe.

Raul Manglapus was a man with a formidable intellect and so many gifts, all of which he unhesitatingly offered to his country. Others have said that he was too far ahead of his time in espousing many of the dreams he cherished; or perhaps it is better to say that he will always be ahead of his time, and that his dreams belong to men who themselves are good, and connot believe that their countrymen cannot be good as well.

The First Gentleman of Cebu, July 15, 1999

The First Gentleman of Cebu

By Manuel L. Quezon III

IN many respects, he was a modern-day Jose Yulo. A gentle, self-effacing and accomplished man, privileged to have served in all three branches of government, and in two of them with distinction. For like Jose Yulo, Marcelo Fernan had the distinction of not only heading a chamber of the legislature, but of becoming the Chief Justice of the land. Yulo became Speaker of the National Assembly after serving in the cabinet, and then became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; Mercelo Fernan, after being in the puppet Assembly of the Marcos regime, became Chief Justice and then ended his career as a senator who had become Senate President.

Marcelo Fernan, too, was compared to the man Free Press readers used to call the “Private Citizen No. 1″ during his long retirement from active politics: Sergio Osmeña. Indeed, in his many years as the most prominent politician from Cebu, Marcelo Fernan did all he could do keep the memory of that exemplar of the gentleman-politico alive. Fernan would help establish the Sergio Osmeña memorial lectures. And like Osmeña, Fernan, while being considered an accomplished politician in his own right, was primarily considered by his peers to be something much more special: a kind, considerate gentlemen who was not too obsessed with power and privilege. And while he did not obsessively seek honors, honors sought him out. At the time of his death his walls were covered with plaques and citations and awards, both for his political achievements and for what he did as a private lawyer, educator, and loyal son of the Church.

Born in 1927, he belonged to the generation that found its childhood cut short by the war; he was even detained by the Japanese. Returning to school after peace was restored, he would tell his friends he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his uncle, Manuel Briones, one time senator, failed candidate for vice-president, and then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In one sense the ambition he confessed to his friends would find fruition: he would be all that his uncle was, and more. He became Senate President.

Fernan succesfully took the bar (he graduated from the University of the Philippines and yet bring more honor to his alma mater than that other famous Upean, Ferdinand Marcos),and became a succesful lawyer, making himself an honest and comfortable living. He began to teach; he married; he became a father and life was prosperous.

In 1959, Fernan’s political career began with his succesful candidacy for for membership in the Cebu City Planning Board. In 1962 he would run succesfully for membership in the Cebu Provincial Board. In 1971, he declared his candidacy for the position of delegate to the Constitutional Convention and won.

It was as a member of the ill-fated Con-Con that he would achieve greatness.

When, in 1973, cowed, bribed or deluded delegates meekly voted to approve the Marcos charter, Marcelo Fernan became one of only 16 delegates who did not succumb to the temptation to sell out, in the hope of preferment from the dictator or the pious hope that having voted for the charter, they would be in a position to convert Marcos back to the ways of democracy. Fernan voted “no” to the Charter; so many others voted yes. Years later, when delegates led by Diosdado Macapagal would try to undo what they had gamely acceded to previously by reconvening a rump Convention and declaring the 1973 Constitution null and void, Fernan could repeat what he said of the Marcos charter: “I did not sire it; it’s not even my bastard.” That dubious distinction would haunt the other delegates to their graves. He was not greedy, and so he could not be bribed; he was not that ambitious, and so he did not sell his vote for the chimerical expectation of a seat in the Interim National Assembly. He was not so short-sighted as to think that his countrymen would forget which way he voted when the roll call was called.

The greatness Fernan achieved in the moment he voted against the Marcos Constitution was never sullied by his eventually joining the ranks of the dictator’s party machine. He participated in the elections of 1982 and became a member of the rubber-stamp Batasang Pambansa €“but as a member of the opposition, becoming minority floor leader. His good friends the Osmenas reduced to political impotence, he alone at time represented the old guard of the anti-Marcos opposition in Cebu. And when the time came for him to do his part to add to the final push that toppled the dictatorship, he did so. It was as a member of that dubious assembly that Fernan participated in the efforts to expose Marcos’s attempts to rig the 1986 snap elections. And unlike so many members of the Batasan, when it was quietly dissolved, Fernan went quietly. He was never one to hold on to a position at the expense of his dignity.

A grateful President Aquino elevated him to the Supreme Court. In three short years he found himself the 19th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines. And under his watch the Supreme Court maintained its newly-restored independence. He did not leave elective office in order to become a toady. Indeed, the Fernan Court handed down decisions that irked the Aquino administration; and yet it gained the respect of that administration precisely because of the Fernan Court refusing to succumb to any political pressure, real or imagined. And when, in 1989, Fernan was offered the titular leadership of a Junta to be established by the putschists, Fernan turned them down just as he had turned down an offer by Ferdinand Marcos to put him in the Supreme Court. Fernan would be loyal to his Republic: he did not fight Marcos, he declared on national television, only to be a party to the destruction of consitutional government by the military.

As Chief Justice, Fernan was proud of having established the system of having continuous trials which, if it did not radically improve the quality of justice that was dispensed, at least caused the wheels of justice to grind less slowly.

But in 1991 Fernan relinquished the supreme magistracy of the land in order to porsue an altogether different ambition: to be president, or, if he would not be president, to be vice-president. He would, in the end, become neither. He had agonized too long over the question of resigning from the Supreme Court; he had been too slow to answer the call of ambition. And when he did, he found himself outspent and outfoxed, even when he decided to accept the nomination for the vice-presidency instead. There he found himself pitted against the unbeatable Joseph Estrada. He lost.

Like Sergio Osmena, he accepted the will of the people and returned to the practice of law, focusing on giving legal assistance to those who needed it most: the poor.

1995 and the senatorial election in that year found him given a new breath of political life, this time as a member of the Philippine Senate. He was elected on the Lakas-Laban ticket. It would turn out to be the last position of public trust to be given him by an admiring people. In the Senate, he became Assistant Majority Leader and sponsored his share of legislation. Three years later, on July 27, 1998, he was elected Senate President, succeeding Neptali Gonzalez.

As senator and Senate President, Marcelo Fernan would again achieve greatness, but not because of any particular political act on his part, but because of who he was. While his very elevation to the position of Senate President had less to do with his clout as a senator and more to do with his seniority and lack of ambition making him a soothing paterfamilias for the fractuous Senate- as Senate President he demonstrated what his life was all about: courage, dignity, duty.

Shortly after becoming Senate President, Fernan was diagnosed as having a lesion in the lung; he went to the United States to have it removed. But the cancer was metastizing too fast. This was one battle he could not win; but like other battles he fought, Fernan decided that it was not winning that mattered; it was how one fought. He decided he would stick to his post as long as he was able, and do the job the people had elected him to do. But he would do little to disguise the toll the cancer was taking on his health and appearance.
Always a dapper man, he caused a stir when he acknowledged in public what his nemesis Marcos had so earnestly tried to hide from his people: Marcelo Fernan admitted he was ill and showed the signs of his ailment, although he and his family would remain mum on the subject of what his illness actually was.

But the public knew, and the public sympathized with the sight of a chemotherapy-ravaged Senate President being wheeled to the podium to preside over tedious sessions.

Under his watch, the Senate found its debates reach a low point during the deliberations on the Visiting Forces Agreement; but what would be of consequence was not the actual vote on the VFA, but the quiet courage of the man who almost single-handedly tried to maintain the dignity of the chamber he presided over. Indeed the Senate passed no distinguished legislation while Fernan was Senate President, save for the VFA and one law that will go down in history as significant: the decision, by the Senate, to relinquish its pork barrel, a bold move that the lower house did not approve of.

And then it was time to go. And Marcelo Fernan did go, not stubbornly holding on to the position he had achieved to the bitter end as others might have done and so many expected. His battle with cancer lost, the time had come to make peace with his maker, and this he did. He resigned the Senate presidency, though not his position as senator, and the next thing the public knew, he was gone.

With his passing the country paused to take stock of the career of a man who represented something that will not be seen again: the seasoned politician who never forgot what it meant to be a gentleman. He was good, kind, studious and refined; most of all, he had principles.

He was like Sergio Osmeña, he was like Jose Yulo; and like the peers of those two men, his contemporaries were found by the public to be wanting in the characteristics that evoke the gratitude of a people. Even as Fernan faced death, his fellow senators began the bruising and humiliating battle for the Senate that resulted in a Solomonic solution that made no one happy, and which necessitated the intervention of the President: something against the most cherished traditions of the chamber Fernan once headed. Fernan did not bow to Marcos when in the Con-con, he did not bow to Marcos when he was in the Batasan, he did not bow to Aquino in the Supreme Court and he did not bow to Ramos and Estrada when he was in the Senate. But as he lay dying, it was not to his fellow senators that those fighting over his mantle as Senate chief ran to; it was to the President. And it was the President, as the Free Press suggested, who weighed in and decreed the new leadership in contravention of conventional wisdom: Old Marcos hand Blas Ople got the Senate presidency, while Franklin Drilon, who did so much to foster the impression he was Fernan’s anointed, was told to cool his heels until his time would come. And all the while, as Fernan lay dying, the Senate too was giving up the ghost on whatever pretentions to independence it still had. When Blas Ople and Franklin Drilon took turns orating before Fernan’s bier, paying him the unprecedented honor of holding his necrological service during the session, they were bidding farewell not only to a rare individual, but to one of the most cherished —and most often lost, if not often regained— pretentions of the chamber they belonged to: its independence from the Palace.

How quickly can the meaning of a life be forgotten by those who claim to have admired it.

Marcelo Fernan, near the end of his life, mused to a writer that his final illness had taught him that political power and official positions were as nothing in the larger scheme of things. He saw what too few of his fellow politicians have come to realize; the pity is that with his death there will be no more like him, capable of realizing such humbling truths.

Cinderella’s invited to the prom, editorial October 26, 1996

Editorial

Cinderella’s invited to the prom

October 26, 1996–A FEW weeks ago, the leaders of the world’s richest countries wanted to feel good about themselves. They also wanted the world to feel good about them. So they announced that thenceforth the foreign debts of the poorest Third World countries—mostly in Black Africa—would be forgiven by them. Oh, how noble, how generous they were. It was hopeless, they said, to expect these blacks to pay the interest, let alone the principal, on their countries’ foreign debts—mostly stolen by black dictators, just like our foreign debt was largely stolen by an Ilocano dictator. Also dark.

That was several weeks ago.

Last week, the International Monetary Fund announced that the Philippines had been invited to share in paying off the debts of the world’s poorest Third World countries.

What they were saying was, as if it was a great honor, “Welcome to the club.”

Yes, indeed, like the totally tasteless and parvenu couple John and Marsha, Mother Philippines and her beau, our President, have been invited by the nabobs of the IMF to the world debt prom.

The IMF, lest ye have forgotten, was the cruel fiscal stepmother that had our country—poor starry-eyed heroine just recently free of the dictator’s shackles—scrubbing floors and eating dirt to pay the credit card bills of Makiki exiles Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.

At a time when we were the world’s inspiration, heroes of democracies, we were told that we would be bereft of honor if we did not pay—and pay, and pay.

That debts were dubious and downright immoral did not matter. You did not argue with the IMF, which had the power of economic life and death over an economy struggling to restore a free market. They had the recipe for success, they said, and we had better follow it. Or else.

The recipe was simple: pay up. Pay the debts of the conjugal dictatorship; never mind that the money was stolen or wasted. And then you would, if not get better, certainly feel better about yourself.

And so when Solita Monsod, then NEDA director general, dared suggest that we repudiate at least some of the debts incurred by Imelda Marcos and her husband, a howl rose from the bankers. And they hastened Monsod’s exit from the public service and the conversation of the NEDA into the Merril Lynch of Philippine officialdom. (Today the NEDA regularly leaks GNP figures to the stockbrokers of the Palace inhabitants.)

One day our country looked up from her drudgery and saw former communist nations such as Poland grandly absolved of their debts—absolved by the same demanding gang of overseers that insisted we pay back every penny stolen by the Marcoses. And our nation sighed, is there no fairness, no justice?

How sad it was to see a nice country finish last. If we’d had missiles and belonged to the Warsaw Pact—the alliance of communist powers aimed at Western Europe—perhaps we would have been treated better. Oh, well.

So we slaved on, until we were finally able to say that, despite the onerous burden of illegitimate debts, we were able to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.

Well, by golly, it seems that the IMF has recognized this fact and invited us to take a seat at the table of lending countries. Well, not the presidential table, perhaps, but a table somewhere near the swinging doors to the kitchen. But who cares? Cinderella Philippines has been invited to the prom: we have arrived. now, the IMF tells us, we are in a position to help countries less fortunate than ourselves. This is better than letting the rich countries do it alone.

We hope the government doesn’t get into its daffy head to accept the IMF proposal. A nation that had the class to stand up for democracy, and that doggedly worked to dig itself out of an unjust economic situation, should not be forced by its lenders to give away the money it has so painfully earned. After all, it still has to pay for its own debt. A debt still due and, oddly, growing monstrously by the month. It has grown to $45 billion and still growing. But the economy has grown strong enough to meet the monthly installments on time.

To the bankers that means the economy has also grown strong enough to help pay off the debts of other countries who have no hope of paying any part of them.

We may be on our feet, but we are in no condition to throw money away. Ours is still a nation of indentured  servants abroad and starving workers at home. We must keep what we have for the benefit of ourselves, and by “ourselves” we don’t mean the slick Central Bank types in league with the IMF.

It is true that there is nobility in poverty, in working to satisfy the demands of heartless people. But there is no nobility in allowing yourself to be fooled. The servant invited to dine at his master’s table—but a potluck dinner, where he must also bring his own plate—is not ennobled but further debased by the insult to his intelligence.

End

The anatomy of loyalty, August 27, 1988

The Anatomy of Loyalty

By Edward R. Kiunisala

August 27, 1988–WHEN word reached them that Malacañang was under attack, they both jumped out of bed, made a few quick phone calls and, assured of the President’s safety, decided to report to the besieged Palace in that unholy pre-dawn hour. Bound by a common commitment and loyalty, two different persons, acting independently of each other, came up with the identical response and decision at a time of grave national crisis.
On their separate routes, unmindful of the risks involved, each went out to check up on government facilities and to monitor what was going on. Before daybreak, they were at their respective desks in Malacañang, carrying out the orders of the President.

Beyond the Call of Duty

They could have opted to play it safe, to discharge their duties by remote control: they chose to be where their leader was. Their response to the national emergency was above and beyond the call of duty. It was no gung-ho, derring-do feat; they acted simply from an unwavering sense of duty.

Of the 24 Cabinet members, only Joker Arroyo and Teodoro Locsin, Jr., were at the side of the embattled President during the most crucial moments of the bloody August 28 Honasan mutiny. National Defense Secretary Rafael Ileto could not be reached during the early hours of the coup. Other Cabinet members, called to an emergency meeting at 5:00 a.m., could not come.

“We die at our post,” said Arroyo.

Worse, the hotline to the Armed Forces chief of Staff Fidel V. Ramos, who had earlier rushed to Camp Crame, was dead. Meanwhile, rebel forces had already penetrated Camp Aguinaldo and Villamor Airbase and taken over two television stations, Channels 9 and 13, while surrounding Channels 2 and 4. Rebels were reported to have also taken over the military camps in Pampanga, Legaspi City and Cebu.

In Metro Manila CAPCOM forces simply remained in their barracks, awaiting orders from high military command which had been immobilized by Honasan forces in Camp Aguinaldo. But for the timely arrival in Malacañang of a combat-ready brigade of marines and the prompt mobilization of the Manila police under General Alfredo Lim, the situation in the capital region looked bleak. The rebel forces seemed to have the upper hand.

Although the President had gone on the air early on to assure everyone that the government was on top of the situation, the people remained worried, especially when Channels 2 and 4 suddenly went off the air. The people’s apprehension heightened when Honasan himself cockily fielded questions from media even as the rebel-held Channel 13 telecast rebels’ claims of sure victory.

Some radio broadcasters readily sided with Honasan as they painted a grim picture of the government under siege.

Crush the Coup!

Another would have already capitulated or fled. But in her 18-month-old regime, Cory had seen enough of military mutinies and coup attempts—four, to be exact,—to be easily intimidated by another one. Determined to stay in Malacañang at all cost she assumed total command with only Arroyo and Locsin serving as her adjutants. Her iron will surfaced in the decision to crush the coup at once.

It was no impulsive judgement, but she had learned from the lessons of the February Revolution. Cory wanted to avoid the two big mistakes that led to the quick downfall of Marcos: loss of will to act immediately; and desertion of his post. The so-called “most decorated Filipino soldier of World War II” lost the biggest battle of his life because of failure of nerve.

President Aquino’s nerve didn’t fail her in the bloodiest ordeal of her 18-month-old administration. She knew that protracted negotiation could touch off an avalanche of defection. Her strategy was to bring the situation to a head, knowing as she did that the main bulk of the military, by training and tradition, would remain loyal to the flag unless forced by circumstances to defect.

Thus when Locsin motored to the “battle zone” to establish a direct line between Camp Aguinaldo and Malacañang, he knew exactly what to do: convey to the Chief-of-Staff the President’s orders as clearly and emphatically as possible. The rebels, led by Colonel Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan, in Camp Aguinaldo, were to be crushed pronto! The President herself, in a telephone connection arranged by Locsin, verbally confirmed the order to General Ramos.

When the execution of the Malacañang order got delayed, Locsin minced no words: time was of the essence! A professional soldier, Ramos probably didn’t want to go half-cocked, knowing he didn’t have sufficient back-up troops to sustain an all-out attack. He might have even doubted that the soldiers around him would obey his order to attack the rebels they considered their brothers-in-arms.

But Locsin was only too well aware of the consequences of inaction and delay. Time was on the side of the rebels. Inaction could be taken as weakness, a situation that could trigger mass defection to the side perceived to be winning. He feared that if the government military forces held their fire longer, Honasan would gain more adherents—even from Camp Crame itself. Smelling defection, Locsin could only shake his head, muttering aloud to himself, “Somebody is going to get demoted for this.”

Righteous Indignation

There were other instances that caused Locsin’s blood pressure to shoot up. One such case concerned five Metro Manila radio stations which aired materials that, in Locsin’s view, constituted a clear case of treasonous disinformation. The presidential counsel contacted the National Telecommunications Commission to get those stations off the air. The commission immediately complied, except in the case of DZRH, which it allowed to continue operating upon the intercession allegedly of Sen. Agapito “Butz” Aquino and National Press Club president Art Borjal.

But what really raised Locsin’s hackles was the case of Channel 13, which had been seized by rebel forces, along with Channel 9. Locsin wanted the military to retake both stations or knock off their transmitters to prevent the rebels from telecasting anti-government stuff. What the military did was cut off the Meralco power supply of those two channels—forgetting that they had back-up generators.

What Locsin feared, happened. Channel 13 went on the air, showing in portrait fashion a group of rebels in full battle gear, with their spokesman, a certain Lieutenant Mendoza, claiming widespread military support and predicting final victory before the end of that day. Worse, Channel 7, left unmolested by the rebels, took it upon itself to tape the rebel telecast and to replay it immediately, giving the impression that the Honasan forces were in control.

The presidential counsel hit the roof. He picked up a telephone and asked for the Presidential Security Group. Within earshot of General Ramos and other high-ranking military officers, he told the other end of the line to get “some of your people” to bomb Channel 13 “because nothing is moving from this end.” That form of reverse psychology worked. The military eventually managed to put Channel 13 off the air—without having to bomb it.
If Channel 13 remained in rebel hands and continued to air pro-Honasan propaganda, the government would have found itself in great trouble. It would have caused more confusion not only in the military but also among the public, and created a bandwagon effect in favor of the Honasan mutiny. During the February Revolution, control of television stations by the anti-Marcos forces was vital in demoralizing the Marcos camp, loosening his grip on power.

Key Word: Action

In this light, Locsin’s publicly perceived impetuosity vis-à-vis the Channel 13 case was only a logical reaction to a clear and present danger to the Republic. Although it meant sailing too close to the wind, it helped preserve the integrity of the State. It would be plain stupid just to wait and be clobbered by one’s enemies without hitting back.

If the nation is to survive, it must be ready to use all means available to protect itself. It cannot afford to be negligent, squeamish or wishy-washy. That is the natural law of survival and those who ignore it will live to regret it, if they live at all. The iron rule in emergency situations, according to Henry Kissinger, is: “Whatever must happen ultimately should happen immediately.” The key word is action.

That is the message of the Locsin behavior, which some media practitioners and professional critics completely missed. It is the message that Arroyo wanted to underscore when he wondered aloud why it took the military about 16 hours to quell the mutiny of a small band of rebels. Like Locsin, Arroyo was bothered by the military’s hesitation to obey the Commander-in-Chief’s order to attack.

Opposite Reaction

The roles that Arroyo and Locsin played that August 28 became Metro Manila’s liveliest conversation piece for quite some time. While they eventually reaped more praise than criticism, their detractors obtained more mileage, coming as they did from the more influential and vociferous gentry, which included prelates, politicians, press people, businessmen and some members of the military. It was a masterfully orchestrated propaganda blitz to discredit the two whose no-nonsense, abrasive style had kept the hyenas, jackals and wolves away from the doors of Malacañang.

Arroyo and Locsin, who had stuck it out with the President, were being made to appear like heels, while the rebels who wanted to grab power, killing and wounding hundreds, were hailed as heroes. For obeying the President, they were charged with interfering in military operations, as if the Commander-in-Chief had no right to tell the military what to do.

Lamented Arroyo: “We should have rejoiced after winning, but suddenly, Teddyboy and myself were being treated like Gringo, as if we did the damage.”

In an appearance before a jampacked Congress, Arroyo brilliantly defended his and Locsin’s action during the Honasan coup as he put his critics to shame for wanting “to make decisions for us.” Then he started dropping bombs. To an overwhelmingly appreciative gallery, Arroyo and Locsin were heroes of the hour. It was Arroyo’s finest hour as he scored the greatest political performance of his life.

The first targets were three businessmen linked with the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference. Arroyo charged the trio with “treason of the highest order,” as he damned businessmen who wanted to take advantage of the country’s financial conditions to gain more economic power.

Arroyo then went on to deal with Vice President Salvador Laurel, Finance Secretary Jaime Ongpin and AFP spokesman Col. Honesto Isleta. He accused Laurel of “fomenting” trouble in the military, blamed Ongpin for the Planters Products fiasco, and dubbed Isleta as the Goebbels of the military establishment. Arroyo minced no words.

During interpellation, Arroyo took on a number of congressmen who wanted to test his mettle. One by one they fell as he demolished them by sheer force of logic. But that was to be Arroyo’s valedictory. The President accepted his resignation, along with Locsin’s, Ongpin’s and Laurel’s. Like a good soldier, Arroyo was ready to go.

But while the President accepted the resignations of Laurel and Ongpin with no more than a courtesy “regret,” she praised Arroyo to the skies and retained the services of Locsin as consultant, not to mention chief speechwriter. To let go of a long-time friend and defender must have been extremely difficult decision for the President to make but it had to be made in the interest of unity of the Cabinet.

The Green-eyed Monster

The enemies of Arroyo and Locsin did not surface all at one time. Some had been friends and allies in the struggle against the dictatorship. But somehow things changed right after Cory Aquino assumed power, especially after Arroyo and Locsin emerged as her closest advisers. But what really got some people angry with Arroyo and Locsin was that they were beyond manipulation or corruption.

There were other reasons that fueled the antagonism of their enemies: 1) envy; 2) differences in political perceptions; 3) variance in ethical principles; 4) contrast in styles. While some of the causes were peripheral, others were too fundamental to be glossed over. They touched the very basic issue of quality in the public service.

But first, let’s discuss cause number one: envy, the most common wrecker of human relations. Envy is the resentment one feels because someone else possesses or has achieved what one wishes to possess to have achieved.

In the case of Arroyo and Locsin, they were perceived to posses, or to have achieved, something enviable: the President’s respect and admiration and the distinction of being considered her closest advisers. No other Cabinet member enjoyed such rapport with the President.

More than rapport, Arroyo and Locsin also had the full trust and confidence of the President, who reportedly gave more weight to their counsel than to that of others. What’s more, they wielded not only the powers inherent in their offices but also those delegated by the President. In her foreign travels, she would bring Locsin along with her to top-level conferences not accessible to other Cabinet members, while leaving Arroyo behind to take charge of the government in her absence.

One of the saddest things about envy, says Karl Olsson, a noted thinker, is its smallness. To be envious, he points out, is to turn eternally like a caged rat within the tight radius of malice, an evil intent to injure others. Olsson believes that the biggest obstruction to a successful team effort is envy.

Basic Differences

Now to the basic differences in political perceptions. Arroyo and Locsin, though highly politicized, are non-politicians. They owed no allegiance to any political party and entertained no ambitions to any elective office. They seemed obsessed with the idea of restoring politics as the science of good government, not as an art of plotting and scheming and wheeling and dealing for personal power, glory and fortune.

While Arroyo, a human rights lawyer, is considered a leftist, and Locsin, a corporate lawyer, is believed to be a rightist, they are really both within the centrist fold.

They are intense believers in republicanism, while harboring deep-seated distrust of militarism, a condition that led many to suspect that they were anti-military. As technocrats, they were drawn to problems and issues rather than to rankings and personalities. They belonged to that rare breed of public servants who go about their tasks without fear, favor or fanfare. Playing ball with power brokers, influence peddlers and get-rich-quick schemers violated their sense of honor.

They were, therefore, both an enigma and an obstruction to traditional politicians.

Then there is the variance of ethical principles. The norms of political conduct of Arroyo and Locsin vary from those of traditional politicians. The duo embrace an ethic founded on the Fourth Commandment: Thou shalt not steal. With emphasis on the value of honesty, probity and integrity, they eschew the politics of accommodation as demonstrated in the common practice of scratching one another’s back.

Despite tremendous temptations that came with their territory, they remained upright and incorruptible in office. No one could accuse them of hanky-panky in the 18 months that they held power. While graft and corruption continued to bedevil the Aquino administration, they succeeded in keeping their noses clean. Honesty is the best policy; it is also, a dangerous policy. It is discouraging to think, says Noel Coward, how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit. So rare a commodity is honesty that people don’t easily believe it even if it’s staring them in the face.

At work, such people as Arroyo and Locsin are not usually fun to be with. They look for perfection in others as they demand it from themselves. Worse, they are not likely to hide their feelings or sweeten their language. Popularity means little to them. Consequently, they are often perceived as arrogant, discourteous, belligerent.

Thus, when Senator Ernesto Maceda and Congressman Emigdio Tanjuatco took the Cabinet to task, making a dig at Arroyo and Locsin, the latter promptly countered by telling the two solons “to keep their sticky fingers to themselves.” Arroyo hit back by describing some congressmen as “the best argument for birth control.”

To demagogues, such a style is outrageous because it leaves very little room for bargaining, the principal source of political power. The politician is powerful because of his role as patron of his bailiwick, the dispenser of largesse, like contracts, jobs, franchises, permits, grants, etc. If he loses his bargaining power, he loses his hold on his followers.

Honest officials are naturally on a collision course with some traditional politicians. Honesty, sincerity and uprightness in public service pose a real threat to demagoguery. But honest public officials, of course, constitute only a small minority in the government.

Said Shakespeare: “To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one picked out of ten thousand.”

Although they had done their duty as best they could, Arroyo and Locsin knew that “as this world goes,” their services were expendable, that in the business of running a government, choices are not limited to black and white, but include many shades of color in-between. Their loyalty to the President was unequivocal: They trusted her as much as she trusted them. When the President finally made her decision, Arroyo and Locsin understood.

Editorial cartoon: President: “Now, who’s hiding under a bed?”, January 9, 1988

Editorial Cartoon, Jun Aquino, January 9, 1988