When Privileged Communications Land You in Hot Soup: is my Arab News column for today.
Plebiscitary democracy: is my PDI column for today.
Let me use this forum to explain, clearly, where I stand concerning the issue of the controversial tape (and versions thereof). I am posting this here, in my blog, to make it clear this is my own personal view, and not one endorsed by any organization I’m affiliated with, or work with, either the Philippine Daily Inquirer, or Inq7.net which publishes Inquirer content online, or the Ayala Museum or the Arab News.
I worked for the President for a long time, first as a speechwriter, then as a technical assistant, and then as a presidential assistant. I am proud of my work with her, not least because, in doing that work, I had the privilege of working with people of whose patriotism and good intentions I have no doubt. In all the undertakings related to the President I engaged in before and after she became President, it was made clear to me that responsibility, hard work, and honesty were required. And yet in my writing I tried to temper my partisanship by trying to be impartial and have a mind of my own in writing about current events. Though I was at Edsa Dos, I wrote critically, before and after it, of some of the things I observed; though Edsa Tres was aimed against the President, I went there to talk to people and tried to point out it was legitimate people power until the point was reached when it turned violent, and its leaders melted away to abandon their followers to the truncheons and tear gas of the government. I opposed Mikey Arroyo’s running for office; I tried to point out where Fernando Poe Jr. appealed to the best of us, and where those around him reminded us of the worst of us. And I deplored the tricks used to call his citizenship into question.
So let me speak from the point of view of those who opposed Joseph Estrada and all his works, not least because he could have been a great president but squandered his chances. And for those who supported Gloria Macapagal Arroyo because, for all her defects, she had a golden opportunity to lead the country forward, if she did so without regard to the personal fortunes of her family, or to politics of the worst and most corrosive kind. I wanted her to succeed, because she could, if she set her mind to it.
I’ve written that Cory Aquino will go down favorably in our history because of all our presidents, only she showed what we so deeply desire to see in our leaders: a willingness to relinquish power. No other president has been able to serenely walk away from power. I recall that one of the most emotional moments during my service to the President was the day after she declared she would not run for a full term. There were many in the Palace choked with emotion -with pride. At that point I vowed to accomplish all I had set out to do with her guidance and approval, so that the Palace would be a place filled with history for her successor. When she declared that she had changed her mind, I’d finished most of what I’d set out to do, and knew the time had come to move on. Serendipitously, two offers came my way at about that time, from the Inquirer and the Ayala Museum, and so I could resign having done what I was brought in to do, and without fear of being unable to continue earning a living.
I voted for her in 2004, because of my observations about her opponents. I believed she won,but was disturbed by the conduct of her allies in Congress and the gloating that took place in the Visayas -both observations are documented in the columns I wrote at the time. Her victory was, at the very least, plausible. I have said this time and again. But it is precisely for that reason that I believe that it’s everyone’s duty to listen to the tapes, and, having listened to them, ask some tough questions both of the President, and of themselves. The issue of the tape requires consistency of those who take pride in Edsa I and Edsa II; and it demands that those who supported, or support her, make a deliberate effort not to blind themselves to reality.
That reality is that the tape is there, and that the government, instead of seeking out the truth, has tried to ignore it, and even suppress the efforts of those who want to inquire into the circumstances surrounding that tape. The reality is that, setting aside the ambitions of the political opposition and other groups trying to use the tape for partisan purposes, the behavior of the government at present constitutes a betrayal of the President’s supporters.
Unless you knew of a plan to cheat, and unless you believe cheating in elections is desirable, then you supported the President in 2004 because you believed she deserved the job, and would be a credit to your vote and the country. The opposition in its many factional forms, has never believed the President capable of good, and yet tens of thousands of Filipinos actively worked to prove she deserved the mandate of the people, and millions of Filipinos went to the polls in the honest belief that she did. If it is proven she deliberately set out to thwart the people’s will, then she first of all betrayed her own constituency, and is responsible for denying the nation its paramount right -to freely elect its leaders.
Consistency: if you objected to censorship during martial law, if you read Mr. & Ms. after the wake of Ninoy’s murder; if you watched illegal videotapes, and helped smuggle them around, so that the people would know what was really going on, then you have to listen to the tape -in all its versions.
Consistency: If you sang “Bayan Ko” and rallied in the streets to bring back democracy, that is, if you helped fight to make elections free, then you have to listen, read, and decide for yourself what it all may mean.
Consistency: If you believe “we cannot have a nation run by a thief,” and rallied to demand the resignation of a man who put the presidency in disrepute, then you recognize that a president who betrays public trust has no right to continue in office. This means, then, that should a betrayal of public trust occur in the case of his successors, they do not deserve to continue in office, either.
Consistency: If you opposed the muzzling of the press during martial law, if you denounced the attempts to cow it under Estrada, then you must denounce and resist similar efforts now, and they are clearly taking place. I am not a lawyer, but in bringing out the tapes in the first place, can the government claim any right to forbid us to listen to the tape, and make up our own mind?
Consistency: The overwhelming majority of our people, I believe, want the system to work, and are not rash to judge until the system has been given a chance to resolve things. Let the system be given a chance; but should it fail us, then we cannot deny ourselves the option of people power. I do believe this: the targets of people power in the past, cannot be the beneficiaries of people power in the future; and also that those who have participated in people power in the past, cannot claim that it should be denied anybody in the future. Most of all: people power is peaceful, it is disciplined, it is idealistic, it places the leaders and followers side by side and in the line of fire together.
Consistency: The question is a simple one, and nothing should distract us from this. It is a question of the President’s continued fitness for office. What will determine that fitness? Her being forthright with her people and disabusing them of the notion that she betrayed them by cheating her way to victory. The only way she can do this is to prove that the tapes are not genuine, that she never engaged in improper conversations with Comelec officials, that she was not the commander in chief of an army of fraud. Should she fail to do this -if she continues to hide behind a wall of silence, if she fails to take an active role in determining the authenticity or falseness of any version of the tape- then as of that moment she has lost her right to lead the country. I suggest those at the forefront of demanding clear, unequivocal executive action should be her supporters, because if she fails to prove her innocence she has betrayed those who supported her out of a genuine conviction most of all.
Consistency: To have faith in our country and its people. We have gone far since Edsa I, you only have to remember the fear that was felt during martial law. We have not had to live with such feelings of fear, except, perhaps, when military putschists periodically embark on their mischief. We cannot be ruled by fear, of the unknown, of the future, of those trying to capitalize on the situation. We must be ruled by an unshakeable faith in ourselves, that we would rather risk all, than live in a society that distrusts its people, and prefers a sham democracy to the real thing.
I have listened to the tapes. I am suspending full judgement until the tape -and the various versions of it floating around- have been studied by institutions such as the FBI. But one can only wait so long; the longer we wait, the stronger the doubt must grow. The editorial of the Inquirer yesterday put it best: this is more than politics. As the editorial ends, so does this manifesto of sorts, end: “The President must show leadership by example. She must be the first to live by the maxim that the truth shall set us free -even, as she has herself said, if this means the chips must fall where they may.”