On June 16 I wrote on where I stood, and what I felt the President must do. She has spoken.
In the light of my appeal on June 16 for consistency, I must examine what she said, in light of my expressed expectations. I said, the President must be forthright with her people and disabuse them of the notion that she betrayed them by cheating her way to victory. I said she had to prove that the tapes weren’t genuine, that she never engaged in improper conversations with Comelec officials, that she was not the commander-in-chief of an army of fraud. Furthermore, I said the President had to take an active role in determining the authenticity or falseness of any version of the tape. And that if she failed to do these things, she would lose her right to lead the country.
So what has the President done? She has tried to disabuse us – that is, we, the people- of the view that she cheated her way to victory. But she also admitted that she engaged in an improper conversation. She regrets getting people upset, in no large part because of the time it’s taken to respond to the public clamor for her to face the issue. She said her actions were an error in judgement, and that we should move on.
Her statement is in keeping with the example given the nation by her father. President Diosdado Macapagal televised an apology to the nation during his term. It was considered an act of personal nobility but of political irrelevance at the time. The present time called for a presidential statement demonstrating frankness and courage. The country got no such thing. Having been so carefully-worded upon the advice of her lawyers, the statement, in my opinion, was characterized by neither frankness nor courage. There was no nobility in this statement; there was craftiness, and cunning. This is not what the country deserved to see. The country moved on, after Diosdado Macapagal’s apology; it saddens me to say the country cannot move on, with the apology made by his daughter. I say this with great sadness as an admirer of both Macapagals.
The President did not tell us which specific conversations, with which specific people, she takes responsibility for. While her statement has settled the issue of whether or not the tapes reflect real events, she still leaves the country in the dark as to which version she considers definitive, and thus, which version she believes only reflects an error in judgement and nothing more serious. This is an important point, one I think will be validated in the coming days, when people will begin focusing on the tapes, in order to make up their minds as to whether the President’s apology should suffice.
We cannot judge whether or not the President’s assertion, that she merely committed an error of judgement, is valid, either in terms of common sense or the law, unless we all have a common frame of reference. The President has only said she spoke to someone, but not whom, though of course by implication she admitted the person she talked to was Commissioner Garcellano. Be that as it may, I submit that no one can make a proper determination for themselves until everyone can agree which recording to base a decision on. Therefore, either the President or her officials must tell the people which recording the President was referring to, in her statement. It was a sign of guile, to me, that she did not make this clarification. She failed to stand by anything specific.
So should we “put this behind us,” as the President asks us to? Not yet; not now; not until the President’s profession of sincerity has been validated in turn, by the actions of her allies in the legislature. This early on, the Secretary of Land Reform has intimated that now that the President has admitted she was one of the voices on a tape, then therefore, the tape is covered by the Anti-Wiretapping Law, and that it cannot be played in public in the House of Representatives. If the Anti-Wiretapping Law is invoked to prevent the airing of the tapes in the House, it is reasonable to assume a similar effort will take place to prevent their being aired on television and radio. The end result would be to deny the public the right -the duty, I’d say- to judge for themselves, whether the President was right. By denying the public that right, then what the public will have been disabused of, is that the President was sincere in wanting to set matters straight with her people.
If we assume, as I think many people are inclined to assume, that it was courageous for the President to speak to the nation and admit she did something wrong (but not criminal), then her example must be followed by those bound to her by ties of party affiliation. Let the nation know which tape the President stands by as genuine; let the people’s representatives play them to their heart’s content; let media follow suit; let the people listen, and let the President’s confidence that her people will be indulgent, be reflected by the behavior of her allies in Congress and the cabinet. I must confess the President’s statement was tepid, to me; but even if you disagree, surely a lukewarm reaction from her allies in Congress can only be disastrous to the President’s cause.
So, most of all, let there be consequences. At a minimum, there must be a swift move by Congress, to censure the President; the President admitted doing a wrong, she must accept a Joint Resolution of Congress censuring her for what she claims to be a lapse in judgement.
This minimum expectation won’t be so easily achieved, and attempting it will demonstrate, I think, beyond a shadow of a doubt, just how believable the President’s apology was. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think it’s far fetched to suspect that the President’s apology will be used as an excuse to stifle debate, instead of encouraging it. The law and procedures in the House, and perhaps also the Senate, will be invoked to prevent the necessary determination by as many people as possible, as to whether the President’s admission and contrition are enough.
Where I stand, at this point, is that the President’s decision to make a guarded, and legally nuanced, but politically over-prudent, apology, has resulted in not only the President, but the Congress, being placed before the bar of public opinion. What was a crisis of faith in the President must necessarily be a crisis of faith -and legitimacy- in our representative institutions. In truth, a Congressional censure would be easily achieved, with the overwhelming majority the administration enjoys, in both chambers. If the administration cannot even achieve that, what more impeachment proceedings, at least the kind that aren’t some sort of Marcosian farce.
For the risk of an impeachment isn’t remote, and it is one we should not set aside, until the public has a chance to reach a consensus. Achieving that consensus, however, seems remote in the short term. In other words, the President has not made it easy, at all, to put things behind us; this may be politically clever, but it isn’t good politics.
Where I stand, today, is: the President has apologized, but it is too little, too late. She can still retrieve the situation by demonstrating moral courage by saying which recording she should be held accountable for; and by instructing her followers not to impede the effort to achieve a national consensus. In being cautious and timid, she has ensured that by no stretch of the imagination should we consider her home free. I will add this: Commissioner Garcellano must face the people now, and stop hiding. Since the President’s said her conversations with him took place, then didn’t the other conversations take place? And even if her conversations with him weren’t criminal, his other conversations sounded patently criminal to me. I don’t see how anyone else can think otherwise. And if this is so, then regardless of the President culpability or lack thereof, Garcellano’s antics put the results of all the areas he handled in doubt; and to doubt those results is to bring us to the sobering question of the credibility of the results of the 2004 elections themselves.
We must decide, then: was the President’s apology enough? And as for what Garcellano, the President’s appointee, did, as shown by the tapes, can the President be blameless, too? The President asks our understanding, she was only anxious to protect her votes. But in relying on Garcellano, was she protecting her votes, or a party to their manufacture?
Manuel L Quezon III