That was a satirical look at George W. Bush as Americans counted down the days until he left office.
I’m Manolo Quezon. The Explainer.
To Ancient Rome, sooner or later, every republic turns. Enshrined in Roman republican history is the example of Cincinnatus, who, in a time of emergency, was called to become dictator; but as soon as the emergency ended, he returned to his life as a simple farmer.
The moral of this tale is, of course, that citizenship can call you to become a public servant, but there is also nobility in returning to ordinary life.
But if you have held the presidency, is there such a thing as being ordinary once more? There have only been fourteen who’ve become president; and of these, two –Aguinaldo and Laurel- were elected by the legislature and not the people; and of these, one, Osmena, succeeded to the presidency but failed to be elected president in his own right; and so, in the select club of president, only ten people in our history have ever achieved being made Citizen Number One, by virtue of the votes of the people.
So it’s no surprise that remaining in power might become a temptation for our presidents.
This question is now top of mind because of the ongoing debate over what, really, the President has in store come June 30, 2010, when her current term expires. Yesterday, the Philippine Daily Inquirer editorial asked her to come clean about her plans.
For most of us, one example continues to haunt us: that of President Marcos, one of only two presidents who achieved re-election; and the one who stayed in power the longest.
But the truth is the dilemma –and, perhaps, the temptation- of solving the problem of having to leave office, by arranging to stay in office permanently, is one we might have had to face much earlier than the Apo.
These three presidents all died in office; and each and every one, in the eyes of their critics and perhaps even some of their admirers, seemed intent on staying in power even past the limits imposed by the 1935 Constitution.
President Magsaysay, arguably the most popular president we ever had, illustrated how in the face of phenomenal popularity, institutions could easily surrender or change; he’d come to power under the two party system, but at the time he died, mere months before he was due to seek re-election, it seemed both the Nacionalistas and Liberals might unite, restoring the one-party system before World War II.
But he did die, and no president thereafter had the colossal popularity he enjoyed, which would have made possible, without much debate, staying in power past the end of the president’s term.
Instead, it seemed more likely that the crushing burdens of office would leave our presidents a wreck, just as it did Magsaysay’s predecessor, Elpidio Quirino, who was too exhausted and sick after losing the 1953 elections, to do much else but write his memoirs.
Marcos may have lacked Magsaysay’s popularity but he was armed with an intellect, cunning, and luck, that enabled him to outmaneuver not only his critics, but the safeguards imposed by the Constitution. In fact, faced by a combination of unpopularity and the term limits of the 1935 Charter, he imposed martial law and basically wrote a new one.
So there are those who now argue the President is Marcos Part II, and others who say she’s simply trying to avoid being a lame duck.
So let’s explore what her options are, based on those among her predecessors who lived long enough to wonder what to do when they left office.
The first path was to stay quiet, because you’d been repudiated by your own people at the polls. President Osmena tried to take the high ground, by refusing to campaign in 1946. When he lost, he took it gracefully and went home to Cebu.
The same applied to President Quirino, who went home to Novaliches when he lost to Magsaysay by a landslide. He also took the high ground by being gracious to Magsaysay; here, he’s shown asking The Guy to try the presidential chair shortly before they left the Palace for Magsaysay’s inaugural.
And to a certain extent, when Carlos P. Garcia lost to Diosdado Macapagal, both men tried to bury the hatchet publicly; Garcia went home to retire in Bohol Avenue while Macapagal followed the old custom of not rubbing it in by leaving his predecessor pretty much alone.
But today, of course, presidents don’t run for re-election. So when we return we’ll look at other possible models for post-presidency behavior.
That was the Associated Press reporting the retirement, after half a century in power, of Fidel Castro as President of Cuba. Unlike Communist Cuba, we still have real elections here at home, so an everlasting presidency is, supposedly, forbidden by the rules.
Of course what you can do is what columnist Tony Abaya calls the Putin Model. Slide down to another position, maneuver the election of a hand-picked successor, and keep on holding the reins of power. But we aren’t there yet.
Since the 1987 Constitution was ratified, our presidents have no choice but to retire after a single, six-year term. We therefore have the model of Cory Aquino and Fidel V. Ramos, who have tried to be elder statesmen, including maintaining a discreet silence until or unless their successors do something they consider dangerous. The have viewed their legacies as something to protect –and when that legacy is threatened, they act.
You can call this the Osmena model. President Osmena kept out of the limelight. This photo the former president with Magsaysay a few hours before Magsaysay died in a plane crash. Osmena became politically active again to support Magsaysay’s bid for the presidency.
During the Garcia administration, a fight between President Garcia and Senate President Amang Rodriguez, the jolly old fellow with the mole seen here hugging Claro M. Recto, led former President Osmena to act as a high-level peacemaker to preserve unity within the Nacionalista Party.
But there’s another model, and that involves much of the headlines concerning former President Estrada and our current President. And that’s the I want to make a comeback model. There are times when former presidents want to obtain a kind of new lease on political life or power; or when soon-to-be ex-presidents decide they can’t afford to lose the perks.
There was Emilio Aguinaldo, elected president by the Malolos Congress, who, thirty four years after losing power, decided he wanted to regain it by means of our first national presidential election in 1935. He lost.
There was Jose P. Laurel, also elected president by the Japanese-sponsored National Assembly in 1943; and who tried, in 1949, to be elected president. He lost to Quirino.
But in those days, there was no constitutional prohibition on ex-presidents trying to be president again. Today’s there’s a debate whether this is still possible.
There’s our third model: really, a variation of the second. The I wanna make be elected to a prestigious non-political position, and who knows what will happen next model.
In 1971 a Constitutional Convention was convened, and while it led to the perpetuation of Marcos’ hold on power, at first, it opened up exciting new possibilities.
Carlos P. Garcia came out of retirement and ran as a convention delegate for Bohol; he won; and he was elected President of the Constitutional Convention. He could claim it the crowning glory of his career, a fitting post for a statesman. But then he had a heart attack and died.
Another former president, Diosdado Macapagal, elected a delegate for Pampanga, succeeded him; and the PCIJ in a 2005 report, suggested he wouldn’t have objected to becoming president again, even if it meant accepting Ferdinand Marcos staying on as Prime Minister.
And this brings up what we can call the fourth model, the better half model; a president, who has to leave office, can launch the candidacy of a surrogate. At the time the Constitutional Convention was taking place, rumors were rife that President Marcos was thinking of having Mrs. Marcos run for the presidency.
So which of these models might appeal to our present president? Can she take the high ground, and simply trust history to write glowingly about her, the Osmena model? Will she try to make a comeback, as a representative for Pampanga, and possible speaker?
The only thing that seems sure is she won’t be tempted to run her spouse for office; the President’s husband lacks the curves of an Imelda and what’s more, is too frail to stand for office.
In truth all we can say the past teaches us is, that as this scene of President Roxas’ lying in state in Malacanang shows, the presidency is the kind of job that can be fatal.
The ideal remains, as this photograph of President Osmena near the end of his life shows, for our presidents to retire gracefully, trusting historians and nostalgia to erase the controversies of their time in office.
The only time a former President can really reclaim the pomp and perks of office is, ironically, in a horizontal position. For there’s one sure-fire, non-controversial, way, to return to Malacanang: and that is, as President Quirino, shown here, did: dead, for the traditional lying-in-state that is every ex-president’s prerogative.
Later tonight we’re going to talk about our national paranoia about our presidents, and also, we’ll tackle what, exactly, presidents can and can’t do once they leave the presidency.
George W. Bush