The Long View
A tandem for democracy
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:06:00 09/21/2009
Manuel Roxas II’s expected acceptance of Benigno Aquino III’s invitation to be his vice presidential candidate makes him the immediate front runner in two races: for veep in 2010 and president in 2016. And it makes the Aquino-Roxas tandem the team to beat. The first test of a potential president’s judgment is the running mate he selects. There is a grim responsibility attached to the vice presidency, given the fact that three of our presidents died in office.
A candidate who selects a running mate with the end-view of enhancing job security because of unease over the thought the latter might end up as his/her constitutional successor or who thinks only of the latter’s vote-getting powerâ€”while disregarding how, in every other respect, the choice of running mate will be an administrative and political liability – does not deserve to be president.
For the vice presidency is more than morbidly waiting for the president to die. The vice president helps set the tone of an administration and fosters an approach to governance that thinks not merely of the next election but also of a continuity of policy from one administration to the next. Will the next administration be a collaboration, a partnership for progress, one that builds and nurtures institutions, or one that wrecks them?
Gary Wills, in his book, “The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power,” points to the sociologist Max Weber who “distinguished three kinds of authority – traditional, relying on the inertia of sacred custom; legal, based on contractual ties; and charismatic, based on the special gifts of a single ruler. Charismatic leadership is transitory – the ‘grace’ is attached to one person, who must constantly revalidate it in action.’; It serves, amid the collapse of order or old ways, to bind together a new effort – the embodiment of a cause in George Washington or Mao Zedong. The founders of states, or of religious orders (a favorite Weber illustration) have to exert personal authority, since they have no preexisting majesty or office or sanction of law to draw upon.”
With our institutions so weakened, so damaged, it will require a team of leaders to reanimate them with the ideals and idealism of the citizenry.
Wills favored the example (from among modern chief executives) of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who used his charisma to establish institutions and then lent his authority to them, so that generations after his administration, the American institutional landscape is still marked by the presence of the positive institutions he set up. He held this up in contrast to the Kennedys, who Wills felt approached every institution as something to be bent to their will; the constant urge to dominate created a brittle legend because instead of investing institutions with their charismatic authority, the Kennedys spent too much time warring with institutions in an effort to defeat them.
What Aquino and Roxas are setting out to do is to channel the goodwill and trust of the public toward a coalition that will revitalize our battered institutions. Roxas is the point man in translating the values he and Aquino and their constituency for change share, on the basis of clearly defined limits to executive and official power, both in terms of law and political principle. And this is where their shared martial law experience is crucial.
Martial law did not begin on Sept. 21, 1972, which was an otherwise normal day in a clearly abnormal time. It was imposed in the early morning hours of Sept. 23, when the military fanned out to shut down the mass media and arrest Marcos’ enemies based on a faked ambush on Juan Ponce Enrile. Marcos, leaving nothing to chance, backdated the legal camouflage for his coup to Sept. 21, for numerological purposes (a multiple of his lucky number, seven) and as a kind of back-handed tribute to Jose P. Laurel’s imposition of martial law on the same date in 1944.
The only connection Sept. 21 has to martial law was in Marcos’ mind. To perpetuate it as the anniversary is to perpetuate his crafty legal arguments for a naked power grab. But it is an anniversary of an altogether different kind: it was the last day when the country could still claim the protection of the Bill of Rights, the “most precious legacy of the founding fathers,” as Ninoy Aquino wrote.
To do away with the Bill of Rights, Marcos had to threaten the Supreme Court with the possible proclamation of a revolutionary government; he had to padlock Congress, in particular, the Senate; he had to muzzle the media, imprison journalists, educators, Constitutional Convention delegates, politicians, Maoists and reformers. He maintained his power by bribery and corruption. The elder Gerry Roxas and Ninoy Aquino would not collaborate, would never surrender; and while neither lived to see the Bill of Rights restored, Cory presided over the restoration of those rights and it is to deepen those rights – ”to make freedom tangible – that Noynoy and Mar have dedicated themselves.
The Great Recollection inspired the Great Awakening in August and now the task before the electorate is the formation of a Great Constituency: one that is prepared to contest not just the presidency and the vice presidency, but the Senate and more.
Since 2005, I’ve been arguing that national redemption is required, both from leaders and the led; if a restored civic sense is what’s required of the citizenry, then a rededication to the principle that there are limits no one in power ought to cross is necessary, too. Redemption is and should be available to everyone, but on the basis of the secular principles of self-control on the part of officials, a universal adherence to peaceful change (which requires an accompanying dedication to improving matters, sometimes by small steps but also by daring to do so by leaps and bounds), and a fundamental respect for the intelligence and sound values of the public.