The Long View
A peculiar chicken
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:23:00 09/24/2009
Anding Roces’ famous short story involves his brother’s peculiar chicken, which exhibited every outward sign of being a rooster – until it laid an egg one day. This brings up the question of the President’s peculiar chicken, which her ruling party has been holding up as an example of remarkable political plumage, in the hope that this will dazzle the electorate enough to prevent Gilbert Teodoro Jr. from laying an electoral egg in 2010.
The problem is that the President’s own secretary of foreign affairs announced his intention to back a different bird altogether, so to speak.
Alberto Romulo has told reporters he’s always been for the Aquinos, conveniently forgetting that he has been standing by the President all these years. Which brings up the inconvenient question of why he backed the President when it mattered but won’t back her anointed successor when he has far less to bring to the campaign. Or is that the reason he is suddenly born again as a true believer in the Aquinos?
His son, Pasig Rep. Roman Romulo, tried to downplay his father’s announcement by saying he’s going to stand by the President’s Anointed One. But this brings up another inconvenient question: Can the elder Romulo afford to recover his political values at the sunset of his public life while his son puts pragmatism ahead of idealism at the dawn of his political career.
But then that only goes to show the nature of the ruling coalition, and by extension the true color of its candidate. Compared to the sunshiny yellow of the leading candidate, Noynoy Aquino, the administration has dipped its peculiar chicken in olive drab. If, in a sense, Aquino has been wrapped in the flag – the red, white, and blue of honesty, integrity, and good governance with the yellow rays of optimism shining through – the administration has presented itself as a kind of armored fighting vehicle, cocooning its peculiar chicken in the armor of “where is your evidence, bring it to the proper forum,” knowing all the forums are government-controlled.
By all accounts the peculiar chicken of the ruling coalition is a rootin’ tootin’ rooster, ready to crow and anxious to show he has pretty sharp spurs for fighting. But these are spurs earned and honed in an arena where the very things that make the leading candidate formidable – he would not collaborate, he would not consent, he wouldn’t turn a blind eye to the very things that have made the ruling coalition an example of power maintained with an undemocratic contempt for the electorate – have been rendered inconsequential.
The problem is that these things matter; in fact, they have always mattered except that they have been rendered ineffective for a limited time only. And that limited time is just about over, much as the ruling coalition had done its damnedest to postpone or even cancel the day of democratic reckoning. The administration is entering the presidential contest not out of its own free will, but rather, because it ultimately failed to be the master of events. It survived, but it failed to abolish its constitutional expiration date.
Roman Romulo gamely tried to promote the administration’s peculiar chicken by indirectly indicting the ruling coalition. During his period in the defense department, the younger Romulo argued, no scandal involving corruption affected Teodoro.
But this only reinforces the view that when it comes to honesty, integrity, and good governance, the administration doesn’t have a fighting chance. If any other Cabinet member had ventured an opinion similar to Alberto Romulo’s, you wonder if it would have unleashed Lorelei Fajardo. The reason anyone cares about what Romulo said is his unique reputation among the members of the Cabinet. He has remained pretty much a gentleman, his personal honesty and integrity intact, and the most our diplomats can say about the governance of his department is that he is so prudent as to be practically powerless.
So when the elder Romulo says he will return to first principles, it’s the contrast between this elder gentleman showing that even if he strayed away, he isn’t beyond redemption (but only to a point; he could have gone all the way and resigned), and the younger politician trying to prove he’s a trooper when it comes to a despised ruling coalition, that stands out. Which is why Fajardo had to come out and make heavy hints that if the foreign secretary doesn’t pipe down, the President might consider firing him. In the end, this remains the administration’s most effective weapon in tempering the idealism of its officials: Don’t forget on which side your bread is buttered, thank you very much, or do you want to be a true has-been like the Lakas “originals”?
The elder Romulo said he will vote for Noynoy out of loyalty to the Aquinos, which may be an act of personal repentance and restitution but ignores why the Aquinos parted ways with the Romulos: on points of principle. So in the end, the only thing the elder Romulo can do is say that he will go to his precinct and cast his vote for Aquino, while his son will vote for Teodoro, canceling out daddy’s vote while retaining the Romulo political infrastructure in Pasig City as part of the administration machine. Which makes his father’s expression of intent an exercise in political futility.
That is the administration’s game. It has never conceded that it has so decisively lost in the court of public opinion, having determined that so long as it retains control of the instruments of state – the institutions that determine official culpability and accountability – the country can writhe in outrage for all that anyone in the ruling coalition cares.
Their peculiar chicken can crow all he wants, he can strut around proclaiming platforms and political positions all he wants, he can make all the “right” noises because he stands for a coalition that has clung to power and become bloated from doing all the wrong things, without any real consequences for its members.