The Long View
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:35:00 01/25/2010
JUNE 30, 2010 will mark 18 years since Cory Aquino stepped down from the presidency: there will be millions of first-time voters who reached maturity never having known her as anything other than an ex-president.
The problem confronting Cory Aquino and the country in 1986 was whether a middle path could be pursued, which required time for institutions and policies to be put in place. The challenge for those opposed to the middle path was to strangle our newly restored democracy in the cradle before it could even take baby steps. This could only be done, as the Presidential Commission on Government Reorganization put it, “to systematically de-Marcosify society.”
Cory Aquino outlined her political program in a speech before Rotary Clubs on Jan. 23, 1986 in which she said: “I propose to dismantle the dictatorial edifice Mr. Marcos has built. In its place I propose to build for our people a genuine democracy.”
What was the edifice Marcos and friends had built, and that needed to be demolished? Its foundation, Aquino pointed out, “is the total destruction of the old system of checks and balances. I admit that the old system was not perfect. But at least it gave to the judiciary and to the legislature a generous measure of respectability.” Eliminating checks and balances allowed Marcos free rein “to fill the most sensitive positions of government with officials whose primary qualification is loyalty to the President.” It allowed him to rig the rules to institutionalize impunity by making himself exempt from any real scrutiny – by the press, the legislature, or the courts.
In contrast, she proposed a three-point program: “(1) We must break up the concentration of power in the hands of the Executive; (2) We must set up effective safeguards against abuse and misuse of power; (3) We must make the executive and all who follow his directives answerable for their misdeeds.”
This would be accomplished by fostering professionalism and accountability in the judiciary and the military, and by restoring checks and balances by means of the oversight that is a built-in function of an independent legislature. All made possible by our institutions being under the ambit of a Constitution democratic and not authoritarian in orientation.
For those who’d been arguing that extreme problems required extreme solutions, this transition had to be foiled. It had to be foiled from within and without.
Mussolini had editorialized that “[c]onsent is as variable as the sand on the sea shore… Posed as axiomatic that all government measures create malcontents, what will you do to prevent the disquiet from spreading and representing a danger for the solidity of the State? You will avoid it by resorting to force.” His political origins had been as a leftist though he ended up a fascist; which suggests the shared interest of both extremes in provoking the middle to shift one way or another, in the hope that out of the short-term desire to survive, the middle will foster its own self-destruction.
This would disprove, in turn, the Churchillian dictum: “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
Democracy – the kind put in place after Edsa, the kind that prefers compromise between contending parties, rather than a winner-take-all attitude for whoever wins (by whatever means) – if proven to be simply bad, would then reinvigorate the ranks of those who could then argue that their proposals couldn’t possibly be worse. What was particularly noxious was the idea that force should be moderated by restraint; that artificial order was preferable to the messy but organically entrenched interaction of sectors.
This is why those who never experienced what the days of Cory’s presidency were like —the relentless assaults, the constant provocations, the substitution of slander and innuendo for lack of any real evidence to the contrary, regardless of cost to the followers of the plotters or the country—may wonder, today, why it is that Cory’s being able to hand over the presidency to an elected successor, with our present institutions in place, was such an outstanding achievement. And why, to this day, those who did live through that era on the whole consider this a great achievement and why those who wanted our democracy to be stillborn have not only never forgiven her for it, but keep trying to cripple our by-now adolescent democracy.
The very first time I set foot on the premises of the Batasang Pambansa was when then-Executive Secretary Joker Arroyo went before the House of Representatives during its “Question Hour,” and almost as much time separates that event from the time Joker finally disgraced himself utterly during the NBN-ZTE hearings, as has passed from the time Cory left office to the time she died. Within that period, the Joker who’d embraced accountability and scrutiny by submitting, as executive secretary, to the House’s questions, became the Congressman Joker who combated President Estrada, only to surrender to impunity by being a cranky sword and shield for President Arroyo and Senate President Villar.
The difference in fundamental attitudes have less to do with the individual choices of one man, and more to do with the approach of those at the top to power. The Joker Arroyo of today cannot possibly be really different from the Joker of yesterday; but it would seem his disgrace and those of the institutions in which he once served and in which he now sits, could only have been made possible by the realization of how powerfully personal example can influence behavior up and down the line. Cory, as the antithesis of Marcos, left people no choice but to try to live up to her example. Arroyo, on the other hand, liberated Joker to be himself.
And this is why Cory will forever be missed.