Let the Veep Succeed in Philippines

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Let the Veep Succeed in Philippines

by Manuel L. Quezon III

Cory Aquino and Joseph Estrada were criticized by some for being at last Friday’s rally: but Cory Aquino has been right and Estrada is living proof of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s belief that justice is ever-expendable, politically. As Jejomar Binay sensibly pointed out, to dispel the “many texts received saying PCCA and Erap were not going to the rally” he acknowledged CCA and JEE and asked them to go on stage to prove they were there. Simple. What would have complicated matters is if people like Ernesto Maceda had been on that stage: there is a man who makes the president look like integrity personified. Let’s keep focused: the fight is against the president and her minions, their keeping our institutions hostage.

Which brings me to the need to support the constitutional succession of the vice-president. I did not vote for the Vice-President Noli De Castro, I voted for Hermigno Aquino. I haven’t been thrilled by his loyalty to the president since 2006, but that’s why he is a leader and I’m a columnist — he has the common touch, he senses the public pulse. Nevertheless, at a time when the president is radicalizing the people, it seems to be that everyone who is willing to, should make a public vote of confidence in the idea of a constitutionally-sound succession for the vice-president as a solution to this crisis.

My approach to politics is it’s about constituencies. They manifest themselves at election time and also in between. I do think that the question is if the president goes, De Castro, who has no party, who has popularity but no people situated in the corridors of power, will be pondering who can move forward his agenda, whatever that may be.

Lakas is positioning itself, via Fidel V. Ramos, to be the arbiter in a transition, to cushion the president’s fall and take the credit for boosting De Castro to the succession. That is why Ramos alternates between castigating the president then soothing her: never quite leaving the administration but shaking it up to keep Kampi, the nemesis of his party, on its toes.

Other groups against the president are confronted by the dilemma facing everyone else: with all the glaring acts of institution-breaking the president has done, is the answer to shake the government to its foundations? But then you risk permanently weakening those foundations.

The simplest solution and the constitutional one, is to recognize the president lacks two things De Castro has: popular support and firmly legal mandate. Armed with those two things, he represents perhaps the least painful restoration of the lost, but proper, balance among our institutions — in government’s three branches and the public as it relates to those in authority.

That being the case, if the vice-president steps up to the plate, everyone can offer their support. There is nothing wrong with asking him to commit to a reform agenda. Whether such an agenda will harm or help him is his call; whether the groups who would support him in pursuit of that agenda will help or harm him is also his call. If he doesn’t, then the fight is not necessarily against him, but those who have set themselves against that agenda, and the battleground will be not just the elections in 2010 but elections thereafter. All within the established constitutional parameters unless a consensus emerges for a new constitution, which could be in place either in 2010 or soon after.

The question of what makes for a voluntary resignation is an interesting one. When Nixon resigned, how voluntary was it? He knew he would be impeached and convicted. The role of public pressure via protests, what is it, in terms of institutions? When people rallied, marched, got gassed and set upon by dogs, were shot at, how voluntary, then, was the US Congress’ passing laws eliminating segregation?

Every variation of people power — a strike, a rally, a march, a prayer gathering, various forms of civil disobedience — carries with it an implicit threat, except the ultimate threat of force of arms. This is because if you go down the road of using violence, it validates the ultimate response of governments, which is force. But when violence is renounced by the citizenry it deprives the authorities of everything but the most naked use of coercion, and coercion may triumph in the short term but always loses out in the long run.

That’s a good point. And the point of those still appealing to the president to be reasonable.

But with regards to the vice-president, there’s a difference between a theoretical base of support and those actually mobilized front and center. The president for one doesn’t leave it to chance. She counts heads all the time and knows how to trump public opinion every time.

The vice-president has high ratings, so public good will. He has an office his by virtue of an election declared legitimate. He occupies an office that the president herself decided ought to be his, in case she drops dead as three of her predecessors did. There are those who don’t want him to succeed because they don’t believe in the constitution, in the system, etc, etc.

I view it from the view that the president will inevitably drive even the moderates and her reluctant supporters to the other side, if not between now and 2010, then after 2010. I think it’s healthier for our country if she goes, sooner rather than later because many of the problems we face aren’t with the system but what she has done to it.

In the end, if you distrust whatever reform agendas are being proposed and those who propose them, the alternative is to demand to see those agendas, and determine if they are selfish or not; and also, to do your part to reassure the vice-president that his mandate should he assume office isn’t a theoretical one.

But actually, the real issue at hand now is that since many things are out of our hands (will the president start being conciliatory, or will she continue to stonewall?), the best thing to do is encourage the constitutionally-oriented consensus.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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