There’s the Rub
By Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer
July 29th, 2014, Tuesday, 2:53 am
I don’t know what P-Noy said [in his SONA] yesterday. But last year, he sounded a note about legacy.
Midway into his term, he was at the top of his game. For two consecutive years up to that point, he had produced spectacular growth, a thing that, unlike the claims of his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was acknowledged and marveled at by the global community. That community noted that the Philippines had even surpassed China’s growth rate, which of course had to be taken in stride given where both were coming from: China from mind-boggling plenitude and the Philippines from mind-boggling want. But it was impressive enough for Arroyo herself to recognize it, retreating from her carp about her former student being big on the moral and small on the economic, and congratulating him for it.
There was just one problem, and midway into his term, it had become a glaring one. It was that he had no successor. He had no one to carry on his work. He had no one to perpetuate his legacy.
It wasn’t just that the future held the most tremendous uncertainties, it was that the future held the most tremendous perils. P-Noy himself had said repeatedly he would not extend his term by hook or by crook and, unlike his predecessor’s, his words the nation could take pretty much as gospel truth. That left the two main contenders to become president, neither of whom seemed fit, or desirous, to carry on P-Noy’s reforms.
Indeed, they seemed headed to wreck them. Mar Roxas seemed the last person guaranteed to unite the country. When P-Noy delivered his State of the Nation Address last year, Roxas hadn’t yet shown the bad manners and wrong conduct he subsequently would when confronting Leyte’s officials—it wasn’t a dialogue, it was a harangue—in the nightmarish aftermath of Supertyphoon “Yolanda.” Jojo Binay, on the other hand, seemed the last person for us to want to trust the national treasury to, particularly after it had grown considerably with sustained growth. The charges of graft that have been brought against him—of late by a group calling itself the “Save Makati Movement”—may be politically motivated (what isn’t in this country?) but that doesn’t mean they’re not true.
P-Noy himself addressed the problem in his Sona last year. That was by saying that he was confident his gains would not be lost because of two things. One was the culture of anticorruption, if not of honesty and dedication, that was sweeping through the ranks of the bureaucracy. The spirit of the “daang matuwid” was taking root among government workers which could not be thoroughly undone by his successor. Two was that the people themselves would not allow it. Having tasted the fruits of “kapag walang corrupt, walang mahirap,” they would not allow the gains to be lost.
Arguably, these were not entirely platitudes, or wish-fulfillments. Government workers had developed some pride in their work, which contrasted with the demoralization they were mired in during the previous regime. And despite the growth not being inclusive, or seeping down to the poor, the promise of it doing so in time, a perception borne out by surveys that said people generally felt bullish about their future, gave some assurance they would not want to go back to dark times.
But for all that, you had to wonder at how deeply rooted those things had become. You had to wonder if they would be able to withstand the winds of a subsequent regime not particularly given to the same mindset, thrust and direction. I didn’t share P-Noy’s confidence they would.
I myself thought that given that the next administration was very likely going to be vastly different from this one, the P-Noy administration’s best bet was to institutionalize the gains. It was to strengthen democracy’s institutions, particularly the one that insisted on separation of powers and checks and balances. It was to unleash a culture, or way of doing things, that said no one is above the law, neither pauper nor president, that is the path we have set before us, that is the daang matuwid. It was to make this way of life as universal as possible, as routine as possible, so that it took on the force of a natural expectation, so that it made the law impersonal, inexorable, majestic.
It is no small irony that that is the one thing this administration seems to have gone against of late. P-Noy’s defense of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and rebuke of the Supreme Court for doing its duty have larger and more lasting consequences. They go beyond the fate of the DAP, they strike at the heart of P-Noy’s legacy itself. They do not strengthen democracy’s institutions, least of all the Supreme Court. They do not propagate a culture that says no one is above the law, where a law is violated there must be rectification. They propagate a culture that says some people are exceptions, where a law is violated there must be a presumption of good faith. They make it the hardest thing to institutionalize the gains.
Certainly, they make it the hardest thing to bind subsequent administrations to the same commitments, the same restrictions, the same proclaimed pursuit of straightness. Or, what is but the same thing, they make it the hardest thing to program government to go on autopilot, the way the US government for example does, allowing Americans to survive bad presidents along with good ones. Which is what we desperately need, given that P-Noy has only two more years to go.
Despite the tragedy, or farce, of the DAP, we do need to have a sense of proportion too, we do need to have a reality check too: The P-Noy administration’s accomplishments—in sparking growth, in establishing peace, in vastly improving public service, to name but a few—are no mean things. How to sustain these things? How to assure continuity? How to perpetuate a legacy?
With the administration’s recent moves, alas, there’s the rub.
The current administration has experienced for itself first hand how the power of the DAP system could easily corrupt people when it is in the wrong hands. Now they have the crucial opportunity to either put an end to it and kill this beast once and for all, or allow it to continue living and make it grow even stronger by legalizing it through congressional legislation and perpetuate this huge tempation to the succeeding administrations.