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The year of damaged institutions

This paper’s recent banner story described 2012 “as one of the best years ever for the Philippines.”  Déjà vu: Businessmen were euphoric over the “surprising” economic growth right after martial law was imposed—nearly 10 percent in 1973, still an unbeaten record. The stock market boomed in 1973, with volumes growing five times, and indices by 115 percent (compared to 50 percent last year). The economy boomed, posting a 6-percent annual average GDP growth from 1972 to 1980.

But that was at colossal cost: Marcos’ one-man rule damaged our country’s democratic institutions so severely that we are still rebuilding it.

Déjà vu:  President Aquino throughout last year was on a rampage of damaging many of our democratic “inclusive” institutions, which the widely acclaimed book “Why Nations Fail” claim have historically been the prerequisite for prosperity in any country in the world.

Let’s start with the main “inclusive political institution”: republican representative democracy, which is based on the principle that not one of its three pillars—the presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court—can dominate the other two. Aquino last year tried mightily to dominate the other two branches.

He spent nearly half of 2012 removing Chief Justice Renato Corona to put the Supreme Court under his thumb. Then he replaced Corona with somebody like Lourdes Sereno, whose advocacy for a P10-billion compensation for the Aquino clan’s Hacienda Luisita was the longest legal brief she ever wrote. He next appointed another minion, the 49-year-old Marvic Leonen, perhaps a PR-savvy academic but certainly not a legal luminary.

“Why Nations Fail” in fact devoted many pages (but not a single page on corruption) narrating a similar episode when the American Congress blocked the popular President Roosevelt’s attempt in 1937 to control the Supreme Court.

The book contrasted that case with the Argentine dictator Juan Peron’s subjugation in 1947 of his nation’s Supreme Court, after he got his Chamber of Deputies (House of Representatives) to successfully impeach three of the five justices, and replace them with his Serenos and Leonens. The book says this explains much of Argentina’s authoritarian history in the last century and its consequent economic decline.

As in Argentina, our House of Representatives clearly showed its servility to Aquino when it rushed—within a weekend—the filing of the impeachment complaint against Corona. No debates, no papers to read: “Line up to sign, or forget your pork barrel” was the command. Watch how Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile will soon be removed to complete Aquino’s control of Congress.

It’s certainly not only the Supreme Court that has been damaged by Aquino:

• The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and the Anti-Money Laundering Council: Bank secrecy laws were openly flouted in Corona’s impeachment trial, and the spineless BSP just looked the other way. The AMLC—chaired by the BSP governor—gave, without a court order, Corona’s confidential bank accounts to the Ombudsman. More recently, it again proved to be Aquino’s hitman by freezing—without any hearing at all—the bank accounts of tycoon Roberto Ongpin and 24 others.

• The Ombudsman, who misinterpreted in the televised impeachment trial Corona’s bank accounts in order to spectacularly but falsely claim that he had $10 million hidden away.

• In a tag-team with the Ombudsman, the justice department, which despite the Augean stables that is the country’s justice system and that it has to clean up, has devoted its energies to jail the former president, never mind how flimsy its allegations are.

• The Commission on Elections, which for the first time in its 72-year-old history, has been used to persecute the current President’s predecessor, on the sole basis of the testimony of a suspect in the Ampatuan massacre.

• The foreign affairs department, whose head amazingly has not understood that Aquino’s appointment of an amateurish, megalomaniac back-channel to address the country’s most urgent foreign affairs issue—the territorial dispute with China—has made him the diplomatic world’s laughingstock.

• The Armed Forces of the Philippines, which was totally ignored in the peace negotiations with the group that has killed hundreds of its soldiers, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Undamaged? Tell that to the commanders of soldiers ambushed by the MILF, who were court-martialed upon the demand of the Muslim insurgents.

• The Philippine National Police: Just as Marcos handpicked his former bodyguard Fabian Ver as the overlord of his security force, Aquino appointed as his PNP chief his bodyguard during his mother’s presidency—Alan Purisima (PMA Class ’81) who thereby leapfrogged over a dozen other senior officers.

• The interior and local government department, which obviously has been converted as Mar Roxas’ vehicle—and weapon—for his 2016 presidential ambitions. It has ordered the Cebu governor removed, five months before the 2013 elections and two years after the administrative charges were filed. Couldn’t the motive be more obvious?

• The Commission on Audit, to which Aquino appointed a holier-than-thou member who twisted AMLC data to portray Corona as having huge wealth, and whose “mission impossible” is to revive the charges against Vice President Jejomar Binay, so far the shoo-in as the next president.

Why does the wrecking of our institutions outrage only a few? Take it from “Why Nations Fail”: “A free media makes it more likely that threats against inclusive economic and political institutions will be widely known and resisted.” And being free is essentially a matter of mind.