STRIP Benigno S. Aquino 3rd of his daang-matuwid rhetoric, and he emerges as the worst president, along with the dictator Marcos. Both captured or tried to capture our democratic institutions. Both had rhetorical skills and catchy slogans: “This nation will be great again” for Marcos; “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” for Aquino.
Marcos abolished or lorded over our democratic institutions when he imposed his one-man rule in 1972, when the Philippines was touted as the exemplar of democracy in Southeast Asia.
Aquino attacked or prostituted our democratic institutions, which his mother Cory Aquino restored after Marcos fell in 1986 when the Philippines was touted as the exemplar for the restoration of democracy in the world.
Unfortunately, as the histories of most countries in the world have shown, it is the strength of these democratic institutions that are crucial for a nation’s long-term growth and prosperity.
In our own case, the dictatorship at first resulted in a phenomenal economic growth, a sustained 6 percent growth every year from 1972 to 1979.
Without the type of checks and balances of a democracy though, Marcos’ economic-policy errors were not corrected, cronyism worsened, and by 1981, he was on a survival mode that he lost control of the economy, which then became too weak to survive the 1982-83 debt crisis and the political turmoil in the wake of the senior Aquino’s assassination in 1981.
The collapse of the economy in 1985 and 1986, which contracted 7 percent for each of those years, meant a return to the economy’s size in 1979.
Partly because of his remarkable myth-driven popular support and the public sympathy for the death of his mother when he assumed power in 2010, and partly because of his gargantuan slush fund amassed through the grossly misnamed Disbursement Acceleration Program, President Aquino didn’t need martial law.
He damaged the Supreme Court, and has controlled the other key institutions of a democratic republican system: the Congress, the Commission on Audit, the Ombudsman, and media.
He has also prostituted a crucial executive agency that was traditionally a bastion of justice administration, supposedly above the fray of politics, the Department of Justice. He has made the DOJ as his own political assassin and legal persecutor. Even the Bureau of Internal Revenue has been transformed by Aquino into one of his hit men.
We are lucky, though, that Aquino has only two years left to continue damaging our institutions, and the Supreme Court has survived his attacks, that it has fought back as the last bastion of democracy in our country. I will discuss the first set of institutions Aquino damaged or wrecked, while the rest would be for my column on Friday.
(1) The Supreme Court
Aquino browbeat and assaulted the Supreme Court when he undertook a conspiracy to remove the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice. In a last-resort move to have the Tribunal order P10 billion paid to his clan’s Hacienda Luisita instead of just P460 million as it had decided on, Chief Justice Corona was removed.
Corona was impeached not for any case of graft or incompetence, but by failing to declare his dollar accounts in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN), of which the legally prescribed remedy is simply to file another SALN.
As a result, the High Court had become a damaged institution. In his wish to control it, Aquino threw into the dustbin long-cherished notions that the highest court of the land should be manned not only by the best legal minds in the country, but by the most experienced.
Aquino’s college classmate, whose career as an academic had been mediocre, was appointed to replace Corona. After that, he appointed to the court the weird college dean, Marivic Leonen, who should be disbarred from the practice of law for formulating an agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that is patently unconstitutional.
What was Leonen’s qualification? The fact that he did Aquino’s bidding to come up with that agreement with the MILF wherein they could have their own state and claim “peace” so that Aquino could be nominated for the Nobel peace prize.
Even Marcos, with his dictatorial powers, didn’t have the gall to appoint legal lightweights to the court, as Aquino did on the basis entirely of his thinking that they would do his bidding.
While the image of Enrique Fernando, chief justice from 1979-1985, holding an umbrella for Imelda Marcos, has been iconic purportedly symbolizing the Marcos dictatorship’s hold on the court, the strongman appointed respected and independent chief and associate justices to the high tribunal, legal luminaries the likes of Querube Makalintal, Felix Macasiar and Claudio Teehankee. No one among the justices Marcos appointed to the Supreme Court then was in the junior league of now Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno and Associate Justice Leonen.
We are fortunate, though, that the Supreme Court has weathered its decapitation, and appears even to have grown stronger, perhaps because of its realization that it has become the last barrier to a de facto Aquino dictatorship.
It has ruled as unconstitutional Aquino’s Disbursement Acceleration Plan, his grand scheme that hijacked the budget to use it at his whim. The bully has been in tantrums, claiming the Court has gone “personal” against him. The worst isn’t over for him. The Court will most likely rule unconstitutional his pact with the MILF, as well as his military pact with the US.
It is no longer rumor but established fact that Aquino bribed the House of Representatives to file the impeachment complaint against Corona, with the Senate equally bribed to find him guilty. This was through P13 billion in funds he hijacked from the budget and cloaked as his “Disbursement Acceleration Fund.” The Senators who voted to convict Corona are, in fact, now in the annals of our legal history, as the Court decision on the DAP listed them together with amounts each received from that fund, shortly after their “decision.”
Have you heard of any commentator or member of Congress now praising that saga as a victory to cleanse the Court of corruption?
The Court’s decision on July 1 on the DAP was that Aquino, in effect, disregarded Congress by commandeering funds, whose allocation had been determined by the body through the Appropriation laws it passes each year.
Here is one branch of government, the Judiciary, defending the second branch, the Legislature, from being lorded over, politically raped by the third, the Executive branch.
Yet, Congress is even applauding Aquino’s DAP. Worse, one of Aquino’s lackeys in the House of Representatives, Rep. Niel Tupas, who was the chief prosecutor in Corona’s impeachment, is childishly bullying the Supreme Court to reverse its decision by calling for an investigation of its own funds.
Aquino, in effect, screwed them by throwing to the dustbin the budget laws, which Congress is the prime author of. Yet, Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte were applauding Aquino’s state-of-the-nation speech yesterday. They should have asked Congress to protest its political rape by refusing to have Aquino speak before them.
Belmonte didn’t even bother to undertake the kind of moro-moro hearing on the DAP in the Senate. Belmonte’s minions investigate the alleged sex tapes illegally released by a doctor, yet didn’t lift a finger to investigate how DAP politically raped the Congress.
Never since the restoration of democracy do we have the likes of Drilon and Belmonte that are so servile to the President. Think of Drilon and how he “lawyered” for Abad in the hearing on the DAP last week: He shames the office that luminaries like Jovito Salonga (who defied Cory’s wish to retain the US military bases), Neptali Gonzales, Marcelo Fernan, and Blas Ople, had held. Belmonte is without doubt the most spineless Speaker the House has ever had.
(3) The Commission on Audit
No president, not even Marcos before, ever recruited the COA to participate in its conspiracies, as they understood that it was vital to the nation that his institution remains above politics. The framers of the Constitution in their wisdom made the COA an independent body with the sole authority to audit every single centavo of taxpayers’ money.
Yet, Aquino appointed Grace Pulido-Tan COA as chair, whose career as finance undersecretary had been unremarkable, with her main qualification being as a rabid Aquino supporter. Aquino appointed as member of the three-man commission Heidi Mendoza, who had retired 10 years ago from the COA and had been going around in NGO circles as a self-proclaimed anti-graft crusader.
More importantly for Aquino perhaps, Mendoza had for years been probing the alleged corruption of vice-president Jejomar Binay, now the shoo-in for the presidency after Aquino. Mendoza’s dossier on Binay, my sources claimed, will be Aquino and his candidate Mar Roxas’ propaganda artillery in 2016.
Mendoza early on proved her value to Aquino’s schemes, when she deliberately misinterpreted Corona’s dollar bank accounts and gave this to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales. She then with a dramatic flair waved the bank documents in the air, claiming it shows the Chief Justice had $10 million in his dollar bank accounts. (He didn’t, as Mendoza counted flows, not stock, so that Corona’s $1 million became $10 million.)
COA’s report on the use of pork-barrel funds covered only mostly those of opposition senators and congressmen. The excuse it gave was that Budget Secretary Abad refused to release all documents it requested. But was this really the case, or did the COA actually connive with Abad to use the special audit process to file charges against opposition senators, especially Enrile, Estrada, and Revilla? To this day, how senators and congressmen disbursed their PDAF has been kept secret.
Despite demands by the opposition, why has COA chairman Grace Pulido-Tan not issued an order auditing the pork barrel funds of all legislators during Aquino’s administration, and the much bigger P167 billion DAP funds?
Why did it, instead, put as a priority for special audit the P900 million Malampaya funds, which seem to provide more proof against the jailed opposition senators?
This is the real state of the nation four years with Aquino in control. Our most important democratic institutions have been damaged or prostituted.