President Benigno Aquino 3rd will go down in history as the country’s worst President ever.
One might accuse his predecessors, fairly or not, as having stolen from the state’s coffers. But this President damaged the very institutions of our Republic, and the effect of that would be to put the Philippines a decade back in building a modern, prosperous nation-state that uplifts the welfare of all its citizens.
To better understand this, remember that in the last two centuries, the method or discipline of rational inquiry (or simply the scientific method) has subjected, and demystified in many cases, nearly all phenomena under the sun, both natural and those created by humanity.
In the last two decades especially, one question that has been placed under close scrutiny has been why certain nations on earth have become prosperous and why others haven’t. While there are still opposing schools of thought to answer this question, there has remarkably been some convergence in the various analyses.
One consensus is that what plays a crucial role in a nation’s growth (or impoverishment) has been this thing we call “institutions.”
Noted political scientist Francis Fukuyama in his latest book, “Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy,” in fact, analyzes the strengthening and weakening of different nations in the world within the framework of how their institutions have grown or not, or have become inappropriate for their stages of development.
That kind of framework is actually centuries ahead of that prevailing mode of analysis you read in sophomoric blogs, and even in juvenile opinion columns, which agonize with a neurotic kind of self-immolation, on “what’s wrong with the Filipino character,” or what bad habits this group of people has that allow them to get stuck in a lousy nation with a lousy leadership.
“Institutions are ‘stable, valued recurring patterns of behavior that persist beyond the tenure of individual leaders,” Fukuyama explained in his book. “They are in essence, persistent rules that shape, limit and channel human behavior.”
Abstract as that may seem to be, we would very easily understand what sort of institution manifests such examples. “Post-Qaddafi Libya’s problem is a lack of basic institutions, must notably a state,” Fukuyama says. “Until there is a single source of authority that exercises a legitimate monopoly of force in that country, there will be no citizen security or the conditions for individuals to flourish.”
Fukuyama adds: “At the other end of the scale, the United States has long-standing and powerful institutions, but they have been subject to political decay.
Using the author’s analysis, the Aquino regime has resulted in our political decay.
Fukuyama explains that there are three sets of institutions whose strength or weakness have determined which nations are prosperous and strong, and which are not.
The first institution is the State, which he defines, as most political scientists do, as the institution that “possesses a monopoly of legitimate coercion and exercises that power over a defined territory.”
Prosperous countries have a modern state, the administration of which “does not consist of the ruler’s family and friends; rather recruitment to administrative positions is based on impersonal criteria as merit, education, or technical knowledge.” The raison d’être of modern states of course is to provide the necessary public goods and maintain order, which only it can do as it has the resources – taxes and the bureaucracy – and power to do so.
It is obviously in this context that former Senator Joker Arroyo’s jest that Aquino’s is an amateurish “student-council” government is really such an insightful criticism.
In the five years he has been in office, the Aquino government couldn’t even make the MRT-3 trains run on time and efficiently. In five years, even if the Congress had given it the funds, the Aquino state could not modernize the military, and instead, has all this time been stuck in allegations of corruption in the purchase of military equipment. Despite Aquino’s boast in 2011 that the country would be exporting rice soon, we are still importing 1 million tons of rice yearly.
The antithesis of the modern state is the “patrimonial” state, considered a “personal property of the ruler, and state administration is essentially an extension of the ruler’s household,” Fukuyama explained.
The second institution is the Rule of Law, or rules that are binding on the most politically powerful actors in a given society. Fukuyama makes a distinction that reminds us of what has been called Aquino’s “selective justice:” “Rule of law should be distinguished from what is sometimes referred to as ‘rule by law’,” which he explains as “commands issued by the ruler but not binding on the ruler himself” or his allies.
Three opposition senators are jailed for alleged involvement in the pork-barrel scam. Aquino’s allies, though, are exempt from any such investigation.
The third institution, in Fukuyama’s framework, is Democratic Accountability. Its mechanisms include the Supreme Court and its lower courts and Congress, both of which are separate and independent and which act as checks to the ruler, i.e., the executive branch. Another important mechanism is made up of free and fraud-free elections.
Fukuyama, though, emphasizes how the three institutions all have to exist at the same time. He even uses the Philippines as an example of how things can go wrong if one institution is missing: “(The Philippines) democratized before it had a modern state and has, therefore, experienced substantial amounts of patronage and clientelism.”
Fukuyama is quite categorical, asserting that the “least developed parts of the world today are those that lacked” these institutions or had only weak versions of these. “Many of the problems of developing countries are by-products of the fact that they have weak and ineffective states,” he emphasizes.
At this point, I would think that the many cases of how Aquino has damaged all three institutions have already crossed the reader’s mind. Among the most prominent cases, by no means a complete listing, are as follows.
Aquino damaged severely the Philippine state’s most important institution, the Constitutional separation of the three branches of government.
The executive headed by Aquino bribed the legislative branch to decapitate the judicial branch, with its head replaced by a known ally of the President. That really was this regime’s defining moment. With Chief Justice Renato Corona out of the way, he thought his clan could get a much bigger land-reform compensation for Hacienda Lusita.
There were eight counts for impeachment against Chief Justice Renato Corona. All were proven wrong in the trial, yet he was still removed by the Senate for his failure to disclose his dollar accounts – which was not one of the eight counts.
It would only be unearthed later that each of the 20 senators who found him guilty had received during and right after the trial hundreds of millions of pesos in pork barrel and Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) funds.
Aquino appointed as associate justice and then Chief Justice a legal academic, with little actual practice of law, whose main qualification was that she was the President’s college buddy and that that she prepared his family’s Supreme Court brief to get better compensation for their Hacienda Luisita’s expropriation. He appointed another inexperienced academic to the Court just because he negotiated an agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which was after all so favorable to the insurgent group.
Aquino damaged the Supreme Court, which has had decades of tradition that its members must have proven themselves to be legal luminaries both in practice and theory. Thrown to the dustbin in the appointment of the Court’s members is a modern state’s practice of appointing to government positions, as Fukuyama explained, “those based on impersonal criteria as merit, education, or technical knowledge.”
Even the chief of the Philippine National Police, a crucial position, was chosen not because of his qualifications but because he was Aquino’s close-in security during his mother’s term. Aquino pulled out of retirement general Voltaire Gazmin to be his Defense Secretary. His qualification? He headed his mother’s presidential guards.
Aquino even corrupted a bastion of democracy, the Fourth Estate, by recruiting a major newspaper and an internet-only news outfit as his propaganda arm in his campaigns against Corona, leading opposition senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Ramon Revilla, and more recently Vice President Jejomar Binay, just because he is the frontrunner in the 2016 elections.
Congress becomes a rubber stamp
The institutions of democratic accountability has been all but wrecked with Congress, bribed by Aquino with pork-barrel funds, and have become the rubber stamp of the President.
A recent example of this is Aquino’s decision to file the case against China questioning its nine-dash line – a move that would weaken the country’s diplomatic relations with the superpower for the next four to five years until the case is resolved. His lawyers filed the case at the UN arbitral court Jan. 21. The next day, Aquino asked both houses of Congress to issue a resolution supporting it. The resolution was filed and approved on the same day on Jan. 22, with no discussion in either the Senate or the House of Representatives.
One would have to be very gullible not to believe that Aquino bullied former Ombudsman Mercedes Gutierrez to resign so she would be replaced by Conchita Carpio-Morales, who has become his political assassin, even against Binay.
The many cases the Ombudsman filed against Aquino’s enemies – allegedly drafted by lawyers close to Mar Roxas – will be dismissed sooner or later, as these were rushed to meet political deadlines or had no basis in the first place. The Ombudsman as our anti-graft institution will, therefore, be weakened, probably for a decade until it proves it is not a tool of the sitting President.
This President has damaged the institution called the Rule of Law in so many instances, two of the most important:
He ordered his police general, Alan Purisima, to head the Mamasapano operations against international terrorists even if the police general, his former close-in security, was suspended at the time by law for a graft investigation. Aquino hasn’t been made accountable for such violation of law.
He threw to the dustbin the General Appropriations Laws from 2011 to 2013, by hijacking funds authorized by those laws, for a fake DAP. The Supreme Court ruled he violated the Constitution. He hasn’t been made accountable for that at all.
Even the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), one of our few institutions that showed world-class operating standards, had been prostituted by Aquino.
The confidential bank accounts, first of Chief Justice Corona, and then of Vice President Binay and his family, were released — without a court order — to the Ombudsman by the Anti Money Laundering Council, which the BSP governor headed. It was the Ombudsman’s distorted report of these accounts that shifted public opinion against Corona that was the smokescreen for the Senate to find him guilty.
Aquino hasn’t even been able to lead the state in undertaking one of its basic functions, which is to provide services to the citizens of this country. His officials have made a mess of the MRT-3 that it has become a daily torture for hundreds of thousands of commuters in metropolitan Manila. His incompetence and that of his government has reached a criminal level in their failure to implement an effective rescue-and-relief operation for the hundreds of thousands of victims of the Yolanda Supertyphoon.
He has also failed in his duty to keep intact the territory of the Philippine nation state when he bungled the negotiations over the Scarborough Shoal crisis so that in the end we lost it forever to the Chinese.
Forget all those figures Aquino would rattle off this afternoon in his last SONA, which he usually distorts to paint a rosy, false picture of his regime.
He won’t dare boast that he has strengthened the institutions of the Philippine Republic, which is actually the most important task of a President, but which is really beyond his exiguous intellect.
He has, in fact, damaged them severely.
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