And the First Lady factor
Commentary by Raïssa Robles
How are we to respond to President Benigno Aquino coyly hinting he’s open to a (currently unconstitutional) second term?
Why, with a smile and a “No, thank you.”
Let’s have political succession. Not an amendment to the 1987 Constitution.
Before I explain why, let me share with you my conversation yesterday with Mel Sta. Maria, Dean of the Far Eastern University Institute of Law who scooped us all in the media with his interview with PNoy.
I wanted to know whether Aquino’s surprise revelation that he was open to a charter change and a second term had been scripted. I asked Dean Sta. Maria whether he had been required to submit all his questions prior to the interview . In short, whether PNoy’s answer was crafted beforehand.
Sta. Maria told me,
“I gave questions in advance excluding that.”
“That” referred to the question on whether PNoy was open to amending the Constitution, including removing the six-year presidential term limit.
During the interview Sta. Maria sneaked in the question:
“Sarado ba kayo sa pag-aamyenda ng Constitution hanggang ngayon?” (Are you still closed to amending the Constitution until now?)
And PNoy’s surprising reply was –
“Bago nito, bago nangyari lahat ng ito, sarado….aminado ako (Before all these things happened, I was closed to it, I admit that).”
“Pero ngayon, napapag-isip ako talaga… yung tinatawag na judicial reach (But now, I’m seriously rethinking things. Because of the judicial reach.)”
Dean Sta. Maria then followed that up by asking whether this meant Aquino was also open to another six-year term as president. The President replied:
“Nung pinasukan ko ito, ang tanda ko one term of six years…Ngayon, after having said that, syempre ang mga boss ko, kelangan kong pakinggan ‘yon.” (When I first got into this, I noted, one term of six years. Now, after having said that, of course my bosses, I have to listen to them, meaning the people).
“Hindi naman ibig sabihin…na automatic na hahabol pa ako na magkaroon pa ako ng dagdag dito, ‘no?” (That doesn’t automatically mean I’ll be chasing after another term, right?)
Aquino’s answers have set off a firestorm of speculation with audible gnashing of teeth in one end, and jubilant high-fives in another.
For my part, I think Aquino’s answers are mere political flirtation. At least for now. His way of telling his followers – if you want me, vote my anointed.
However, if people mount a serious attempt to encourage him to change the Constitution so he can run again – say, with that magical number of one million signatures – then PNoy and the Liberal Party might be sorely tempted.
Please don’t encourage him and the Liberal Party. It will not be good for our democracy.
For a democracy to work institutions have to be built, including the orderly process of handing over power from one leader to the next, from one generation to the next.
All Philippine presidents after Corazon Aquino have tried to amend the Constitution to give themselves a second life as president. The most serious challenges were mounted by President Fidel Ramos with “Pirma” and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo with her ConCom (Constitutional Commission).
Arroyo’s ConCom was so alarming that it prompted me to write a 3-part series on the issue for the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ).
I am a constitutionalist at heart. So those who accuse me of belittling the Constitution over DAP (the Disbursement Acceleration Program) do not know what they are talking about. I suggest they read my series which is now hosted in hotmanila.ph:
But let’s go back to why PNoy says he’s suddenly open to constitutional amendments.
This statement comes on the heels of another private poll survey showing Vice-President Jejomar Binay way ahead of LP candidate Mar Roxas. If elections were held today, Binay will trounce Roxas.
That there seems to be no viable LP alternative right now to President Aquino is a testament to the higher standards he has set for that post. And also a sign of weakness of the Liberal Party and our overall alleged multi-party system.
Let me share with you my thoughts on this matter, gathered from years of covering politics. PNoy’s government is the closest to a party government I have seen since democracy was restored in 1986. Five key cabinet portfolios are held by LP officials:
- Budget – Florencio Abad
- Interior and Local Governments – Mar Roxas
- Agriculture – Proceso Alcala and Francis Pangilinan
- Transport and Communications – Joseph Abaya
- Energy – Jericho Petilla
In addition, two LP officials hold the reins in Congress: House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and Senate President Franklin Drilon.
But while LP officials are busy running government they’ve neglected to grow their own party and push other leaders to the national stage so that they can too shine and become the future champions. Face it. Political parties need to build up leaders the way TV networks build up their stars. Or maybe I’m using the wrong analogy…
The situation is worse with other political parties. The United Nationalist Alliance or political opposition is mainly held together by two dynasties – that of Vice President Jejomar Binay and Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada. They are more intent in shoring up the political fortunes of their children than in building up genuine political parties.
The Nacionalista Party is in a somewhat better position than UNA because of billionaire businessman Manny Villar who acquired the party like a franchise. When he bought the “White House” mansion of the late Vice-President Salvador “Doy” Laurel, the party was apparently part of the deal.
But let’s go back to the LP and its lack of a leader to succeed Aquino.
President Aquino and the LP are trying to push Mar Roxas as his successor but survey after survey shows the people are not biting.
Why not? Is it the packaging? Is it because he comes across as second best?
On the face of it, Mar Roxas has the intellectual credentials to run a complex government in the 21st century. He is Wharton-educated. He was once an investment banker who put together successful deals.
Between Senator Bongbong Marcos and Mar Roxas (both are from Wharton), Bongbong seems to have more political traction because of Imelda Marcos and the fabulous fortune in stolen loot promised by the family to the poor if another Marcos makes it to Malacañang Palace.
But let’s face it, Mar Roxas is not exciting. The majority who are poor cannot relate to him, perhaps because he lacks a believable narrative for them. He hasn’t told them who he really is. He pretends to be what he is not –
And people can see through all that.
A 2009 photo of him taken during a political rally –
Has been photo-shopped into this –
People still don’t know what to make of Mar Roxas.
The reality is that Mar Roxas belongs to a very, very rich clan. His father was politically down-trodden by Marcos. But his family built the first shopping complex in the country. His clan opened the first indoor entertainment center, the Araneta Coliseum, where one of the greatest boxers of all time, Muhammad Ali, made a stunning comeback. In other words, the family made boxing history.
Also, Mar Roxas was an overseas Filipino living in New York for over a decade. He cooked his own meals, he lived his own life.
When he returned to fill in his brother’s political shoes he brought home ideas strange to his class. Three of them have stuck in my mind.
Mar Roxas told me back in my 1999 interview with him that he hoped to see “feudalistic patronage mechanisms” replaced with a more people-empowered political environment.
Second, he said that as a congressman, he had tried to depoliticize state spending on education by getting a law approved that made student population the basis for the size of funding. This was intended to break the practice of tying school spending with whether an area was an opposition or ruling party bailiwick.
Third, he tried to make pork work by cajoling and threatening the governor, mayors, fellow Capiz congressmen, and barangay leaders into pooling their pork funds together and agreeing together on a set of infrastructure priorities. For starters, he threw in his entire pork barrel fund into the investment pool.
I think those were wonderfully innovative ideas. Problem is, the poor have never been told that.
And Mar Roxas couched his innovation in such boring language. For instance, he called the pooled pork the “Consolidated Planning Process.”
PNoy and Mar Roxas actually belong to the same social class but PNoy managed to overcome that political barrier with the powerful narrative of a father’s assassination, followed by a mother’s sacrifice and death.
Perhaps Mar Roxas could consider, if he dares, the following narrative: One big problem the Philippines faces today is the control of the country’s economy by a few elite families. Can Mar Roxas be a traitor to his class and go against his class’ interests? Or can Mar Roxas strike a deal with his class by making it find ways to be more inclusive of the rest of society especially the poor in their business deals?
Frankly, I don’t know.
Last Wednesday, after a press briefing conducted by Budget Secretary Butch Abad for members of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP), the talk naturally turned to politics.
Abad wanted to know why Mar Roxas did not seem to click with the people.
I offered two possible reasons: Mar Roxas himself and his wife Korina Sanchez.
I told Abad that Mar Roxas did not seem to be the same person I interviewed back in 1999. He was trying too hard to make a good impression. He was not coming across as sincere.
And then there’s Korina Sanchez – probably one of a handful of prominent female personalities who have opted to keep using her maiden name after marriage. There is no law against that, by the way, but very few married women can get away with it.
I have met Korina on previous coverages and she was a pleasant person every time. However, I got a different feedback from some of Mar Roxas’ Liberal Party mates as well as those who accompanied him during the 2010 electoral campaign. For instance, in one sortie at a public market in Mindanao, instead of wooing voters Korina managed to turn them off because she appeared aloof. She did not shake hands the way other politicians’ wives did. The description given to me was that she “acted like a doña.”
Korina Sanchez appears to be well-received when she undertakes her own outreach programs in the provinces. Why does she elicit such a negative reaction as Mar Roxas’ wife?
I have puzzled over this phenomenon: Why is it that Korina Sanchez’ strong personality clicks as a news reader but not as the wife of a high-profile politician? Do voters still expect wives of politicians to stay in the background, look demure and simply cut ribbons?
This is something that Mar Roxas and his wife will have to thresh out between the two of them.
When I told Secretary Abad that, he blurted out to me and Tress Martelino-Reyes of Nikkei news agency – “Which one would you rather have as First Lady – Korina Sanchez or Elenita Binay?”
Mrs Binay is no shrinking violet either. Not the typical politician’s wife since she herself has been mayor of Makati City. While Korina Sanchez still has to live down Anderson Cooper, Mrs Binay has to shake off corruption allegations.
I’m trying to look on the bright side in this issue. What we are having right now – comparing Binay and Roxas and considering other political candidates – is America’s equivalent of a political primary. In the case of the Philippines, voters appear to be judging the 2016 presidential candidates through political surveys.
Because many of my Facebook friends and commenters on this site have been asking me to interpret for them the unfolding political events, I’ve decided to start writing pieces on the 2016 elections.
One of my next articles will try to answer the question – Is a Binay presidency inevitable?