Past, present and future

Presidents: BS Aquino and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
Presidents: BS Aquino and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo

“The President should resign,” declared a manifesto signed by a growing number of citizens from across the country.

Damage control is in overdrive: But even after addressing the nation on national television, the President still failed to regain the trust of citizens outraged by the incident in Mindanao, among many outstanding issues propelling the protests.

The citizens have filed impeachment complaints in the House, but only a few congressmen endorsed the efforts. The complaints were practically “dead on arrival” in the committee.

“Sorry but impeachment is just a numbers game,” according to the majority leader.

Protests continued to grow, with citizens raising the fair and reasonable demand that the President tell the whole truth about what happened in Mindanao.

Many intellectuals and legal eagles went out of their way to tell the citizens to stop the protests. They told the restive, angry public: “Let the President finish the term of office. You could file cases after the end of the term.”

“The President deserves our support and respect. Another chance,” they said.

According to political commentators, the President is “generally safe” because the most political parties are still supportive of the administration.

“Thanks to the discreet and steady supply of pork barrel for lawmakers, strategic political appointments, and other perks the Chief Executive cleverly used for maximum advantage, the President could sleep soundly every night,” said a political analyst.

The country’s leading newspapers also refused to “bless” the rising calls for the President’s resignation.

Editorial pages dissuaded the citizens by declaring that the “cure is worse than the disease” or “there’s no viable alternative to the President.”

“If the President heeds calls for resignation and allows the vice president to take over, all the reforms would be endangered. He cannot be trusted,” according to an economics professor.

“Another EDSA would be catastrophic,” the professor added.

Even prior to the Mindanao incident, the President had already faced mounting protests over a string of scandals: the refusal to hold American soldiers tagged as suspects in a sex-related offense; the misuse and misappropriation of public funds amounting to hundreds of billion of pesos; unrelenting increases in the prices of basic goods; high taxes for professionals and small businesses; corruption cases involving members of the cabinet and prominent leaders of the ruling coalition; and the unchallenged crime spree in many places.

“In most, if not all, these issues, the public demanded truth and accountability, asking for investigations or a reprieve beneficial to the country. But at every turn, the President and allies all over government refuse to make politics work for us,” said a labor leader.

“We were promised fresh change. A competent government that we could trust. Many thought that the President’s DNA would amount to something. We are obviously disappointed,” said a student council president at the country’s premiere state university. “Don’t we deserve better?”

Sounds and looks familiar, right? But that’s not about the present administration of President BS Aquino. That’s about the past administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Yes, the circumstances are different. But the way the system protects its leader and how the leader protects the system remain the same, if not much worse, craven, and cynical.

Not unlike the people then, today we face daunting choices. How we respond now would determine our fate today and history’s judgment in the future.

Two views on how to confront our problems, starting with the President himself:

The first is the cynical and fatalistic view: Let President Aquino escape unscathed. Depend on the President’s Board of Inquiry and separate investigations. Forget Yolanda. Allow the DAP and PDAF scammers, especially members of the ruling coalition, to get away. Endure the substandard MRT and LRT services despite handsome deals and fare hikes beneficial to private owners and private operators. Continue to pay 35 percent income taxes. Cling to personality-based politics. And so on. Basically, allow the situation to go unchallenged until June 30, 2016 and let the vicious cycle to devour us again and again.

This view is for those who think and feel that “wala na tayong magagawa.” It is for the cynics, the political and economic vultures, the charlatans and the remorseless former presidents who protected the system and who the system protects until today.

The other is the active and progressive view: Learn the lessons of the past and deftly respond to the demands of the present by making President Aquino accountable. Demand for a truth commission. Get to the truth of the Maguindanao incident – the specific roles played by the President, suspended police chief Alan Purisima and the US military forces. Justice for Yolanda survivors. Demand the prosecution of Budget Sec. Butch Abad over his role in the unconstitutional DAP. Join the protests against the unfair train fare hikes and to nationalize the MRT and LRT. Seek a reduction of income tax rates for professionals and SMEs. Develop new leaders ready to take on the old ones. And so on. At every turn, we take on the system and try to make a new, citizen-powered, change-making brand of politics work for us.

This view is for those who think and feel that “our country needs a new system that honors the grit, determination, dignity, and dreams of our people.” It is for truth, justice, accountability. It is for the dreamers and movers – practically the majority who aspire for a Philippines with substantive democracy, genuine national freedom, and broadly shared prosperity.

The view that’s going to prevail would spell our country’s fate and help determine how history is going to judge both President BS Aquino and our generation.

Author’s note: This was first published in the Manila Bulletin, 9 Feb 2015. Some portions have been slightly edited.