Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Postscripts to a resignation

This was my column on the date indicated above.This post is antedated.


Parts of this piece were written two weeks ago. However, I didn’t submit it for publication immediately because as you will discover, my reaction to Juan Miguel Zubiri’s resignation as senator was not really nice. Iit bordered on disgust, and I didn’t want to rain on the parade the senator organized for himself. Although I knew it was going to be a Herculean task, I wanted to try to keep an open mind. I tried to see the silver lining that some people kept chirping about. I truly wanted to give Zubiri the benefit of the doubt. I even tried to empathize with the melodramatic posturing of the Zubiri womenfolk.

Unfortunately, his resignation rankled because it dripped of hypocrisy.

He thundered pompously in his farewell speech: “Without admitting any fault and with my vehement denial of the alleged electoral fraud hurled against me, I am submitting my resignation as a duly elected Senator of the Republic of the Philippines in the election for which I am falsely accused without mercy and compassion.”

Without mercy and compassion? Oh please. He sat as senator for four years, wielded the full powers of the office, and enjoyed the full benefits due him as an elected national official despite nagging questions about the legitimacy of his supposed victory. Not that I wished that somebody did, but nobody pelted him with eggs and tomatoes, poured water all over himself, or even berated him publicly as a cheat. Did he expect people to thank him profusely for sitting as senator for four years despite damning proof that he wasn’t the rightful winner of that post? If anything, he was treated with utmost courtesy and respect. What the heck was he whining about?

Zubiri continued: “I am resigning because of these unfounded accusations against me and these issues have systematically divided our nation have (cast) doubts in our electoral system which has affected not only myself, this Institution, but the public as well.”

I don’t want to nitpick on the awful sentence construction. I do want to point out to Zubiri, though, that while we don’t think it is something we should be crowing about, our electoral system is precisely faulty and prone to irregularities. The system has been the subject of intense doubt for the longest time. Let’s stop deluding ourselves that politicians don’t cheat; that they don’t violate election rules; that they don’t buy votes. Our electoral system is beyond bad and the sooner we accept it, the sooner we can fix it. And it certainly won’t get fixed as long as politicians who are proclaimed winners continue to insist that they have no knowledge of the problems or of the cheating that happens.

I didn’t expect Zubiri to admit guilt and publicly beg for forgiveness. But he could have been a little less sanctimonious and self-aggrandizing particularly since he was aiming for some brownie points.

I didn’t buy the whole emotional charade. Okay, so I am not exactly a fan of Zubiri – but I don’t dislike the man either. It is possible I am simply a cynical fool who can’t see sincerity even if it was packaged with a lot of caterwauling and chest thumping. It’s possible that I simply have very high mistrust for the antics of politicians. But there’s a limit to how much hypocrisy I can stand. Even more important, there is a limit to how much crap I can take part in, particularly if it defies logic and reason.

To my mind, what happened was pretty obvious. The resignation wasn’t the great sacrifice that Zubiri’s handlers wanted to project it to be. Perhaps we can credit the man for fortitude – I am sure there were many people who tried to dissuade him from resigning the post. But the resignation didn’t strike me as an act of great courage. Courage requires confronting one’s fears and weaknesses in the pursuit of a greater good; it requires moral clarity and quality.

I am willing to concede though, that the resignation could be interpreted as an act of decency. Given the mounting evidence that Koko Pimentel was the rightful winner, giving up the post was the decent thing to do.

People have made a big deal out of the fact that Zubiri could have dribbled the ball for another two years when the term of office of the senatorial seat was up. He didn’t have to resign, they say. I disagree. Zubiri had to sacrifice short-term consequences for long-term gains.

Had Zubiri chosen to stay on as senator despite the damning accusations of the likes of Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy Ampatuan and former Maguindanao election supervisor Lintang Bedol—which, by the way somehow make sense of the incredible results of the elections in Maguindanao —there was great probability that he wouldn’t survive, at least politically, the onslaught of condemnation and denunciation. It was really just a matter of time before someone came up with more and more damning evidence. The noose was tightening.

Zubiri’s resignation was simply an act of self-preservation; it was a face-saving gesture. I firmly believe that Zubiri resigned because it was the only way he could save his political career. It was a cunning political strategy designed to elicit public sympathy and win sympathy points from the electorate. Simply put, Zubiri resigned because he had no other choice—that is, if he still wanted to run for national office. He made the best of a lousy situation.

It would be unfair for anyone to categorically say that Zubiri was complicit in the cheating. However, it is difficult to imagine a beneficiary not being aware of machinations designed to benefit him; at least not in the scale and magnitude that we saw in the 2004 elections. But this is another story that continues to unravel.

More than just knocking Zubiri, I do want to point out in this belated piece our penchant for proclaiming people as heroes for dubious actions. Zubiri was hailed by certain sectors mainly for resigning his post—a post that was never his in the first place. It’s the same as hailing thieves for giving their victims fare money after they have divested them of their valuables.

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