Monday, November 21, 2011

Epic failure


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

There are many ways to interpret the national drama that we witnessed last week. Of course, things are not over yet. By all indications, the war has just started and the main protagonists are just warming up. We’re in for more torture in the next weeks.

Foremost of all is the national torture of having to see just how utterly and hopelessly incapable we are as a nation and as a people to conduct our affairs in a civilized and mature way, sans the histrionics, the very public display of monstrous egos, and the puerile contest of wills.

Surely, there is a much better way of conducting our affairs as a nation! It does seem as if we haven’t learned from our previous experiences in persecuting two past presidents. I must, therefore, for the record, express my utter disappointment in the way this current administration has handled the current imbroglio. Epic failure is written all over it.

As a result, we have once again witnessed for ourselves just how easy it has become for our politicians to turn the whole justice system in its head with all kinds of power play and political maneuvering.

There were the accusations of wanton suppression of constitutional rights, the cinematic race to catch a flight at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, and a dramatic face-off that ended up with a frail-looking former President eventually being brought to a hospital.

On the other hand, there was the overwhelming presumption of malice and accusation of intent to evade prosecution—flight being presumed to be a manifestation of guilt regardless of the medical urgency. The order of the Secretary of Justice not to heed a temporary restraining order issued by no less than the Supreme Court was interpreted as barefaced defiance—a daring and brazen stand that shocked many.

But as can be expected in a situation that has gotten way out of control, most simply got engrossed in the drama. It didn’t help that as in the past, our predilection to turn news events into a dramatic production prevailed.

I watched the whole chain of events with utter dismay. Given the fact that this administration has made the prosecution of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as its main—if not its only—program of government, it was not unreasonable to expect some strategic plan of action, some contingency plan in place.

Oh please, this was not an unreasonable expectation given the fact that this administration has been in power for 17 months already and given further the many times in which officials of this administration have been crowing about the goods that they have on the former president.

As I write, President Aquino was once again blabbering on television about how the current chain of events is just the start of the government’s drive to bring make Arroyo pay for her many alleged sins. This administration just does not get it. The chain of events that we have seen so far does not inspire confidence. What we have seen have been nothing but monumental blunders of epic proportions.

As a consequence of the absolute incompetence of this administration—of the Justice Secretary in particular whose whole only strategy seems to be talking to the media—the whole caboodle of issues has been reduced into a series of showdowns and standoffs; first at the airport, then at the hospital, and then this week at the Supreme Court.

I dread the thought of how things could have spiraled way out of control if something happened to Arroyo at the airport. Actually, this scenario could still happen.

The absence of a carefully managed plan of action on how to effectively bring Arroyo to court has resulted in a most unfortunate situation. First, the threat of a constitutional crisis. Second, the commission of too many lapses and technical shortcuts that will potentially weaken the government’s position. Third, too much collateral damage in the form of erosion of credibility of many people and consequently, the weakening of social structures in this country. Fourth, the growing perception that the government has been caught flatfooted and is now moving heaven and earth to speed up the filing of cases without regard for respecting due process.

This administration is lucky that previous efforts to demonize Arroyo have so far worked. Arroyo continues to be unpopular and critics of the way this administration has been mismanaging the situation have so far refrained from speaking publicly. But let’s make no mistake about this: There is only so much incompetence people can take. Unless this administration does a better job, I see an erosion of credibility. As it is, the prevailing sentiment is that everything that is happening is a classic illustration of the “weather-weather” phenomenon (it’s all about who has the reins of power).

Elena Bautista Horn’s performance in the television show The Bottomline last Saturday evening was particularly instructive. Horn is Arroyo’s chief of staff at the House of Representative and the de facto spokesperson of the former President. At the end of the show, the usually critical panelists of the show were almost unanimous in saying that Horn came across as credible. Even more instructive, the panelists of the show were overwhelmingly unanimous in saying that Horn was infinitely more articulate and more believable than all the talking heads of this administration combined.

What is at stake in the issue is very crucial. There are those who insist that what is at stake in the issue is the inviolability of individual rights and freedoms as enshrined in the constitution. Others contend that a greater interest is at stake, the need to strengthen and uphold accountability in public service. The concept of “the common good” is once again being bandied about. There are those who insist that the bedrock of the judicial system of this country is the protection of citizen’s constitutional rights which is supposed to be sacrosanct; the logic being forwarded being that if a former President cannot seek protection from the Constitution, then what hope does an ordinary citizen have?

The other side of the argument insists that the Constitution exists as an integrated framework meant to prop up our social structures and therefore cannot be interpreted in a vacuum. Inevitably, provisions need to be interpreted with a bias for protecting the social order. Given the country’s dismal track record in making powerful people accountable for misdeeds while in office, the seeming mad dash to board a plane out of the country was interpreted as an attempt to evade justice.

These issues are worth debating about in a dispassionate and more objective way. Unfortunately, the discussions have so far remained at the level of a moral debate, which is not really a good development because such discussions inevitably become personal and highly polarizing

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