Arroyo’s Legacy

MANILA, Philippines—How will President Macapagal-Arroyo be remembered in history? Will the Philippines be better off on June 30, 2010 when she ends her term than on Jan. 20, 2001 when she began it? The President?s State of Nation Address gives her own answer. But is her hoped-for legacy doable?

GMA?s Sona. In her Sona, GMA focused on her three priorities for “the next three years—First, investments in physical, intellectual, legal and security infrastructure to increase business confidence. Imprastraktura para sa negosyo at trabaho. Isang milyong trabaho taon-taon.

“Second, investments in a stronger and wider safety net—murang gamot, abot-kayang pabahay, eskwelang primera klase, mga gurong mas magaling at mas malaki ang kita, mga librong dekalidad, more scholarships for gifted students, and language instruction to maintain our lead in English proficiency. Dunong at kalusugan ang susi sa kasaganaan.

“Third, investments in bringing peace to Mindanao; in crushing terrorism wherever it threatens regardless of ideology; and putting a stop to human rights abuses whatever the excuse.”

It is difficult to fault GMA’s investments. Mainly, her critics merely ask: Where will she get the trillions to fund her grandiose dreams? Borrow again? Raise taxes again? Sell off the nation’s patrimony? Or just let the people salivate now and despair later?

Regain credibility first. Even if she finds the money to fund these quixotic quests, the first priority—as I see it—is to earn the trust of our people. Without trust, no leader can succeed. Last week, I wrote on Cardinal Gaudencio B. Rosales? exhortation that “it is treason to lead without a vision,” supported by core values. And as I have often said, visionary leadership by example is the best way to lead.

As for core values, may I paraphrase former Senate President Jovito R. Salonga: It is good to aspire for the many things that money can buy, like roads, skyways, bridges, airports, piers, schools, houses, power plants, transmission towers, and computer technologies but it is better to have, first and foremost, the things that money cannot buy, like integrity, public esteem, character, moral ascendancy and credibility.

Over the years, GMA has, rightly or wrongly, been vilified for many alleged wrongdoings; thereby pushing her public acceptance ratings down to record lows. The big question is: Can she still regain her credibility to enable her to achieve her Sona dreams? I believe so. I hope so. As a citizen of this Republic, I want the President to succeed and foster democracy and development; freedom and food; nay, liberty and prosperity for all. How?

Internal transformation. First, if I were in her place, I would call all my close relatives, officials, and cronies and tell them that I would forget in the meantime whatever sins and wrongs they might have done in the past. But henceforth, they must follow strictly the Constitution, anti-graft law, ethical standards law, public bidding laws and similar codes. Woe to those who don?t.

To start off, I would personally lead the example by being transparent, accountable, and ethical. I would use the ascendant skills needed to achieve the legacy, not those employed to win elections. “A President is always as strong as she wants to be.” Yes, but I will use presidential strength to be transformational, no longer transactional.

Fortify democratic institutions. Second, I would fortify our democratic institutions by naming trustworthy officials, especially to the Supreme Court and the Commission on Elections. Between now and June 30, 2010, eight justices will retire (Cancio C. Garcia on Oct. 15, 2007; Angelina Sandoval Gutierrez, Feb. 28, 2008; Ruben T. Reyes, Jan. 3, 2009; Adolfo S. Azcuna, Feb. 16, 2009; Dante O. Tinga, May 11, 2009; Consuelo Ynares Santiago, Oct. 5, 2009; Leonardo A. Quisumbing, Nov. 6, 2009 and Minita Chico Nazario, Dec. 5, 2009). Moreover, Chief Justice Reynato Puno will end his term on May 17, 2010. Let me caution, however, that the Constitution bans appointments ?two months immediately before the next presidential elections and up to the end of (her) term.?

In view of her many debacles (like EO 464, CPR, PP 1017 and People?s Initiative), GMA will be tempted to fill up the Court with ?loyalists.? With due respect, I say banish the thought. Dwight Eisenhower tried to “pack” the US Supreme Court, but his own choices, led by Earl Warren and William Brennan, voted down his cases. Ferdinand Marcos produced a compliant Court that, ironically, aggravated the discontent that eventually toppled and disgraced him. Change tactics. With prudent legal advice, goals can be attained under the rule of law!

In the Comelec, there is now one vacancy. On Feb. 7, 2007, Chair Benjamin Abalos and Commissioners Rex Borra and Florentino Tuason will retire, thereby giving GMA the opportunity to appoint a new chair (like Romulo Macalintal) and commissioners (like Leila de Lima and Howard Calleja). Without credible officials, it is useless to talk of electoral reforms or to expect an orderly 2010 election.

Before she exits in 2010, GMA would have named all 15 justices and all seven commissioners. Will she bequeath a Supreme Court and a Comelec that are credible and fortified, or arrant and spineless?

Transforming the internals of GMA’s leadership now and fortifying the Court and the Comelec will constitute a lasting legacy that requires no funding. Moreover, such selfless actions will elevate her credibility to new heights; and propel her Sona legacy into a 2010 reality.

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