Like Cory or like Ferdie

“HOW CAN you expect President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to exit gracefully when her enemies have repeatedly threatened to persecute and harass her? Why should she stop her allies from extending her rule when they merely want to protect her from her enemies and to preserve her legacy of a strong economy?” so asked a reader (who requested anonymity) in reaction to last week’s column.

Graceful exit. True, many critics especially the anti-corruption crusaders and the victims of human rights violations – not just her political enemies – will probably hound her after she retires on June 30, 2010. This is the risk that all leaders, particularly those who hold the public trust, must face: to be held accountable for their actions. If she is innocent as she repeatedly avows, then the truth will vindicate her.

During her watch, President Cory Aquino was not spared of criticisms. She allegedly tolerated the shenanigans of the so-called “Kamag-anak Inc.” and allegedly failed to implement the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law in her family’s Hacienda Luisita. Many of her supporters tempted her to run for another term, arguing that the reelection ban imposed by the 1987 Constitution did not apply to her because her presidency begun in 1986, before the new Constitution took effect. I, myself, believe she could have run for another term without any legal constraint.

However, unlike Ferdinand Marcos, President Cory did not want to cling to power. She chose to embody what she espoused: peaceful democratic change. During her last State of the Nation Address on July 28, 1991, she unequivocally announced her determination to step down from the presidency and to retire gracefully. For her nobility of character, she is cherished by our people and acclaimed by the world as the icon of democracy.

Protecting Arroyo’s back. I do not think President Arroyo needs to worry about her enemies and detractors. She leads the largest and most powerful political party, the Lakas-Kampi-CMD. Even if she retires from power in 2010, her two sons, brother-in-law and sister-in-law will probably still sit in the House of Representatives to help her.

With her giant political machine, she could propel the election of a friendly presidential candidate who would shield her. And even if the new president may be hostile to her, she can always threaten him or her with impeachment. As has been amply demonstrated in the case of Joseph Estrada, it takes only one-third of the House membership to endorse an impeachment complaint to the Senate. Surely, the Lakas-Kampi-CMD has the strength to sway one-third of the lower house.

Consider too that by the time she exits in 2010, she would have appointed all the members of the Supreme Court. Certainly, these appointees would not tolerate any unfairness to her. She has also carefully chosen the members of the Sandiganbayan, who will decide any criminal suit filed against her.

And even before a suit can be prosecuted in the Sandiganbayan, it will have to be investigated and evaluated by the Ombudsman. Having handpicked the incumbent Ombudsman whose term will outlast hers, GMA can expect to be shielded from unsubstantiated charges. She has also appointed all the members of the Commission on Elections and the key officers of the armed services and the police. They too can be expected to help her overcome harassments and persecutions.

Arroyo has shunned the International Criminal Court (ICC). Although the Philippines has signed the ICC’s Charter on Dec. 28, 2000, the Senate has not ratified it. The Palace has not even forwarded the signed ICC Statute to the Senate, perhaps on the theory that the ICC’s long tentacles could not reach her as long as our country has not ratified the Statute.

However, if she hopes to be protected from the ICC, she should – I think – have the Statute ratified now under terms favorable to her. A hostile successor can always have the ICC’s Charter ratified, effective on the day it was signed, to include her alleged crimes. In any event, the ICC has recently issued a warrant of arrest against the president of Sudan, even if that country had not ratified the ICC Charter. So, non-ratification is not an ironclad protection.

In short, what I am saying is that Arroy has done all that is humanly possible to protect her back after she retires. Hence, she could really retire gracefully in 2010 and enjoy her legacy. By prolonging her stay, she would just incense our people all the more. She could end up like Ferdinand Marcos – in disgrace and disrepute.

Indeed, Arroyo should choose her model. Does she want to exit gracefully and be cherished like Cory, or does she want to extend her term indefinitely and be despised like Ferdie?

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Hail to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) for resisting Malacañang’s jolting assault on its integrity and independence. It unanimously rejected Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita’s letter asking for more nominees to fill up the two Supreme Court vacancies. To quote its chair, Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, “the decision whether to include” more names exclusively belongs to the JBC… it cannot be compromised in the tiniest degree without impairing the delicate check and balance in the appointment? of justices. Well said and well done.

Kudos too to the President for accepting the JBC’s decision, and for appointing without further ado, Court of Appeals Justice Mariano C. del Castillo and Dean Roberto A. Abad. Both were on the original list of six JBC nominees.

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