Contrasting transitions

MANILA, Philippines—In three days, at high noon of June 30, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will end her term. Peacefully and constitutionally, she will hand over the reins of government to President-elect Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III who, at the same instant, will take his oath of office at the Luneta Grandstand before Supreme Court Justice Conchita Carpio Morales.

Controversial presidency. This handover presents a contrasting milestone in the history of our country. GMA took over the presidency from Joseph Estrada on Jan. 20, 2001 as the consequence of what is now known as the Edsa II People Power revolution. Though definitively ruled valid by the Supreme Court, this transition is still legally debated by many constitutionalists. By a vote of 13-0, “Estrada vs Desierto” (March 2, 2001), penned by Justice (later Chief Justice) Reynato S. Puno, upheld the de jure nature of Arroyo’s presidency.

The legitimacy of GMA’s election in 2004 is still disputed by the supporters of her main opponent, Fernando Poe Jr. Remember that the Supreme Court, acting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), declared “moot” Poe’s election protest against GMA because of Poe’s untimely death.

The PET ruled that even assuming the protest to be meritorious, it was pointless to pursue it because, even if the protestant won, he could no longer hold the presidential office. Thus, the election frauds raised by Poe against GMA were not judicially settled. Unresolved also is the “Hello Garci” scandal, which portrayed GMA unethically calling an election official in the midst of the election campaign, thereby aggravating the doubts about her victory.

Because her reign was marred by many unsettled corruption scandals, like the P1.2-billion Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard, the P3-billion Comelec modernization program, the P728-fertilizer scam, the $503-million NorthRail project, and the stinking $329-million NBN-ZTE deal, she lost the people’s confidence.

Additionally, there was a wide perception that she wanted to prolong her stay; that she lusted to amend the Constitution via the misuse of the people’s initiative and the constituent assembly. There too was the public belief that she wanted to hold over as president due to automation glitches. Her issuance of many defective executive orders—which were struck down by the Supreme Court—alienated the people. Because of all these, she is exiting the highest office with the lowest approval rating since Ferdinand Marcos. Worse, her critics will hound her with plunder charges starting on July 1 after she sheds her presidential immunity.

During her nine years in office, President Arroyo must have done something worthwhile. However, her glaring lapses in governance mentioned earlier totally eclipse her claims of shielding the economy from the world financial meltdown and her belated “beat the odds” media blitz.

Unqualified welcome. In stark contrast, P-Noy enters the presidency with the largest popular mandate since the multi-party system was installed by our 1987 Constitution. His opponents, led by second placer Joseph Estrada, third placer Manuel Villar and fourth placer Gilberto Teodoro, conceded his victory. All credible poll surveys, both pre-election and exit polls, uncannily equaled in percentages the actual electoral vote.

While there are lingering questions on the preparedness of the Commission on Elections and on the accuracy of Smartmatic’s automated election count, Noynoy’s overwhelming lead of more than 5.5 million over his nearest rival put to rest whatever uncertainties there could have been about his mandate. In short, there is absolutely no doubt that he is the people’s choice. There is no election protest leveled against him; much less are there charges of unethical conduct comparable even remotely to “Hello Garci.” Consequently, his landslide victory was unqualifiedly welcomed not only by our people but also by the international community.

But the contrasting brilliant ascent of P-Noy to the presidency and the darkened descent of his predecessor bring ultra high expectations and very heavy burdens. P-Noy is no superman, yet he is expected to bring the cheering throng instantly to the Promised Land, free of corruption and poverty.

Beyond motherhood mantras. “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” caught the collective longing of our people. This mantra differentiated him from the outgoing regime. His genteel upbringing by two icons, Ninoy and Cory Aquino, merited immediate trust. “He will never desecrate the memory and good name of his parents,” so many readers wrote me.

But P-Noy must soon, very soon work beyond motherhood mantras. Beginning with his inaugural address, he must give our people a more quantifiable description of his vision, mission and values. More than what he says, our people will judge him by what he does, by what he exemplifies and by the quality of his appointees.

All told, I think he has chosen his Cabinet well. It is a mixture of the old and the new; of experience and idealism and of technocracy and populism. Sufficiently impressive were his choice of Armin Luistro, Leila de Lima, Cesar Purisima, Ping de Jesus, Rogelio Singson, Jesse Robredo, Alberto Lim, Dinky Soliman, and Butch Abad. That he is retaining Bert Romulo augurs well for continuity. I know all of them to be eminently qualified and to be genuinely committed to good governance.

I hope and pray that this new dawn in the Philippines will not wither six years henceforth in the same sunset as the old regime.

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