His First 9 1/2 Weeks
It began almost like a love affair between the country and its new President. The nine and a half weeks of the Aquino Administration began with a landslide victory that many found difficult to dispute, and ended with a hostage crisis many find difficult to defend. All we know right now of Daang Matuwid is the abstraction: the idealization of a long-term national project began by a President whom we thought can do no wrong. In the first nine and a half weeks, almost everything wrong happened.
Not that Aquino is bad for the country; somehow, the President’s training wheels – led independently in all sorts of different directions at Daang Matuwid – aren’t doing him much of a favor. There is no definitive stand: that the clarion call of unity and inner strength leads precisely nowhere so far.
There was no definitive stand on the issue of land reform, even if President Aquino may have been goaded into making one because of his blood-ties with Hacienda Luisita. There was no definitive stand in the Manila hostage crisis, making it appear that the President has done too little, too late.
I wrote before that the central issue of the Presidency is what gives us the general idea of where we’re going: that we should be united in something before we go anywhere. For President Aquino, it was an abstraction of wang wang, ersatz land reform, and the pressing issues of his diplomatic roles in situations of crisis. It is, so far, a Presidency steeped and schooled in the ways of the ought, missing out on the all-important is: granted that no political problem can be solved overnight, but we can agree, at the very least, on one thing the people, under its own government, should stand for.
What is the central issue of the Aquino Presidency? So far, it is Aquino himself. The image of The Scion is tainted with the scuffs and strays of The Oaf, The Incompetent, The Buffoon. It’s marked by a Cabinet that, so far, looks – at least from a pedestrian perspective – like a way to settle debts and curry favors. While it is true that the President has done a lot for the country thus far, there are many other things that could have been done differently, and things that need to be done.
It’s not about making popular decisions like what a movie actor who became President tried to do. It’s not about making unpopular decisions like what an economist who became President tried to justify. It’s about the President making a decision, period: the calculating, prudent, wise decisions that at best need consultation, not endless delegation to a system of bosses and secretaries. It comes with backbone: that his office is the manifestation of the will of the people and, guided with prudence and wisdom more than fear and favor, he should lead, not delegate.
If it stands for justice it must be just: it should be decisive on land reform issues hounding it. A com si com sa stand doesn’t cut it. If it stands for the law then it should be fair: that if heads will roll for a bungled crisis then the President should prudently do so, without having to make a grand apologetic gesture. If it stands against corruption, then the corrupt should be herded up and thrown to jail, than left to the halls of government offices enjoying a reversal of roles.
Coming along for the ride on Daang Matuwid means that the people, in that grand and sweeping promise, didn’t expect the sharp curves, the blindfolded journey, the bumpy suggestions on the clock tower of borrowed time. For President Aquino, I think it’s not the ready submission to the will of the people or the submissiveness to those more knowledgeable than him. It’s about realizing that his position is the best manifestation of the will of the people. With enough prudence and a sense of social justice, Aquino should start defining the situation enough to know that in so many cases, whether it’s today or his next 9 1/2 weeks, he can – and should be – the boss, the leader, the executor, and most of all, the President.
Until then, the state of his nation, at the first nine and a half weeks, is the blinding and polarizing black-and-white of supporters, critics, and neutral people alike: that if you’re not with us, you’re against us. Not will, but debt. Not a path but an option, not a direction but a mere suggestion.