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P-Noy’s Troika

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After almost a year of dismal performance, President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III is going to try a “troika” in governing a seemingly ungovernable bureaucracy fraught with incompetent and corrupt officials.  P-Noy recently announced that his former vice presidential running mate, Manuel “Mar” Roxas II -- who lost to Jejomar “Jojo” Binay in the May 10, 2010 elections -- will be appointed Presidential Chief of Staff (PCOS) soon.  With Pacquito “Jojo” Ochoa Jr. working as Executive Secretary (ES) – or “Little President” – it would really be interesting how the troika would work out.

History tells us that a troika (a Russian carriage drawn by a team of three horses abreast) has been tried as a ruling body. It’s a political alliance formed, based on common interests, for the purpose of controlling government... and, indirectly, the people.  

If one head is not good enough and two is better, can it then be said that three must be best?  Let’s find out.

*Roman triumvirates

The “rule by three” – or triumvirate -- was tried in the early days of the Roman Republic.  In 60 B.C., Julius Caesar formed the First Triumvirate with Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (also known as Pompey) and Marcus Licinius Crassus.  Their collective leadership ended when Crassus died in 53 B.C. and Caesar and Pompey turned against each other.  In 48 B.C. Caesar defeated Pompey in battle.  Pompey fled to Egypt where he was killed.  Caesar was then appointed as Dictator of Rome. 

The Second Triumvirate emerged in the aftermath of Caesar’s assassination in 44 B.C.  Unlike the unofficial First Triumvirate, the Second Triumvirate was officially established with Mark Antony, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, and Octavius as triumvirs.  The Second Triumvirate lasted for 10 years, then Mark Antony and Octavius fought each other in a bloody civil war.  Antony lost and fled to Egypt where he took his own life.  Octavius was later crowned as Augustus Caesar, Rome’s first emperor.

*Russian troikas

When Vladimir Lenin -- who established the Soviet Union after Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 – suffered a stroke in 1922, a troika was formed consisting of Joseph Stalin, Lev Kamenev, and Grigory Zinoview to rule in his place.   The troika fell apart in 1925. Stalin took over and ruled as a dictator until his death in 1953.

The second Russian troika was established in March 1953 after Stalin’s death under the collective leadership of Georgy Malenkov, Vyacheslav Molotov, and Lavrenti Beria.  It was believed that Beria poisoned Stalin.  It lasted only three months when Malenkov and Molotov had Beria arrested for treason.  Beria was executed in December 1953.

The third Russian troika was established in 1964 with Leonid Brezhnev as First Secretary, Alexei Kosygin as Premier, and Anastas Mikoyan as Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR.  Nikolai Podgorny replaced Mikoyan when the latter retired in 1965. Gradually Brezhnev consolidated his power.  In 1977, Brezhnev dissolved the troika and became chairman of the Presidium.

*Cory’s troika

When Corazon “Cory” Aquino was catapulted to the presidency in the aftermath of the People Power Revolution of 1986, she relied on the loyal allies of her assassinated husband, the late Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, to help her run the government.  Inexperienced in politics and governance, and hounded by Marcos loyalists and military putschists, Cory threaded on dangerous grounds in the early years of her tumultuous administration.  She appointed human rights lawyers Joker Arroyo and Rene Sagisag as Executive Secretary and Presidential Spokesman, respectively; and Teodoro Locsin Jr. as Press Secretary and speechwriter.  The three of them formed the troika around Cory.  However, the troika was short-lived when they split and ran for political office.

*P-Noy’s troika

Cory’s only son, Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III, was swept to the presidency on the crest of a people’s movement that decried the massive corruption in the government of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.  Like his mother, P-Noy didn’t have experience in governance.  Although he served as a congressman and senator for a total of 10 years, running a government was a totally different ballgame, which he was not prepared for.

During the first 10 months of his presidency, P-Noy didn’t demonstrate the decisiveness that’s requisite of the job.  He was hesitant to fire erring officials, some of who were his “shooting buddies,” and committed some diplomatic no-no’s that made him look foolish in the international community.  In particular, his China policy seems to change every time the political weather vane changes direction.  

It did not then come as a surprise when he announced the appointment of Roxas to a Cabinet position on June 30, 2011 after the one-year ban on appointing defeated candidates expires.  This has been expected all along.  But what came as a big surprise was the position he will be appointed to -- Presidential Chief of Staff, which doesn’t exist in the government’s executive branch today.   

With Roxas joining P-Noy’s troika, it became apparent that what he’s putting together is similar to her mother’s troika, 25 years ago.  With Executive Secretary Ochoa and Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda already in place, Roxas would complete the troika around P-Noy. 

It could be a powerful troika if P-Noy could keep their loyalty.  If he loses their loyalty and they fail to act in P-Noy’s best interest, the troika could self-destruct just like what happened to the Romans and the Russians, not to mention the early dissolution of Cory’s troika.

*“Divided house”

It is common knowledge that there is infighting among P-Noy’s top appointees.  In my article, “Aquino’s Binuclear Presidency” (Global Balita, October 13, 2010), I wrote: “The infighting started right after P-Noy’s landslide victory. Members from the different factions started jockeying for positions. P-Noy tried to please all and ended up with a binuclear presidency with the two dominant factions — Samar and Balay – splitting the cabinet posts and other important positions among their members.”

With Roxas’ forthcoming appointment as PCOS, one wonders how much work – or “power” – would he take away from Ochoa? One can surmise that Ochoa is already doing the work of the yet-to-be-created PCOS, after all the Executive Secretary is also known as the “Little President,” the ultimate alter ego of the President.  The question is: Can Ochoa and Roxas work together?  And if so, how long?

With Ochoa leading the Samar faction that supported Binay against Roxas, who was supported by the Balay faction, during the 2010 elections, the coexistence of the two factions could become untenable as the 2016 presidential election gets closer.  And with Binay and Roxas expected to run for president in 2016, it’s going to get nasty. 

Indeed, Joker Arroyo, who is now a senator, criticized P-Noy’s decision to appoint Roxas saying that the move would only cause “confusion and pandemonium” in Malacañang and create a situation where the offices of the Executive Secretary and the Presidential Chief of Staff will be fighting, which would  lead to a power struggle.

At the end of the day, P-Noy’s troika could transform into a three-headed Hydra that could do more harm than good in governing a nation beset by runaway corruption and worsening poverty situation.

By Perry Diaz




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