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The New ‘Supremo’

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After one year in office, President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino has consolidated his grip on power with a series of maneuvers that placed his “shooting buddies,” classmates, and friends -- known as his “Kabarilan, Ka-klase, and Kaibigan” or KKK – in important positions in his administration.  With the KKK forming the base of his power, P-Noy now reigns supreme as the new “Supremo.”  The question is:  Is he going to rule with Solomonic wisdom or the cunning of Caligula?

*Cronyism

P-Noy demonstrated his propensity for appointing his cronies using “trust” as the key – and perhaps, the only -- criterion.  However, the appointment of his three “shooting buddies” – Rico E. Puno, Virginia Torres, and Ronald Llamas -- and his longtime friend Ernesto Diokno turned out to be bad choices considering the controversies they created.   

The recent appointment of Domingo Lee as Ambassador to China is another glaring disregard for meritocracy.  In my editorial, “Cronyism in the Aquino government” (Global Balita, June 5, 2011), I wrote: “Once again, President Benigno ‘P-Noy’ Aquino III appointed a family friend to an important – and sensitive -- government position notwithstanding allegations that his appointee, Domingo Lee, does not have the qualifications and experience required of the job as Ambassador to China.  And to think that China is the second most important ambassadorial post, next to the United States, it’s like Lee skydiving into the South China Sea from a height of 10,000 feet in the midst of a tropical storm… for the first time.”

Another instance of P-Noy’s tendency to appoint his friends and allies was manifested in his proposal to postpone the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which were scheduled to be held in August 2011.  While the notion of postponing the elections has many advantages -- foremost of which was the cost-saving synchronization of elections -- it has one controversial provision which would allow P-Noy to appoint interim Officers in Charge (OICs) to fill soon-to-be vacated positions until the 2013 mid-term elections.   While P-Noy may have the best interests of the people in mind, there are many who believe that the election postponement would only serve his political agenda.  Solomon or Caligula… or Machiavelli?

The ARMM election postponement bill overwhelmingly passed in the House of Representatives.  But it was dealt a severe blow in the Senate when Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., Chairman of the Senate Committee on Local Government, archived the bill, which effectively killed it. Then he caught everybody by surprise when he turned around and resurrected the bill for debate and floor vote.  Consequently, the bill passed by a razor-thin majority of 13-7 vote.  However, many wondered if P-Noy struck a deal with Bongbong linking the passage of the postponement bill to a favorable resolution of the Marcos burial issue.

*Marcos burial

Indeed, at about the same time that Bongbong raised the ARMM election postponement bill from the “grave,” Vice President Jejomar “Jojo” Binay’s recommendation on the Marcos burial issue leaked out to the media.  Binay recommended burying the remains of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos with “full military honors” in his home province of Ilocos Norte, not at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery) as originally requested by the Marcos family. Bongbong and his family accepted Binay’s recommendation. 

But that’s not the end of the story.  P-Noy surprised everybody when he announced that he’d weigh the reactions of various groups to Binay’s recommendation.  Huh?  What is the point when the Marcos family had already agreed to Binay’s recommendation? 

However, one can see through what P-Noy was really trying to do: He wants his imprimatur – or “ownership” -- on the “final solution” to the Marcos burial issue, whether it’s what Binay recommended or a modified version… or even accede to the Marcoses’ request to accord a hero’s burial of Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.  Solomon or Caligula?

But whichever way it’s going to be, P-Noy got what he had been aiming for: political power.  He used the “power of patronage” to the hilt by doubling the congressmen’s pork barrel allocations.  And he demonstrated that he could easily get 13 votes in the Senate to pass his controversial -- and unpopular – postponement bill, which many legal luminaries believe to be unconstitutional.  Even the feisty constitutionalists Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Miriam Defensor Santiago went along and voted for postponement!

*P-Noy and the bishops

But with all his political victories, the big battle looms ahead.  P-Noy’s stand in support of the passage of the Reproductive Health bill stirred up a hornet’s nest in the Catholic Church.  The influential bishops threatened him with excommunication. But he stood his ground. 

A few days ago, Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos was reported in the news as saying, “He is not interested to be the President. I can see that. He does not plan. He does not study. He does not have his own decision and just let his friends fulfill it.  He should just resign then.” But Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda immediately hit back describing Pueblos as “ignorant of the virtues of charity, humility and prudence.”  

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, the tiny minority group allied with ex-president and now congresswoman Gloria Macapagal Arroyo demanded that P-Noy’s KKK buddies face congressional investigation for anomalies involving them.

Unfazed, P-Noy let his allies and spokesmen parry all the attacks.  So far he had cunningly kept his adversaries at bay.  But how long could he sustain a strong defense against their incessant attacks?  Is P-Noy going to outwit them using Solomonic wisdom or Caligula’s cunningness?

*Solomon and the baby

The story goes that when two mothers brought a baby to King Solomon for him to judge who the real mother was, King Solomon declared that there is only one fair solution: cut the baby in half and each mother shall receive half of the baby.  The real mother cried, “My Lord, do not kill the baby.  Give it to her!”  The other woman said, “It shall be neither mine nor yours -- divide it!” Solomon then gave the baby to the real mother realizing that a true mother’s instincts were to protect the life of her baby. 

*Caligula and his horse

During the first two years of his reign, Emperor Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, better known as Caligula, was effective and politically capable of ruling.  He initiated the construction of two new aqueducts and annexed the Kingdom of Mauretania making it into a province of Rome.  He cunningly worked to increase the power of the emperor and return it to Julius Caesar’s autocratic rule.  His most famous – or infamous – act was his appointment of his favorite horse, Incitatus, as a Consul and Senator of Rome. 

*Solomon or Caligula?

Solomon became famous for his wisdom while Caligula became notorious for his cunning.  Is the new “Supremo” Benigno Aquino III going to rule with Solomonic wisdom or with the cunning of Caligula? 

Like the Pinoys would say, abangan…

 




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