In a shallow defence of the Liberal Party’s position, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino (photo), has come out and stated that his party and its political allies are in no way involved in plotting to remove Duterte from power, nor are they trying to undermine his administration. And the moon, presumably, is made of green cheese, also.
With so much evidence to the contrary, applying cheap political cosmetics like that not only doesn’t conceal the blemishes, it draws greater attention to them. Aquino’s assurances are as hollow as a sink hole – as hollow in fact as his denials of any responsibility, as commander-in-chief of the Philippine security forces, for the deaths of 44 Special Action Force troopers during a botched mission at Mamasapano in Mindanao on 25 January 2015.
In fact, he’s denied he was C-in-C of the SAF ranks – as far as he’s concerned, at the time he was their “chief executive”. Presumably meaning that the buck stops somewhere else.
Maybe that tragedy, which he’s been desperately trying to distance himself from since it happened, played a part in his categorical denial of any Liberal Party shenanigans where Duterte is concerned? After all, it was made apropos nothing more than a throwaway question from a member of the press as he was about to leave a memorial Mass for his father’s 85th birth anniversary. It wasn’t a serious probe; the occasion didn’t call for it. Yet he took the opportunity to responded in full.
For months, Aquino seemed to have been suffering from camera shyness, or acute laryngitis. He rarely made a public appearance; rarely spoke publicly. And when he did it was brief and tightly limited. Now suddenly he wants the headlines.
That reticence to appear publicly, however, ended a couple of weeks ago when he went to the Sandiganbayan appellate court in Quezon City, Metro Manila, to post bail for charges of graft and usurpation of authority in relation to his role in the Mamasapano Massacre – watered-down charges that will amount to little more in punitive terms than a slap on the wrist and a loss of face. His arraignment and his pre-trial are scheduled for 12 January next year.
Deflecting attention from those charges, however, might look attractive to him – and what better way to do that than to present himself and his party as politically responsible. To make the point that he’s been supportive of his successor; that the Liberal Party has no political axe to grind.
By changing the narrative, he takes the heat off his current predicament and bounces the ball back into Duterte’s side of the court. This allows him to remove the spotlight from himself and shine it on the present occupant of Malacañang.
In short, the message is that the country should be focused on Duterte’s ‘paranoia’ about the Libs being out to buckle his administration – not on some vague notion that Aquino may have played some imperceptible role in an operation that was hijacked by an insubordinate underling. Aquino lays the blame for the SAF tragedy on the force’s commander, Getulio Napeñas.
But let’s look more closely at his statement regarding the LP’s blamelessness in stirring-up trouble for Duterte. Here’s what he said: “With regard to destabilisation, we [the LP and its affiliates] are not planning anything like that”.
And he added this: “I would like to remind everyone that we already offered help to the current administration, but it turned this down. Instead what we received was insults … Frankly, what we left them is much better than what was left to us when we assumed office. It can be said that their job now is much easier because they have a lot of resources to solve the country’s problems”.
That’s quite a response to a question that could have been lightly parried with a simple “Of course not”. Had he been asked about his upcoming trial, the chances are he would have dealt with that with an economy of words.
So, let’s deal with the second part of that utterance first. Aquino’s claim that he bequeathed to Duterte a country in a much better state than the one he inherited – the statistical gains in economic growth during his term, aside – is delusional at best. And particularly where society is concerned.
Precious little was done to address the massive illegal-drugs problem that was sweeping the country and getting more and more out of control. The same goes for the tsunami of criminality that had turned massive tracts of the urban landscape into the dominion of thieves and rapists and violent men.
At the same time, the oligarchy remained inviolable; the poor remained poor, agriculture was in crisis, and the infrastructure deficit, to any meaningful measure, was barely reduced. The Aquino administration may have allowed the number-crunchers in the banks and brokerage houses to tick the appropriate boxes, but ground-side the country remained dishevelled and broken. That – and a few other unpleasant handovers like an Islamist threat in the south that had largely been denied; certainly minimised during the previous six years – is what Duterte inherited.
As for any genuine commitment to help and work alongside the Duterte administration is concerned, where’s the evidence of that? Duterte was being attacked even before the votes had been counted in the election that brought him to office. And once in power the campaign against him went into higher gear – either that or Aquino and his pals have a perverse notion of what it means to assist.
So, when his political protégé, Liberal Party chairman and the country’s vice president, Leni Robredo glories in her role as leader of the government opposition while a member of the government – a boast she likes to repeat – that’s the Liberal Party supporting the administration?
When Aquino’s former justice secretary, custody-serving, alleged drugs-felon, Liberal Party Senator Leila De Lima, along with close Liberal Party ally, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, calls for Duterte’s impeachment, that’s the Liberal Party & Co. working in a non-partisan way to bolster the elected government?
And when American millionaire socialite and Liberal Party fundraiser, Loida Nicolas-Lewis and her sister, Aquino-government appointee, Imelda Nicolas, were caught indulging in darkroom politics via a Yahoo group just one year ago, what was that?
Here’s what one of the message on that site said: “This plan is going even better than I expected. We, on our part outside the Philippines are doing our part in holding rallies everywhere”. The author of that was group-member, anti-Duterte human-rights lawyer and media columnist for the anti-Duterte Philippine Inquirer, Ted Laguatan.
He went on to urge his group colleague to bolster public opposition to Duterte by co-opting the student councils of the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila, De Le Salle University and other colleges to inject student power into the cause. None of that is what we’d exactly call ‘the spirit of non-partisan political cooperation’.
The plain fact is that ever since Duterte rode to victory on a massive wave of popular support in the May 2016 election, the Liberal Party has done whatever it can to denigrate him and weaken his administration. And for Aquino to suggest otherwise is an insult to the intelligence of every free-thinking Filipino.
Are they supposed to forget about anti-government demonstrations which Aquino Liberals took part in – not least appearances by Robredo; former Interior secretary and failed LP presidential candidate, Mar Roxas; LP president, Senator Francis Pangilinan; LP vice chairman and Senate Minority Leader, Franklin Drilon, and LP stalwart and Aquino cousin, Senator Bam Aquino?
Are they supposed to have a serial memory lapse of the countless times which these and others from the Liberal Party & Co. have poured scorn on Duterte and his administration? Let’s be honest, it’s hard to find occasions where the Liberal Party has even come close to throwing their support behind his policies – much less behind him.
What they have done, however, has been to stall as much progress as they can. They didn’t exactly snap into action to approve Duterte’s administrative appointments – from department heads to agency board members and other senior officials who would replace many of those appointed by Aquino. Neither did they roll up their sleeves and get down to pushing forward his reforms.
They didn’t really get behind Duterte during the government’s efforts to end the siege of Marawi City in Lanao del Sur, Mindanao, by Islamic State-affiliated terrorists either. They were more concerned in undoing Duterte’s implementation of martial law in the country’s southern region – and framing the president as a militarist dictator. Instead of standing one with the government, in an ugly display of the dark craft of self-serving politics, they used the tragedy of Marawi to try and steal political mileage.
Aquino and the Liberal Party seem to think that the people out there in electorate land have a serious short-term-memory deficiency. Or that they’re certifiably stupid. Well, they don’t and they’re not. They’re far more politically astute than the Liberal Party wants to believe. In fact, the Liberal Party – through the blustering doublespeak by the likes of Robredo, Pangilinan, Drilon and Liberal Party grandee, Congressman Edcel Lagman – has made itself politically repugnant to the vast majority for the very reason that it has been undermining Duterte.
And so asking them to believe that the ‘Party in Yellow’ has been showing good faith with the Duterte administration and displaying a genuine desire to support it, is about as plausible as Aquino explaining why he lost communication with his field commander, as hostile forces entrapped his troops at Mamasapano, by saying: “It is normal for anyone to turn off their phone when they go to sleep … any normal person would do [that] to get a good rest”.
Well, Aquino may have been slumbering then, but the people aren’t now. They’re wide awake and acutely aware of every political ploy the Liberal Party has been playing since they rejected the Liberal Party’s standard bearer, Mar Roxas, as the country’s leader just over 18 months ago.
Take Tindig Pilipinas, an umbrella organisation for anti-Duterte groups comprising largely Liberal Party members and supporters which was launched in September. Present at the launch at Club Filipino in San Juan, Manila, were Trillanes, Pangilinan and another Liberal Party political ally and Duterte detractor, Senator Risa Hontiveros, whose Left-progressive Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party has become a virtual rubber stamp of Liberal Party motions in the Senate.
Among Tindig Pilipinas’ initial signatories were Nicolas-Lewis; Laguatan; Aquino-appointed Tourism secretary, Alberto Lim; political activist, Etta Rosales, appointed by Aquino to head the Commission on Human Rights, 2010-2015; Aquino’s Solicitor-General, Florin T. Hilbay; Aquino’s Deputy Presidential Spokesperson, Abigail Valte; advertising-agency executive, Yoly V. Ong, who volunteered her services to Aquino’s 2010 election team; Alexander Padilla, appointed by Aquino as CEO and president of Philhealth while serving as head of Aquino’s peace-negotiating team in talks with the National Democratic Front. And Maria Diokno, appointed by Aquino in 2011 to head the National Historical Commission – a post from which she resigned last November over the Duterte-sanctioned burial of former president, Ferdinand E. Marcos, in the Hero’s Cemetery at Taguig, Metro Manila.
There are many more pro-Liberal, anti-Duterte men and women from the field of entertainment and media also on the list, but the above names should be enough to identify the political flavour of that movement.
Oddly, VP Robredo, who attended the Tindig Pilipinas’ anti-martial-law protest on 21 September, strongly denied having any affiliation to the movement. Here’s what she said.
“I am not part of Tindig Pilipinas. I was only invited along with those who are part of the fight against martial law before … I think it is better for groups like this to be organic and coming from ordinary citizens, without the meddling of politicians … The moment politicians take part in that, it’s as though their intentions are tainted in doubt, and the discussion detracts from the true issue … Politicians like us will only adversely affect movements like this, because our intentions will be in doubt”.
Leaving aside her evident confession of being a “meddling politician,” and further, that politicians’ intentions are “tainted” and “doubt”-provoking – and, of course, that she should not be confused with being an “ordinary citizen” – her muddled explanation actually leaves no one in any doubt as to why she was there.
Aquino and Robredo need to sack whoever’s writing the ‘excuse notes’ at Liberal Party head office over at the Araneta Center in Quezon City – the sprawling multiplex commercial development run by the Araneta Group for which Ma Araneta Roxas II’s mother, Judy Araneta-Roxas, is vice chairman.
On the other side of the coin, however, the current admin has regularly acknowledged the contributions the Aquino admin made to the economy. It also retained many members of its staff and a number of its policies – particularly its economic policies. Of course it’s retaliated against the slings and arrows coming from the Liberal Party propaganda machine, but it never went out of its way to trash the work of the Aquino government.
Less than two weeks after the Mamasapano Massacre, while much of the country was calling for Aquino to resign, Duterte – then the mayor of Davao City – said this: “We do not withdraw our loyalty to the government. I remain loyal to the government”.
Now, had the boot been on the other foot, we wonder how Aquino and the Liberal Party elite would have responded. We doubt they would have been that gracious.