Why a presidential resignation won’t matter

Tony D. Igcalinos
There is only one way a perceived good leader can succeed in a bad system, situation, or institution: he must reform it first, if not transform it

Even before news of the carnage in Mamasapano hogged the headlines last week, several calls for the President to resign had already begun in earnest.

Recalling a few years back the botched Luneta hostage rescue, we remember it precipitated angry calls demanding that President Aquino quit office for failing to avert the crisis that cost the lives of several Hong Kong tourists.

That unfortunate event would later strain for a time the relations between Hong Kong and Manila. But going further back Luneta, calls for the President‘s resignation were already regular column fodders. In fact, even before Aquino could clock in a hundred days in office, some quarters had already demanded his resignation.

But why such a national “penchant”?

Many argue that our president exercises more powers, or that he is more powerful, than US president Barack Obama, as the former virtually controls the entire bureaucracy and has a vast influence that extends to Congress and the Supreme Court.

In comparison, we know how Obama was power-checked, others say check-mated, by the Republican-dominated and largely uncooperative Lower House, when majority of its members refused to fund the federal budget which resulted in a government shutdown in late 2013. The US Lower House, in effect, not only held hostage federal funding but more glaringly handed Obama an in-your-face “we are as powerful as you are, dude” statement.

To better appreciate the vast powers and influence of our president, we refer to the impeachment of former chief justice Renato Corona as its almost perfect manifestation. I say almost, because public outrage, the political interests of senator-judges (vis-à-vis the upcoming midterm elections at that time), and Corona’s own undoing via his “unguarded” testimony, among others, were in play.

The not-so-secret presidential push and inspiration, aside from “clear instructions” to allies in both houses of Congress, added up to the pressure for expedited proceedings.

Yet the vast powers of the president are held together by a delicate mantle of public trust, the maintenance or erosion of which can be as fickle as the weather gets, if we go by the latest round of trust survey ratings.

Regardless of the changing public mood, however, one thing remains constant: that the power enjoyed by the incumbent is contingent on the trust the public continually bestows on the office and its occupant, but really more so on the latter. This is, at least, in theory. And this is where the problem lies.

RESIGN. Filipino students hold placards calling for the resignation of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III after he delivers his second televised address on February 6, 2015.

We reckon that the election of Benigno Aquino III in 2010, while phenomenal on so many levels, has not much to do with his vision for the Philippines or how his program of action could register growth beyond his term. Rather, it has more to do with sentiments of people betrayed and shortchanged by his predecessor – a people desperate in their search for a leader who personified the complete opposite of the one they were about to replace.

In sum, the people placed their trust on the one man they believe would, could, and should cure the inherited ills from the Arroyo administration. This is hardly surprising at all under our patronage-driven and personality-based politics. Thus began the reign of Aquino as superman and president.

We cannot avoid discussing presidential resignation by not examining the failures of our political institutions, as well as open the conversation on the numerous attempts by various sectors to strengthen them. The institutional failures provide perfect havens to patronage and corruption, and until we do something fundamentally difficult to destroy these lairs, we will spend the rest of our productive lives digging deeper holes than plugging the leak, so to speak.

But to say that we preserve the status quo in the absence of a leader who is of the same mold as President Aquino is utterly irresponsible, if not downright stupid, and tantamount to insulting the millions, okay the thousands, among us who are better qualified to run the affairs of State.

Our aversion and resistance to presidential resignation is not without basis. For one, our unsteady political institutions still remain prone to subjugation by power wielders who come and go every 6 years or so, and whose combined tenures, so far, have only served to undermine rather than strengthen these supposedly impersonal democratic and therefore accessible institutions.

Understandably, there are many among us whose aversion is influenced by the character of the beneficial successor. (Being an institutionalist, this is the least of my fears.) What feeds more aversion is the uncertainty of the readiness of our institutions – unsteady many of them are – to once again be subjected to another round of changes before they could find traction as they undergo rehabilitation after a long period of “maltreatment” by previous administrations.

To be fair to the second Aquino administration, efforts were undertaken to flesh out results of its strategy, Daang Matuwid. It may be devoid of vision, but Daang Matuwid rallies people around one common cause and that is reforming public institutions. Whether these efforts have degraded patronage and minimized corruption is a different story altogether.

‘To say that we preserve the status quo in the absence of a leader who is of the same mold as President Aquino is utterly irresponsible’

When Pope Francis came to visit the Philippines, Facebook was flooded with posters bearing the “Pope Francis for President” slogan, maybe simply for being such an inspiring and unifying figure to a divided people.

Well, I have a bad news for them: even if Pope Francis succeeded President Aquino by some anomaly, chances are he will also fail just the same under our system as it stands, right as you read this. There is only one way a perceived good leader can succeed in a bad system, situation, or institution: he must reform it first, if not transform it.

So while no one holds the exclusive franchise to good governance, is there someone who can or would guarantee its continuity? That was a trap question actually.

Let me rephrase that by asking rather objectively, impersonally: Can our institutions afford to absorb, adjust, and manage (with relative ease?) the constant shifting of directions and priorities from one administration to the next in such a short period without losing focus on the core deliverables?

I hope each of us can muster our own answers and find our priorities of engagement. I have found mine in the last five words in the preceding paragraph that I believe can last me well beyond 2016. – Rappler.com

Tony D. Igcalinos is an independent program development and management professional. He is engaged in political and education reform advocacies on the side. He is originally from Bukidnon. 


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