BUDYONG: His Crowning Glory

MARIKINA CITY (MindaNews/07 December) — As he was growing up during his mother’s presidency in the mid-eighties, I saw Noynoy Aquino as a child of privilege. In that stage of his life, he did not manifest any interest in matters of State.

Yes, he got shot and was wounded in one of those insane coup attempts to oust his mom from the presidency. Other than that, there was no much that was said or heard of him in those parlous times.

I did not even see or hear much of him when years later he was elected to the House of Representatives, representing a district in Tarlac where his dad and mom held sway for most of their political lives.

Impressive homework

In 2007, he was elected to the Senate where he impressed me with the spadework that backed up his exhaustive interpolations on subjects that fascinated him.

Then, in 2010, by edict of fate, Noynoy, the greenhorn Senator, was elected president of the Republic.

Motherhood goals

I listened to his inaugural speech. It did not inspire. I expected a more substantial definition of, at least, the basic outlines of the programs he had vowed during the presidential campaign to alleviate the plight of the poor. Instead, he talked about motherhood goals of good governance and the good life for all.

My reaction was to say a short prayer that he would succeed in his presidency for the simple reason that his failure would not only be his, but ours, as a people.

Crushing corruption

As the months of his presidency flew by, two things related to his way of governance resonated in my mind. The first was his repeated avowals to crush corruption in government. And the second was what appears to be an ongoing presidential ban on his siblings, uncles, aunts, and, relatives from frequenting the presidential palace or being seen with him even in photo ops.

By prohibiting the members of his family and  his relatives from having easy access to him, the President probably intended to send a public message that no one should even think of using any member of his family or relatives (or friends), to secure shady deals from the government during his administration.

Today, the people seem to believe in his anti-corruption pitch and in the wisdom of his keeping his family and relatives as it were at bay.

Those are probably two reasons why his presidency has been receiving reasonably good poll survey ratings in the last 18 months of his incumbency.

But, of course, the President should be wary of poll surveys. They are as ephemeral as icing even on a presidential cake.

Lately, activist groups are pressing his administration to do something concrete to get the masses out of the mire poverty.

Cutting off the Albatross

Happily in the last several days, President Noynoy appears to have positively responded to those urgings. He did something that, I believe, will crown his presidency with glory, respectability and credibility. And that was his cutting off the Albatross of the Hacienda Luisita from his neck.

Hacienda Luisita has always been associated with the Cojuangco side of his family. And by inheritance, he has a share of it.

If he were a plain citizen, his having an interest in the hacienda would not cause anyone’s eyebrow to rise. The problem is that he is the President who under the Constitution is saddled with the duty to implement laws, including the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law.

And to implement that law means that the Hacienda Luisita has to be parceled out to its tenant-farmers. That was, in fact, how the Supreme Court had recently ruled on the question of whether or not the hacienda should be distributed to its farmer-tillers.

It is the same Supreme Court that the President lambasted on (December 5) for “picking a fight” with his office.

In that squabble, the President knows that as the elected leader of the nation, he needs the backing of the people.

But that support will be denied him unless he disposes off his and his family’s ties to the hacienda.

Otherwise, doubts will cripple initially his credibility and, ultimately, even his capability to advance the welfare of the masses.

Now he has taken the first step – albeit oral – to assure the farmer-tillers of the hacienda that they would get their due.

Still, there are a thousand and one things that need to be done to enable the President to fulfill that verbal promise. There’s the question of identifying who the authentic beneficiaries are and how the certificates of land ownership awards will be issued. Will one CLOA be given all farmer-tiller beneficiaries as a collectivity or will a separate CLOA be granted to every farmer-tiller beneficiary?

But the most compelling issue, however, has to do with the “just compensation” that the Constitution and the law require to be paid to the President and his family for the compulsory distribution of the Hacienda Luista lands to its farmer-tillers. In determining what comprises “just compensation”, many factors have to be considered.

It may be best, then, for the President and his family to leave the issue of distributing the hacienda lands completely in the hands of the officials mandated by law. Or another way out of the conundrum, probably, is for them to put their interests in what the law calls a “blind trust”, where the trustee would have full powers to dispose of those interests without any interference from the President or his family.

But if the matter is left to the government officials running the department of agrarian reform as suggested earlier, they should discharge their duties not only soonest but with absolute transparency and complete accountability.

Singular achievement

In any event, at this point of his presidency, President Noynoy has already done what no other president to my recollection ever did. He has publicly announced that he and his family will give up their personal interests in Hacienda Luisita for the sake of its landless tenants.

People’s support

By doing so, the President has begun to rise above his class origins and to serve the best interests of the lowliest among our people. And for that, he deserves our appreciation and support.

Once completed according to the spirit and letter of the law, his giving up of his and his family’s ownership of Hacienda Luisita in favor of its farmer-tillers will be the crowning glory of his presidency. (The author is now running the Center for Good Governance at the University of Makati)