COMMENT: Admission of Betrayal. By Patricio P. Diaz

Her “wish to heal the wounds of EDSA” as the reason for the “forgetting” is phony. What wounds? EDSA did not divide the country. President Arroyo did. “Forgetting” may be a way to evade “minus points” but this is easier desired than done.

Four Promises

“In all humility, I accept the privilege and responsibility to act as President of the Republic,” she opened her inaugural speech at EDSA on January 20, 2001. After some rhetorical flourish, she enunciated four “core beliefs” – the promises by which she could not avoid judgment.

1. We must be bold in our national ambitions, so that our challenge must be that within this decade we will win the fight against poverty.

After seven years, is there a clear sign that the fight against poverty will be won within “this decade”? The economy is growing but its benefits have not trickled down to the poor. The peso has strengthened against the U.S. dollar – P55 to a US dollar three years ago to P40 to $1 now; but the prices of prime and essential commodities have been going up.

To win the fight against poverty, the poor must have income enough to meet the cost of living and to have savings. What’s the reality? Unemployment is still high. The wage earners among the poor have wages half the cost of living.

One indicator of diminishing poverty is the narrowing of the rich-poor gap. The National Statistics Office said this is widening instead. The richest 10 percent (1.74 million families) amassed in 2006 36 percent of the total P3 trillion family income or P1.08 trillion. (INQUIRER.net, January 12).

Unfortunately, the report did not give the percentage-share of the poorest 10 percent. It only said that the survey indicated “a movement towards a widening income disparity among families”. Its statistics, however, showed that the other 90 percent or 15.66 million families have to share among themselves the remaining P1.92 trillion.

What does the NSO official survey also mean? The economy is developing in favor of the rich. The only hope to win the fight against poverty “within this decade” is to reverse the growth of the economy in favor of the poor in the next three years.

2. We must improve moral standards in government and society in order to provide a strong foundation for good governance.

A commentary on this promise will sound monotonous. Sen. Joker Arroyo, an administration ally, as cited by the Philippine Daily Inquirer in its January 21 editorial, “urged President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to make clean elections in 2010 the legacy of her ‘scandal-tainted reign in Malacañang’”. (Bold Italics supplied). The highlighted phrase says it all.

3. We must improve the character of our politics in order to create fertile ground for true reforms. Our politics of personality and patronage must give way to a new politics of party programs and process of dialogue with the people.

She has done the opposite. Under no other presidency has politics of personality and patronage thrived stronger and more perniciously than under her presidency. This is one of the causes of the political instability that she readily blames on the opposition and her critics.

4. Finally, I believe in leadership by example. We should promote solid traits as work ethic and a dignified lifestyle, matching action to rhetoric performing, rather than grandstanding.

From reports, unlike her predecessor, her work ethics is exemplary, her lifestyle is beyond question. However, if her rhetoric for the last seven years had been translated to action, the Philippines could have been a paradise. Grandstanding? She’s not the least among its avid practitioners.

Is shielding close allies from Senate investigations good leadership by example? Is using her powers to frustrate Senate investigations good leadership by example? Using her powers to obstruct the constitutional doctrine of check-and-balance is definitely not good leadership by example and negates her innate qualities of good leadership.

The Biggest of All

Her pardoning of Joseph Estrada was the biggest of all her betrayals. That made her a persona non grata to EDSA II. By that, she severed her ties with EDSA II and spat on the people who had entrusted to her its primary quest. She, not EDSA II, deserves the “forgetting”.

EDSA II was the continuation of the aborted impeachment trial of President Estrada. Clearly, the prosecution had a strong case; but just as clearly, Estrada’s allies in the Senate, a majority of one, were resolved to frustrate the course of justice. In ousting Estrada, EDSA II wanted him tried in the civil court for the same cases he had been impeached for.

After six years of trial, the Sandigabayan sentenced Estrada to life imprisonment. Even before the Court could promulgate its verdict, she expressed her desire to pardon Estrada; before the sentence had become final and executory, she made overtures for a presidential pardon. On the day Estrada was to start serving prison, he was free.

The primary quest of EDSA II was to stop graft and corruption and other grand immoralities in government by making an example of Estrada – that the highest official of the land, elected by a landslide, is not immune from these. In reversing the Sandiganbayan, President Arroyo did not only abuse her presidential powers but stamped her imprimatur to grand larceny in government.

What Wounds?

Who coined the phrase “wounds of EDSA”, referring to EDSA II? Definitely, this does not mean that EDSA was wounded but erroneously suggests that it wounded the country – dividing and destabilizing it.

President Arroyo could not be referring to such “wounds of EDSA” when, in her inaugural speech, she quoted “A time to heal, and a time to build” from “the Good Book”, dreading it as a formidable task. On the contrary, in praying “that we will all be one, one in our priorities, one in our values and commitments and one because of EDSA 2001”, EDSA was the unifier.

That really is what EDSA II was. It unified the decent Filipinos against an immoral, corrupt and abusive president. In that sense, the country was divided. But it was Estrada and his allies who divided the country and they were wounded when decent people made their stand at EDSA. It is wrong to call the “wounds” of Estrada and his allies the “wounds of EDSA”.

To restore confidence in government – a sort of healing – and to build on a ruined economy was indeed a formidable task. On top of that she had to make the fanatical followers of Estrada see the faults of their fallen idol and win their confidence in her government.

But her exhortation to be “one because of EDSA 2001” was empty rhetoric. Soon after taking the helm, politics of personality and patronage shattered EDSA II alliance. Hounded by allies turned critics, by Estrada fanatics and by the militants of the Right and Left, she was insecure in her chair. To no avail did she make amends with Estrada, who continued vilifying her.

In her desperation to unite the leaders of the country, the deeper and wider she divided them.

The Wounds!

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita’s statement to the Philippine Daily Inquirer pictured EDSA II as a villain – “that fateful day” the “memories” of which “should be tossed into the dustbin of history”.

The most revealing part of the PDI story reads:

“‘Remember, one legacy agenda [of the President] is healing the wounds of Edsa,’ Ermita told the Inquirer. ‘And we thought not celebrating [it] will be one of the steps toward healing any hurt feelings brought about by Edsa II.’

“Ermita pointed out that the principal character, ousted President and pardoned plunderer Joseph Estrada, had been given his freedom.

“‘So the least we talk about it, the better, okay?’ the executive secretary said.”

EDSA II hurt the feelings of Estrada. That’s “the wounds of EDSA”. Healing the “wounds” – the “hurt feelings” of Estrada – is “one legacy agenda” of President Arroyo. The pardon she gave Estrada was part of that “legacy agenda”.

Atonement

Ermita’s statement said the long unsaid: The fault of EDSA II was its ousting of Estrada from the presidency. President Arroyo’s fault was her having Estrada indicted for plunder. These faults so wronged Estrada, fracturing and destabilizing the country.

To atone for the grievous faults and heal the wounds, she pardoned Estrada. To complete the atonement, forget EDSA II. To continue celebrating it is to keep remembering the corruption, immorality and misgovernment of Estrada. That will reopen, not heal, the “wounds of EDSA”.

To continue celebrating EDSA II is to recall President Arroyo’s betrayal of the quest EDSA II had entrusted to her. How could she lead in celebrating a historical event that she has renounced and desecrated? “So,” as Ermita said, “the least we talk about it, the better, okay?”

Arroyo betrayed EDSA II and ordered it erased from history to atone the people’s grievous wrong against Estrada. What an irony! That’s all there is in the “forgetting”. Will that banish the betrayal? Is that good leadership by example? ("Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a "Lifetime Achievement Award" for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You can reach him at [email protected])

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