On sending to jail former presidents
By Jess Dureza
I HAD an animated talk with a friend who felt concerned that at the end of his term, President Noynoy would be facing the same fate as former President Gloria.
If you ask me, accountability considerations notwithstanding, former presidents who had served the country deserve something better than being immediately dragged to prison as soon as they stepped down from office.
I don’t want this to happen also to P- Noy. Honestly. Or to any other former president for that matter. This is not to say that former presidents should be immune from accountability.
No way should we encourage impunity. But the fact of being president alone is already a penalty in itself, for an incumbent who has to give up the comforts of private life and privacy; to deny himself the luxury of being with family and loved ones and having to carry endlessly while in office the heavy burden of the affairs of the state. This is not to mention the unending calvary and crucifixion of being responsible for almost everything that happens, whether well deserved or not, while in office.
I will even venture now to recommend for President Noynoy to start scouting around, this early, for some safe haven abroad to get a much needed break and vacation — and as a necessary consequence, be temporarily beyond the reach of the law when the end of his term comes.
Let those cases be filed against him, if any, but allow the political temperature to settle down so accountability issues are better addressed when the smoke clears.
The aura of vindictiveness and political posturing will give way to an honest to goodness search for accountability if such space is allowed. Unfortunately for PGMA, she did not get that space or reprieve that she also deserved.
She was made a convenient and hapless “poster girl” of someone’s public roadshow against corruption. She was even stopped at the airport on her way to get treatment abroad even while the courts cleared the way for her departure.
It was tragic because she was intentionally denied the courtesy, nay the right, by no less than Malacanang itself. Tragically and ironically President Noynoy’s own father, Ninoy Aquino had the privilege of getting such space and reprieve when he was allowed to leave the country after being convicted by the military court by a repressive regime under martial law just to get medical treatment in the US.
Let me put this straight at the outset. For being my “boss” for all nine years of her administration, I am naturally and obviously sympathetic of former President Gloria.
So, take it in this light as I express sadness for what is happening to her — not so much to elicit sympathies from the public as her case will be duly judged by the court and will be based on the facts and evidence and not by any outpouring of sympathies or expressions of support — but just to share some sadness and misgivings on what has befallen of her after nine years of giving her all. I have seen up close somehow how she gave her all.
Truth to tell, before 2001 when she assumed as president to replace resigned former President Erap Estrada and before she appointed me as head of the Mindanao Economic Development Council (MEDCO), I barely knew her in person.
Yes, she was vice president but I had no occasion whatsoever of meeting her personally. I first met in person her husband Mike Arroyo, then my batch-mate at the UP LAW CENTER reviewing for the 1973 bar exams in Manila.
I remember we “probinsyanos” merely watched from the sidelines the big-time guys up in the front rows , and Mike Arroyo was one of them . We were taking our positions inside the PICC convention hall to take our lawyers oath when someone said: “Si Gloria Macapagal, si Gloria.”
We jostled to get a good peek at a diminutive lady with a towering escort. When I served as Davao congressman during those turbulent, post-martial period with President Cory in Malacanang when military coups were a dime by the dozen, she was a bureaucrat at the Department of Industry.
Fast forward to early 2001. I just happened to be in Manila bumming around when my friend, Davaoeno Paul Dominguez (we both had served former President Ramos taking care of Mindanao for the palace) when I was “recruited” to help in the fast developing events of Edsa 2.
When President Erap Estrada took that historic final boat ride across Pasig river leaving Malacanang, I was holed up at the temporary command post in a hotel in Ortigas where Vice President Gloria and her close-in group mulled her next moves. I was not part of that “in group.”
I just happened to be there courtesy of Paul, although I somehow helped craft some statements and brief messages that speakers in the EDSA SHRINE (like General Rene de Villa) had to dish out from time to time to whip up the already frenzied crowd bent on shooing away the Palace occupant.
When President Gloria started looking around to fill in the Mindanao-based MEDCO office, she barely knew me. It was Paul who was her mainstay for everything about Mindanao and I happened to be around with my brief credentials as FVR’s pointman for Mindanao for 8 months towards his final months in office.
She shook my hand and appointed me MEDCO chair with a rank of undersecretary and concurrent new chair of the government panel negotiating with the MILF. At that time, the peace negotiations were in tatters.
Mindanao was still smarting from President Erap’s massive military offensive and the almost 1 million displaced Mindanaoans were still in evacuation centers.
Clearly drawing from her DSWD days, President Gloria rolled up her sleeves and got everyone focused on relief, rehabilitation and eventual return of the evacuees to their homes. And she knew this could not be possible unless the peace process be put back on track again.
Barely 3 months after she assumed office, our team was already in Tripoli, Libya signing with the MILF the historic Agreement of Peace which served as a framework agreement for the peace engagements for the next 9 years of her stay in Malacanang.
For all of her 9 years in office, I was there in Malacanang in various capacities. She was a workaholic and even if she would deny this, she would tend to micro-manage things.
She was impatient for results and demanded a high rigor of excellence and performance from everyone. Woe on anyone coming to a meeting unprepared or shooting from the hip. She was dreaded for verifying on the spot any claim or any information so don’t ever pull her leg lest you get a public dressing down.
Her cellphone number dating back to her cabinet days at DTI and DSWD was “numero ng bayan” that anyone could text her so there was no such thing as “cordon sanitaire” that high officials usually get sucked in.
The problem there however was that she was getting unprocessed info that presidents ought to avoid getting. But that’s how it was with her.
She was usually a stern, past master that required those working with her the highest standards of performance. She had both extremes, quick to shrill laughter and equally quick to extreme temper.
One time, she admitted during a cabinet meeting that she was so “formal and official” to all of us and so she suggested an informal outing for “bonding.”
Of course she got hemmed in by the lady members of the cabinet. Leisure to her was scuba diving but not too many of us were into it. So a few also had to be contented with standing by at some boat waiting for her to surface.
Over so many official foreign trips that I joined, I could not recall “ fun time” with her. It’s not that I am now complaining but her schedules were so hectic that I could not even get to go to a pharmacy store to get some analgesics during one trip in New York.
The only time I had my own private time was when I got hospitalized in New York due to some bad pizza I ate after missing lunch during her attendance at the United Nations.
Her stern personal facade gave her obviously the “mataray” image but she wanted nothing about rehabilitating it. I recall once when an ABS CBN broadcaster proposed that to help “ soften up” the public’s perception of her, that a Christmas episode portraying her as a doting mother to her children and grandchildren ( which she really was) be done. Unfortunately, she thumbed down the project by merely saying: “My private life is privately mine alone.” End of discussion.
Her critics of course have a mouthful about her. But let that be. And let the Sandiganbayan and the courts finally make their determination on her accountability to the nation. But in the meantime, I cannot but feel sad that this is happening to her. I do not wish this same thing happening to President Noynoy or to any former president for that matter.