• Jo Chanco

No trapos, please


Politicians audaciously announcing their candidacies; printing presses stacking up orders for campaign materials; infrastructure projects suddenly going full-swing; and political alliances drawing lines ever more sharply—it’s still a year away, but the signs, visible everywhere, are sending one unmistakable message: election day draws nearer. About this, however, the electorate may as well say, “So what?”. A general disinterest seems to be unraveling from jaded voters. The public, it seems, have grown weary and dizzy amid a series of scandals that tell tales about government-perpetrated acts of plunder, economic sabotage, treason, deception, injustice, and across-the-board anarchy.

The people have become indifferent to the politics, and perhaps justifiably considering none of the major concerns after several presidential elections in the past were ever truly addressed. It also doesn’t help how past elections were also conducted so chaotically and so vaguely that they may as well be deemed fraudulent, if not huge failures. Many even think the last presidential elections in 2010 was rigged, casting serious doubt that this next one wouldn’t be another Smartmatic-conducted farce. Even if the need for a new leadership is pressing, any moral citizen would understandably refrain from lending additional credence to a sham that’s purposed to make corrupt and treasonous individuals remain in power. And the victors emerging from such untenable consensus can even be rightfully suspected of playing a major part, or even being the prime instigator of an extensive deceit.

A straight path that was crooked from the start

That Noynoy Aquino won the presidency in the dubiously engineered yet largely unquestioned elections of 2010 is a biting irony that has come to bare the hypocrisy of his administration in plain sight. His immediate impulse as president elect was to assail his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. It appears, after all that has transpired in five years, his administration has the same faults. He kept on charging at Arroyo for allowing corruption to go rampant and for defrauding the public with a rigged elections. Meanwhile, he fed everybody this cock and bull story about “Tuwid na Daan”, his so-called straight path to good governance.

Noynoy Aquino’s presidency unraveled more like a bewildering puzzle—from the get-go up to the endorsement of his successor—instead of being a solution to the societal ills he vociferously condemned. He basically spent the most part of his term being a paradox to a people whom he promised truth, transparency, equality and justice. After years under Aquino, there’s simply no denying how the Filipino people still wallow in the grip of deception, confusion, inequality and injustice as before. A lot of critics claim the situation today is even worse than before.

Nicknamed “P-Noy” (for President Noynoy), perhaps to somewhat suggest that he is for the Pinoys, Aquino encountered a conundrum which he ignored to his own undoing. He promised the country that he would rid our society of corrupt traditional politicians (trapos for short), along with their evil practices. The problem is, he himself is one. P-Noy is a true blue trapo, yet he trickily made people believe that he epitomizes the new breed of leadership that Filipinos need in order to progress. And there are few faster ways for a politician to lose popularity than to be caught lying to the public.

Approaching the end of his term, it’s almost delusional how P-Noy flatters himself in urging Filipinos to vote for whoever he would endorse "for the sake of the continuance of his 'Tuwid na Daan' programs". For while he does this, a public that's already feeling so deceived by him looks back, in agony and confusion, thinking, if that’s a straight path, then it’s the most crooked straight path we’ve ever seen.

As revealed in the scandals about the hypocritical PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) and the unconstitutional DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program), the kleptocracy that has been going on during Noynoy Aquino's watch is so rampant and across-the-board. Aquino’s righteous resolve quickly turned into baffling inaction when these scandals exploded in his face. And most of the questions fired at him by an enraged public were unsatisfactorily answered. Did P-Noy know Janet Lim from before? And if so, how well? These are simple questions, yet it’s like tough luck to get straight answers to these. Aggravating things is the Palace's mysterious and special treatment of Lim—from the terms of her arrest, investigation and imprisonment, all the way up to what seemed like blundered cover-ups and whitewash activity that was going on behind the scenes.

The cat was out of the bag. Dastardly notions arose amidst speculation. And a very vivid foot-in-mouth embarrassment encompassed the government. But in the face of all these, P-Noy’s “straight path governance” resolve was to betray the Filipino people—by keeping silent where answers were badly needed, issuing deceptive statements where there was already much confusion, and covert arrangements only purposed for damage control.

Only four individuals were apprehended out of scores of names tagged by witnesses to be involved in “the Pork Barrel scam”. The dozens of other bureaucrats implicated in the DAP controversy are untouched, still walking free and seemingly insulated from scandal and prosecution. Here, people saw clearly how Aquino’s “wang-wang” rhetoric, which painted him to be just and impartial, went parenthetically out the window. This is where Aquino’s so-called good governance falls like a house of cards, his “straight path” but a concocted fable meant to mask the adverse reality.

The fact, however, that highly questionable lump sum disbursements continue to this day (as huge releases of funds for linear expenditure, in another alias), despite public outrage and contrary to the rulings of the Supreme Court—spells it out quite openly. P-Noy is his own boss, as opposed to what he claimed during his Day 1 speech that the Filipino are. He is, therefore, undeniably a trapo. For we ought to know by now, that if there is one consistent thing about trapos, it’s their compulsion to lie.

A tradition of pulling the public's leg

Under a supposed good government that’s vehemently declared itself as anti-corruption, it’s just odd how the Pork Barrel scandal was exposed by way of Benhur Luy, an abused and maltreated participant of the scam who decided to blow the whistle after he had felt there was already a threat to his life. It only means all the government agencies under Aquino’s “straight path governance” were either clueless of such a grand scam defrauding taxpayers, or were conditioned to simply tolerate it. Not the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation); not anyone from the Senate or Congress; not the COA (Commission On Audit); not any of the AMLA (Anti-Money Laundering Act)-compliant banks; not the Ombudsman; not the BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue) with all its power to do lifestle checks; not the DBM (Department of Budget and Management); not the Department of Justice (DOJ); and not any magistrate from the Supreme Court—not one, as in none of these anti-crime and anti-corruption institutions, raised any concern about the PDAF scam, nor the possibility of loopholes in the law which could be abused by crooked members of congress. It took a news feature by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, in the form of a six-part exposé on the reasons behind Benhur Luy's illegal detention by Janet Lim, for the monumental Pork Barrel scam to be discovered. Why?

Why was P-Noy, the supposed champion of good governance, unaware of such a huge and conspicuous racket happening in congress? Strange as this already seems, many more inexplicable things followed.

Right after the Pork Barrel scandal had broken out, P-Noy didn’t seem to know where to stand. First, he expressed that nothing was wrong and therefore there was no scam, but immediately the day after that, he started to condemn it and promised the people justice. But then six months later after he had condemned it, he was surprisingly riding on a plea to the Supreme Court to allow the release of funds which, at the height of the controversy, were effectively placed under a TRO (Temporary Restraining Order) pending oral arguments on filed petitions in relation to lump sum disbursements in general. A band of flop-sweating and fidgety Presidential spokespersons by his side couldn’t hide the flaky, nonsensical and vascillating resolve which has become a signature of the Aquino administration.

President Aquino isn't called "B.S." by his critics for nothing. He often contradicts himself, puts his foot in his mouth, and explains by stating things that further stray from what makes sense. And people see that. But even if this habit imperils his credibility, many believe he won’t change it, not even for the sake of the Filipino people who are his supposed boss.

Aquino often makes it appear that he is honest and sincere, using earnestness in his voice and clever words, but he never really tells it as it is. He’s deliver encouraging SONAs (State-Of the-Nation-Addresses), without even mentioning the FOI (Freedom of Information) Act which our nation so desperately needs in combatting corruption and correcting government ills. He boasts about a moral government, without putting a stop to the corruption-prone lump sum disbursement schemes or ensuring that all who are involved in such scams are prosecuted and punished, and not only opposition party members. In doing all these, he is only attempting to be a better liar than his predecessors.

True to this form of ambiguity, he has feigned a glorious performance and a great economy in spite of the worsening poverty situation and the outright occupation of our shoals by China. He praises and congratulates his cabinet for supposedly jobs well done, when the citizens of Tacloban are still reeling from disaster, waiting for relief goods, welfare services and rehabilitation work two years after Yolanda. It is the undying adherence to this style of governance that confirm P-Noy is indeed a traditional politician and perhaps always will be.

Unfortunate as it already is for Filipinos, P-Noy will likely complete the remainder of his term, not in the new and “straight path" of governance he had promised, but still in the old "crooked" ways, the ways deliberately designed to deceive, subdue, and exploit the entire nation, the ways used back in the days…when Filipinos were thought to be mostly dumb and illiterate savages called indios. Traditional politicians like him are obsessed with these obsolete ways of governance. But as trapos remain stubborn in this mindset, it will be them who will be regarded eventually as dumb and illiterate. This is because of the fact that the Filipinos of today are rapidly changing, and are no longer like the people they were 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago. And trapos refuse to recognise or accept this fact.

Just Another Trapo After All

Why does P-Noy seem to find it ever more daunting to exercise even just the slightest control over the public mind? Despite a glorious start, popular and all, with even a dominant coalition of bureaucrats forming behind him in his first year as the nation’s leader, P-Noy seems lost, disconnected, and too darn entitled at the twilight of his term. It could be because he is already obsolete.

To a people that's becoming increasingly sophisticated in terms of lifestyles, and markedly more discerning with the information they digest, Aquino’s once-triumphant yellow army has been reduced, it seems, to a meaningless cliché, like his doggone "straight path”. In front of a hundred million Filipinos diversifying and being enhanced by technological advances at such a phenomenal rate, P-Noy seems to be diminishing in importance. Every solution he presents to deal with the nation's problems often comes too late and already way beside the point by the time of implementation, like a useless old clown whose jokes are not funny anymore.

He will no doubt be ultimately judged as a leader who couldn’t accomplish much, and was caught in many instances where he seemed speechless if not clueless about key issues, or one who frequently backtracked on his word at the drop of a hat, changing his stance to the complete opposite of his primary argument. He is already called a “lame duck” president because of his habitual inaction as the government’s official response to many emergencies, and because he always seems to tie-up tangible solutions to problems in a sting of stalemates. The calls for his resignation that are growing more audible every time, and the several serious to impeach him this year, attest to this gaping disconnect. Why and how has it come to this? It’s rather simple.

Being a trapo, P-Noy had a fairly common agenda: seduce the masses with false promises and under false pretenses in order to get the majority vote, and then forget these once elected to the leadership, in lieu of political and personal interests. Trapos pretend they are fulfilling the mandate of the majority, but really don’t. Needless to say, a deceptive leadership that only exploits and does not involve the majority in the determining the fate of the nation, and puts personal goals on top of the public’s, can't possibly be considered as something that's in line with good governance. That's plain bad leadership. And it's always going to be bad, if the common weal, the concerns and needs of the masses, are not on the topmost agenda.

Looking back, it was actually commonplace for trapos like Ferdinand Marcos and Gloria Arroyo to ignore the grunts and groans of the masses, not caring if this results in some unpopularity. There was more weight in the pursuit of more power, in the perpetuation of rule, and in the increase of measures that allow for their tyranny over the majority. They were the most unpopular and yet they are two of the longest staying presidents.

P-Noy, at present, obviously no longer has popularity in mind as he clings to a weird predisposition to endorse Mar Roxas’ candidacy for president in 2016. He wouldn’t concede to a non-trapo yet remarkably trending Grace Poe who is clearly embraced by the majority.

And—as hinted by a buzz early this year about charter change and the possibility of term extension—like all trapos, if P-Noy could stay in power longer, he would.

Anyone but a trapo

Perhaps our disappointments with P-Noy will find their most positive use in hindsight. Our sighs of frustration can have some future value if we charge it all to experience…provided we truly learn from these. P-Noy may not seem like the corrupt and avaricious plunderers his predecessors were, but he does look myopic and erring as a leader. And probably the most fatal of his mistakes is his choice to still govern as a traditional politician, when he had a very good opportunity not to be. He could have instead become a new, revolutionary, and engaging leader, as one meant for our time. On the other hand, our mistake as the citizens of this nation, is tied up with our failure to realize the fact that, in the past three decades, electing trapos has been the atrocious pitfall we've damned ourselves to relive.

Are we a nation of morons that we’d interpret the widespread fraud and corruption in government as normal things in a working democracy? Could we not tell if our leaders are competent and trustworthy or corrupt and consigned to hypocrisy?

We are a sovereign nation and yet clearly still a neo-colony of the United States of America. We claim a national territory and yet are letting China build military installations on our shoals, and are also disavowing our biggest island to Muslim autonomy. We assert that we are an agricultural country and yet we are the world’s biggest importer of rice. We are allegedly a nation against the tyranny of political dynasties and yet we are ruled by these families. We are supposed to renounce war as an instrument of policy and supposedly adhere to the policy of peace, and yet we can’t seem to achieve peace in Mindanao. We believe our Armed Forces are the protector of the people, and yet in the last two decades our military has targeted, killed, injured, tortured, abused and declared war against no other nationality but Filipinos. Our government is supposed to inculcate upon the youth patriotism and nationalism, and yet it maintains a labor export policy and even sets targets for OFW (Overseas Filipino Workers) remittances. We are supposed to maintain honesty and integrity in the public service, and take positive and effective measures against graft and corruption, and yet the government customarily pardons the corrupt, or hardly convicts them for their crimes, and even allows them to be re-elected again as presidents of this country.

Our democracy is malfunctioning to the point of failure. Our government is currently entangled in situations that seem to have come out of the Twilight Zone. Our economy is idiotically hinged on foreign investments, so we spend billions of pesos in promotional programs set to attract tourists and foreigners to come and bring their money in the Philippines. But in reality it is mostly the dollar remittances from OFWs that’s keeping our economy afloat. Our leaders go around the globe to sell the Philippines as a viable investment hub, only for the whole world to see how this country is where justice and human rights are but faint echoes in antiquated podiums, if not attachments to nauseatingly overused rhetoric devoid of sincerity and substance. International advocates of human rights and transparency, in particular, will only see that our nation’s government is not really there, or has become hopelessly negligent in its duties, indefinable in its role, and so disconnected from the heart of the Filipino masses.

Corrupt, traitorous leaders are to blame for this profound degeneration of our civilization. And we, the electorate, own the blame for electing the worst possible leaders, instead of the best, most honorable and deserving Filipinos. We allowed crooks, immoral people, and the selfish to be in precious public offices and national institutions where honor and integrity are pre-requisites, the very traits they are void of. In the guise of traditional politicians, the wretched have secured the ruling class, capitalizing on our gullibility and our lack of discernment. We let this happen again and again, to the detriment of our freedom, our happiness, our nation's future, and our children. And the question is: Are we going to let it happen again?

If you will vote in next year’s Presidential Elections, then, for goodness' sake, take this one chance for our dreams of good governance and true progress to finally come true. NO MORE TRAPOS! Perhaps by just emphasising the message that we cannot afford another trapo as president, we can already have a forceful enough catalyst to wrench ourselves out of the madness we refer to as the Philippine government. Not a single trapo was able to deliver genuine economic and political progress before, and not one can seem to do so today. So why not try the only thing that could overturn odds completely, so that our fears of yet another bad government are finally ended, and rendered humorous like the jokes who have been ruling these islands.?

It’s high time we dispel the illusion that tricks us into seeing the real enemies of this nation as its rightful leaders. Let us wrestle back the legitimacy and authenticity of our democracy from the hands of the self-serving and oppressive trapos--the scam artists and avaricious thieves and arrogant hypocrites who pretend to embody the very authority that purges the likes of them from our society.

Come on, all ye patriots. Don't just sit on the sidelines and say, "So what?", but rather make the big change. VOTE. BUT DON'T VOTE FOR TRAPOS.

*Published in print version (Voice of the South, Volume 12, No. 8)

#Opinion