Volume XVII NO.39 (July 19-25, 2014)

Being  ready  to make  apologies,  admit mistakes  or say  “I’m sorry” are   traits that show humility and  good character.  It also re-affirms human vulnerability and  remorse. In some instances,  it can be a badge of good faith. Or a false facade of uncontrite double speak.

For instance, a priest in Cebu  had to humbly apologize for giving a tongue lashing to an unwed teen-aged mother during the baptismal of her baby that went viral in the internet. Even the Redemptorist Order where he belonged  also profusely  apologized separately. I remember, with luscious fascination,   how  former  US President Clinton expressed  his own apologies  for the Monica Lewinsky  under-the-table-oral-sex  scandal  that violated  the hallowed chambers  of the White House.  Heads of states   usually apologize  for war crimes committed as acts of national atonement.     I just read about a contrite  erring official in Japan  who publicly wept and resigned for abusing taxpayers’ money.

ATENEO APOLOGY — Recently,   the  Jesuits of Ateneo de Manila had to issue a  clarification and a public apology   for having invited former First Lady Imelda Marcos,   one of the early big benefactors of an Ateneo scholarship program. The Jesuits were evidently trying to “save face”,  by expressing  belated guilty  feelings  of impropriety only after  their photos went viral. The Jesuit apology somehow eased the critics and some self-proclaimed “ do gooders” . But  by so doing,    the Ateneo hosts unduly   dishonored  their own invited “honored guest”.  Although clearly judgmental,   the apology was well taken.  That reminds me of another Jesuit. When he was asked to  make a judgmental statement  on  gay marriages, he merely said:    “Who are we to judge?” He happens to be His Holiness Pope Francis, an SJ.

PGMA’S “I AM  SORRY”  — I have an unforgettable story about another public apology.  I  was working then in Malacanang  when  former President Arroyo was facing a crisis situation due to the “hello Garci” tapes.  She was agonizing on  how to show she was sincerely contrite about the  phone call  that  admittedly  was a mistake and “inappropriate”. She was also evidently trying to save her government to keep it afloat and prevent a collapse.    In  one cabinet meeting I attended,   President Arroyo left the room   to allow her cabinet members   to discuss freely,  without her presence,  the implications of saying “ sorry”. The cabinet was heavily  split. There were those  who felt that the nation deserved a spontaneous and  contrite admission of improper conduct  from the president no less  who  was caught in a bugged telephone conversation with   Comelec Commissioner Garcillano asking   about her one million votes  lead in the polls. I remember  PGMA’s  favorite ladies  in the cabinet,  Secretaries Dinky Soliman (DSWD) and  Ging Deles (OPAPP)  argued that nothing less than  a contrite admission from the president herself would suffice to  show remorse and “heal the nation”.   However, there were others who strongly felt that  there was nothing illegal in the phone call although   conceding  that it was indeed    a serious lapse of good judgment. They further argued that    for the president herself to apologize and say “I’m sorry” would demean the presidency that  could trigger an irreversible slide of the people’s trust   and seriously undermine her government. Somehow, there were airing of opposing views but there was  no clear consensus. One early  morning, I woke up surprised on  seeing the  nation-wide telecast of  President Arroyo, with downcast eyes and   contrite demeanor  telling the whole nation in evidently rehearsed way:  “I AM  SORRY”. Some colleagues in the cabinet, in hushed tones, believed   that Secretaries   Dinky and Ging  seemed to have influenced greatly the president’s decision. Ironically, in the later days ahead,   when the going went rough for  the presidency as an aftermath of that presidential apology and other issues hounding  the Arroyo administration, the two ladies, joined by  Secretary Butch Abad and 7  others (  famously called the HYATT 10)     were the first ones to “jump ship” and abandon the president. They resigned irrevocably  en masse ostensibly as an expression of indignation and their public avowal of their seeming  collective   sense of propriety, although   with obvious expectations that the staged cabinet hemmorhage  would lead to the collapse of the Arroyo government. Of course, to their  “boss”  the President who entrusted to them their high positions of honor and confidence  and who took their advice to heart,  it was simply an act of betrayal. The rest, as I always say, is history.

ON  RESIGNATIONS   — Fast forward to the present. The recognized “brains” behind the DAP, Secretary Butch Abad  had  tendered his resignation which the President quickly rejected. I can understand why. A cabinet  resignation at a time of  crisis, however well-intentioned and honorable,   can greatly undermine a government. On the other hand,  quiet and well-timed resignations protect the presidency. I know whereof I speak as I had intentionally  timed and calibrated  my own several resignations from Malacanang too.

For example, when I resigned as chair of the government peace panel with the MILF in 2003 after a two-year stint and getting some landmark agreements sealed, I purposely timed and  delayed it when things got quieter following  strong protest  by the MILF and Malaysia that I “annotated” ( “corrected” was more apt)  the minutes of a meeting in Malaysia  which contained some sensitive GRP  commitments that I was not privy about as chair.  Later on I got word that fellow Cabinet member Bobi Tiglao described my leaving as  has having been “fired” by Malacanang to possibly assuage the ruffled feelings of the MILF and the Malaysian facitator.   A well-publicized resignation to protect my name by exposing the real reasons would however inflict damage on the whole peace process. So I kept my peace and just disappeared in the shadows. Later in 2006,  I re-emerged this time over-seeing the whole peace process as presidential peace adviser to replace Sec. Ging Deles because of the Hyatt 10 incident. Again, when I was Malacanang press secretary, another resignation had to be  properly managed. This came due to my paux pas of  having unduly  put the presidency on the spot that    shook palace confidence on me  for my playful and controversial cabinet prayer that reinforced public speculations that President Arroyo was preparing to prolong her stay in Malacanang, beyond 2010.  On hindsight,  perhaps  other shortcomings for such sensitive and important job of speaking for the president piled up for me to do the honorable thing: to resign. But   I waited several months later to cool things down to hand in my resignation. Otherwise, it would unnecessarily be at the expense of the president. ( It was also  propitious as it coincided with health issues of my wife Beth).  Again,  in 2010  when I  expressed  to  newly assumed President Aquino of my intentions of voluntarily relinguishing as  chairman of the Mindanao Development Authority  to give the new president opportunity to choose his Mindanao point person, although I was entitled to a fixed 5- year tenure,  I did it as quietly as possible. Going back to the Abad resignation,  there must be  other considerations why President Aquino  immediately thumbed down Sec.  Butch’s resignation that many of us outsiders are not privy about. So let that be.

NO EXCUSES — President Aquino will face again the nation and give his side on his constitutionally-infirm disbursement acceleration program or DAP as ruled by the Supreme Court. There is no doubt, by the way, that he is totally entitled to claim good intentions and purity of purpose. There should be no question at all that some of those DAP funds have helped tremendously some beneficiaries. We can even concede that the President himself  is “clean” and perhaps  has not personally benefited or pocketed money from those funds as Malacanang continues to drumbeat. We need not even dwell on the claim that this fund  strategy even pre-dated  the Aquino administration and that previous officials  even dirtied their own hands with similar schemes.

The question still remains: will President Aquino say “”I’m sorry” for violating his sworn oath to protect, defend and uphold the Constitution to the extent that the Supreme Court, unanimously, declared some portions of the DAP as unconstitutional?      By   twist of fate,  many  of those in the Hyatt 10   who abandoned the Arroyo government for reasons of propriety are now in   the Aquino cabinet.  I now wonder whether the same  group   that now surrounds the president  is   also giving him  the same advice they assiduously gave to PGMA during her own time of crisis. Or have the standards suddenly changed?

PRESIDENT’S JUDGMENT CALL —    Whether President Aquino apologizes in the end is his own judgment call to make and no one else’s.  He must weigh his options well not only on a personal level but having the strategic interest of the presidency and of the nation as a whole first and foremost. He could not do less. And when he makes the call, we must give it to him.

NO ROOM FOR EXCUSES — But the bottom line is: when the constitutionality issue is settled with finality by the Supreme Court, there should be no more room for maneuverability or excuse.  Whether we like it or not, irrespective of the  good intentions and benefits it brought, whether or not the funds were properly used or not,  and whichever side of the political spectrum we belong to or political color we identify ourselves with,    at the end of the day, we  must all reckon with the  basic  issues of constitutional   responsibility and accountability  — hopefully  with the same   intensity and rigor  that the  Aquino administration is admirably   making others accountable for their  alleged wrongful acts and misdeeds.
“ What is good for the goose should  also be good for the gander.” No ifs and buts. And no escaping./ADVOCACY MINDANoW FOUNDATION, INC. (AMFI)/Follow us at Twitter: AMFI_Mindanow/Email us: info@advocacymindanow.org/Visit us: www.advocacymindanow.org


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