POSTSCRIPT / October 17, 2013 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Change rules on pork, or change Noy instead?

WHAT TO DO?: Almost always, when I get into discussions with individuals incensed with the pork barrel plunder, the conversation reaches the cul de sac question “So what do we do now?”

Refusing to turn around, we pursue the question. And the options narrow down to either: (1) The President, with the co-operation of congressional players, must reform the rules for ALL pork in and out of the budget, or (2) Change the President if he refuses to change the rules.

It has reached that either-or point. Many people are angry and getting angrier as more revelations explode in the media.

Worse, there is doubt if the communications strategists in the Palace and their lackeys imbedded in media can prevent the cauldron from boiling over.

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CHANGE NEEDED: If a stubborn President Aquino insists on keeping his pork and continues to dispense it as patronage, what happens? A situation could just develop calling for Option #2, which is to change him.

It is disturbing that about six out of every 10 persons who ask me about the pork barrel crisis no longer wonder if the developing situation would require changing the pork-addicted President.

The question they now ask is, if ever, who do we change P-Noy with? (However, they cannot agree on a suitable replacement or the mode of succession.)

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LOYALTY FOR SALE: Still, Option #2 keeps attracting disgruntled taxpayers who note the President’s unwillingness to give up his porky lump-sum discretionary funds.

Although President Aquino has agreed readily to the scrapping/realigning of the Priority Development Assistance Fund, where congressional pork is hidden, his body language indicates a desire to have all the pork under his control.

(When talking of presidential pork, we have in mind the Disbursement Acceleration Program, the Special Purpose, the Social, the Malampaya and such discretionary funds whose staggering total has not been revealed.)

Since political loyalty in this country is for sale, obviously the President – now a lame duck — is afraid to lose the pork that assures him the support of a majority of congressmen and senators.

* * *

BUT WHO?: President Aquino is lucky that until now no one has emerged as a suitable replacement if ever Option #2 gains ground.

Under the succession rule in the Constitution, if the President is removed or vacates his post before the end of his term, the replacements in descending order are the Vice President, the Senate President and the Speaker of the House.

All the elective officials mentioned are presumed to be qualified. But will the people accept Vice President Jejomar Binay, or Senate President Franklin Drilon, or Speaker Feliciano Belmonte as replacement president?

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SCARY TAKEOVER: The case of Vice President Binay recalls the situation of then Vice President Noli de Castro during the waning years of the administration of President Gloria Arroyo with a Mike Arroyo standing beside her.

There was a clamor for Ms Arroyo’s early replacement, but many people were worried over the prospects of Noli de Castro – generally regarded as not prepared for the awesome demands of the presidency – taking over.

But Binay is not De Castro. Even his adversaries concede grudgingly that the Vice President has leadership qualities and administrative competence suited for the presidency.

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BINAY’S PROBLEM: Binay is haunted by alleged corruption dating back to his days as Makati mayor. Such allegations, true or not, might not sit well with people fed up with the wanton graft in the Arroyo and now the Aquino administrations.

It is conceivable that Binay’s rivals for the presidency are just waiting for the right time to start exploding corruption stink bombs. But it is still early to detonate them since – as in war – every explosive or bullet expended is immediately spent and prematurely rendered useless.

Handlers of President Aquino, as well as those of DILG Secretary Mar Roxas – the presumed Liberal Party standard bearer in 2016 – might use this corruption line to check Binay’s ascension and keep Aquino in place.

They could try scaring people with: “Would you rather have Binay than Aquino?”

* * *

WHITE KNIGHT: The oust-Aquino groups hankering for immediate change can push aside Binay, Drilon and Belmonte, and mount instead a campaign for a White Knight emerging from outside the line of succession.

Probably a military type, a former president or a former chief justice?

That would entail an extra-constitutional push (read: putsch) which could be convulsive and repulsive to those grown tired and wary of coup plotters and the forcible capture of government.

But if the people’s anger over pork and big-time corruption is pushed to the limit, there is no saying where it might lead. Option #2 calling for the early replacement of Aquino – now tagged Pork Barrel King — might just catch fire.

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SAVING GRACE: One saving grace for Aquino is a lingering perception that he is honest and well-meaning, that he is a captive of a coterie that is neither clean nor competent. It could be that disappointment in him is just transferred disapproval.

Many are actually asking why he does not throw out the rascals who have abused their closeness to the President to make millions or who have been giving him bum advice.

Many loyalists actually pity Aquino – saying that except for what looks like a vindictive streak and lack of, huh, brilliance, he really means well and is upright.

Maybe he should venture out of his comfort zone, reach beyond his tight circle of advisers and replace the amateurs with a more knowledgeable team to help him recover lost ground and undo errors in the limited time left of his term.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 17, 2013)

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