THE PEN: Bound by fate

The fate of the country’s two highest officials – President Aquino and Vice President Binay – may be more intricately linked than it appears. As one’s approval rating soars, the other dips. At this point, it seems that one’s political career is hinged on the other, though both would immediately dismiss this observation.

But unlike the ebb and flow of the ocean’s tide which has become predictable, attempting to forecast the two leaders’ political future is akin to looking through a crystal ball. And those who thought that they already had the two men figured out have been in for a surprise, as the President and the Vice President’s actions appear to run counter to their previous pronouncements and belief systems.

The Chief Executive is now being pictured by his critics as a lame duck president who is just riding out the remaining two years of his term and may no longer be able to complete the reforms he has set out to accomplish. This is a complete turn-around from the bullish image he projected when took the reins of government In 2010 and hit the ground running with his battle cry “Matuwid na Daan.”

Vice-President Binay, on the other hand, has made no qualms about his intent to become the next President. But the road to Malacañang may now be an uphill climb for the former Makati Mayor whose integrity as a public official is under intense scrutiny by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee.

The controversies that President Aquino has had to confront which began last year with the Priority Development Assistant Fund (PDAF) hullabaloo, and subsequently followed by the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) scandal, has undoubtedly cast a dark cloud over the President and put into serious question his moral ascendency to lead the country.

President Aquino then confounded the nation in September when he announced that he was open to the possibility of seeking a second term. To most experts, this was definitely a curveball that was meant to throw the opposition off track, and at the same time, test the waters on the viability of another term for the President. But until the President’s party found a more “winnable” candidate, it was willing to play the gambit though this led to a further dip in the President’s popularity ratings.

On the other hand, the maelstroms that the Vice-President now finds himself in – the “Hacienda Binay” expose and the alleged overpricing of the Makati Parking Building II – has drastically transformed his image from a down-to-earth, incorruptible Edsa hero into a traditional politician who has over the years allegedly amassed material wealth at the expense of the public’s welfare.

Former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado has undoubtedly dealt a serious blow to the Vice-President’s presidential ambitions. With his intimate knowledge of the Vice-President’s personal affairs, particularly his business transactions, he is viewed as a highly credible witness at the Senate inquiry though his motivations for serving as witness still remain suspect at this point.

The President and Vice President now find themselves in the same boat where they have become highly vulnerable to both internal and external attacks. They have tried to ride out the storm, so to speak, but the controversies that they have been embroiled in show no signs of dissipating and is expected to hound them till they end their respective terms come 2016.

Clearly, President Aquino’s “honeymoon” with his bosses is now over and he must learn to accept this reality. Gone are the days when he could just wave off the issues levelled against him, believing that a 7.8 growth rate would silence his critics. Today, the President’s pronouncements are merely taken with a grain of salt by a nation that has become weary of public officials whose actions are most often motivated by personal interests rather than their sworn duty to serve the people.

Meanwhile, Vice-President Binay’s mantle of invincibility has shown its cracks though he has fought tooth and nail to project himself as the champion of the poor, styling himself as an underdog like his ally ex-president and now Mayor Joseph Estrada who, despite the political persecution he received, rose from the ashes and regained his political career.

The President and Vice-President perhaps never imagined that they would be facing such colossal challenges in their political careers. President Aquino enjoyed exceptionally high approval ratings which showed no signs of receding until the PDAF and DAP controversies broke out. Vice-President Binay similarly got high satisfaction ratings which reflected the people’s trust and made him a top presidential contender even at the start of his term.

Despite coming from different parties whose ideals were diametrically opposed to each other, the two leaders were able to maintain a relatively smooth working relationship. As President Aquino took center stage to pursue the priority programs of his administration, the vice-president seemed content in working from the sidelines and focusing on the concerns that have been assigned to him by the Palace such as attending to the needs of overseas foreign workers (OFWs) and addressing the country’s housing concerns.

However, many believe that the amicable relationship between the President and Vice-President was anchored on political expediency more than anything else. As long as the other minded his own business and didn’t rock the boat, they could project a credible sense of cooperation which benefited both their parties and the bureaucracy as a whole. Though clashes were inevitable between the two, these could still be ironed out behind the scenes by themselves, and if the chasm was too wide, by the leadership of their respective political parties.

But the political landscape has dramatically changed over the past several months as the Senate Hearing on graft and corruption charges against the vice-president has intensified, forcing both leaders to abandon their fragile alliance and take on a more pragmatic approach to ensure the continued support of their party mates.

Politics, as they say, is the survival of the fittest. Whoever blinks first, loses. At this point, President Aquino and Vice-President Binay know that they must take the bull by the horn and demonstrate their true mettle as leaders.

Now that the battle lines have been drawn, Vice-President Binay has taken on a more combative stance, as he has named Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Senate President Franklin Drilon as the brains behind the demolition job against him. Being the LP’s presumptive candidate, the Vice-President said that Roxas has the most to gain from the Senate hearing, which has become a forum for his political opponents to ridicule and throw false accusations against him and members of his family who have also been dragged in the controversy.

Vice-President Binay has already snubbed two invitations for him to appear at Senate inquiry in order to respond to the allegations leveled against him. The Vice-President may have to recognize the writing on the wall, as a recent survey by the Social Weather Station shows that 8 out of 10 Filipinos want him to appear at the Senate hearing to face the charges against him. Though he remains to be on top of the surveys, his ratings can continue to drop if he is unable to show up at hearings and clear his name.

On the other hand, President Aquino’s recent pronouncement that he is no longer eyeing a second term hopefully will convince his critics of his sincerity to vacate Malacañang after his term expires. This move will definitely shore up the Chief Executive’s credibility and translate to greater public support for the candidate he will be endorsing. We can already hear a sigh of relief from Sec. Roxas who, with President Aquino’s blessings, is determined to win the presidency regardless of his current standing in the surveys.

Clearly, President Aquino now understands that the solution to sustaining his Administration’s initiatives is not by remaining in power, but making sure that the country’s democratic processes are preserved.

Even if it means facing the prospect of a Binay presidency.

Posted in Opinion