The column of Justice Antonio Carpio two days ago, “Aquino and the arbitration against China” touched me to the core. Reader, you remember that Justice Carpio was passed over by P-Noy as chief justice in favor of a junior member of the Court. That must have hurt, and a lesser man would have counted that as a score to settle someday.
To praise the man who struck a death blow to what I presume to be a lifetime ambition does honor to both Carpio—again underscoring his legendary objectivity—and P-Noy, because if Carpio praises him, he must be truly worthy of that praise.
The factionalism around the President described in the column is to be expected in the corridors of power. But two things should not escape notice:
The first is that one faction was playing dirty, and that has to be the faction led by then Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., who was reputed to be so close to P-Noy as to be his alter ego. The dirty tricks include:
a) Receiving a memorandum addressed to the President, then rewriting it to make it appear that the memo’s objective was the opposite of what it was meant to be? That showed disrespect not only for the writer (Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario), but more importantly for P-Noy (showing him a falsified memo);
b) Preventing a meeting between P-Noy and the lawyers of the Philippines in the arbitration case (making them wait four hours), and then giving them a presidential instruction which the President did not give. The President was not told that the lawyers were there (according to P-Noy himself), so how could he have given an instruction? Again, this shows disrespect, nay, contempt for the President’s ability to make a decision;
c) Trying to weaken the Philippine team, although the President had already made the go-ahead decision to proceed with the case, by removing Carpio’s name from the list of the Philippine team to The Hague (Carpio’s knowledge of the case, the West Philippine Sea, and China’s policies is encyclopedic). It took a threat from the foreign affairs secretary to restore Carpio’s name to the list. This shows utter disrespect for the judgment of P-Noy.
The second noteworthy item, as far as I am concerned, is that the faction facing Ochoa were the likes of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Del Rosario, whom P-Noy had chosen (just as he had chosen Conchita Carpio Morales as ombudsman, or Grace Pulido Tan as Commission on Audit chair) not because they were friends (he hardly knew them) but because of their sterling qualifications and their reputations. They had no axes to grind.
And when push came to shove, P-Noy decided on the merits of the arguments, not on the basis of friendship.
Who were P-Noy’s real friends, Reader—the ones who did not trust his judgement, lied to him, and thought they could run circles around him, or the ones who did trust his judgement and operated accordingly?
But there is a third thing that should not escape notice: The similarities between what was happening then, and what is happening today, in Malacañang. Ironically, one of the issues being fought over by factions is the same as before: WPS and China. And again, it seems to be a case of Malacañang insiders versus certain Cabinet members.
Also, there is the issue of who is really running Malacañang, and do they have different agendas than what is best for the Philippines? Lastly, the China lobby is at least as strong now as it was then.
There are differences, of course. Like, today’s dispensation seems to rely more on who you know rather than what you know. And it is not the executive secretary who is calling the shots, it is Bong Go, who is the alter-ego of the President, closer than Ochoa ever got. A man who is not even part of the executive. It is scary. Who is pulling Go’s strings? And will the Go faction win, or will victory go to the good people in the Cabinet?
When push comes to shove, will Mr. Duterte stand by China, or will he stand by the Philippines, as P-Noy did?
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