SENATOR Joker Arroyo once described the Aquino government as the equivalent of a college student council. He was wrong. It’s more like a high school student council, and not only because at its core is the barkada system. It’s also because of its total cluelessness about the history and interests of its constituents, its sheer inability to deal with anything approximating a crisis, and worst of all, its lack of imagination.

It demonstrated its incompetence when it comes to crises with startling clarity during the Rizal Park hostage crisis of August 2010. It ignored calls from the Hong Kong government, which was concerned with the safety of its citizens; made having dinner in a Chinese restaurant a priority over saving lives; left decision-making in a developing international incident to the police; and generally behaved with the insouciance of a mindless schoolboy.

It is currently demonstrating its cluelessness over both the history of, and the bases for, the Philippine claim to Sabah, and incidentally about such Philippine laws as Republic Act 5446. RA 5446, noted former Senator Richard Gordon, defines the baselines of the territorial seas of the Philippines, in effect including Sabah as part of Philippine territory. The Aquino administration has also misplaced three letters from the Sultan of Sulu asking for its intervention in pursuing the claim to Sabah.

Like a spoiled and arrogant brat who’s lived most of its life in a gated enclave, the Aquino administration is also incapable of imagining (1) the consequences on the lives and safety of Filipino citizens of less than well-thought out, and outrightly stupid statements; (2) the impact on the Philippines’ long standing and legitimate claim to Sabah of the same statements; (3) what human suffering and even death is like among ordinary people, meaning not only the 200 or so followers of the Sultan of Sulu who’re now in Sabah, but also the 800,000 Filipinos who live in Malaysia; and (4) a situation in which the country it currently has stewardship over, can stand among equals rather than being practically everybody else’s doormat.

Like a junior high student government, the Aquino administration also needs an adviser to tell it what to do. But not just any adviser: not an expert from, say, the National Historical Commission or the Department of Foreign Affairs. It has to be the US, behind which it also hides when threatened by the Chinese school-yard bully, and to whose wishes, such as a quick end to the Mindanao conflict with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, it supinely defers.

Over the last two weeks, however, it’s been demonstrating that it might also have Malaysia as adviser, with Benigno Aquino III also acting as the latter’s spokesman. Practically on Day One of the Sabah crisis, he echoed the authoritarian government of that country’s issuance of ultimatums and deadlines, which Malaysia interpreted as his way of saying that he wouldn’t mind if its security forces arrested and attacked the 200 or so followers of the Sultan of Sulu currently in Sabah.

While Filipinos are being killed in territory over which the Philippines has legitimate claims, Mr. Aquino has also alleged a conspiracy which he himself says he can’t prove, and threatened to file unspecified charges against the Sultan of Sulu. Far from being concerned over the lives and safety of Filipino citizens, he’s more interested in punishing them, which to the Malaysians sounds like clearance for them to do what they please, including indiscriminately dropping bombs on the men and women followers of the Sultanate, and harassing, rounding up, and deporting Filipinos.

And yet, he’s supposed to be President of the entire Philippines, and not only of his family, his relatives, his classmates, his shooting buddies, his fellow landlords, and the elite members of the Christian majority. The Philippines is allegedly also a sovereign nation, the Constitution of which Mr. Aquino has sworn to defend and the rights of whose citizens, whether at home or abroad, the State of which he is currently head is mandated to protect.

But Mr. Aquino and company’s indifference to Filipino rights is no longer news. Since 2010 they’ve been ignoring calls to do something about the human rights violations — the abductions, the harassment, the enforced disappearances, torture and extra-judicial killings — that are routinely committed by the military in the Philippine countryside, as well as the killing of journalists and media workers among whom there’s a goodly number fighting corruption and environmental destruction, and exposing human rights violations.

If the Aquino administration is unable — unwilling seems to be the more likely case — to do anything to help dismantle the culture of impunity that allows and encourages human rights violations and extrajudicial killings, it is even more unlikely to do anything to look after the safety and well-being of the Filipinos currently in territory the Philippine claim to which Mr. Aquino has described as “hopeless.”

In that description of the Sabah claim as “hopeless” lies a clue to the peculiar mindset of the clutch of bunglers now in power who think they’re actually running a government. It is the sense that some things are just not worth doing because they require too much effort.

Putting an end to the warlordism that makes a mockery of elections and makes extrajudicial killings as easy as swatting flies is hopeless because it requires some work. Accelerating the pace of the Ampatuan Massacre trial? Hopeless because too difficult. Stopping human rights violations? Hopeless. Doing something to halt the killing of journalists? Too hard.

On the other hand, it doesn’t take too much effort to deliver a speech criticizing the news media for irresponsible reporting, does it? Neither is it too hard to deliver a speech which makes even more irresponsible statements likely to tie the Philippine hand in the pursuit of its claim to Sabah, which Mr. Aquino, in self-fulfilling prophecy, has himself made “hopeless.”

Some of the candidates for the Senate of UNA (United Nationalist Alliance) have suggested that by putting Filipino citizens in an already bad situation in even greater harm through his statements and by putting Malaysian interests ahead of those of the Philippines, Mr. Aquino is courting impeachment on charges of violating the Constitution and betrayal of public trust. Given the gravity of his blunders and their consequences, particularly his talent for making a bad situation worse, impeachment is an option no one should be dismissing.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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