Sisyphus was a king who took
pride in his ability to outwit his enemies and even defy Zeus himself.
As punishment, Zeus condemned Sisyphus to spend eternity pushing
a huge boulder up a steep hill only to see it roll back down, before
it could reach the top.
Is the Philippines suffering from the same curse?
The weight of the Marcos regime was a boulder that our people had
to bear for decades. But just as we thought we had pushed it away
with the EDSA revolution, the scourge of incompetence and corruption,
eroded values and a damaged culture weighed us down again.
Civil society convinced us that the assumption of the presidency
by Erap Estrada was a virtual backslide to where the country was
during the time of Marcos. And so, like Sisyphus, EDSA Dos pushed
the weight of Erap’s purported sins out of the way. But the
country rolled right back to the pits with his replacement, Gloria
In May 2010, our hopes were renewed with the election of Noynoy
Aquino to the presidency. Those hopes remain undimmed so far, but
for how long?
Whatever his inadequacies may be, Aquino has demonstrated a sincere
desire to clean up the virtual Aegean stables of the Arroyo incumbency.
While brickbats concerning kaklase, kabarilan and kaibigan have
been hurled at him, nearly two years into his presidency, Aquino,
his relatives and his official family have yet to be accused of
the kind of bigtime influence peddling, bribe-taking, misuse of
public funds and other abuses that bedeviled the two previous administrations.
Based on public opinion polls, Aquino is trusted, his honesty is
above reproach and his desire to rid the country of corruption is
believed, although with some degree of skepticism - not because
he is not committed to fulfill his vow but because the odds of succeeding
are far too slim.
In the first place, Aquino is like the Lone Ranger riding the range
with his ever-loyal sidekick, Tonto, suddenly finding themselves
surrounded by Indians.
“Looks like we’re outnumbered by Injuns, Tonto.”
And Tonto replies: “What you mean we?”
In every sector of government, from the highest offices down to
the last barangay, there are enemies of Aquino’s reform program,
operating like cockroaches, rats and snakes, biding their time,
keeping their cool, and surviving the “ambitious but temporary”
And who are on the side of Aquino? He doesn’t know for sure.
He never will. If he were to ask his official family, his close-in
security, his kaklase, kabarilan and kaibigan, they will give him
the reassurance he expects. But who knows that some, in their hearts
or hearts, are echoing Tonto: “What you mean we?”
In the second place, Aquino only has six years to fulfill his promise.
There’s no way he can do it. He can get the reform movement
started for sure – as, in fact, he has – but when his
term runs out, someone will have to see that movement through. Will
there be someone? Or will it be, like the Curse of Sisyphus, a backslide
to the pits?
President Ramos was right when he tried to get the Constitution
amended so that he could be allowed to run for a second term. No
matter the snide remarks concerning profit-taking during his tenure,
the Ramos administration had begun to enjoy a measure of success,
particularly in terms of the economy. He wanted continuity. A short-sighted
civil society, reacting like the cat that sat on a hot stove, stood
firmly against it.
Did they fear a Ramos “dictatorship”? Well, they got
Erap Estrada instead.
Within the limited time frame, Aquino can try to get as much as
done as he can. But time flies fast, the Philippine bureaucracy
is not famous for speed and efficiency, and we, as a people, are
still afflicted by the Juan Tamad syndrome, just waiting for the
guava of good government to fall into our laps instead of working
to achieve it.
Almost two years into his presidency, Aquino still has to get rid
of the major roadblocks and mine fields left by Arroyo. Already,
he has been stymied by a Supreme Court packed with her appointees.
He is not even sure that he will succeed in having Chief Justice
Renato Corona impeached.
In the third place, the Constitutional prohibition of a second term
made him – or any president for that matter - a lame duck
from Day One.
Bongbong Marcos may have implied as much. When the move to have
the remains of his father buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani was
rejected, Bongbong kept his peace. He knows that he can always try
again with the next president.
Similarly, the reforms currently being instituted by the various
offices in the Aquino administration may not even have a chance
to fully take root, before they are reversed by a new set of syndicate
bosses, influence peddlers, extortionists and bribe takers.
Anybody who thinks they were banished with the victory of Aquino
in the May presidential polls is naïve. They are biding their
time. They can afford it. Years of stockpiling wealth and assets
will enable them to outlast this presidency without losing their
hold on the rackets.
A few days ago, Vice-President Jojo Binay admitted in all candor
that he covets the presidency. Who wouldn’t, in his place?
Unlike Noli de Castro, Tito Guingona, Doy Laurel and Manny Pelaez,
Binay has the political street smarts to give him a better than
even chance of grabbing the prize.
Obviously, a lot of equally street-wise folks think so, too. Already,
the DDT specialists of parties unknown have begun sniper operations
On the other hand, Erap Estrada, who continues to think of himself
as a king maker and who demonstrated his uncanny ability to mesmerize
the masses in the last elections, has publicly cast his lot with
Binay. That is a formidable team, especially in the provinces.
The usual survivors of past regimes – the cockroaches –
have also begun to emerge. Thus Arroyo lieutenants are now offering
to align with Binay, using the euphemism, “National unity.”
Of course, they’ll also bet on any other candidate who comes
along with an impressive war chest, but it’s Binay for now.
Binay is wise enough to welcome all of them. Like the political
sage, Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez of a bygone era, Binay
believes that politics is addition. It won’t matter that the
new “united” political group will consist of the proverbial
strange bedfellows. In politics, there are no permanent enemies.
Binay is, wisely, preparing for next year’s mid-term elections.
If candidates in the coalition he is forming make an impressive
showing, that strengthens his hand for the presidential contest
three years down the road. In Political Time, 2016 is just around
As earlier pointed out, by that time, some or many of the components
of the reforms instituted by Aquino may not yet have taken root.
They will need to be sustained by his successor.
Jojo Binay has every right to want to be that successor. So does
Mar Roxas. Or even Manny Villar. Or Dick Gordon. Or Francis Escudero.
Or Bongbong Marcos. Or someone else as ambitious and determined
and moneyed as some of these contenders are.
Is there one among them who will continue to carry the torch of
reform? Or will our hapless country suffer the Curse of Sisyphus