Saturday, March 28, 2015

If you were President Aquino, what would you do?


First, would you apologize to the nation and the SAF 44’s families for bungling your role in the Mamasapano incident?
Second, would you appear for questioning in the House hearing on the incident on April 7 and 8?
Third, what are your personal ideas and recommendations on how the nation can surmount and reach closure on this national tragedy?
I am averse to using the term “presidentiable” because it is pidgin English. I prefer the bona fide English words “candidate” and “aspirant,” with the adjective presidential attached to them.
The questions are framed like those in a US presidential campaign debate. They seek to test the presidential aspirant’s sense of responsibility, judgment and executive ability in resolving a major national issue or problem.
I will send this brief questionnaire to each aspirant by e-mail or formal letter. The aspirants can send their replies to my e-mail address (, or to The Manila Times editorial office: 2F Sitio Grande Building, 409 A. Soriano Ave., Intramuros, Manila, or the Times Opinion section e-mail address
The candidate may, or course, decline to answer the questions, preferably giving the reason why. Or he can take the questions seriously, answer each one thoughtfully, and help me in this journalistic enterprise. How they all respond will be the subject of a future column.
Dismiss Belmonte’s cover-up
Answers to the questions may be responsive, evasive, feeble, or convincing. I am mainly interested in what the answers will reveal about the aspirants, in how their minds work, in whether they will answer the questions seriously or avoid answering them.
The questions basically ask the aspirants to imagine themselves in President Aquino’s shoes, armed with the facts that the public already knows from the two inquiry reports (PNP board of inquiry and Senate committee inquiry), regarding President Aquino’s role, actions and knowledge of what was happening on that fateful day (January 25, 2015) in Mamasapano.
Respondents should dismiss as a cover-up the self-serving move of House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte to stop the initiative of House members to request President Aquino to appear at the hearing on April 7. Let Belmonte stew in his own cowardice and servility.
Q & A as effective tool
So presidential aspirants and readers can see the usefulness and significance of this kind of questioning, I will cite and quote a segment from the presidential debate between former Governor Michael Dukakis and former president George H. W. Bush in the 1988 US presidential campaign.
Bernard Shaw, anchor of CNN, posed this brutal opening question to Dukakis:
“Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?”
Dukakis’s reply was revealing and eloquent: “God forbid, God forbid any harm should come to the person who is dearer to me than anyone or anything on earth. But I’d react the same as anyone. I’d want to kill the scum that did it. I’d want to rip him limb by limb.”
Amid sharp applause from the audience, Dukakis tried to elaborate on his answer: ‘Now wait, wait. Yes, I would want revenge on that situation. But you don’t run government on that basis. I believe the premeditated killing of a human being is wrong. Period. I don’t care how much the person may deserve it. It’s doubly wrong when government does it. That’s how I feel. So I’m against capital punishment…I have to go with what my conscience tells me.”
Bush’s turn to be grilled came next. Newsweek’s Margaret Warner asked Bush about abortion: “Why should a woman who discovers through amniocentesis that her baby will be born with Ty-Sachs disease, for instance, that the baby will live at most two years and those two years in incredible pain, be forced to carry the fetus to term, and yet a woman who becomes pregnant through incest would be allowed to abort her fetus?”
I quote from New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg’s account of Bush’s reply: “Bush told Warner she had ‘left out one other exception’ –’the health of the mother.’ He then spoke haltingly and rather touchingly of his late daughter Robin, who died a few months after being diagnosed with leukemia. Bush added that medical science often makes such rapid advances that there is hope even for the often seemingly intractable cases. ‘And so I feel this is where I’m coming from,’ he concluded.”
This is how men who are serious and care deeply about public office respond to tough questioning. They don’t resort to clever remarks. They reply thoughtfully, often with a lot of feeling, sometimes eloquently and memorably.
Dukakis took a five-point bounce in the polls after the debate, but then he went on to lose the election.
Character, competence and commitment
I came up with the idea for this questionnaire along with some friends who are keenly interested in issues of leadership and management. We were unanimously curious about how presidential aspirants in 2016 can extricate themselves and the nation from the quicksand of Mamasapano? Can they hurdle the challenge?
I acceded to my friends’ suggestion that I raise these questions with the presidential aspirants, because personally I believe it’s time now for most of us to change perspectives.
We Filipinos will be throwing away our lives and our country, if we devote all our time just bashing PNoy and gnashing our teeth over Mamasapano. We need to look at the bigger picture of our national life, and the longer game of national elections and the nation’s future.
Like an astronaut’s mission in outer space, my questionnaire is a probe for clues on character, competence and commitment among the men and women who aspire to become the 16th president of our republic.

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