Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Peace council: last gasp of a lame-duck presidency

This could be President Aquino at his weirdest.
Throughout his five years in office, his excellency has adamantly refused to convene the National Security Council (NSC) and the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) – two councils that are part of our governing traditions and were created by legislation and executive order to help the president in decision-making and administration. Neither body has convened even once under Aquino’s watch.
But, from out of the blue, as if wakened by divine revelation, he announced on March 27 the creation of a new peace council, which he has tasked with persuading Congress and our people to support and hasten the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
In a flash, we have not just one, but an army of convenors.
Aquino does not like the councils that are engraved in decades of Filipino constitutional practice. He will only accept councils that he himself creates and begets as father of the nation.
No doubt encouraged by advisers who fancy themselves as strategic thinkers (like the now departed Ricky Carandang), Aquino sees the ad hoc council as a formula for addressing grave problems of national life.  It is a balm for wounds. It can be used as a shock absorber.
Councils to assist the president
It would be an unforgivable hyperbole to describe the NSC and the LEDAC as venerable institutions. But they exist by law and executive construction.
And they were explicitly designed to assist the Philippine president in decision-making and administration.
Until BS Aquino came along, every president of the republic found much value in their usefulness in the making of policy. They did not doubt whether council members possessed “the wisdom and integrity” that Aquino considers essential for anyone to sit in an advisory council to the president.
The National Security Council is the principal advisory body to assist in the proper coordination and integration of plans and policies affecting national security.
In the US, the national security council has a much broader charge of coordinating national security policy – encompassing foreign policy, intelligence collection and evaluation, and defense policy.
Our NSC  is a collegial body chaired by the President. It includes as members, the vice-president, members of the Cabinet (foreign affairs, defense, interior, justice and labor), top leaders of Congress, and all living past presidents of the Republic.
The Council was created during the Quirino Administration and was reorganized in 1986 by President Cory Aquino. President Gloria Arroyo amended the executive order on the NSC to include past presidents.
Ironically, this could be one key reason why Aquino has refused from the first to convene the council. He does not want to listen to the former presidents’ views and to acknowledge their greater grasp of statecraft.
The Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) is the consultative and advisory body to the President on the government’s legislative agenda, particularly programs and policies affecting the economy. LEDAC was created through the Republic Act 7640 and approved by President Fidel V. Ramos on December 9, 1992.
LEDAC is composed of 20 members, from the Cabinet, Congress, and the private sector.
The council is supposed to meet at least once every quarter but may be convened by the president to special meetings if necessary. Aquino never found it necessary to convene LEDAC.
Aquino Peace Council has tough task
It is in the same spirit of tapping broad counsel and assistance that the President has created the peace council.
He said at its creation: “I am fully aware that the events in Mindanao, together with the incident in Mamasapano, have sown doubt in the minds of our countrymen. The result: it has pushed aside the objective evaluation of the BBL.”
“To address this, I am inviting citizen leaders known for their wisdom and integrity to stand as independent convenors.”
Appointed as members of the council were Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr, businessman Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, former Philippine Ambassador to the Holy See and Malta Howard Dee, and founder of Teach Peace, Build Peace Movement Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman.
To put the best face on this initiative, it is not unusual for a president president to look beyond the Cabinet for policy advice in addressing a thorny problem, especially a crisis.
In the Mamasapano tragedy, Aquino clearly faces the biggest crisis of his presidency.
In the deliberations over the BBL in Congress, this linchpin of the GRP-MILF peace agreement faces rough sailing. Sentiment against the measure is running high.
The task of the council is not propaganda or public relations; it is to come up with availing ideas to ensure that the nation will stay on the road to peace, and that the vision of Muslim Filipinos for a Bangsamoro entity will receive a fair hearing.
Kompre was a precursor
The peace council scheme is actually not the first time that the Aquino administration has gone to this well for water.
In April last year, the government created the Koalisyon ng Mamamayan para sa Reporma or Kompre, to counter the public outrage over scandals hounding the government because of the DAP and the pork barrel.
Karina David, one of the convenors, declared that the coalition was launched to ensure that positive gains under the administration are continued beyond 2016.
Kompre was envisioned as a broad-based coalition of civil society groups, people’s organizations, political parties, social movements and reform-minded individuals to champion the institutionalization and broadening of reforms in government.
The movement lost steam when media charged that the government had conscripted personages enjoying fat salaries and contracts in government corporations, and who were beholden to the President for favors.
Kompre went silent overnight.
The Peace council could meet with similar skepticism with the media and the public, because several of the designated convenors have had long ties with the Aquino government be it in business or politics.
What is troubling is the thought that President Aquino is collecting on debts and favors he has extended. And the so-called citizen leaders of wisdom and integrity may not be falling in line out of a sense of patriotism.
At the first meeting of the peace council in Makati last  April 6, Justice Davide declared: “The hard work begins after BBL is passed.”
He is mistaken. The hard work of the council has already begun.

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