Tatad’s moral fight
First posted 01:39:44 (Mla time) February 03, 2007
That Philippine politics needs cleaning up, there is no debate. But Tatad is hardly the right person to hold the broom. His first appearance on history’s stage was to announce the declaration of martial law in 1972. His last appearance, almost 30 years later, was to execute on the Senate floor the majority’s decision to leave the second Jose Velarde envelope unopened. That decision, which was obviously designed to stop the discovery of the truth, doomed the Estrada impeachment trial.
These are not the actions of a moral leader. Perhaps if he were to apologize and then atone for these actions, we might hear the words that issue from him differently. But he has not done so; if anything, as in the continuing controversy over the events of 2001, he continues to insist on his version.
Like the disgraced former president, Joseph Estrada, Tatad is quick to claim a clean conscience, which he vividly characterizes as the ability “to snore quietly in my sleep every night in the hope of waking up in the morning to a loving and merciful God.” But if there is any moral lesson we have learned in the last six turbulent years, it is that conscience can be truly capacious—and that therefore it can neither be a true guide for nor a sure guarantee of collective moral action.
We need something a little more objective. Unfortunately for Tatad, that something is nowhere to be found in his now famous open letter.
We need our moral leaders to tell us the truth. But Tatad is parsimonious with the truth, beginning with the letter’s very first paragraph. “My only concern is the honor of our party and wellbeing of our people,” he writes. The United Opposition is not a party; surely Tatad knows that. And if the people’s wellbeing is in fact his “only concern,” why is removing himself from the UNO the only possible option? Surely he can fight for reform within. (Speaking of truth-telling: How does one snore quietly?)
We need our moral leaders to keep a sense of proportion. The dynasty issue is not the opposition’s problem alone. Take a look at the Arroyos: The President’s eldest son is a congressman from Pampanga province and the middle son wants to be a congressman from the Bicol region (dynasty-building and carpetbagging, a decidedly more lethal combination). But by oh-so-dramatically publicizing his “principled” fight, Tatad has succeeded in turning the dynasty issue entirely against the opposition.
We need our moral leaders to be grounded on reality. Tatad apparently is under the impression that he was cheated out of victory in the 2004 elections. “At the counting, my votes mysteriously shrank by something like 80 percent as they traveled from the ‘barangay’ [village] precinct to the national canvassing center.” This is news to us, and indeed to anyone who followed the 2004 elections closely. He wonders why, having gained “close to 11 million” votes in 1995, his 2004 total was “savaged to nearly half that number.” He does not seem to understand that running a dismal race for vice president in 1998, his role in the Estrada impeachment trial, three years out of office -- that all these had something to do with his current unelectability.
Not least, we need our moral leaders to be consistent. Tatad says he cannot accept a situation where three of the opposition’s candidates for the Senate have close kin already in the chamber. He rationalizes the presence of Sen. Loi Ejercito and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada as an aberration, “the result of an extraordinary situation.” There was a need for Estrada to show that he still enjoyed popular support, he says, hence Loi’s candidacy and then Jinggoy’s. But Loi ran in 2001. Surely her victory was enough to meet Estrada’s need? What is the difference, then, between Jinggoy’s candidacy in 2004 and JV Ejercito’s in 2007? Is Tatad saying Estrada no longer needs to show he continues to enjoy public backing?
Here’s the difference: Tatad was a candidate in 2004. He wasn’t even considered as a candidate this year -- at least until he laid down his objection to something he had previously not objected to, and Estrada took him aside to offer him a slot. By then it was too late -- for Tatad most of all.