R is for Resignation, I is for Impeachment, O is for Ouster, and S is for Snap election, or for the Status quo, as in “Stay, you’re doing well” or “Stay, but reform.” These are the scenarios being offered today as options for resolving the country’s worst political and economic crisis since the 1983 assassination of Ninoy Aquino.
Webster’s Dictionary provides very apt definitions for the word “scenario”: “1 An outline or synopsis of a play, opera, or the like, indicating scenes, characters, etc. 2 The script of a film. 3 An outline for any proposed or planned series of events, real or imagined.”
It doesn’t take a genius to know that President Joseph Estrada remains trapped in the formulaic scripts of “Asiong Salonga,” “Geron Busabos,” “Ito ang Pilipino” and “Patria Adorada.” The first, done in 1961, was his first title role. It earned for him a permanent place in the hearts of a star-struck film-fixated nation. The others gave him his awards for best acting. Even as president, Erap has not stopped being the actor playing the role of fictional hero. The most famous line in “Asiong Salonga” was: “I’m not against the law, the law is against me.”
Such rhetoric has now come in handy for the beleaguered president. Today, he might say, “I’m not against the rich, the rich are against me.” He has descended upon Metro Manila’s slums in a desperate bid to get the affirmation that the educated classes have denied him. “I am here to serve you,” he tells them. “Do you want me to step down and leave you?” “No,” they yell back. “Then, let’s stick together. Do not let the rich, the old politicos, and the elites come back to rule you.” That’s Erap’s script. What is ours?
The Resign scenario says we’ve been in trouble as a nation from the day Joseph Estrada became president. But as he was duly elected by the majority of our people, we applauded and gave him a chance to prove his worth. Our hope was that if the man was inadequate to the position, the position might reform the man. Unfortunately, Joseph Estrada’s presidency has been a record of relentless incompetence, irresponsibility, corruption, and indifference to the grave problems confronting the nation.
To suffer Estrada for another three and a half years in a time of deep uncertainty and in a world of astonishing complexity is to expose the country to the dangers of permanent damage. It is to lose precious time that can be used to rebuild our nation, to modernize our institutions, to equalize opportunities for the millions whose poverty has made them the first victims of political patronage, and to prepare our children for the tough challenges ahead.
Time is crucial. More than ever, the quality of a nation’s top leadership has become the fulcrum of its survival in the high-risk environment of a digitally interconnected world. Nothing perhaps dramatizes this more vividly than the collapse of the stock market and the phenomenal depreciation of the peso in the last few days. Both mirror the “governance deficit” from which our nation suffers. Resignation is the quickest and least painful of the solutions available to the nation. But Erap has said he would never resign. So did Yugoslavia’s Slobodan Milosevic, who stepped down when he saw the angry crowds.
Impeachment has the merit of being the key mechanism in the Constitution for unseating a president. In theory, it is the most orderly. In practice, it can be the most frustrating, the most selfdefeating, and ultimately the most costly. Its effectiveness as a legal device rests on the ability of a nation’s legislators to set aside partisan affiliations and personal interests in order to allow the process to take its course. Nothing, however, in the conduct of the majority of our congressmen and senators gives us reason to believe they are capable of at least keeping an open mind on the impeachment case against Estrada. The impeachment process must proceed; but it would be tragic to leave the nation’s case against Estrada entirely in the hands of an equally discredited Congress.
Ouster is an option that logically follows from the call for resignation. It is implicit in the constitutional principle that sovereignty ultimately resides in the people, whereas resignation is explicitly recognized by our legal system. The first opens up a wild abundance of alternative scenarios, while the second preserves a measure of continuity amid the danger of chaos.
The Snap Election idea of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile is another option aimed at managing conflict and transition. It too lies outside the framework of our laws. A snap election would require the prior resignation of Estrada. And our present Constitution explicitly bans a president from seeking a second term.
Others, like Brother Mike Velarde, insist on the “Stay but reform” option. They acknowledge Erap’s failings and recognize his gigantic credibility problem. But they also argue that every person must be given a chance at redemption. If Estrada were not president of 75 million people, if the jueteng charges were the only cloud hanging over him, we might have no problem accepting that proposition. But this president has mocked our values as a people, and lowered our self-esteem as a nation. To allow him to stay in the name of personal redemption is to put one man’s need above that of a nation.
Unlike movie scripts, scenarios do not tell us what the future will bring. They are after all not made by seers or prophets or fictionists. But in real life, we only need to know where we stand and where we want to go in order to act. With our limited knowledge and sanguine hopes, we must open ourselves to the willful surprises of politics.
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