THE ABSENTEE PRESIDENT


Unless someone — probably, senator Grace Poe — manages to dim Vice President Jejomar Binay’s light, he could become the next President of the Philippines. Binay is facing plunder charges in the Sandiganbayan. Plunder is a non-bailable charge.

The worst legal scenario for him: Arrest for plunder and jail while undergoing trial. If so, a Binay victory in the 2016 polls would give Filipino pride a boost: World, meet the Absentee President.

Yes, he can

Binay 222The vice president says he’s “running scared”. But he’s still got plenty of steam left.

Some young people are aghast that someone charged with plunder could challenge — and possibly win — the presidential race. They haven’t heard of Romeo Jalosjos, the Zamboanga del Norte congressman who won congressional races, in 1998 and 2001, as a Bilibid (national penitentiary) inmate awaiting appeal of his conviction for the rape of a minor. The High Court handed down the final judgment on Jalosjos in 2001. Guilty; that also meant perpetual disqualification from public service.

But the commutation of his sentence in 2007 by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and release from jail in March 2009, gave Jalosjos a novel appreciation of “new lease in life”. He tried to join the mayoralty race in Zamboanga City. His comeback attempt was only stopped in 2013 by the Supreme Court.

The only force that can stop a Binay presidency is the people. Under the Omnibus Election Code, disqualification from candidacy and holding public office comes only after final judgement for an offense with a penalty of more than 18 months.

It’s not a bad law. It’s premised on the basic democratic tenet: Everyone is presumed innocent unless judged guilty. As Comelec spokesman James Jimenez notes, if cases become reasons for disqualification, everyone could stop anyone from running. trillanes3

Jalosjos isn’t the only politician to benefit from the law. Binay basher-in-chief and former mutineer, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, campaigned while under military detention. Later, he did his Senate duties via remote control — chalking up helluva operational costs. There’s little chance of the senator challenging Binay’s right to run in 2016.

What If?

The vice president’s rivals will, of course, continue demonising him. Binay will try to prove his innocence. Government prosecutors have bungled big corruption cases; check out Imelda Marcos and former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and the latest news from the Sandiganbayan.

So the charges may fizzle out.

But if even if the plunder case goes up to the Sandiganbayan before the elections, and the Supreme Court doesn’t issue a temporary restraining order, the vice president may yet replace the brother of the women who love him so.

You can’t jail a sitting Philippine President. You need to impeach him or her and get a guilty sentence in a Senate trial — or go for ouster. But neither can you release a person already standing trial for plunder just because he or she wins the Presidency.

Seat of power

Let’s try an exercise in imagination. What happens when Malacanang gets an absentee tenant?

No court will allow Binay residency in Malacanang until and unless he is acquitted. Some things do remain sacred in this country.

Photo by Willard Cheng for abs-cbnnews.com
Photo by Willard Cheng for abs-cbnnews.com

God knows what real estate is left over from the slew of VIPs now facing plunder raps.

Binay can probably follow the example of his friend, former president and convicted plunderer Joseph Estrada, and petition for house arrest in his sprawling Batangas property. Except that he claims it’s no longer his.

They could probably transform Alan Purisima’s White House into some chi-chi detention cell. It’s in a middle of a presumably secure location. It’s within sprinting distance of a hospital. It will give Binay-the-president room to host those vin d’honneur — in batches. They can always hold Cabinet meetings in the Camp Crame grandstand.

Or Binay can try for great theater by letting the afflicted and the weary find their way to his detention center, there to cry and plead for the attention of their great, persecuted leader.

Detention comes with a certain diminution of rights. No telephones, landline or mobile. (That’s probably fiction. Convicts have phones in Muntinlupa, Crame detainees have theirs, too, to be hidden when political heat forces those staged crackdowns.) white house

Even if the Courts don’t cut Binay-the-president some slack, the man will be wallowing in enough pork to hire an army of stenographers and secretaries to record every word, and order, and sniffle, and slurp, and belch in the line of duty.

He’ll have enough cash to do anything. And you, dear enemies of Binay who happen to be pork lovers, can enjoy watching his unaudited use of intelligence funds and other discretionary monies as he runs you down.

Of course, wheeler-dealers in government will be encouraged by the President’s ‘absence’ and curtailed circumstances. So expect sky-high corruption levels, rampant rights abuses and serious neglect of public services.

The Real Loser

Power and money are an unbeatable combination.Personal interest is a great motivator. As is revenge.

Narcotics lords in remote and shifting locations rule empires with the income of mid-sized countries. Politics in this country is all about business as usual. Binay won’t even lose sleep under this scenario. There will be only one loser — the people.

malnutrition among Pinoy kids
photo from nursingdepartment.com

So those who really believe that Binay is Satan’s spawn had better improve their evidence-collecting skills.

Get off your desks and head off to where the voters are — there, dudes, in the congested ‘squatter’ communities you so like to demean, in rural hovels, everywhere where people are hungry and lack water and shelter and everything the middle-class takes for granted.

You see, the only force that can stop Binay are the people you call bobotante.

You don’t convince them just by heaping hate on a person. You win them over by showing them your love or, at the least, by pretending you don’t detest them.

It’s probably too late in the day for you to win their hearts. There’s one fighting chance. Present them with someone who can show them a little love. Otherwise, start preparing for the Absentee President.

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