I expected, as I think most people did, that the Supreme Court’s ruling that the controversial “Disbursement Acceleration Program” (DAP) invented by President B.S. Aquino 3.0 and his clever, soulless accountant Butch Abad would be that it was blatantly unconstitutional, but I was somewhat surprised that the vote was unanimous (13-0, with one abstention). I don’t think even The Manila Times’ ace reporter Jomar Canlas – who, thanks to having developed a carefully-cultivated, well-protected source at the Supreme Court, routinely breaks news of important rulings and other Court affairs days or weeks before they become public knowledge – saw that coming, and given the usual behavior of the Court, or more specifically, Aquino’s four sycophantic appointees Maria Lourdes Sereno, Bienvenido Reyes, Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Marvic Leonen, a 10-4 or 9-5 vote seemed like the probable spread. A vote like that would have allowed the Administration shills to stay in their boss’ good graces, particularly after their unanimous vote against the PDAF in November last year.
The decision instantly brought to mind another momentous unanimous Supreme Court decision that was made, half a world away, 40 years ago this month: The 8-0 vote of the US Supreme Court in the United States vs. Richard Nixon case, which denied a motion by the embattled US President to quash a subpoena for the infamous “Nixon tapes” issued by the US District Court in Washington, DC at the request of Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski. Those tapes, which were records of conversations held in Nixon’s White House office, were central to the rapidly-expanding Watergate case; Nixon and his attorneys, realizing as everyone else already did that those tapes contained damning evidence of the President’s personal involvement in the attempted cover-up of the Watergate burglary and a number of other crimes, worked furiously to avoid having to turn them over to investigators, citing national security concerns and in particular, “executive privilege.”
The US Supreme Court’s ruling on July 24, 1974 – which as in the present-day DAP case took an unusually long time to be issued – held that “executive privilege” was not absolute, especially not when it was being used to forestall a valid investigation and judicial process. Unable to defy the courts any longer, Nixon permitted the release of the tapes, and on August 5, the “smoking gun” was discovered: A recording of a conversation that indicated Nixon had been informed of the White House’s connection to the Watergate break-in not long after it happened, and had directed his staff to deflect the investigation. Already facing impeachment – the House Judiciary Committee had voted to pass an impeachment case on to the full House of Representatives even before the Supreme Court ruled on the tapes – Nixon was informed by Congressional leaders that he would in all likelihood be convicted and removed from office in a Senate trial if it came to that, so on August 9, after giving a tense yet nonetheless weirdly statesman-like address to the nation the previous evening, Nixon resigned, handing over the presidency to his Vice President of less than 10 months, Gerald R. Ford.
There are some eerie similarities between the two cases. Richard Nixon was very different from Noynoy Aquino in some fundamental ways, certainly. Working-class Nixon was a brilliant student, served as a Naval officer in World War II, and was a competent practicing attorney before entering politics, where he gained national prominence through a number of accomplishments as a Congressman, Senator, and then Vice President of Dwight Eisenhower; as President, he was noted for an energetic foreign policy that improved relations with the Soviet Union and China, he expanded environmental laws, initiated significant economic programs (which may or may not have actually been good ideas), and supported affirmative action and equal rights for women. Noynoy Aquino, on the other hand, is…Noynoy Aquino. What the two men do have in common, however, is having been enormously popular at the time of their last elections, and having the same sort of sociopathic vindictiveness, overall lack of ethical sensibilities, and unhealthy obsession with their place in history. Both men presided over Administrations that were uniquely noted for number, scale, and breadth of the scandals that occurred, but both were, at least for a while, able to prevent suspicion from falling on them personally.
When suspicions did become too great to ignore, both presidents preemptively claimed innocence in addresses to their countries on primetime television, and when that didn’t work, both had a bloc of ideological support within their respective Supreme Courts that they thought they could count on to at least ease the blow of an adverse ruling by making it less than unanimous, and therefore debatable. In Nixon’s case, three of the eight justices who voted against him were his own appointees; a fourth, William Rehnquist, recused himself from the case because he had served for a time in the office of Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell. (Nixon, incidentally, had trouble with Rehnquist’s name, and in the taped conversations that were finally turned over to the Special Prosecutor after the Supreme Court ruling, Nixon could be heard several times referring to him as “Renchburg”.)
And of course, both presidents finally pushed it too far, overestimated their own infallibility, and had a personal hand in activities they must have known were blatantly illegal; Nixon’s culpability was established by the tapes he tried so hard to keep from being heard, while Aquino’s was established by his own accountant, Abad, who threw his boss under the bus in his own testimony before the Supreme Court prior to yesterday’s ruling.
It remains to be seen whether B.S. Aquino will suffer the same fate as R.M. Nixon. Within minutes of the announcement of yesterday’s ruling, there were reports that impeachment complaints against Aquino and charges of fraud and malversation of funds against Butch Abad were being readied, but expectations that the moral turpitude of officials like the Secretary of Justice and the Ombudsman (both of whom seem to labor under the additional handicap of having no apparent legal skills) and the Philippine Legislature who would actually handle an impeachment proceeding will suddenly vanish are pretty low. After all, an impeachment on the grounds of willfully violating the Constitution to repurpose funds that mainly ended up in the hands of the legislators themselves will expose many of them as conspirators, and that is a path none will willingly tread. The effect on the country will probably be the same either way: Two more years (or more) of political paralysis, with the focus of those in power directed not towards the people’s business, but their own self-preservation. Sad to say, it’s a situation the country is probably used to by now.