The Manila Times - What is more toxic than a crony? A crony school?

By Yen Makabenta | The Manila Times

First word

I SUBMIT that it is time to place the “crony school” in Philippine public life on the table for serious analysis and discussion.

I mean not only the unofficial designation of the San Beda College of Law and the Lyceum University as crony schools by President Duterte, because he has tapped their alumni for appointments in his administration.

In talks with friends and colleagues, I have discovered to my horror that my alma mater, Ateneo de Manila University, has irreversibly become the bastion or fount of Yellow and Liberal Party politics, even after the object of followership, former president Noynoy Aquino, has descended from the pedestal into near ignominy, and seems unwilling to wear yellow now.

In the confusing politics today, Ateneo stands at the forefront of opposition and resistance to the administration and politics of President Duterte. It has become the face of reaction to the tide of change that DU30 has churned with his many reforms and bold policies to spur government to action.

With little thought about the issues and little reflection on who is Maria Lourdes Sereno, Ateneo’s administrators and talking heads have waded into the loud campaign for Sereno, and railed against the Supreme Court and the justices who ousted her as chief justice.

Putting Ateneo on the line

Some fellow alumni have asked me how our school, which was once so correct and slow to action, became committed to the dubious project of restoring Sereno in the high court, regardless of her limitations and dishonesty. They wonder how the Society of Jesus, the Ateneo administrators and the faculties of various colleges and departments arrived at the startling policy of putting the name of the Ateneo on the line in this sham enterprise.

The short answer is that they took seriously the title of crony school that the second President Aquino bestowed on it during his years in Malacañang, from 2010 to 2016. With little to show of the fruits of cronyism, they have forced Ateneo to share the onus of Aquino’s failed presidency. They have glossed over Aquino’s undistinguished matriculation in the Ateneo. They lent Ateneo’s patronage and auspices to many Aquino projects.

The transition into total absorption in Sereno’s forlorn fight is bizarre.

Why fight for Sereno

Ateneo appears committed to Sereno, because the Ateneo president, Jose Ramon Villarin, S. J, graduated in the same year from the Ateneo as Sereno – in 1980. Villarin graduated with a degree in physics, while Sereno took a degree in economics.

The following year in 1981, Benigno Aquino 3rd graduated from the Ateneo with a degree in economics. Graduating in the same year also was Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa. Aquino appointed Caguioa as associate justice of the Supreme Court in the final year of his presidency.

On June 29, 2010, Villarin was elected to succeed Bienvenido Nebres, S.J, as president of Ateneo de Manila University.

The following day, on June 30, 2010, Benigno Aquino 3rd was sworn into office as the 15th president of the Republic of the Philippines.

Two presidents, two justices of the Supreme Court – this is the sort of thing that oftentimes enthrall some people into thinking they are invincible.

These tidbits of biography may explain Villarin’s personal commitment to Noynoy Aquino or to Maria Lourdes Sereno.

They do not explain or justify the enlistment of the Ateneo as an institution in the campaign against the Duterte government, and now the campaign against the Supreme Court. There is no philosophical or pedagogic connection between the institution of learning and the politics. Indeed, this is misguided thinking.

Crony capitalism

When cronyism first became a hot-button issue during the Asian financial crisis in 1997, it was in relation to business and the economy.

Crony capitalism became the term of choice for an economy wherein businesses thrive not as a result of risks they take, but rather as a return on money amassed through a nexus between a business class and the political class. This is done using state power to crush genuine competition in handing out permits, government grants, special tax breaks, or other forms of state intervention over resources where the state exercises monopolist control over public goods, for example, mining concessions for primary commodities or contracts for public works.

Crony capitalism, says Wikipedia, spills over into the government, the politics and the media, when this nexus distorts the economy and affects society to the extent that it corrupts the public service and poisons society.

“Crony” became a word of abuse or badge of privilege during the long period of Ferdinand Marcos’ authoritarian rule. When the Marcoses fled into exile, the old elites returned to their commanding heights in the economy with a vengeance, and a vow never to be displaced again.

In politics, yellow became the dominant color. Everyone fawned over the Aquinos. The new powers-that-be took over everything, declared positions vacant, and lorded over every high position in government. Cory Aquino took the opportunity to write her own Constitution, not once but twice (first, a revolutionary constitution, then the 1987 Constitution). Seven coup attempts swiftly unveiled Cory’s incompetence and cluelessness as president. For a while, control and cronyism in media masked the empty head of the national leadership.

When President Cory died of cancer in 2009, the yellows staged a massive show of national mourning. There was talk of getting Cory canonized by the Vatican. At the time the Jesuits were already enmeshed in Aquino politics. A Jesuit was assigned to devote his time to the project of convincing the Vatican to canonize Cory. The effort came to nothing.

In Cory ‘s wake, the yellows got the idea of putting up then senator Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino 3rd as the Liberal Party’s candidate for president in the elections of 2010. They forced the LP candidate Manuel “Mar” Roxas to withdraw in Noynoy’s favor. Aquino won in the first presidential election using the technology of Venezuelan firm Smartmatic.

It may be that Noynoy Aquino as the new president became a factor in the society’s selection of his classmate Fr. Villarin as the new president of Ateneo de Manila. The Jesuits are always politically astute, and this has often gotten the society into trouble.

In these circumstances, the Ateneo got enmeshed in the politics of the Aquinos and the Liberal Party. It is a crony in its own right, but of a defunct regime.

Oligarchy behind Sereno and opposition

Today, many wonder about the source of funding for Sereno’s expensive and prolonged struggle to hold on to her post in the Supreme Court. Some say that the oligarchy and the cronies of Noynoy Aquino have put up her war chest. This is a fight for survival for them.

Sereno’s ordeal has naturally combined with the struggle of the Liberal Party and the Yellow Cult to remain politically relevant. They have merged as the opposition to Duterte, especially in the run-up to the elections next year. This is why Sereno has not yet thrown in the towel in her hopeless fight against the `Supreme Court. The money bags have told her to keep swinging.

When the court meets in early June to decide on Sereno’s motion for reconsideration of the quo warranto ruling, the justices will simply announce that there is no change in their vote on the question. If there is any change in the voting, I am told, it will probably be an increase in the votes against Sereno.

If the Jesuits and the Ateneo do not rethink their position, it means they are not that politically astute. They should disabuse themselves of “Tuwid na daan.” It leads straight to irrelevance.