MANILA, June 30, 2005
(STAR) FIRST PERSON By Alex Magno - Get  On...

Nothing the President would have said Monday night could please everybody.

The apology was not an easy one to cut. There is no precedent for a Filipino president apologizing to her people. There is a tangle of legal issues that will have to be cut cleanly. There are vicious anti-administration forces waiting in the shadows to pounce on every lapse, to twist any poorly chosen word and to seize on every excuse to mount protests.

The President’s admission and apology had to be carefully composed. It had to be reserved, appropriate to the dignity of the office she occupies. At the same instance, it must be of such emotional tone that the short address would resonate with an audience nursed with dripping television melodrama.

What we heard was an apology resting on the untested assumption that Filipinos are an extraordinarily forgiving people, that the audience would take the apology for a "lapse in judgment" and get on with the business of living in placid times.

The President’s allies were all over the media moments after the apology was delivered: spinning the line that we should now forgive and forget, that the unwarranted controversy now be put to rest and the other challenges to our progress be confronted by a united and hopeful people. Common decency dictated that the spokesmen of the opposition take the apology. That done, they had to say as well that the admission raised more questions than were answered – thereby creating an opportunity for milking the controversy further, for whatever drop of political profit I might continue to yield.

Not surprisingly, the routinely autistic militant groups sprang street protests Monday night, convincing themselves that presidential admission would serve as a "triggering event" similar to the "second envelope" that precipitated Edsa Dos. The rains dispersed them without much incident.

From early indications, much of the population would rather accept the apology and let the thing pass.

But the sincere discomfort with that apology appears to come from what was once the President’s core constituency: the civil society groups, clergymen, professionals, business leaders. Here the reviews are distinctly more critical. Later today, many of the groups that participated in Edsa Dos are due to call a press conference to unveil a unified stand on the matter of the tapes and the apology we all heard.

The text of the apology was clearly crafted by legal eagles. That allowed the President to secure herself from suits; but it diminished the sincerity that was equally important to contain the political damage wrought by this scandal.

There was admission she was the voice in the tapes. But there was no admission regarding the wrongdoing that might be suggested by the content of the tapped conversations.

The really controversial aspects of the tapped conversations, those that truly disturb the President’s core constituency, were glossed over in the apology. This core constituency earnestly hoped that some headway had been gained the past few years in curbing the corruption of our electoral system and in making our institutions more modern.

Furthermore, there can be no real contrition without adequate reparation. Although there are indications the President will follow through her apology with a more detailed plan of action for electoral reform and against corruption, there was no reparation mentioned in Monday’s address to the nation.

Any mention of the so-called "destabilization" plots and the suspicious origins of the tapes would have cluttered up Monday’s address to the nation. But in due time, the public should be given a plausible theory about the "destabilization" attempt.

In due time, too, the President ought to offer the public a plausible theory about who tapped presidential conversations. Where did all these tapes come from? Why were these tapes released at the time they were?

The wiretapping might be illegal and reprehensible. But the fact is, the wiretapped material is out there, available for the general public to listen in. The most controversial elements of that tapped material demands that more questions be answered.

This controversy will not end just yet.

Most of us truly want to get on with life, to put this murky episode behind us and work harder to bring prosperity to this land. But we cannot do that as determinedly as we might want to if there are too many questions dangling at the back of our minds.

Have we heard everything that the wiretapped conversations might contain? Are there any more scandal-bombs to be exploded?

A short, almost cryptic, apology with so much legalistic sleight-of-hand leaves us with a sense that there is so much more we still must know, so much that still has to be admitted to us. The apology does not deliver us from the anxiety that enveloped us the past few weeks. The heavy air of doubt, of suspiciousness, still hangs.

We all feel a little disoriented, not unlike the feeling one has after stepping down from a roller-coaster. We all remain a little unsettled.

True, there is much to do and little time to lose. But to be at our best, we must have fuller faith in our institutions, greater confidence in those who lead us. That fuller faith and greater confidence can only come from what the President says and does the next few days.

Most people I spoke with the past two days seem willing to forgive but unwilling to forget. If at all, this scandal stirs our ability to remember.

Whatever happened to the 100-day plan drafted shortly before Joseph Estrada was deposed and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo assumed the presidency? Whatever happened to the agenda of reforms that would make our institutions more robust? Whatever happened to the new morality in governance we were supposed to have won by deposing a failed presidency?

It is easy to ask for forgiveness. It is many times more difficult to inspire.

Our people have forgiven; they now want to be inspired. Our people might be prepared to let this "lapse in judgment" pass; but they also want assurance that a humbled and wounded presidency will exercise decisive leadership for our troubled nation.

If that assurance is not immediately delivered, dangerous ideas will continue to flutter in the air.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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