Mr. Sta. Ana is the coordinator of Action for Economic Reforms. This article was published in the Opinion Section, Yellow Pad column of BusinessWorld, July 18, 2005 edition, p. S1/6..
At the height of the 2004 presidential campaign, we received a forwarded email from Minguita Padilla, an ophthalmologist, who described herself as the high school batchmate of Loren Legarda. Like Loren and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA), Minguita is an alumna of the Assumption Convent.
In this widely circulated email, Minguita expressed her disappointment with schoolmate Loren for being the running mate of Fernando Poe, Jr. (FPJ). Minguita preferred GMA, the other Assumptionista, to win the presidency.
Minguita wrote that Loren and politicians she held in “high regard” like Nene Pimentel “committed [an] immense disservice…to the Filipino people by choosing to inflict Fernando Poe, Jr. on us as a presidential candidate.” Moreover, she accused FPJ of “beating up helpless reporters” and urinating on them. She suggested that FPJ was a tax evader and asserted that FPJ could not give an “intelligent opinion on any of the major problems plaguing the country and the world.”
She then called the masa, overwhelmingly pro-FPJ, “ignorant” though “not stupid.” Minguita said she would do her “share to try to educate the ignorant among our countrymen.”
Minguita’s email raised cackles of ridicule among a narrow set of male friends who enjoy deriding the stereotype from Assumption. That is: Assumptionistas may be pretty and polished and may make good wives of rich men, but they can be haughty, condescending and less intelligent than, say, the Theresians or Maryknollers.
We saw Minguita, like Loren and GMA, as the archetype of the Assumption colegiala. The unrepentant naughty boys could not hide their irrational, prejudiced opinion of the Assumption snob. My friend Felipoy, jocular as ever and occasionally sexist, quipped: “GMA and Loren have something in common that make them bad politicians—the dreadful combination of being menopausal and being graduates of Assumption.” I challenged Felipoy to say this publicly. He could not say it openly, he admitted, for what he feared most was absorbing the combined fury of his mom, his only sister, and his only daughter who are all Assumption alumnae.
And so, we apologize to Minguita and to all those offended by our tasteless jokes. We also say sorry for ridiculing Minguita behind her back. Moreover, we apologize to Minguita for underestimating her character.
Minguita turns out to be an intelligent person. Her positions on several issues are sensible. For one thing, she has decried the oppressiveness of the bill on medical malpractice, vaguely defined, which if passed, would raise the costs of medical care, discourage doctors from attending to high-risk patients, and abet the migration of physicians to greener pastures. For another thing, she has called on legislators to give up their pork barrel funds.
But we have learned to respect Minguita primarily because she is honest enough to say that her previous judgment failed her and because she is steadfast in defending her moral conviction.
Almost a year after she voted for GMA, Minguita admits that she voted for GMA because of her fear of FPJ. “At that time,” Minguita said, “I believed [FPJ was] the greater evil; not so much because of his person who history has since judged to have been a good man with a noble heart and a sincere desire to serve our country.”
Minguita feels betrayed, especially in the wake of the release and playing of the “Garci” tapes. She has called on GMA to resign.
In her letter to the Assumptionistas, she wrote: “Each day that [GMA] remains in office is now viewed by many as an assault on our democracy and our constitution. That many, if not all, of the religious orders, rose up in arms against President Estrada simply because he was caught receiving jueteng payola, but are now hesitant to rise up in outrage against this gravest of betrayals, is disturbing to say the least. It cannot be justice. Can we then blame the angered multitudes who now call us hypocrites?”
These are brave words for an Assumptionista. Her actions speak louder than her words. Aside from being the president of Sinag, which is described as “a people’s crusade for good governance,” Minguita is the head and spokersperson of a more militant group called OUTRAGE. This is an alliance of overseas Filipinos, their families and other advocates whose call to migrants is to withhold their remittances through formal banking channels until GMA steps down.
It will be a hard struggle for Minguita. She has taken up the challenge to convince her fellow elite to withdraw support for GMA and to fight for what is right.
GMA is already isolated. But there is still a segment of the population, especially among the upper classes, who, like the Minguita of before, would rather stick with GMA out of fear of the alternatives.
The truth is, the costs are terribly heavier in a prolonged GMA rule. The economy is spinning out of control as GMA abandons fiscal prudence, investors panic, the Central Bank increases interest rates to neutralize currency speculation, and international creditors jack up the risk premia.
It is not only long-term growth that suffers; institutions, too, are destroyed. What economists call a moral hazard problem arises: To allow GMA to get away with a blatant violation of laws upon which Philippine democracy is founded is to embolden everyone else to willfully violate any other laws, rules, and norms. We cannot but take seriously this text joke: “From the Bureau of Internal Revenue and Malacañang: Pwede na po mandaya sa bayad ng tax. Basta mag-sorry ka lang after three weeks.” (“Cheating on tax payment is now allowed so long as you say sorry after three weeks.”)
In addressing the fear of the post-GMA scenario, we, including Minguita, have to draw a roadmap that will show the way not only in replacing personalities but more important, in changing or reforming institutions. These institutions include the elections and the COMELEC, the military and the police, the justice system, the tax collection, the Executive, the legislature and the party system, the local governments, as well as corporate governance and civil society culture.
And for this journey, we draw inspiration from Minguita’s words: “We must take that leap of faith minus the fear of the unknown; fueled by the certainty that can only come from knowing that what we are doing is right by all standards.”