By Raissa Robles
For instance, to be able to haul former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to court, Aquino carefully, patiently and methodically set up shots to pick out one obstacle after another. The shots came from unexpected angles.
Highly placed sources, familiar with what happened, explained to Asian Dragon what actions Aquino took to attain his political objective and why the game of billiards is key to understanding his future actions. They spoke on condition of anonymity.
Aquino started by breaking the rack – in billiard-speak – by issuing Executive Order Number 1. It established a Truth Commission to investigate all alleged corruption cases during the Arroyo administration.
When the Supreme Court issued an injunction against EO 1, Aquino set up another shot – the removal of Merceditas Gutierrez from the Office of the Ombudsman – since only the Ombudsman is constitutionally allowed to prosecute graft cases.
One of the sources explained how really close Mrs Gutierrez was to Mrs Arroyo – she was the law school classmate of Mrs Arroyo’s spouse Jose Miguel. When they were all single, Merceditas, her would-be husband and the Arroyo couple had gone double-dating. In short, they were a cozy foursome who had enjoyed one another’s company.
Seen from this perspective, it was understandable why Mrs Arroyo entrusted the anti-graft investigation office to Mrs Gutierrez.
It seemed next to impossible to remove her since she had tenure and only a tedious impeachment process would work. The first one which was filed against her in 2009 was dead in the water, blocked by her congressional allies.
Two other complaints were filed against her as soon as Arroyo stepped down from office and Aquino took her place. But for nearly a year, Aquino supporters fretted and waited for his congressional allies to move against Gutierrez.
Now it can be told that early on, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa was personally directed by President Aquino to negotiate with Gutierrez her exit from the post.
When she refused to budge, Aquino bided his time until he had the numbers in the House of Representatives to get her impeached. Sources said the debate inside the presidential palace on whether or not the time was ripe to move against Gutierrez was intense and furious.
But Aquino was adamant. He wanted to make doubly sure the House had the numbers to pull it through. Even a dip in his popularity poll ratings due to his inability to deliver on promises did not nudge him from biding his time.
Finally on March 22, 2011, the House impeached an Ombudsman for the very first time even though nearly a year before that, the chamber was dominated by Arroyo allies. Most of them had switched over to Aquino’s side. Rather than face an impeachment trial, Gutierrez resigned on April 29, 2011, shortly before her trial was to start.
Aquino had won the first rack.
The second rack or match was more complicated still. Even with a more independent Ombudsman, the latter’s actions could still be blocked by a Supreme Court led by a former Arroyo aide – then Chief Justice Renato Corona – and dominated by Arroyo appointees.
This is where the game of billiards is such an apt metaphor to explain what happened next.
Everyone thought the next political target of the House – which was by then dominated by Aquino allies – was Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo. In May 2011, days after Gutierrez’ resignation, the House Committee on Justice had voted 11-10 to declare an impeachment complaint against Justice Del Castillo “sufficient in form”.
The public waited to see what would happen next to the new impeachment complaint.
Unknown to the public, however, after Congress resumed in July, the spadework to build a case against Corona quietly began – first with the scrutiny of his Statement of Assets, Liability and Net Worth (SALNs) and his various real properties.
In mid-November 2011 when Arroyo, her spouse and aides were blocked trying to board a plane to Singapore, the effort to get Corona impeached went on high gear, the sources said.
What happened next was like a shot played by the pool magician Efren “Bata” Reyes. Before she had stepped down from the presidency, Mrs. Arroyo had – to continue the analogy – made sure that the object ball (Corona) was well barricaded.
The obstacles consisted of a House dominated by her allies, a graft investigation office headed by a friend and a Chief Justice seat for Corona extending well beyond Aquino’s tenure and secured by an SC ruling that justified his midnight appointment.
But somehow, Aquino threaded his shots around these obstacles and nailed the object ball, putting it into a pocket.
When Corona realized he was about to be impeached, it was too late to prevent his impeachment by the House all of one day, December 12, 2011.
One of the sources described President Aquino’s actions in this manner: “Every time he would be convinced one door was shutting, he would again ramp it up in another avenue. You could see he was trying to calculate it, trying to push it forward.”
When that didn’t work, “then he would fall silent and find another way…there is a lot of dodging around and jumping from place to place. It’s time consuming,” the source added.
“His concept of political time is different from everybody else’s,” the same source warned.
This simply means that when people think President Aquino has given up on an idea or a cause or a course of action, he hasn’t. He keeps his moves close to his chest and will simply surprise everyone.
Sources described Aquino as having “a deliberate style”.
“He’s not in his best element when things are happening fast like in the Luneta bus hostage taking,” one of them said.
[This article first appeared in the December 2012 issue of Asian Dragon magazine and is being reprinted here with its permission.]
UPDATE as of 11:40 pm, January 5, 2013 :
Thanks @Baycas for finding the photo below of PNoy, the pool Magician Efren “Bata” Reyes and Francisco “Django” Bustamante visiting the presidential palace.