Life After Malacañang
What exactly is expected of former chief executives? Is there any obligation on their part to perform
specific tasks? Is it perfectly normal for them to shun politics?
BY GODFREY DANCEL
In late June, as President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. prepared to take the country’s reins, he offered to make then-outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte to be his anti-drug czar. Duterte, however, refused the offer. He was said to be preparing to be plain Citizen Rody, spending most of his time in Davao City.
The above situation raises some questions. What exactly is expected of former chief executives? Is there any obligation on their part to perform specific tasks? Is it perfectly normal for them to shun politics?
As a general rule, former presidents are no longer bound by any official presidential responsibilities after they leave Malacañang, with the one body that should serve as their formal link to the national government being moribund. This does not mean, however, that they would just fade into irrelevance. Following are some primary options available to them.
HELP HARMONIZE GOVERNANCE–IN A FORMAL CAPACITY
Former presidents—and by extension, former vice presidents—are repositories of knowledge on how to run the government, the country’s history, and of information not known to others. As such, they are logically among the most qualified to give counsel to the incumbent especially on matters of national interest.
The above is one of the reasons why, in 2003, then-President Gloria MacapagalArroyo made former presidents members of the Council of State. The council is an advisory body to the president, composed mainly of senior statesmen.
Originally established in 1918, the first Council of State’s duty was to harmonize efforts of the executive and legislative departments. This body was composed of the top leaders of the two branches: the governorgeneral, Cabinet members, the House Speaker, and the Senate President. Through the years, the council has had various iterations, with the last changes made almost a decade ago.
Despite its expanded composition, which now also includes leaders of leagues of local government units, the council has not been fully maximized. The last time it was convened was in 2006, as Arroyo faced the backlash from the ‘Hello Garci’ scandal. It is interesting to note that even as they are part of the Council of State, former presidents (and any other council member, for that matter) could choose not to participate in the body’s proceedings as a form of protest.
STAYING ACTIVE IN ELECTORAL POLITICS
Staying active in electoral politics is a direct way for former presidents to continue serving the people. Having occupied the highest position in the country, the former president is naturally considered to have more than the basic capability to head an LGU or serve either of the two chambers of Congress. The 1987 Constitution does not prevent former chief executives from engaging in electoral politics after their presidential term. Specifically, no law explicitly prohibits them from seeking or holding lower elective positions post-presidency.
Among the former presidents from 1992, Joseph Estrada and Arroyo have been active in electoral politics. Estrada, whose term was cut short by EDSA Dos in 2001, is the only president post-1986 to give the presidency another try.
In September 2007, Estrada was found guilty of plunder and sentenced to life imprisonment. A little over a month later, however, he was granted executive clemency by then-President Arroyo. He ran for the highest office in the general elections of 2010, placing second to eventual winner Benigno C. Aquino III.
Estrada went on to serve two terms as mayor of the country’s capital, the City of Manila, from 2013 to 2019. His bid for a third consecutive term in the 2019 local elections fell short.
Meanwhile, Arroyo has made her mark in the House of Representatives since she left Malacañang in 2010. She served as Congresswoman of the 2nd District of Pampanga for three consecutive terms from 2010 to 2019. A good part of these nine years was spent under hospital arrest for charges of plunder. The 2016 Supreme Court dismissal of the charges against her paved the way for Arroyo to take a more active role in House affairs. In 2018, following the controversial ouster of House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Arroyo became the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives. Term-limited at the House, Arroyo did not seek any other elective position in the 2019 elections. In late 2020, then-President Duterte appointed her as Presidential Adviser on Clark Programs and Projects. In May this year, Arroyo ran unopposed, reclaiming her old Congressional seat which had been occupied by her son Mikey Arroyo. She played a major role in the UniTeam campaign, and has pledged to support the new administration.
RUNNING A FOUNDATION
Non-government organizations (NGO) and private foundations play a crucial role in promoting national development, community improvement, and active citizen participation. As parts of civil society, NGOs and foundations can influence the actions of citizens and government officials alike.
After her term ended in 1992, Corazon Aquino took on an active force in promoting people empowerment, peace, and human rights. The Benigno S. Aquino Jr. Foundation (BSAF), established in 1983 to perpetuate the legacy of the late senator, served as her main vehicle in her efforts to harness support for the microfinance sector, which she viewed as an integral part of strengthening people power toward fortifying democracy.
After Aquino’s demise in 2009, BSAF was renamed Ninoy and Cory Aquino Foundation (NCAF). The foundation continues to partner with other groups that share their vision of “a more just, humane, equitable, and sustainable society where the youth is empowered to play a central role.” Toward this goal, NCAF has, among others, a program that aims to develop a generation of Filipinos who are willing to take on the role of selfless heroes ready to act on various societal concerns.
Meanwhile, Fidel V. Ramos organized and headed the Ramos Peace and Development Foundation (RPDEV) to further his goal of promoting peace and development not only in the Philippines but in the whole of the Asia-Pacific region. Through the foundation, Ramos was able to continue working with the men and women who helped him engineer the economic turnaround that defined his presidency.
To this day, RPDEV remains as “a key resource for government and non-government organizations, sociopolitical and civic groups, public policy-makers, private sector leaders, and individual citizens who seek to achieve lasting peace, manage sustainable development, encourage democratic political systems and effective governance, or foster socioeconomic diplomacy.”
HELPING SHAPE PUBLIC OPINION
Public opinion clearly plays an important role in shaping public policy. Even without a formal position in government, former presidents’ opinions are still valued, if not by the incumbent, at least by their own supporters.
Even as Aquino spent time with NCAF, she made it a point to voice her opinion regarding government policies and political realities that she considered counterproductive to sustained efforts at strengthening democratic institutions. Not surprisingly, she spoke up against Ramos’ proposal to amend the 1987 Constitution, a move that could have resulted in extended presidential term limits. She also opposed Estrada’s charter change efforts dubbed Constitutional Correction for Development (Concorde). In 2000, she joined those who called for Estrada’s resignation over allegations of corruption and receiving kickbacks from illegal gambling operations. A year after Arroyo’s election in 2004, Aquino also repeatedly called on her to resign over allegations of rigging the elections. She had previously expressed support for eight Cabinet members who resigned and asked Arroyo to step down.
Interestingly, Aquino had no qualms about admitting her (selfdescribed) mistakes, no matter if such admission would ruffle some of her allies’ feathers. In 2008, she publicly apologized to Estrada for her participation in what the pardoned former leader described as his unceremonious exit seven years prior. Although Aquino’s allies from EDSA DOS didn’t take her statement lightly, analysts viewed it as being borne out of her and Estrada’s shared negative sentiments toward Arroyo.
Together with Aquino, Ramos was instrumental in the ouster of Estrada. Unlike his predecessor, however, Ramos publicly supported Arroyo in 2005. He also pushed for charter change (Cha-Cha) under Arroyo, with the goal of establishing a unicameral parliamentary system of government.
Even at his advanced age, Ramos stayed active during the presidential campaign of 2016, throwing his weight behind Duterte. He, however, soon withdrew support for Duterte over the latter’s war on drugs. Even as he tried to maintain his distance from politics, Aquino III, from time to time, issued public statements to clear his name in relation to the Dengvaxia and Mamasapano issues. In December 2017, Aquino III faced a Senate investigation into the raging Dengvaxia controversy. The Department of Health (DOH) had launched a dengue vaccination program using the Dengvaxia vaccine just a couple of months before Aquino III vacated his post. The department subsequently suspended the program after serious concerns were raised over the vaccine’s possible adverse effects on vaccinated children. As more and more people put the blame on him and his administration, Aquino III attended the inquiry as he wanted to help bring the truth to light.
WRITING THEIR AUTOBIOGRAPHY OR MEMOIRS
It may not be as common here in the Philippines as it is in other countries, but writing a memoir is something that a former president ought to do. For one, memoirs serve as primary sources of our nation’s history as much as of the author or subject’s personal history. In the second sense, memoirs serve to clarify issues that hounded the president during his or her incumbency, and to share insights for incumbent and future leaders.
Earlier this year, Arroyo launched her memoir, entitled “Deus Ex Machina.” This, according to her, is meant to show more of her as a person—student, teacher, economist, wife,—and not so much as a politician, although it does touch on her being a president facing various problems. One of the issues Arroyo addresses through the book is the reason for the infamous “Hello Garci” call.
Almost a decade ago, Ramos’ 30-part serialized autobiography entitled “My Personal History” came out in the Japanese Newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun. Ramos supporters are awaiting the release of the essays in book form.
The supposed “connivance of rich businessmen… with the elite class” that resulted in his ouster midway through his term is one of the main topics discussed in Estrada’s autobiography with the title “Conspiracy of the Elite: How the Presidency Was Taken From Me.”
Meanwhile, it took 27 years after the end of her term—and 10 years after her death—Cory Aquino’s memoirs could be published. “To Love Another Day,” which came into being mainly because of her nephew Rapa Lopa’s efforts, is meant “not so much to draw attention to her… but… to share the lessons she learned along the way.”
BE MORE OR LESS A “PLAIN CITIZEN”
Citizens are wont to cut former ranking officials some slack after such officials end their terms of office. After all, a president’s six years in office could seem a lifetime of pressure. Aquino III generally stayed away from the public eye after he left Malacanang in 2016. According to sources close to him, he received invites to be part of the board of some companies but turned these down. He also turned down requests for him to speak in conferences. With time on his hands, Aquino III was able to indulge in his hobbies, particularly reading books, listening to music, and target shooting. Most of all, he had the opportunity to interact with his nephews and nieces. Of course, being a “plain citizen” or “private citizen” does not mean being apathetic. In the same vein, keeping quiet on some issues does not mean indifference. According to her spokesperson Abigail Valte, Aquino III kept himself abreast of current developments but chose to keep silent on some issues so as not to put “undue burden” on the incumbent.
OPTIONS FOR DUTERTE
Five weeks into his “retirement,” photos of a motorcycle-riding Duterte making the rounds of Davao at dawn surfaced. Far from his (hyperbolic) statement a few months back that he would spend his time roaming on a motorcycle to run after and shoot drug peddlers, he was seen interacting with soldiers, policemen, and vendors, as well as eating durian.
Just like his predecessors, Duterte has all options open to him now that he is no longer the chief executive. It is important to note that his options for possible modes of involvement–or non-involvement– are not mutually exclusive.
What seems most certain is that Duterte will be spending his time in Davao, as he had previously stated. He could choose to seek an elective post in 2025, what with key local positions being held by his family members. It could be recalled that in 2021, he filed a certificate of candidacy for senator, but eventually backed out. Prior to that, he was also reportedly contemplating on running for vice president, but this did not push through. This cleared the way for his daughter, eventual winning candidate Sara Duterte-Carpio, to seek the second highest position in the country. Duterte running for Davao mayor or congressman would not be surprising.
As one of only four living former presidents, Duterte could play a major role in shaping not just public opinion but more importantly, public policy. Receiving high trust and approval ratings before his term ended, he is expected to enjoy widespread support still. His views on certain issues are expected to still merit close attention from his supporters.
If he actually decides to retire from politics, Duterte could put up a foundation focused on fighting illegal drugs and promoting peace and order. The steadfastness he showed in his war on drugs from 2016 to 2022 is not expected to suddenly wane soon, but without authority over the police, he may have to take a different tack.
With less than 100 days (as of writing) after his term ended, Duterte could still be warming up to his role as a former president. Whether he would eventually choose to stay active in political discourse or stay away from the public eye remains to be seen.