Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On Presidential inaugurals

Benigno S Aquino III was inaugurated as the 15th President of the Philippines today under cloudy but rainless skies in Manila's Quirino Grandstand. Police estimate 500,000 people attended the simple but dignified ceremonies.

I am glad that effort was made to recover some Presidential inaugural traditions which have been discarded by previous Presidents. First is the venue. The grandstand or its predecessor has been the venue of Philippine presidential inaugurations after World War II. Previously all inaugurations were held at the steps of the Legislative Building (now National Museum). This was borrowed from American tradition (which has its origin from the English) since it means that while the Executive is co-equal to the Congress, it has to work with it (note the prefix "co"). The Chief Justice administers the Oath to the President as a sign that the Judiciary is also co-equal to the Executive. The whole unsaid idea here is that none of the three branches of government are superior to each other and that all are under the Divine authority.

The destruction of the Congress building in WWII put a end to inaugurations on its steps. By the time the building was rebuilt and the new republic was inaugurated, the venue had become too small. Also the Quirino grandstand was near the original site where the 1946 independence ceremonies were held. So Presidents were inaugurated there until Mrs Cory Aquino, who took power under turbulent times during the 1986 People Power revolt, had to take her oath in a country club. For his last inaugural Mr Ferdinand Marcos took his in the Palace. None of them could have it in the Quirino Grandstand. Presidents who took their oath elsewhere were Elpidio Quirino and CP Garcia who took theirs in the Palace since they were Veeps who succeeded their presidents who died in office.

Another Presidential tradition that was restored is that the outgoing President escorts his/her successor to the inaugural venue. This symbolizes the constitutional transfer of power and says volumes on civility. Since Manuel Quezon died in office and Sergio Osmena took his oath in exile, this never happened until Manuel Roxas was elected in 1946 and Osmena escorted him to the ruined steps of the Congress building. Osmena then retired to his home to listen to the ceremonies on radio.

One lost tradition that will never be revived because of climate change is that the President shows up for his big day in Morning dress. President Elpidio Quirino if I am not wrong, is the last one to do this.

The President then gives his inaugural address after taking the oath. All Philippine Presidents have done this. After the ceremonies he formally takes possession of Malacanang Palace. He ascends the grand staircase (to show that the sovereign Filipino people has elected its leader who will not oppress them. The staircase is traditionally the site where a begging Teodora Alonso tearfully begged the Spanish Governor general to spare his son Jose Rizal, from execution)

In the inaugural of Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino, the traditions were kept but the ceremony was pared down to its minimum. There was no inaugural parade. However when he took possession of the Palace, he went straight to the cabinet meeting rooms and not the grand staircase. Perhaps this is a sign of "we dispense with the ceremonies and go to work" attitude.

What I find poignant is that his sisters, all former Malacanang tenants said "bye". It marks the instance when their relationship with their brother is changed forever.

This reminds me of that movie about a Pope "Shoes of the Fisherman" when the new pope played by Anthony Hopkins was ushered into the "room of tears". It is said that all newly elected popes shed tears of sorrow after realizing the immensity of their tasks as Vicar of Christ. Here an usher shows him three sizes of papal cassocks. The Philippine President has no "room of tears" but the immensity of his tasks can make anyone shed tears of sorrow. While the Pope has to reign till the end of his life, the President has only six years.

Again election of a President is not enough. As citizens of a democracy, we may have to vehemently oppose or support Noynoy Aquino for the good of our beloved Philippines. However we are obliged to confirm him with our prayers.

Mabuhay! Benigno S Aquino III.

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