There was something reassuring in the photo of five Philippine presidents – new President Duterte and former Presidents Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and Benigno S. Aquino III –at the meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) in Malacanang last Wednesday.
It showed stability and continuity in our system of government. President Duterte may be a strong-willed leader who won a sweeping election victory last May 9, but he showed his readiness to meet with his predecessors, to listen to their views, together with those of the other leaders in the new administration and Congress.
Presidents Ramos, Estrada, Arroyo, and Aquino represent 24 years of Philippine history during which the country went through and overcame one problem after another. Many of today’s difficulties developed from events in those years. The former presidents’ insights and how they dealt with those difficulties could be most useful in the search for solutions to some of today’s problems.
Even before the NSC meeting, President Duterte had already called on President Ramos to help in our sensitive relations with China following the recent ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on our dispute in the South China Sea. This was among the matters discussed at the NSC meeting last Wednesday.
There were many other issues taken up in the five-hour meeting, notably the war against drugs and the roadmap for peace with Moro forces in Mindanao and with the Communist rebels. The Senate and House leaders in the meeting said they picked up ideas that they plan to develop with their fellow legislators for possible enactment into law.
After this initial meeting of the National Security Council, President Duterte might find it useful to convene a lower working group – the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) – composed of executive and legislative officials. The LEDAC does not have the former Philippine presidents but it includes leaders of the private sector who could have important inputs on key issues, especially economic ones.
The meeting of the National Security Council was variously described by Senate leaders as substantial, educational, productive, free-flowing, and even entertaining. It showed President Duterte’s “inclusive politics” at work, they said.
The presence of the four former presidents was a high point of the meeting. Their presence was a symbol of our national unity and an indication that this administration will be a government of consensus as much as it is a government for change.