Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Pack Your Bags, Gloria

Hot Manila

Perhaps President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo can't take a hint. The most respected and credible members of her cabinet have abandoned her and want her to resign; the Makati Business Club has asked that she stepdown; Cory Aquino twice called on her to relinquish her post. Demonstrations against her are increasing and show no signs of abating, opinion polls show her credibility in the negatives and political allies are turning against her. There's even a web site that's been set up called gmaresign now.com

Might there be something about the word "quit" that Mrs. Arroyo doesn't understand?

She maintains that if there's a case against her, it should be done constitutionally, through impeachment. Here's a quote for her: "Snap elections are unconstitutional, while impeachment is a long process." Who dared say this? Why, it was somebody named Gloria Arroyo - back in 2000 when she was vice-president and demanding that Joseph Estrada resign.

In the purely expedient world the President and her advisers apparently inhabit, nothing matters now except appearances. A pro-Arroyo rally that musters 120,000 people - most of them members of the El Shaddai cult, clients and employees of the loyalist Manila mayor or bussed-in province mates of Mrs. Arroyo -- is seen as proof of her popularity. The refusal of the Catholic hierarchy to call for her resignation is seen as a tremendous victory. A storm is building and the administration's reading tea leaves to check the weather.

To confuse the public, Arroyo allies last week released an alleged wiretap of Joseph Estrada plotting against the government. A shabby, amateurish production , the second wiretap doesn't invalidate the first, which strongly indicates President Arroyo cheating in last year's elections. Also, Estrada is already safely under custody. The persons in the "Garci" tape are not.

Mrs. Arroyo's spin meisters have been so busy conjuring the basest, darkest motives for her opponents (the resigned Cabinet secretaries are "traitors", Cory Aquino wants to protect Hacienda Luisita) that they haven't bothered to check how ridiculous their messages play. The smears are only causing irritation among people who are beginning to suspect their President is both a cheat and a liar, and her spouse could be seriously into graft.

Arroyo strategists might want to consult recent history in Central America and Eastern Europe, which shows that besieged governments that stubbornly cling to power tend to fall the same way, firing off defiant, blustering broadsides just before they suddenly capsize. The record also shows all the presidents ousted the last five years were driven to resign rather than impeached.

If for nothing else, Mrs. Arroyo should resign for an amazing display of crisis mismanagement. A chief executive can't even handle a deadly threat to her political career has no business handling the affairs of millions.

The whole wiretap scandal has been bungled from the get-go. In an alternate Universe in another dimension - one where the Philippines has ethical politicians - this is what an alternate Gloria Arroyo might do: if she were innocent, she would immediately and ferociously deny it, demand an investigation to clear her name, sue her accusers and order election commissioner Virgilio Garcilliano interrogated.

If she were guilty she would immediately apologize and resign, possibly making sure her husband is turned over to investigators.

Pick your poison

Faced with the hair-raising prospect of a Fernando Poe victory, the middle class was a passive accomplice. It turned its face to the wall and refused to see how the Arroyo administration packed the graft-ridden Comelec with allies, and profligately spent public funds on the campaign. Mrs. Arroyo didn't shrink from enlisting the same dirty tricks advisers, the notorious Puno brothers, Joseph Estrada used.

Mrs. Arroyo's middle class supporters could barely wait to rush in with fulsome congratulations when the President made a public confession and promised to "punish" herself by working twice as hard. Some of those supporters, writing on newsgroups, have put a class tone to the dispute: they've dismissed the anti-Arroyo protesters as "motley" because they're either poor or leftist. Presumably, rich and rightwing street demonstrators who support Mrs. Arroyo are not motley.

Civil society has been so misled by the perfumed rallies it used to overthrow Estrada that it's in danger of thinking it has an exclusive franchise on People Power.

The administration has tried to keep People Power off the agenda by insisting on a "constitutional" process. This means going through Congress, where a richly comic drama is being played out. Four years ago, Estrada's enemies were demanding that an envelope proving his corruption be opened, and his supporters blocked the move. Now, Mrs.Arroyo's allies are blocking a motion to play a recording of the wiretap.

Mrs. Arroyo herself has tarred all her current critics"destabilizers", while her propagandists have succeeded in defining "opposition" as consisting solely of Joseph Estrada and his Gangrene Gang. The president's supporters have also put down Susan Roces as a mere actress, forgetting how in 1985 a certain Cory Aquino wasdenigrated as a "mere housewife." Mrs. Aquino's subsequent career shows that it isn't necessarily what a leader can do that's important, it's what she symbolizes.

And right now Mrs. Arroyo symbolizes divisiveness. If this is just thef irst year of her term, it's hard to see her surviving until 2010. Her credibility has taken such a terrific battering that the only way she can recover is by doing something breathtaking and spectacular: repudiating the colossal debt on the useless Bataan reactor; jailing a couple of Marcoses and their cronies and recovering their ill-gotten wealth.

Assuming she survives this year, her administration will lurch along, trailing blood. She'll be hard put pushing her "terror n' taxes" agenda: codifying a national ID scheme, increasing revenues through regressive taxes, and ultimately perpetuating the administration by transitioning to a parliamentary system. And the Supreme Court just dealt her another blow by ordering an injunction against the extended VAT, a centerpiece of the government's economic program.

Weakened by massive graft and corruption, an unjust justice system and poverty, the country does not need a leadership crisis like this. The middle class, business leaders, and conservative politicians fear that throwing Mrs. Arroyo out of office could cause turmoil and economic devastation. They're not looking at the other side of the coin: an Arroyo who hangs on to office could also cause turmoil and economic devastation.

Painful as it seems, the time could soon come when the public will have to make some choices about a new leader. If the middle class refuses to involve itself in this process it might see the landscape dominated by the Estrada clique. Its own fear of bloodshed and violence could turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.


Copyright 2005 Alan C. Robles All rights reserved editor@hotmanila.ph

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