Friday, September 18, 2009

Elections as circus

By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
Business World/18-19 Sept 2009

The opening salvoes praising or lambasting current and prospective frontrunners in the presidential derby appear to be generating excitement and anticipation, much like the first solid blows in the opening rounds of a world title boxing match. In truth, what is unfolding before our eyes is merely another bad, if not worse, version of past electoral contests marked by demagoguery, mudslinging, empty rhetoric, massive vote buying and wholesale fraud - unmistakable signs of a bankrupt and decaying political and social system.

The Lacson-Erap bout is grabbing more attention what with Senator Lacson’s serious, if not altogether new, allegations about ousted President Estrada’s jueteng payola and the use of strong-arm tactics to favor his and cronies’ business interests. The rumored reasons for Mr. Lacson’s sudden loquaciousness regarding Erap and the timing of his expose are less than saintly, including an alleged pact with the “she-devil” to help torpedo Erap’s presidential comeback in exchange for wiggling out of the Dacer-Corbito murder case.

It could be only a matter of time before Mr. Lacson drives the proverbial stake into his former boss’s political heart by pointing to the latter as the brains behind the double murder. Or then again, the entire brouhaha may just die down should some form of political and legal accommodation be worked out among the slugging contenders.

Philippine traditional politics is so full of the seemingly impossible. For one thing, don’t expect any honest-to-goodness investigation and prosecution to take place despite the grievousness of the charges being flung about. This appears all part of the electoral circus we have all gotten used to.

Another self-evident sign of the rotting carcass that is Philippine politics is the super-concentration of political pelf and power to a few families. Here we have the Cojuangco cousins, Sen. Noynoy Aquino and Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro as leading contenders. The recycling of political personalities from clans that have ruled before and have only brought the country to greater ruin and the people to greater misery is a permanent fixture in the bleak political landscape.

Nouveau riche Senator Manny Villar, smarting from an ongoing Senate investigation into his alleged corrupt deals, was prompted to dispute the Aquino camp’s framing the 2010 contest as one between “good” and “evil”, i.e. corrupt vs. non-corrupt. Instead, he described it as one between “rich” and “poor”, misrepresenting himself as the latter.

The anti-climactic choice of Defense Secretary Teodoro as the administration party’s standard-bearer only underscores the Arroyo ruling clique’s desperation and absolute disrespect for rules, even their own. The choice was narrowed down to the two consistent survey tail-enders, Teodoro and MMDA Chair Bayani Fernando after Vice President Noli de Castro, GMA’s anointed, snubbed the draft by refusing to even join the LAKAS-KAMPI-CMD. Mr. Fernando, who bannered his loyalty to his party, appeared like a dejected dog after he unsuccessfully moved to have a national convention choose the party’s presidential candidate rather than by a questionable vote of the party’s much smaller Executive Committee.

All these highlighted a gaping wound in the side of the supposedly formidable party machinery of the Arroyo clique. Days before, former President Fidel V. Ramos and former House Speaker Jose De Venecia, the tandem who had saved Mrs. Arroyo’s political neck in the wake of damaging evidence of her direct involvement in systematic election fraud in 2004, declared their decisive break with what they consider to be an illegal merger party.

The consolidation of a significant number of former allies of Mrs. Arroyo in direct opposition to her reveals a greater worsening of the conflicts among the ruling elite. As the room for mutual accommodation of interests shrinks further, the infighting is bound to intensify and grow more deadly.

Mr. Ramos himself and Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile - two of the main pillars of the fascist Marcos Dictatorship, and veterans of so-called political brinkmanship up to and including the imposition of martial law by then President Ferdinand Marcos and the instigation of bloody intrigue and military coup d’etats during Cory Aquino’s regime - warned of plots by the current occupant of MalacaƱang to perpetuate herself in power beyond 2010.

These include “No-el” or no elections and what would amount to a Palace coup, or else a military/police takeover should there be a massive failure of elections leading to National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales’ scenario of a “transition government” under the aegis of the Arroyo-Ermita-Gonzales cabal.

Should such come to pass, all bets are off for what follows. For one, the overhaul of the Philippine Constitution towards a parliamentary system that will allow the continued hold on power of the Arroyo clique and an entire slew of revisions in the protectionist, civil libertarian and bases-free, nuclear-fee provisions of the 1987 Charter.

While public attention has been riveted on the posturing and pseudo-clashes among the leading contenders this election season, the Arroyo regime has been quietly intensifying its fascist maneuvers against the people and the people’s movement for change. There is an alarming spike once more in extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. Just recently, a Catholic priest Fr. Cecilio Lucero, who was championing the cause of human rights in the rural backwaters of Northern Samar where the military reigns supreme, was killed. Another young student activist, Noriel Rodriguez, was abducted by suspected military agents and is still missing.

Hopes for a resumption of formal peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the revolutionary umbrella formation, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), have been all but dashed with the sabotage by Executive Secretary Ermita and Presidential Peace Adviser Razon of the confidence-building measures agreed upon in preparatory talks, foremost of which is a halt to the practice of filing trumped-up criminal charges and illegal arrests of NDFP peace talks consultants that only serve to poison the atmosphere for earnest talks. It would appear that the militarists' sabotage of the GRP-NDFP peace talks presage the parallel sabotage of the electoral process in order to perpetuate Mrs. Arroyo in power.

Ironically but fortunately, the splits and intensifying infighting within the ruling elite open up possibilities and avenues for a politically conscious and vigilant people to make use of the coming electoral exercise as a useful means and arena by which tyrants, frauds, corrupt and immoral leaders are removed from office.

More important, the election season can be harnessed to inspire, educate, and move the people to further expose the ills of society and fight for more fundamental changes. #

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