How Gloria is like and unlike Marcos
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo 2005-10-03
FRIENDS and kin were frantically texting me last week to ask my reading of the news about an impending imposition of martial law. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo used complex jargon but this was seen only as euphemism for the bad M word. This did not temper anxieties, particularly since it was no less than the Philippine Daily Inquirer and INQ7 who had bannered the story. The subsequent events (the curtailment of freedom of dissent through the Calibrated Pre-emptive Response (CPR) policy and the infamous Executive Order 464 that now prevents government officials, including military officers, from attending congressional investigations without prior presidential approval) all fueled and heightened people’s fears.

Martial law or ‘calibrated pre-emptive response’ or even ‘emergency rule’ is by no means a daily fare of freedom-loving nations. Anyone imposing it must have very strong justification and must be able to carry it out most effectively. Even more basic than that – the leader must have the character and personality to maintain control. Otherwise, it will be like riding the back of the tiger only to end up inside its stomach as its repast.
Pakistan’s Musharraf and Egypt’s Mubarak govern by authoritarian regimes under the guise of ‘constitutional order’, similar to the one propagated by our own Ferdinand Marcos whose martial rule covered the country’s dark years between 1972 and 1986. Based on common conditions and circumstances, it is easy to see how Musharraf, Mubarak and Marcos managed to operate under authoritarian conditions. To determine therefore if indeed President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo can imitate Marcos and impose martial law, we must study her personal qualities as well as the conditions under which she governs. We then have to run all this against the personal qualities of Marcos, the man, and the conditions in 1972, the year he declared martial law.

Like Marcos

There are indeed striking similarities between Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Ferdinand Marcos. The most glaring of these are their obsession with power and their determination to resort to extreme measures to keep it. Both are also inveterate liars. Ms Arroyo’s most famous lie is well documented in print, broadcast, cable and even Internet/blog media: On December 30, 2002, the day the nation commemorates the death of our national hero Dr. Jose Rizal, she pledged she will not run in the 2004 elections. She not only backtracked on that pledge – she even stole the elections, as 80% of Filipinos now believe. She went through the motions of opening herself to the constitutional process governing impeachment – which gave an appearance of open submission to due process. Of course it later turned out that all this was part of a master plan designed to put a quick end to all the controversy surrounding the Gloria-Garci tapes. So when her congressional allies promptly and brazenly dismissed the impeachment charges, everyone realized that they were only fulfilling their assigned roles in the presidential survival scheme. As far as the Palace was concerned, anyone who protested in the aftermath were troublemakers and ‘de-stabilizers’.

Like Marcos, she subverted democracy. Marcos did it by imposing martial law. Ms Arroyo uses willing pawns like Virgilio Garcillano, a well-oiled political machinery and a conniving upper-class. As part of subverting democracy, Ms Arroyo, like Marcos, is now stifling dissent by banning rallies and other protest actions, again under the guise of addressing ‘destabilization’ plots. Also like Marcos before her, Ms Arroyo claims support from the invisible ‘silent majority’ and the enforcement of the ‘rule of law’ as her justifications for her fascist tendencies these days.

After imposing martial law, Marcos introduced a new constitution (the 1973 constitution) that was meant to lend ‘legal’ cover for his authoritarian regime. President Arroyo, in connivance with Fidel Ramos and Joe de Venecia, is now also forcing charter change on Filipinos who are averse to it and all too skeptical about any reform and change she proposes for that matter. In the latest survey on people’s attitude towards charter change, 65% said they were against it. Considering that the survey was conducted before the congressional massacre of the impeachment case, it is logical to expect a sharp increase in the number of people who will all the more reject it!

Unlike Marcos

However, there is also a world of difference between the personalities of Marcos and Ms Arroyo and the political conditions during 1972 and today.

For one, Gloria’s lackluster personality is nowhere near Marcos’ captivating wit and magnetism. I had a glimpse into Gloria’s personality at that time when she and husband Mike Arroyo had asked me to help her presidential bid in 1998. It then became clear to me that personality is actually one of Gloria’s weakest points. Gloria was never comfortable with people, especially with people she does not know. Fellow campaign consultants for her 1998 presidential bid actually found it odd that for someone who opted to enter politics, she is so ill-at-ease with people. I do not mean this in a derogatory way. There are people with that kind of a personality and it is neither a fault nor is it uncommon. But it is odd to be like that when you are a politician.

People I’ve met in the course of the 1998 campaign told me that Gloria had very few really close friends and the ones who are known are the late Bing Rodrigo and former MTRCB chief Marilen Dinglasan, my wife’s cousin, Cynthia Carrion, and Cherry Zapanta (who suggested to Gloria to enlist my help in the 1998 campaign). Not only that, Gloria has a knack for losing friends and associates. By the time Bing Rodrigo and Marilen Dinglasan passed away, they were no longer friendly with Gloria. Bing fell out of presidential grace when she “inconvenienced” Mike Arroyo in the telecom deal scandal early on in the Macapagal-Arroyo regime while Marilen was fired as MTRCB chief.

Unlike Marcos who enjoyed loyal friends, this is not the case for Gloria. Those who profess loyalty to Ms Arroyo are friends of convenience who cannot be relied upon to stand by her when the going gets rough. The loyalties that she enjoys these days are results of symbiotic relationships. Marcos, until the end, never lost the loyalty of his closest henchmen like Bobby Benedicto, Danding Cojuangco and Fabian Ver. Even people such as those associated with the Carpio, Cruz and Villaraza law firm – her core group – and their kin made overtures to the Raul Roco camp in 2003 when Roco was then leading in the presidential surveys.

Unlike Marcos, who stood by his friends through thick and thin, Gloria has the reputation for being a fair weather friend who practices friendship by objective – her objective. Marcos had a long memory of gratitude for people who had bequeathed kindness and favors to him. When Marcos was found guilty by a lower court of murdering Julio Nalundasan, his father’s political rival, he appealed his case to the Supreme Court and defended himself. He escaped a prison term for the Nalundasan murder case because Jose Laurel – then Supreme Court Chief Justice – became a major influence in acquitting the obviously promising young defendant who had brilliantly argued his own case. Long after Laurel’s demise, Marcos’ gratitude for having been liberated from a prison term extended to members of the Laurel clan. When the Laurels later became his critics and protagonists in the 1980s, Marcos did not touch them at all, which was untypical of the dictator.

In contrast, Gloria, through her operatives, assails Cory Aquino with such venom – it is clear she has forgotten that the former president had played a key role in enforcing constitutional ascendancy in 2001 to make her move up to the presidency. Most of the protesters in EDSA II wanted a total overhaul, a revolutionary government which would have ended Gloria’s political career there and then. But Cory and Cardinal Sin’s insistence for constitutional succession prevailed and the rest is history.

Gloria may be an excellent transactional politician, as observed by my friend Dick Gordon, but governing through the use of bayonets requires more than just transactional ability – it requires a commanding personality. Gloria does not have the commanding personality that one would easily detect in Musharraf, Mubarak, and Marcos. A president may govern by transaction but a commander-in-chief must rule by diktat and it is the commander-in-chief’s hat that one dons when ruling via martial law. To command is more than just to issue orders. It is to inspire the respect, awe or fear that will make men fight and die for you. I do not see any of that in Gloria.

She does not have Marcos’s nerves of steel. Even at the lowest point of his health condition, Marcos had steadfastly ruled with an iron hand. The only times Marcos failed to make public appearances were those times when his physical condition would not allow it, as when he had his kidney transplant. We all saw how long it took Gloria to re-appear in public when the Garci tapes came out. Ask yourself then if that is the commander-in-chief soldiers will look up to, fight and die for?

Given what I know about Gloria’s personality, I do not see how Gloria can govern in a martial law state. She is a mother and will naturally worry about her children and grandchildren. There are of course aspiring dictators in her midst – which comes as no surprise, considering that she has recycled Marcos operators to work for her. It will be the height of folly for her to allow herself to be their tool for attaining their lust for power.

But more than just not having the personality and aptitude to be an autocrat, Ms Arroyo does not have the necessary circumstances to impose martial law. This is because of striking differences in the conditions existing today and the circumstances prevailing in 1972 when Marcos declared martial law.

These big differences between 1972 and 2005 conditions are:

1. When Marcos declared martial law, he had the solid support of the armed forces. Today, the military is split and the junior officers have made known their desire for Gloria to step down. Gloria cannot enforce martial law if majors, captains and lieutenants refuse to follow her orders. Under these conditions of a divided AFP, Gloria and her ilk may end up the victims of martial law, instead of its beneficiaries.

2. One of the reasons why Marcos had the support of the military is because he had a credible ‘bogey man’ in the Communists. Marcos succeeded in creating the impression that the Reds were about to attain stalemate stage. Gloria does not have such a bogey man. People see her as the problem that refuses to go away. It is hard to peddle a radical solution when you are identified as the main problem.

3. When Marcos imposed martial law, the people did not have the benefit of knowing how to react. For that generation of baby boomers in 1972, the situation was a first experience. Not quite the same today, not with the collective experience of people after two People Power events. People today may be lukewarm to the opposition but that attitude cannot be expected when it comes to an imposition of martial law. A Pulse Asia survey confirmed that close to 70% nationwide rejects martial law at this time. When you change the equation, expect a change in people’s reaction. Refusal of OFWs to remit their dollars alone will trigger a collapse of an unwanted martial law regime.

4. The United States played a major part in making it possible for Marcos to declare martial law. In 1972, the US was reeling from the nightmare of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal and the resulting resignation of President Richard Nixon. Haunted by the specter of communism and its spread in the region under the principle of the Domino Theory, the US preferred to support dictatorial leadership that they can control. It was also the time when US-supported caudillos (Latin American dictators) were in vogue – Pinochet in Chile, Somoza in Nicaragua, to name a few. Today, the world and the US know better.

5. Not only is dictatorship anathema to US policy these days, but Gloria is not exactly viewed by the US as a strong partner. On the contrary, she has been classified time and again as the weakest link in the war on terror. If the US will play its hand here, it will be to secure their interests with Gloria’s successor and not to side with one who they consider their weakest link. Repeated pronouncements of ‘continued US support’ do not guarantee US support. It will be recalled that the US was vowing support for the late South Vietnamese president Ngo Ding Diem only days before they removed him in a violent coup.

I do not even factor here that under the 1987 constitution, there can be no imposition of martial law without the approval of congress. As we saw with the massacre of the impeachment case against Ms Arroyo, congress is very easily co-opted. Besides, there is no excluding the possibility that a president who can steal an election can also be a president who can impose martial law sans the constitutional process for doing so.

But then all these assume that the players in Malacanang, especially the president, will assess the martial law option as carefully as we have tried to evaluate the pros and cons. When paranoia governs the mind, logic flies out the window. And with all the pressures that Gloria has been under since ‘winning’ the 2004 elections – the FPJ burial and the fear that it might lead to People Power, the Angelo de la Cruz crisis, the jueteng hearings, the Garci tapes, the vocal agitation of the YOUng and now the Gudani revelations and the questions about the Venable and Northrail contracts – who knows what rules the presidential mind and heart these days?

A presidential miscalculation in imposing martial law could easily result in a bloody civil war should the anticipated counter armed force react. The civil war scenario assumes that Ms Arroyo will be able to muster enough civilian and military support to contest control of the country. If she manages to muster that support, the divisions in our society and the desperation of the times for the impoverished 40 million or so can easily foment a long drawn conflict, one that can result in the dismemberment of the republic should one force fail to dominate.

Shakespeare had the appropriate words for it: “Madness in great ones (people in high places or positions) must never unwatched go.”

You may email William M. Esposo at:

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