THERE is a world of difference between what President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo says and what she does. Anyone who wants to understand what is really going on – whether she is staying on or on her way out – must learn to read beyond the sound bytes and be able to interpret the hidden messages conveyed by body language and actions.
In many cases, the confusion of many Filipinos can’t be helped – they are not privy to the unprintable and unmentionable in media coverage nor do they have access to the sources and developments that will help them form the big picture. It takes experience, political savvy and the insight of a political analyst to sift through the lies and half-truths and see the big picture.
Filipinos who have lived overseas for quite a while are most vulnerable to misreading developments happening back home. They get their news from websites and friends who are more often than not also victims of speculative and sensational information, not to mention outright propaganda designed to suit a political objective. From the feedback I get from immigrant Filipinos it is very easy to detect how little they know about goings on in their homeland. Not being able to have an accurate scan of the terrain, they tend to form their thinking from other people’s reactions to official statements.
If we draw our conclusions on the likely fate of President Arroyo on the basis of what the newspapers say, it is easy to be misled into thinking that she will hold on to the presidency. But the more discerning observer in the home front will not fail to read the disturbing signals transmitted by her more recent moves. The promulgation of Calibrated Pre-emptive Response (CPR), EO 464 and those ‘shoot-to-kill’ orders for coup plot recruiters reflect actions of the desperate, validating the conclusion that Ms Arroyo is hanging by the thread.
The military genius Napoleon Bonaparte taught his generals that the enemy concentrates his forces in the very spot where he feels most vulnerable. Even earlier than Napoleon, Sun Tzu prescribed that one must try to appear bigger when one is small and appear small when one is actually enjoying the advantage. That is exactly what Ms Arroyo has been trying to convey lately – that she is winning and will stay the course. In reality, she is exactly what Sun Tzu would describe as the small force whose existence is endangered.
What Ms Arroyo is desperately trying to do is to:
1. Rally the morale of her troops in order to stop the erosion of her support base. By troops, I mean both the members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) who are still loyal to her as well as her political supporters. She knows only too well how disintegration of support had led to the fall of Marcos and Estrada. To survive the political jungle, one must keep one’s support base intact – let it crumble and you fall into the abyss.
2. Demoralize the forces of the opposition. By opposition, I do not just refer to the pathetic political opposition parties who lost the respect of the middle class when they rallied behind an unproven movie actor – Fernando Poe, Jr. I refer to the public at large, the close to 80% who think that Ms Arroyo stole the 2004 elections and now want her to vacate the presidency.
3. Discourage key sectors and power players, notably the military, from challenging her continued stay in office. The AFP and the US are examples of power blocks who are supposed to be non-aligned in these political struggles. But as we saw with the 1986 People Power Revolt, both were key players that tilted the outcome in favor of Cory Aquino.
It does not take a political savant to figure out Ms Arroyo’s recent moves as political suicide, a major step towards alienating herself from her own supporters. Take the case for instance of CPR and EO 464. When these measures were announced, her own allies in both congress and the senate distanced themselves from it. Only the likes of Donald Dee, who has earned the ‘distinction’ for being the most loyal to whoever sits in Malacanang, supported CPR and EO 464.
Even the predictably servile Joe de Venecia, the master executioner of the impeachment case massacre in congress – was quick to state his opposition to EO 464 when it was announced. Having lost the support of Senate President Frank Drilon who has joined the call for her resignation, Ms Arroyo was already desperate to win senate allies. But EO 464 practically turned the entire senate against her. There were 16 senators who signed the legal documents that challenged EO 464 in the Supreme Court.
The President and her strategists could not have miscalculated the fallout from CPR and EO 464. We know she has clowns who give us comic relief now and then but the likes of Ronnie Puno, Eddie Ermita and Avelino Cruz are certainly not the type of people who could have overlooked the negative repercussions of CPR and EO 464.
Coming fresh from the quashing of the impeachment case in congress, these moves come like combination punches deliberately delivered to keep the truth from inflicting its damage. These measures further erode that small segment of the nation who still gives Ms Arroyo the benefit of the doubt that she is the legitimate president.
So what made them spring these most uncharacteristic and apparently imprudent courses of action? The answer is simple: they perceive the downfall to be so precariously close, they have ran out of credible ammunition for defense – so now, they throw in the entire cannon, hoping this will arrest any further threat. Survival is everything at this point and it takes precedence over image and relationships.
So what’s there to fear when there aren’t many people protesting in the streets? Again the answer is simple: they are aware of close to 80% who want Ms Arroyo removed and the threat of military junior officers taking action behind popular indignation, the way they did in EDSA I and II.
In EDSA I, we never even had any inkling about military participation until it happened. In EDSA II, Estrada chief of staff Angie Reyes stage-managed the appearance of a constant parade of generals to suggest all was well with the chain of command. Of course, the next thing we saw was Angie Reyes on stage at the EDSA Shrine to express his switch of allegiance to Ms Arroyo come January 21, 2001.
This is not the case now. Over the past two months, we have been reading about statements from the YOUng expressing their demand for the President to step down. Over the past three weeks, no less than Senators Ramon “Jun” Magsaysay and Rodolfo “Pong” Biazon have warned about the real threat of the junior officers taking a direct hand in the political stalemate. Magsaysay and Biazon are not your usual ‘cry wolf’ hysteria breeders who would shoot off their mouths even if they did not have solid grounds for their expressed concerns.
Former RAM stalwarts Rex Robles, Billy Bibit and Proceso Maligalig have aired similar concerns about wide scale restiveness in the military over the absence of closure on the issue of fraud in the 2004 elections and questions raised on President Arroyo’s legitimacy as commander in chief of the armed forces. Even known Fidel Ramos man, Gen. Ramon Montano (Ret.), openly asserted that the majority of officers and soldiers in the AFP are poised to remove Ms Arroyo. Likewise, the retired generals, who have traditionally been the conduit for active officers, confirm the same.
Not only that – recent communications conveyed by the YOUng have never been this impassioned and purposeful. They do not only question the legitimacy of Ms Arroyo’s presidency, they also want her out. This never happened before.
How about that other power player, the United States, who has historically denied involvement in our affairs but whose influential hand is always felt just the same – whose side do they appear to be on? Ms Arroyo went on the offensive and tried to make it appear that the indictment of former police Superintendent Michael Ray Aquino was a favor done for her by the US. Well, is it?
It is not. The US did it for the US and not as a favor for the President. It is a matter of top priority for them to monitor and immediately plug any information leaks, especially in the highest and most sensitive offices of the US government. I subscribe to what former retired Commodore Rex Robles commented that the White House spying expose may in effect be the US way of indirectly conveying to the military here (who will always take the cue from the US) what the US thinks of Ms Arroyo. The contents of those documents are very damaging to her. Coming from reports submitted to the US president and vice-president, these reports appear to have the equivalent of ‘Papal infallibility’, having been processed and validated by the CIA and State Department.
I’ve said it time and again in this column that if the US will take a stand in this crisis, it will be to secure their interests with whoever will succeed Ms Arroyo. US policy is conducted in a no-nonsense, business-like manner. There are no personalities, only and strictly bottom line considerations. If personal relationships were to matter, Ronald Reagan would never have dropped Marcos in 1986. But he did because Marcos was finished politically and US interests dictated a switch to the new Cory Aquino regime.
Believe me; I have it on good authority that US officialdom is not particularly enamored with President Arroyo – especially after the Angelo de la Cruz incident when she caved in to the demands of the Iraqi insurgents to pull out Philippine troops in Iraq. On the contrary, she is considered the weakest link in Asia. There is good reason to believe that Ms Arroyo’s cozying up to China of late is another survival tactic to offset the loss of US support. Switching partners has always been her favorite game.
Now ask yourself: Is Ms Arroyo winning or losing this political battle? Do you think her actions indicate that she is coming or going? Do these actions show strength or panic?
You may email William M. Esposo at: firstname.lastname@example.org