NOT very many people realize that the key factor that did the Marcos regime in was his loss of credibility. Many people tend to read the wrong reasons behind the fall of strongman-led regimes, often seeing the manifestations, rather than the trigger of crumbling power.
In the case of the fall of the Marcos regime, reasons that had been cited for it were:
1. The shift of people’s affection
2. The withdrawal of US support
3. The loss of support of the armed forces
But the truth is – these were but the effects of two major developments which proved to be the beginning of the end for the Marcos regime, as follows:
1. The Ninoy Aquino assassination
2. The loss of Marcos credibility that followed the assassination
Had Marcos retained credibility, he could have managed to hold on to power. The reason why he was forced to call for a Snap Election was because an election would have given his regime a fresh boost of credibility. Of course, the whole idea of having a Snap Election was mainly in response to pressure from the US who wanted proof of continuing popular support. An election is one of the favorite methods of the US for diffusing political tension and crisis as well as for restoring the eroded credibility of one of its supported regimes.
The Communist threat here was growing at the time the Snap Election was called in 1985. The US knew that a Marcos regime that continued to rule without credibility would boost the political stock of the Left. With the Cold War raging, not even the acknowledged closeness of Marcos and US president Ronald Reagan could take precedence over America’s greater interests in the global arena.
Today, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo finds herself in exactly the same situation where Marcos had been the year before he was booted out of Malacanang by People Power. The President has spent all that is left of her credibility. To complicate matters, this loss of credibility of Macapagal-Arroyo is happening during a period when the people’s misery index is at its worst in recorded history.
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was given power by EDSA II – an extra-constitutional process that mandated reform and justice. We have yet to see even token traces of these precepts being set into motion. On Jose Rizal’s National Day, she told the nation the now infamous bare-faced lie: that she was quitting the May 2004 presidential race to unite the nation. She ran just the same and this nation has never been as divided as it is today.
We did not get fiscal reform. Instead, Macapagal-Arroyo brought us to our worst ever fiscal crisis, one that was partly brought about by her own excessive election campaign spending which involved the misuse of public funds. The supreme irony of course is that the boulevard that was named after her own father, President Diosdado Macapagal, is so graft and scandal-ridden that it is now derisively called “Dios ko Napakamahal Boulevard” (“My God, such an expensive Boulevard”) because it is the most expensive boulevard in the world on a per kilometer cost basis.
When President Diosdado Macapagal called for simple living as the style of his administration, the Philippines was still second to Japan in Asia in economic performance. We expected that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo would have at least remained steadfast to the simple living legacy of her father. First Gentleman Mike Arroyo’s controversial stay last month in a US$20,000 a night villa of the Las Vegas MGM Grand Hotel, regardless if the stay was free or not, was the very anti-thesis of President Diosdado Macapagal’s simple living which called for a lifestyle similar to that of Juan de la Cruz. Considering the poverty situation today – the worst the nation has experienced since World War II – simple living should have been the least gesture that this administration could have made as a measure of empathizing with the suffering Filipino people.
Her COMELEC appointments and the conduct of the last elections did not reflect the democratic process one would expect from a president who was brought to office by People Power. Elections are supposed to strengthen a country’s democratic tradition. The last May elections did the exact opposite. The Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey revealed that 55 percent of the nation doubts that Macapagal-Arroyo won last May.
Rather than strengthen democracy, Macapagal-Arroyo has made authoritarian rule appear attractive. Even a top US foreign policy adviser on Asia who was here last year – Bob Scalapino – noted how many now entertain non-democratic solutions to the country’s problems. In a 30-minute one-on-one with me, Scalapino expressed alarm over how Filipinos now tend to look at a period of authoritarian rule as a means to change and cleanse the rotten system. He and I agreed that at no time has the country’s cynicism level been this bad and scary.
And now, to outdo herself in destroying her own credibility, Macapagal-Arroyo claimed in a CNN interview, a day before Pope John Paul II was buried, that her ascendancy to power in 2001 had the previous blessing of the late Pontiff. This assaulted the sensitivities of many and even the Philippine Daily Inquirer came out with an editorial last April 11 to question the veracity of this claim. Most of those who are outraged by this assertion decry the fact that the only man who can confirm or deny it is dead.
If there is one bankruptcy that a government cannot afford, it is to be bankrupt in credibility. A credible leader can offset financial bankruptcy with her credibility because there will be lending institutions that will be willing to assist and a people who will be willing to sacrifice. Zero credibility is a government’s dead end.
Ferdinand Marcos had all the levers of power and that included US support. But when Marcos lost his credibility after the Ninoy Aquino assassination, the rest of his powers were rendered useless in keeping him in office. Even the US, with his friend Ronald Reagan loyal to him to the end, decided to protect its interests and junked him.
Macapagal-Arroyo does not even enjoy half of the powers that Marcos had going for him. She does not even have the kind of loyalties Marcos had – not with her own Palace officials, nor the Armed Forces nor the US. Her administration is composed of friends of convenience, a rare collection of once enemies now allies and friends who are at best Johnnies-come-lately. Those are the type of people who will jump ship at the earliest signs of a storm. Her Armed Forces remain divided between senior and junior officers, with the junior officers seeing their seniors as corrupt and untrustworthy.
The US saw her true colors when she abandoned her commitment to George W. Bush in the War on Terror during the Angelo de la Cruz hostage crisis. Even before the de la Cruz hostage crisis, it has been bruited about that then National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice did not like or trust Macapagal-Arroyo. Rice was said to have advised against a Bush Manila visit. It came as no surprise therefore that the State Department, now under Rice, has been irritating the Palace occupants lately – with the latest incidents being the State Department official report on Human Rights violations in the Philippines that proved embarrassing to the Macapagal-Arroyo administration and the even more recent assertion of US Charge d’affaires Joseph Mussomeli that Mindanao could be the new Afghanistan.
It was the US State Department, under then State Secretary George Shultz, that paved the way for the junking of Marcos by the Reagan administration. Shultz argued that if Marcos were allowed to hold on, a dangerous polarization would happen in the Philippines which will certainly favor the CPP-NPA – further assessing a possible stalemate by 1988. And so, despite Reagan’s loyalty to Marcos, a US that was then still engaged in the Cold War had no choice but to cut clean.
I’m sure that this parallelism is not lost on Macapagal-Arroyo or on her political enemies.
You may email William M. Esposo at: firstname.lastname@example.org