Perilous options for the country and Gloria M. Arroyo
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo 2005-06-20
First, we find confirmation to what most of us already know: Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s already sinking popularity sinks to a further -33%, breaking the record she herself had set in terms of presidential dissatisfaction rating. Soon after, a double whammy hits her —one implicating members of her family as recipients of jueteng payoffs, and the other, the tragicomic “Gloriagate” tapes of a wiretapped conversation which supposedly incriminates her of conniving with a COMELEC official to cheat during the last elections. No doubt, all these would have easily zapped any head of state to kingdom come.
And yet she remains. She remains because the Filipino people, sick and tired as they all are, no longer have any iota of trust and confidence in any of the existing visible alternatives. The prospect of having Noli de Castro as president or having anyone selected from the opposition’s gallery of the disgraced is obviously an unpalatable alternative for a people who already know by experience that all this won’t work.

But just because people reject the idea of a President Noli de Castro or maybe even worse, an Estrada comeback, it does not mean that Macapagal-Arroyo can presume advantage by default. It would be truly pathetic for her to entertain the illusion that she is the only game in town because nothing can be farther from the truth.

All this seeming public apathy only confirms how hopeless the Filipino feels in finding relief from misery. The people now seriously doubt the system itself and the traditional politicians it has produced. This is the only logical explanation for all the perceived public indifference to the scandals and the political circus.

I have ruled out public ‘indifference’ as the reason behind the strange silence. While all surveys check out each other in confirming Macapagal-Arroyo’s continuing and even dramatic slide in popularity, these also expose a growing public sentiment for exploring extra-constitutional modes for attaining reform. Under normal times and conditions, Macapagal-Arroyo would by now have been subjected to impeachment proceedings, if not an outright ouster by People Power. The “Storming of the Bastille” has not happened because the system no longer appeals to the people who also consider both the opposition and the administration as two sides of the same rotten coin.

Yet, by no means should Macapagal-Arroyo rejoice over this state of affairs. By no means does this offer a guarantee that she will hold on to her position. What this simply means is that the people are not looking at a return of the opposition to power to introduce the reforms long overdue. The implication of all this is that we are now entering another phase of a political process that is both untried as it is dangerous.

In all probability, the outcome of the convergence of events will be severe for both the present ruler and the nation. That is because the range of options will now have widened to accommodate the possible emergence of the armed groups – both the Left and the Right – as the eventual wielders of political power. The situation has all the makings of a stalemate between a ruler who can no longer rule with credibility and viability and a total system collapse.

Based on historical parallels, such a scenario will bring about a deterioration of the fiscal crisis, business closures and capital flight. The economic meltdown on our already fragile socio-economic state can only bring about more restiveness, more peace and order problems and further breakdown of our national and moral fiber.

A situation like this of course makes it ripe for a military takeover, which can come by way of popular acclaim or by sheer mandate of the constitution. We have never been under the direct rule of the generals, even during our Martial Law experience where civilian rule prevailed with Marcos as dictator operating through military muscle. We would be lucky if we end up with a military regime that is idealistic and reform-minded. Maybe this will help provide a swift and decisive action in breaking down oppressive structures in which our conscience-less elite have long remained entrenched. But what if it is the likes of Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia who will end up running the authoritarian regime?

We cannot also discount the possibility of the Left emerging the victor after all this. It will be recalled that the Communists had seized power in Russia right after the collapse of the Romanov dynasty. We have been getting feedback that the prevailing conditions are actually expanding the membership and patronage base of the Left. I will not discount them – especially in the likely event of a system failure. We cannot even discount the possibility that a faction of the military may end up aligning with the Left. It will not be surprising to find more Corpuses and Jarques in the military organization who will end up shifting sides to join the Left.

We must remember that the Left that we had known way back in the 50s through the 80s which had also been known for their religious intolerance and ruthlessness have now mellowed and have become more adaptable. Today’s China, with its unfolding economic miracle, is showing the world a brand new face of the Left. If the Left was at its strongest in 1986, expect the conditions today to be even more favorable for them.

In 1986, US President Ronald Reagan junked his personal friend Ferdinand Marcos when the State Department under George Shultz advised him that if Marcos stayed in power, the Left would enjoy a stalemate by 1987. We just wonder what Condi Rice is now advising George W. Bush on the Philippines. The emerging specter of the Chinese Dragon is rekindling US concern over its geo-political interests in Asia. The Philippines had always and will always be a vital element in upholding US geo-political interests in the South China Sea. I do not for a moment believe the US statement in giving 100% support for the Macapagal-Arroyo regime in the midst of all her troubles. The US can and will go along with Right Wing takeovers if it suits their interests.

Inasmuch as both the Right and the Left will not be expected to watch idly by while one side makes a grab for power, we also cannot rule out the possibility of a civil war. Considering the divisions in our society today, that will be the greatest scourge that we can give to our next generation. If civil war erupts, it will be fought between factions aiming to takeover from the black hole left by the collapsed Macapagal-Arroyo regime. Likely, it will not be between a faction fighting to keep Macapagal-Arroyo in power and another trying to oust her. Judging the relationships in this regime – where alliances are carved out of patronage and convenience rather than principles – I do not see many who will be willing to fight (much less willing to die) for her. Lip service, yes, and plenty of it she will get. But to actually put themselves in the line of fire for her, I don’t see that happening. Marcos had much more support going for him and that did not keep him in power.

Can Macapagal-Arroyo do a Marcos and declare Martial Law as rumors have floated last Friday? She has some bullies around her with substantial interests to lose who may influence her to do that. Unless she has totally lost her grasp of reality, she should not even consider that. She does not have any of the leverages that Marcos enjoyed when Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972 – mainly total support of the military and the US who was then concerned with the Domino Theory of Communist expansion in Asia. There is a serious rift between the senior and junior officers of the military today and if the US will play this game it will likely be to place a pro-US successor of Macapagal-Arroyo.

Neither you nor I should relish any of the emerging scenarios. But it is also the height of folly to delude ourselves and not to recognize the dangers we now face. To solve our problem, we must first face the problem itself. Wishful thinking will not heal the conflicts in the land.

Macapagal-Arroyo cannot hold on to power regardless if there is an acceptable opposition or not. Signals emanating from the administration ranks show that. Already, major players in her political coalition are starting to hedge their bets. Watch the Liberal Party. I’ve written about them in past columns that they have a bright future ahead of them and would not want to go down with Macapagal-Arroyo. Mar Roxas, a Liberal, was the senate race topnotcher in the 2004 elections and is a strong contender for the 2010 presidential elections – if the system lasts until 2010. Liberal Party president Frank Drilon has asked Macapagal-Arroyo to bear down on her own kinfolk who have been implicated in the jueteng scandal. Drilon has also asked Macapagal-Arroyo to respond to the controversial alleged taped conversations between her and COMELEC Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.

A non-Liberal and administration ally, Sen. Richard Gordon has suggested that Reps. Mikey and Iggy Arroyo resign their congressional posts. The Makati Business Club took a position that Macapagal-Arroyo has to address the “Gloriagate” tapes. More religious leaders are voicing the same position that she has to come clean on the taped conversations with Garcillano. The support she gets from the likes of Mike Velarde and Donald Dee – long suspected ambassadors of the administration – do not echo any credibility.

The Liberal Party has nothing more to gain from sticking it out with Macapagal-Arroyo and too much to lose by going down with her. The lack of credibility of the opposition should spur the Liberals to initiate the move to provide for a face-saving exit mechanism for Macapagal-Arroyo – one that protects their political future. On the other hand, Macapagal-Arroyo would do well to take that departure option where her allies are in control rather than wait for the other dreadful scenarios to play out.

Our traditional politicians are like cockroaches. They endure because they have honed their instincts to sniff danger and opportunity. They certainly know that their figurehead’s power is substantially eroded and that a powerful political wind has hit town. I’m sure they sense that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo – already -33% before these two mega controversies – cannot last. They should know that these issues are not settled in the Courts of Law (where the administration is desperately trying to lead it) but in the Court of Public Opinion as it was settled in the ouster of Marcos and Estrada. The tendency to dispute these issues in the Court of Public Opinion is reinforced by people like Raul Gonzalez in the Justice Department as well as known Macapagal-Arroyo allies who have been appointed by her in the various courts. Few would believe that justice can ever be served with these people at the helm.

Ironically, the root cause of the problem is also the best hope in solving the problem – Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Macapagal-Arroyo, just like Marcos before her, still enjoys the initiative and can diffuse the situation that – if allowed to blow its full potential for discord and dissent – can result in the ultimate tragedy for her and her ilk. The result can be no different to the fate that befell Benito Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci of Italy in 1945 or Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu of Romania in 1989.

With US prodding, Marcos accepted the reality that his further rule was no longer tenable and left with his family while he still could. Marcos, for his foresight, died in his bed.

It’s your call, Madame President.

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