I’m saddened by the unfolding tragedy that is the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo presidency. I have seen it fit to be the critic of her presidency but in truth, there had been a few good times between Gloria M. Arroyo and me.
In 1996, news about Gloria’s intention to run for the 1998 presidential race brought relief to those who dreaded the thought of Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada becoming president. For those who cared about nurturing the fragile post-EDSA democracy to healthier stability, the thought of having Erap take control was indeed frightening.
As the topnotcher in the 1995 senatorial elections, Gloria indeed had what it takes to beat Erap. In early 1996, at the Intercon Hotel in Makati, Cherry Zapanta, a common friend, arranged the first meeting. Cherry was one of those who operated the reception area of the Cory Aquino Media Bureau for the 1985-86 Snap Elections which I headed. Cherry is also a Kabalen of Gloria and one of the closest friends of the president.
In that meeting which included then Senator Arroyo, Dona Eva Macapagal, Cherry Zapanta, Mike Arroyo and two former Diosdado Macapagal stalwarts in the Liberal Party, Mike Arroyo did most of the talking. Although what was offered to me was the general management of the campaign, I opted to be a simple media adviser because I was then running two businesses even as my kidneys at that time were already starting to deteriorate. Eventually I had to undergo hemodialysis for 25 months leading to an eventual successful kidney transplant in January 9, 2002 at the Makati Medical Center. Gloria gave me a surprise visit on January 12, 2002 at the hospital, not knowing that the day was also my 53rd birthday.
I served in the campaign team for about 20 months and formally resigned in November 1997. Those 20 months I spent with the campaign team gave me rare insights into the personality and character of both Gloria and Mike Arroyo. Even that early, I was convinced that Gloria did not have what it takes to be regarded as the ‘hope of the country’.
Notwithstanding her dismal track record and the endless chain of scandals, Gloria M. Arroyo must have pursued positive goals for our country. Why, even Ferdinand Marcos had lofty dreams for the Philippines and had wanted to leave behind a good legacy. Perhaps, Gloria even outperforms all other previous presidents in terms of the number of hours she puts in the job. When I was in her campaign team in 1996 and 1997, I would get calls from Gloria as early as 6 am – a most ungodly hour for me – whenever she wanted my assessment of an issue that was just raised against her the previous day.
Alas, it is true what they say that the road to hell is full of good intentions. History validates the fact that all the good intentions of rulers really depend on the methods they choose and the ideals they pursue. Looking back, this is where I see the failure and the tragedy of the Gloria M. Arroyo presidency. The roads that she chose to take, coupled with her inadequate moorings blended a lethal concoction leading to what is to be a failed presidency.
Given all the kind of choices she had made and tends to make, Gloria M. Arroyo’s much-touted reforms can never happen. Reform and traditional politics (trapo) run counter to each other. Traditional politics in our country has mutated into the failed system that perpetuates the exploitation and virtual monopoly of the national wealth. Either you go for reforms or you embrace trapo politics. Macapagal-Arroyo preferred to play the trapo game.
How can reform be possible with traditional politicians who want only to preserve the status quo for the elite 5% or so who control over 85% of the national wealth? Reform must involve the more equitable distribution of wealth and the opportunities to create wealth. The 95% of Filipinos who do not have that wealth will want that reform. The 5% who have it will resist the reform. For instance, who did Gloria M. Arroyo get as her closest allies? Check the list and you’ll find the elite 5%, as represented by the famous Triple A of Aboitiz, Ayala and Alcantara.
Look at that ad of Makati Business Club (MBC) members who protested the earlier MBC position asking Macapagal-Arroyo to resign and you will see the complete list, from A to Y, from Aboitiz to Yuchengco, who happen to be beneficiaries of the regime. Remember how she had unceremoniously junked good members of her cabinet after the 2004 elections for the sake of political accommodation? That’s the trapo patronage system at work for you.
Can you see reform at that time when she replaced Dinky Soliman with Noli de Castro as DSWD secretary? She backtracked only after she saw the negative backlash. Can you see reform when she replaced an able marketing man like Obet Pagdanganan in Tourism with someone as clueless about the requirements of the post as Ramon Durano? Are we surprised that up to now tourism remains in the category of a “potential” revenue earner while the same sector in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand has grown by leaps and bounds? Where is the reform in the appointment of Ramon Revilla as PEA Chairman? Where is the reform in giving a frontline development agency like the DOTC to an ex-cop, Leandro Mendoza? In this information age, we need someone who is techno-savvy for the DOTC post. And she chooses to get an ex-cop? The list goes on.
Lack of proper moorings
The great leaders of the world, especially those who shone during periods of national crisis, had something in common – they were well anchored on a powerful ideal, moral code or political ideology. The new ideal of love for the least of one’s brethren provided the moorings for Christian faith. The new classless order in society provided the political moorings for Lenin and Mao in revolutionizing Russia and China. These are great examples of the power of ideas whose time has come. Communism may no longer be the fire that it was in the early 20th century but there is no denying its effect on contemporary world history.
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo never caught on with any of those great earth-moving, powerful ideas. Living in the past, she cannot move forward, and, of course, neither can the country. She peddles decision-making the way a Madame runs a brothel – flesh for sale at the right price. Trapo politics in this country is long overdue for burying six feet under. Yet it sticks out like slime on all our lives because of presidential patrons like Macapagal-Arroyo and all the teeming millions that make up most of the country’s citizens who are unable to perform their proper roles as citizens of a democracy.
The ease by which Macapagal-Arroyo could lose friends and co-opt enemies shows someone utterly bereft of proper moorings. Miriam D. Santiago is a classic case in point. In the three days of rallies leading to the May 1, 2001 assault on Malacanang, Miriam D. Santiago was one of those who primed the ‘mob’ for that assault. Come December 2003, Miriam D. Santiago jumped to Arroyo’s side without even trying to come to terms with reconciling the disparity in principle.
During the time when I was her campaign adviser, I was shocked when she visited convicted rapist, Rep. Romy Jalosjos, in jail. Here was a woman who was being positioned for the presidency and she totally missed out the implication of the message that the visit to Jalosjos delivered. This is not just a simple ‘lapse in judgment’ as she fondly excuses herself. This is an insight into a psyche that lives and swears by the credo of trapo politics. Damn female delicadeza – she, a woman, would condone the crime against womanhood, as long as the rapist can deliver her the votes from his province. Someone who would move heaven and earth and even go to hell for the almighty trapo vote can surely have the gall to steal an election.
In another instance during the campaign for the 1998 presidency, Gloria consulted the campaign team on our thoughts about her co-hosting a showbiz talk show with Boy Abunda. I immediately put my foot down. It would be like positioning a Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo wanting to out-showbiz Erap, the showbiz president wannabe, when in fact she had all the qualities that Erap did not possess for the presidency. That incident added to the many other troubling insights I had gleaned on the character of our candidate and her decision-making process.
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo topped the 1995 senatorial election as a member of the LDP. Because she was competing with then LDP president Ed Angara for the party’s presidential nomination in 1998, she was forced to put up Kampi in 1996. Then she ran under the banner of Lakas and Kampi for the 1998 vice-presidential race which she won with a comfortable margin over a respectable field that included former Pangasinan Governor Oca Orbos, Sen. Serge Osmena and Sen. Ed Angara (who agreed to become Erap’s Vice Presidential running mate). When she became president after EDSA II, she led a coalition for the 2001 elections under the banner of the now defunct People Power Coalition. Come 2004, Macapagal-Arroyo led the K-4 Coalition in the election that she is now widely-perceived as having ‘stolen’. At the same time, she is the titular head of Lakas. That is a total of five political parties and coalitions that she used for four consecutive elections.
I am no big fan of the present White House resident in America. But compared to our Gloria, George W. Bush believes in a political ideology – the tenets of Conservative Politics. You have a guide as to how President Bush will likely react to certain issues. Not quite the same with Macapagal-Arroyo who changes parties and loyalties with every wind.
This is why I can only consider those who claim to ‘genuinely’ believe in her as truly pathetic. Even more pathetic are those who are willing to go along with the rape and abuse of the democratic process so long as a showbiz president does not get installed. They truly deserve her and to be part of her ‘Harlot Politics’ – as I like to equate all this to cause and flesh trading in the Macapagal-Arroyo era. How can anyone believe someone whose entire political career underscores the fact that she does not really believe in anything?
You are better off believing in Santa Claus than in those Macapagal-Arroyo catch phrases like ‘fiscal reform’ and ‘new politics’.
You may email William M. Esposo at: firstname.lastname@example.org