Portrait of a regime in panic
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2006-12-19
Last Sunday's prayer rally found the regime of Madame Gloria Macapagal in an unprecedented state of stress and paranoia. This, despite the fact that the House of Representatives' con-ass (constituent assembly) train had been derailed, and the more dreaded occurrence of a colorful, angrier multi-sectoral protest action had subsided into a prayer rally called by the CBCP (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines).

By acting as though it was about to face its day of reckoning, the regime's frantic attempt to scuttle protest actually only built up more excitement over an issue that was defused already by the earlier withdrawal of con-ass.

You had a Justice Secretary who issued a memorandum to government employees warning them not to attend "prohibited mass actions." However, he could not categorically declare the prayer rally as a "prohibited mass action."

Then you had NSA (National Security Adviser) Norberto Gonzales who revived his favorite bogeyman - the Red plot to sabotage the prayer rally. Maybe NSA Gonzales should eat more bananas. I'm told bananas are good for the brain. Maybe that would help make him more creative and original.

As though on cue, the police and the military then warn politicians not to make speeches or go up the stage - as if there is a law that can bar them from speaking up on issues of national importance or from going up a stage.

The prayer rally was as CBCP said it would be. In fact, it was such an uneventful exercise for the news that networks like ANC of ABS-CBN did not find the need to give it extensive live coverage. That was so much in contrast with the big story of the Congress events that led to Black Thursday on December 7, the day the majority in Congress tried to ram con-ass down our throats.

A day-long unexpected power outage in our area prevented me from monitoring the prayer rally on television. Feeling like a beached whale at home, I could only rely on updates from text messages sent by friends attending the prayer rally. All the while I expected it to be carried live on ANC.

I was surprised to learn from friends, among them Rene Azurin (the anti-parliamentary system advocate) and Leah Navarro of Black and White Movement, that there was no extensive live television coverage on ANC and that only Radio Veritas covered it live all throughout. Considering what the regime was willing to go through to scuttle the prayer rally, we all suspected foul play.

Did the NTC (National Telecommunications Commission) threaten ANC and other broadcast media from covering the event? Considering that they have raised the Red bogey, who knows if they threatened the broadcast media with closure, for national security reasons, if they covered it extensively?

Later that evening, I got to talk with ABS-CBN news top honcho Maria Ressa and was told that the prayer rally did not merit the same extensive live coverage that they gave the con-ass Congress proceedings and the December 9 Dusit Hotel press conference of Speaker Joe de Venecia and his ilk. Maria said that editorial judgment could only justify partial live coverage.

ANC had its crew in place to switch to live coverage any time that there was a development that called for it. With what transpired at the prayer rally - or should I say with what did not transpire - I can only agree with Maria that the event only merited intermittent live coverage.

But still, that brings us back to the symptomatic and worrisome reactions of the Arroyo regime. How else can we explain their panic, erratic behavior and paranoia except to attribute this to signs of a regime that is slowly feeling trapped to a corner?

It is dangerous behavior to say the least. A regime in panic mode, acting out of paranoia and even imagining Pastor "Boy" Saycon lurking under every bed are signs of an establishment with a collective mental ailment that has gone acute. History is replete with horror stories of the bloody conflicts that had resulted because leaders and their henchmen had gone irrational and out of touch with public sentiment and reality.

In the case of former President Ferdinand Marcos, we can at least be thankful for his intelligence, composure under fire and foresight in not pushing the situation to the brink the day the people finally imposed their will on February 25, 1986. Marcos could have escaped to Ilocos Norte and from there commanded his loyal Ilocanos and troops. That would have brought the country to an ugly civil war.

Like a good general, Marcos knew when the battle was lost and when to cut clean. For that, no massive blood letting occurred and Marcos eventually died quietly from his ailment on his bed.

But we do not see those qualities in the present Palace occupant. There is no real generalship like that of Marcos who knew when to escalate and when to stand down. What we see is a terrified ruler who seems more and more reliant on her generals rather than the collective wisdom and judgment of her people.

At every turn, democracy has been threatened. There was PP 1017, Calibrated Pre-emptive Response, and EO 464 which sought to emasculate a critical Senate. Political activists are killed, regardless if they were armed rebels or legitimate protesters. Media practitioners are also killed or charged with libel. One after another, democratic institutions are undermined as all objectives are suborned to the personal political survival of Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

A regime that has made many real enemies and is obsessed to remain in power will be in terrible fear of every shadow, every leaf that moves, every nook and cranny that could conceal a living creature. A regime that is scared out of its wits will have no wit to make good decisions. In due time, it leads itself to its own destruction.

In Hamlet, William Shakespeare had the words for it - "Madness in great ones must never unwatched go." 'Great ones' of course is meant to be a derogatory phrase - Shakespeare was referring to those in high positions of power.

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