Going into the New Year, the political scenario promises to be as exciting as the past two years – ever since Virgilio Garcillano came into vogue. I have been asked the following questions which I now endeavor to answer to the best of my ability to monitor and forecast political trends and events. 2007 Political Risks Q and A
Q: Will there still be restiveness in the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) after the post-February 24, 2006 clampdown and the arrest of the escaped Magdalo soldiers before the SONA (State of the Nation Address) in July of 2007?
A: Yes, the problem festers and worsens with the clampdown. From very reliable sources, it is reported that General Lim and Colonel Quirubin have not lost their clout with the mid-level officers and the rank and file of the military. The move to postpone the court martial owing to the fallout created by the Charter change issue corroborates this.
The danger even escalated in that the restive military is no longer thinking of the usual avenues but has narrowed their options to the type of confrontations that everyone dreads. Government response has removed "withdrawal of support" and "marching with civil society" as options that they can utilize. That recent statement of KAWAL which was a Chair Wrecker column for December 12 reflects the new mood of the restive military.
Q: After Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s declaration of an "all-out war" against the CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army) last June, has there been any remarkable change in the communist insurgency and the counter-insurgency program of the government?
A: Not really in that the government campaign merely reduced rebel activities but did not really reduce the number of armed rebels or even diminished their base camps. The above ground activities of front organizations may have taken a low profile but it does not mean that these activists have reduced in number. From the martial law experience, we know that repression breeds more insurgents and intensifies the resolve of those who are already rebels.
The CPP-NPA has lasted this long and is in no rush to win an immediate tactical victory. They will likely just sit out the developing situation and wait for the government to collapse from the weight of the series of crises confronting it. The rebels’ great wish will be to see the restive military confront the government in a shooting war. In such an event, they can make their move when the time is right, when the circumstances are more favorable.
Q: After the failure of the February 24 ‘attempted coup’, the end of the second round of impeachment, and the Charter change (Cha-cha), controversy, has the broad political opposition been weakened?
A: The opposition is too broad the way it is, not weak. That is looking at it from the point of view of people who are actively against the Arroyo regime and not from the point of view of mere elected public officials. The surveys that show Madame Arroyo’s continued loss of popularity and public confidence boosts the opposition chances in the May 2007 elections – which is why the regime has been desperately trying to cancel the elections and usher in a Charter change.
The greatest fear now of Madame Arroyo is if the opposition wins over 60 congressional seats in May 2007 – something the present public mood can easily produce – she will be impeached and tried by an even more hostile Senate.
It is likely that the opposition will be able to assemble a united front. There being no real dominant party among them, they will tend to weld together in order to fight the massive government resources that will be used against them.
Q: Why was the CBCP (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines) silent on the February 24 coup attempt, the second impeachment attempt and the Peoples Initiative? Though the Church was critical of Cha-cha, why did they take action only this month? Does this mean the CBCP is becoming more politically involved?
A: The CBCP straddles a fine line when it comes to political issues. They realize that they have to get involved when they see that the people are disenfranchised, exploited, brutalized and cheated. But they cannot be involved in partisan activity. They can identify virtues that make for good public officials to guide the people to be an enlightened electorate but they will not endorse one political party over another. The CBCP will continue to operate within these guidelines.
In the case of the February 24 situation (from where I sit, it was not a coup attempt), they could not take a firm position in the light of lack of information as to whether it was really a coup as the government claimed or a similar withdrawal of support which the Church supported in January 2001.
In the case of the bogus People’s Initiative, the CBCP was content to see healthy debate going on and the right process for the settlement of the issue being followed.
But when the House of Representatives tried to undertake a constitutional coup with con-ass (constituent assembly sans the Senate), that is when they put their foot down and took a stand.
Q: Do you think that the cases of unexplained killings will destabilize the country before the 2007 elections? Is there any connection between the recent killing of Abra Representative Luis Bersamin and the suspected slay attempt on Pasig Representative Robert "Dodot" Jaworski Jr. and the killing of activists and journalists?
A: The climate of violence will always be a major destabilizing factor. That is already evident. While the reasons for the killings may be varied and perpetrated by different criminals, the climate that it creates places society in a dangerous tendency to settle dispute via the gun. Violence begets violence especially when there is hardly any credible government action seen to bring the criminals to justice. It becomes worse when the government is suspected to be behind some of the killings, as in the case of the killings of political activists and journalists.
Q: Is the unsolved bombing that occurred near Metro Manila last June (reportedly attempted by "Taong Bayan at Kawal"), and the series of bombings in Mindanao considered indications or warnings of heightened terrorists activity in the near future?
A: These "terror bombings" are political tools for seeding a desired public reaction which then opens the door for a planned action. These could either be a government plot to set the stage for emergency rule or the government opponent’s plan to destabilize the regime. There are credible arguments to support both possibilities. Either way, these have to be seen as premises that are being laid for a sinister game plan.
The real terrorists (the Al Qaeda linked groups) are least likely to be hyper active these days. They have no reason to be. Like the CPP-NPA, they will do well to just sit and wait while the government and its traditional opposition weaken each other and erode national security. Then that is the time for them to move after a situation is created for tactical victory.
Q: Though the latest Pulse Asia survey shows that the members of the opposition are leading regarding likely Senatorial winners, do you think this will translate in an actual opposition victory in 2007? Precisely, what does "victory" mean to the administration, and also to the opposition?
A: For the administration, victory will mean winning at least six Senate seats and not allowing the opposition to win more than 60 seats in Congress. For the opposition, winning over 60 congressional seats will mean victory – the numbers needed to elevate an impeachment case to the Senate. The surveys show that the Senate will have more opposition members after the May 2007 elections. Yes, these opposition gains are very attainable.
The way administration congressmen are now backtracking on con-ass is a clear indication that they fear a backlash. Winning 60 seats will be easy for the opposition to accomplish. It is harder to cheat in the district level where results are known in two to three days. The crucial cheating operations in national elections occur in selected areas (Lanao, in the case of the 2004 presidential elections).
Here’s to interesting times ahead of us! As my Scottish, Macgregor side of the family would toast on Hogmanay, their traditional version of New Year’s Eve – slianthe maugh!