Rehabilitating highly controversial First Gentleman Mike Arroyo's battered image may well be the 2004 -2010 Macapagal-Arroyo administration's first major blunder. This contrasts with the well-conceived tactic that stashed Mike Arroyo away and muted him well before the campaign period started.
Presidential Spokesman Toting Bunye had asserted that since Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo no longer faces another election and therefore no more threat of political mudslinging, the coast is clear for Mike Arroyo to re-surface. But a man like Mike Arroyo is a human lightning rod--everything he is and does is so grossly conspicuous that anyone who takes aim very likely makes a hit.
Maybe the instant taming of Sen. Panfilo Lacson, has infused an abnormal sense of security and optimism. Suddenly the vitriolic nemesis of Mike Arroyo, the man behind his Jose Pidal nightmares and present misery, is now regarded as a statesman by the administration. Suddenly, the Lacson of their Good Friday is the Lacson of a new Easter.
However this instant conversion has come about, I leave it to the public to deduce. When it comes to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, I am beyond being surprised. How she can manage to jump from one extreme polarity to the other is perhaps her single most notable achievement in her chameleonic political career.
Her political party affiliations for the 1995 to the last 2004 election say it all. Despite the fact that her father was a towering figure of the Liberal Party, Macapagal-Arroyo was with the LDP in 1995 when she ran for her second term as senator. By 1998, she was running as vice president under the banner of Kampi in tandem with Lakas-NUCD. By 2001, she was leading the PPC. Now in the 2004 election, she ran under the K-4. The changing patterns manifest in the people who were once with her and are now fighting her as well as those who were once undermining her and are now collaborating with her. Robert Bolt had the right words for such people-- that when their heads are finished turning, we must just pray that their faces are to the front again!
Going back to Mike Arroyo, when I was still adviser for then senator Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 1996 to 1997-- this was during her aborted run for the 1998 presidency-- I had advised the Arroyo couple that Mike had to be wary of the Imelda Syndrome. The Imelda Syndrome marks every presidential spouse as the prime suspect for abuse and wrongdoing in the tradition started by Imelda Marcos, regardless of whether or not there is basis.
When I agreed to advise Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for her 1998 bid for the presidency, I was among many others who believed that she was the one who could thwart the chances of a dreaded Estrada presidency. However, I was surprised at the negative feedback from friends when they learned that I took on that advisory role. Much of the negative feedback centered more on Mike Arroyo rather than the candidate herself. The negative feedback focused a lot on the very type of issues hounding Mike Arroyo these days.
Unfortunately, the nation's experience of three years or so of the Macapagal-Arroyo administration had only succeeded in reinforcing Mike Arroyo's Imelda Syndrome. Whether or not he deserves it, Mike Arroyo has indeed become the single biggest liability of the Macapagal-Arroyo administration. It has gotten so bad that whenever there is smoke people would say there is Mike. During the last election's long count, how many times have we heard of Mike Arroyo sightings in Mindanao allegedly orchestrating cheating operations? How many corruption scandals dragged the name of Mike Arroyo despite the absence of a clear direct link?
Media was muzzled during Martial Law. In fact, Marcos cronies owned and controlled all major media then. Yet, truth and rumor managed to find alternative courses in ways not bound by libel laws or journalism standards. In an environment of extreme suspicion on media, the rumor mill has become more credible and deadly for the Marcoses.
To this day, people find rumors of corruption and abuse in high places to be highly credible as these are also impervious to media clarifications and denials. By being partisan themselves, media people have eroded their own credibility. Check the owners or gatekeepers of a newspaper and you'll know whose political interest they are for.
Winning the heart and mind of Panfilo Lacson does not make Mike Arroyo's Imelda Syndrome vanish. The hyperactive opposition will always fill the slack, discounting the militancy of legitimate critics. And Mike Arroyo may not be as lucky the next time. In fact, Mike Arroyo should thank his lucky star that somebody as controversial as Lacson was the one who peddled the Jose Pidal expose.
A subsequent SWS survey had shown that both the Lacson and the administration suffered public rebuke in the aftermath of the expose. I interpret this to mean that the public is saying: "We believe Mike Arroyo is Jose Pidal but we don�t want Lacson to benefit from it." Had the bombshell been exploded by a more credible Sen. Serge Osmena or a Sen. Nene Pimentel, it would have been lights out for Macapagal-Arroyo. At the very least, that would have doomed her 2004 bid.
The hardest conviction to appeal and reverse is conviction in the Court of Public Opinion. Despite its bruited clout, The Firm is useless in the Court of Public Opinion. Mike's cronies in The Firm have no influence whatsoever in this court. On the contrary, all the coffee shop talks and whispers about The Firm can only ensure a conviction outcome. When the Court of Public Opinion rules, not even media hacks and allied administration media can hope to succeed in twisting its sweeping sentence. Not even Ferdinand Marcos' formidable media muscle and judiciary control could save him from the wrath of public condemnation in the Court of Public Opinion.
Already hounded by the Imelda Syndrome, Mike Arroyo's own additions to the negative image he now carries will make an image rehab very difficult. Just look at how much controversy surrounded his recent birthday bash. In the midst of all the emerging problems, is it worth it for the administration to take that risk? Gloria and Mike Arroyo should note the lessons of history when the vulnerability of the spouses of heads of state hastened political upheavals.
The French Revolution had its Queen Marie Antoinette. Before the Russian Revolution, the Tsarina of Nicholas II was the bigger target of Russian dissent propaganda than the Romanov Tsar himself. Madame Ngo in Vietnam and our Imelda Marcos make the classic contemporary examples. Mike Arroyo may yet be one of the few, if not the only male specimen of the lot.
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo would do well to learn from another success story in history, a woman monarch at that -- England's Elizabeth I, otherwise referred to as Good Queen Bess. Elizabeth I, who was not without an interesting love life, chose to be without a spouse. It is no coincidence that Elizabeth I is rated as England's finest monarch, credited for setting the momentum for the making of the British Empire, the height of which was reached during the reign of another woman monarch, Queen Victoria.
By marriage, Macapagal-Arroyo is stuck with Mike. But he does not have to be the weakest link in her new term. She already said that she was married to the country. Maybe Macapagal-Arroyo should consider keeping that pledge and ask Mike to live in San Francisco, which he likes anyway, for the next six years.