[A painting by Filipino Revolutionary artist Juan Luna, The Spolarium]
Things have of late been stirring in the Philippines. The current President, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (also referred to as GMA), is being challenged by a string of protests to step down from the post. Arroyo ascended to the Presidency in 2001 (same day as George W. Bush) when Joseph “Erap” Estrada, her predecessor, was forced to resign by a popular revolt. Arroyo’s government has since been beset by (thanks to the popular support that Estrada still mustered) opposition attempts to unseat her, mutiny/coup attempts by junior/renegade officers in the military, allegations of corruption implicating her husband (businessman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo), and anomalies in the 2004 elections (in which Arroyo finally got a “mandate” from the people).
In all these Arroyo responded with a strong hand–declaring states of emergency/rebellion, arresting political opponents, restraining demonstrations, and curtailing freedom of speech–measures legitimated by her party alliance’s growing majority in the Congress (supposedly due to her program of infrastructural and economic development, which were producing results) and excused/reinforced by her political allies (the most important of which were the same ones who put her in power: former President Fidel Ramos, who, reasoning that there is no other alternative, discouraged attempts to impeach her; and decades-long Speaker of the House Jose de Venecia, Jr. (also referred to as JDV), who blocked such an attempt in the House). (Other former allies have been less helpful: former President Corazon “Cory” Aquino, herself made President by a popular revolt, has as early as 2006 led demonstrations asking for Arroyo to resign; and activist Catholic Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin passed away in 2005, leaving the influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines unsure.) Thus (economist, professor, Georgetown-educated) Arroyo survived all attempts to unseat her, indeed came out of these “challenges” stronger, giving substance to detractors’ portrayal of her as the “Queen” and (less kindly) a “witch.”
In what seemed to be the climax of the story, Arroyo demonstrated her hold (cling, really) on power (and superb political skill) in the latest corruption scandal, this time over supposed bidding irregularities (that a Chinese firm, ZTE, won) in the National Broadband Network (NBN) project (which would connect government offices to each other). The scandal involved (once again) First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, Commission of Elections (Comelec) Chief Benjamin Abalos, and (for the first time) Arroyo herself. Things became especially interesting when the scandal pitted Arroyo against long-time (and one of the few remaining) ally Speaker of the House de Venecia, who, after his son, a member of the House, started an investigation of the deal, was (thanks to Arroyo’s son and their allies in the House) ousted from the Speakership, replaced by a lackey of the President. De Venecia gestured afterwards that he would reveal what he knew (or claims to know) about the NBN deal.
De Venecia’s gesture, unfortunately, was nothing exciting–or, for that matter, new. As columnist Conrado de Quiros of the Philippine Daily Inquirer points out, this was all too mired and too late. De Venecia only did this after his son lost the (very same!) NBN bid and after he was–for the very reason that his son wanted to “objectively” investigate the deal in the House (in effect, pursuing it by other means)–sacked by the President. In other words, de Venecia’s gesture was but a classic move by trapos, traditional politicians who, unfortunately, occupy the positions of power in the Philippine State. (Trapo also happens to be the word in Filipino for an old, worn-out piece of rug used to wipe off dust around the house; these rugs rarely get washed; hence, the more they are used, the more dirt they accumulate.) Thus the well-deserved parody of Julius Caesar by de Venecia, who, in his “assassination,” in de Quiros’s words, “did not cut a tragic figure, merely a pathetic one.”
This round of events was thus but the latest instantiation of what had long been ingrained in Philippine politics. (David Camroux of Le Monde Diplomatique hashes out an excellent summary, calling previous developments–like the latest one–as but “another tragicomic event.”) (Sadly enough,) This is precisely the kind of political choice that Filipinos are presented with. You are presented with a set of political players (the big shots who come from the big names (the set of families with established political dynasties): the Macapagals, the Estradas, the de Venecias, the Aquinos, and, yes, the Marcoses)–”leaders” that often harbor deep feuds with each other–who you see battling it out in the State (and, in fact, political infighting in the Philippines can be quite loud and ugly; hence the charge that there’s so much bitching that (adding to the red tape) nothing gets done)–but, in the end, the choice (Arroyo or de Venecia?) proves to be false: There is no choice! Whoever you choose, you get the same old trapo, thanks to whom the system remains the same, a system characterized by corruption and defiance of the rule of law for the sake of personal (and familial) ambition and political contingency (to secure future ambition).
This was instantiated once again (and perhaps most dramatically) as Estrada, found guilty by the Court of corruption–the very same President that she (backed by a popular revolt) deposed–was pardoned by Arroyo, claiming it, how did she put it, for “national reconciliation.” Thus de Quiros’s outright calling of Philippine politicians as (not just trapos but) thieves!–in a very real sense–stealing not only wealth and power from the people but the very foundations on which the Philippine State is based (that gives these politicians the power to steal in the first place). This (the continual–perennial–infighting for money and power) naturally leads to instability–completing the picture that The Economist paints as to why investors keep wary of–and away from–the Philippines, and, if I may add, the Filipino (“economic refugees”) apathetic and abroad. This is how, in The Economist‘s terms, the Philippines “shoots itself in the foot.”
It is a common thing in the Philippines (thanks in part to its public leaders) to compare it with the United States. There are certain reasons for this. The Philippines is a former colony of the United States (itself a former colony) (One of the lasting legacies is the fact that English remains an unofficial official language (to the detriment of Spanish), in fact the language preferred (yes, over Filipino) by the elite and the educated). The United States, after taking over from Spain, moreover performed a complete overhaul of Philippine educational and political institutions, patterning them after its own, including (shamefully!) “official” Philippine independence (dated 4 July, although 12 June, date of the Philippine declaration of independence from Spain, is what is nationally celebrated), at which date (so the myths tell us) it bequeathed the newly-formed Philippine Republic (along with “freedom”) “democracy”–after which it was offered as a model of democracy in Asia.
The independent republic itself, in the post-colonized world, (posing as its best friend) stood side by side the United States in almost all major foreign policy issues. The same can be said at the national level where leaders like to model the country after the United States in its quest for modernization and development (China is proving a rival here of late, which is not contradictory, given the huge number of (largely well-assimilated) Chinese migrants in the Philippines.) (And where has Spain gone, she who, culturally, has left the deepest imprint?). This is what leads de Quiros, in light of the latest events, to look over at the United States, and, seeing political developments there, to sigh (from the same article where he calls the politicians thieves):
Even as the most exciting things are happening in the country that conscripted us into a terroristic “war against terror,” [where] the two leading Democratic candidates, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, [are] heralding change, or at least promising an end to paranoia and Neo-Con imperialism, here we are, mired ever deeper in the politics or greed and backstabbing, in the politics of blackness and evil.
This, I argue, is precisely the line of thinking we must resist. It is worth raising again (as few people seem to) whether this view–articulated by de Quiros, not exactly a fan of the United States–coming as it is from outside, is true–a question, I think, of great insights–revealing as much as it does about empire and America and, in fact, about ourselves: Americans, Filipinos, in fact, all modern “democratic” men in general.
The question is: Will Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama really bring about something fundamentally different-i.e. Change-to the polyarchal structure that, as Noam Chomsky points out, structures American society? Is there, indeed, something that (as recent politics seems to show) sets apart exceptional America from the rest of the world, thus making it a worthy model to emulate, to aspire to?
Is it not rather more insightful to say–turning the comparison around, reversing the analogy–that, when it comes to politics, the United States, the superpower, is just like the Philippines, its (former) colony? That even in the richest and “most democratic society” in the world, even as the politicians change, the system remains the same?
Now, of course, the systems are different. There are clear differences between the systems (even as the Philippines was lauded as America’s democratic model in Asia): the voting system, for example, which determines the structure of political parties, voter education, the distribution of power (the level of centralization/federalism), transparency and accountability in the government, the rule (both its force and upholding) of law (or its manipulation and ostensible presentation) . . . (What else? Come to think of it, voting participation is quite the same. Ideological views (and their marginalization) are the same. The structure of the government itself is the same. Vested moneyed interests, hierarchy in society . . .)
But, the question is: Are not the similarities much more striking? Do they not give us greater insights? Do they not, for instance, lead us to see a basic polyarchal structure in which an elite has power while the rest–either through outright political corruption or economic “competition,” or both (which, really, are the same!)–are exploited? Do they not moreover reveal to us the same mechanism at work in the two systems, i.e. the basic mechanism in which (stubbornly, as it were) the (supposedly different) systems (resisting, indeed opposing, change) get to preserve themselves?
The story (Corruption in the government!), this time, did not end there. As (in the major leagues, as it were) one of the players was defeated and the other (the Queen) (once again!) reigned triumphant (Witch!)–but for which, this time, she did not escape unscathed (hence de Quiros’s invoking of Napoleon’s principle, “Never interrupt your enemy when he [or, in this case, she] is making a mistake”)–a lesser man, a man from the lower orders, rises up, emerges as a key witness, (unlike de Venecia) untainted by vested interest. (In stark contrast with his superior, Romulo Neri) Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada, a consultant of the deparment in charge of the NBN project–after being kidnapped and “persuaded” not to testify–(scared but, with courage) appeared before the Senate–and, more importantly, (intimidated by Arroyo’s remaining political allies) before the Filipino people.
Thus, on the television screen (which almost all Filipino households, no matter how poor, (miraculously!) have), Lozada went on to reveal Arroyo’s entanglement in the deal (for which Arroyo later on said that she did know that there were fishy things going on–but she let it go anyway). The rage that Lozada’s testimony aroused incited people (led by former President Cory Aquino) to a renewed series of demonstrations demanding Arroyo’s ouster. This leads de Quiros to portray Lozada as a sort of modern-day hero (which, if faced with the odds that he was you still choose to do what he did, perhaps you are) that may just yet push things to the brink–to overheat–and cause a different State of affairs.
Now, the Filipinos are somewhat like the French in this. They like their revolutions, or, more precisely, they are not afraid of it, or, given enough reason and certain circumstances, they are willing to risk it, in fact, to willfully wage it. As a matter of fact, they call these popular demonstrations People Power revolutions because, well, the people feel that the State is so detached from them that it is only in demonstrations (threats of revolt?) like this–not in elections, which are widely contested and highly doubted–that they have a say at all in the affairs of the State. It is, in other words, in singular moments like this that common Filipinos feel that they are able to exercise “power” (only to be dashed later on, of course, as previous revolutions have showed).
There have been two (or three) such “revolutions” (in addition to three (or four) independence movements) in the Philippines. Manuel L. Quezon III (of the same newspaper as de Quiros) (making the same comparison with the French) (himself bearing the name of a former President) recounts them, aligning with tradition (or its break) the latest events:
How many times can a nation and its people be called to greatness? Three wars of independence: 1896-98 against Spain and 1899-1903 against America, and 1941-45 against Japan; three peaceful campaigns for freedom, from 1905 to 1935 to restore our independence [again against the US], from 1972 to 1986 to oust a dictator, and 2001 out of revulsion over misrule. And now, again, another call to action.
The last two struggles that Quezon mentions have been nationally recognized as the two People Power revolutions, or, in more popular terms, EDSA I and EDSA II (after the main avenue in Manila where they took place). Briefly, EDSA I resulted as a spontaneous outburst against the government (a “parliament of the streets“) where, in columnist Solita Collas-Monsod’s words, “a count by the citizens’ election watchdog showed Cory Aquino [wife or erstwhile assassinated opposition Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, formidable rival of dictator President Ferdinand Marcos] to be [the] winner, but the puppet legislature had declared the incumbent to be [President].” (Things have, of course, been heating up even before that.) It was thus a situation (again in Collas-Monsod’s words) “where the judiciary and the legislature had been co-opted, where the media were not free. In other words, someone had grabbed the power from the people, and the people had to grab it back (after 14 years and an assassination).”
After a standoff by forces in the military (which Marcos himself politicized (a process continued by Arroyo)), the forces on the side of Minister of Defense Juan Ponce Enrile and then-Armed-Forces-Vice-Chief-of-Staff (later President) Fidel Ramos–surrounded by rising mass support–won (after, of course, the US had also withdrawn its support of Marcos), leading to Marcos’s departure and Cory Aquino’s presidency (itself not that great, but at least not a dictatorship).
This is, of course, fifteen years later, the pattern for EDSA II. There, roughly the same group of people (former President Cory Aquino, former President Fidel Ramos (the two figures of EDSA I had gone on to be presidents), the Church (headed by Cardinal Sin), Speaker of the House de Venecia, other opposition figures) joined the business and academic community as they led a popular revolt against the corruption, cronyism, and incompetence of popular actor (“hero of the masses”)-turned-President (voted at the biggest of margins over and above Ramos administration candidate de Venecia) Erap Estrada. This, of course, is what installed then-Vice-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (running mate of de Venecia in the previous election) to power.
Now, this second People Power “revolution,” precipitated by events in the televised Senate impeachment trial of Estrada, has always been dubious in the mind of some people. This includes Collas-Monsod, who reflects:
What happened, from my point of view, was that we, the people, watched as the Senate majority [that backed Estrada] changed the agreed-on rules in the middle of the impeachment trial, and put to a vote that which should be the province of the chief justice of the Supreme Court to rule on–all in order to prevent opening an envelope containing supposedly vital information. We were outraged. But let’s face it, it wasn’t we the people who removed a sitting President, it was the military “withdrawing support” from him, which did the trick. That the sitting President meekly left Malacañang [the House of the President] instead of taking a stand for due process or the rule of law may be an indication that he himself wasn’t a staunch defender of either. But it made it easier for the Supreme Court to rule that he had constructively resigned. At least, there was an orderly constitutional succession.
Collas-Monsod here is articulating something related to the basic charge by detractors that EDSA II is (as de Quiros outlines) (both!) mob rule and elitist conspiracy. De Quiros, of course, is of the other opinion (even suggesting motives as to why certain groups, including in the Unites States, do no want to recognize EDSA II). As de Quiros argues, the “biggest margin” that Estrada had won in the elections was “voided by the betrayal of public trust” as manifested by popular reaction to the impeachment trials. Thus, even though incited by the elite, the People Power revolution did gain mass popular support. Even as it was the military that decided the outcome (which, wasn’t that also the case with EDSA I?), the “revolution” was by the People.
De Quiros, in addition, makes a philosophical and long-term justification for the events (and for People Power revolutions in general):
Contrary to rumor, in a country like ours People Power does not weaken democracy, it strengthens it. It does not impair democratic institutions, it repairs them. Or where they do not exist at all, it builds them. That is patently so in the case of illegitimate leaders. Ousting unelected leaders does not deny democracy, it affirms it; it does not destroy the institutions of democracy, it restores them.
Ironically, Arroyo herself refused to recognize EDSA II as an official celebration (the way that EDSA I is yearly celebrated, if only by writing it or calling it a “revolution”)–this when another columnist, Randy David, argues that it was the only way that she could have been President. In David’s words:
In a reasonably fair contest, it is my view that Ms Arroyo would not, at any time, have been elected president–not in 1998, or 2004, or in any snap election between those two presidential election years. She never commanded a constituency or party machinery, nor did she possess a charisma that would compensate for this lack, to fetch her the presidency. The only way she could become president was precisely by the route she took–to be elected vice president and then succeed to the presidency before the incumbent’s term is over. Edsa II made that possible.
This, of course, is part of what leads to doubts as to whether Arroyo will give the Presidency up once her (second, I mean, first, I mean: well, she didn’t win that either) term ends in 2010. Again, in David’s words:
Having risen to the presidency in the most improbable way, Ms Arroyo could not have been seriously expected to give it up in 2004. She was determined to keep it, and indeed everything she has done since 2003 (a few months after declaring she would not run in the 2004 election) has been part of a calculated effort to keep her in office–indefinitely. The imperatives that this boundless ambition triggered constitute the strongest pressure upon our institutions today.
Of all of Arroyo’s crimes (of which, as pointed out by bloggers, there is not a short list of: involvement in “anti-democracy measures in the light of executive orders like EO 464 and EO 1017, election fraud, North railway project anomalies, media arrests, bribery in Congress, the aborted P329-million National Broadband Network deal scandal” . . .), this is perhaps of the greatest consequence. In David’s insightful description:
The damage to government institutions has been the most extensive. Far from being a neutral arbiter of disputes and a source of normative stability, the justice system has become a weapon to intimidate those who stand up to power. Far from being a pillar of public security, the military and the police have become the private army of a gangster regime. Instead of serving as an objective referee in electoral contests, the Commission on Elections has become a haven for fixers who deliver fictitious votes to the moneyed and the powerful. Instead of serving as the steady backbone of public service through successive changes in administration, the government bureaucracy has been turned into a halfway house for political lackeys, misfits and the corrupt. Instead of serving as a check on presidential power, the House of Representatives has become its hired cheering squad.
Ironically, this itself is what leads to the prospect of another revolution, EDSA III (some people may refer to this as EDSA IV, referring to the pro-Estrada demonstrations when Arroyo just ascended to power as EDSA III, although that, as Collas-Monsod herself says, was clearly a travesty). As David explains, because of the damage to institutions that Arroyo has wrought, a reactionary mechanism spreads through society’s other institutions:
The tremor spreads out and tests the strength of the remaining credible pillars of our society: the churches, the media, the universities, the business community, the family. Each one of these institutional spheres has their own unique operational system, code and medium. They are not organized, nor are they suited, for the processing of legal and political questions. Yet, they are compelled by the developing situation to address these questions from their own specific standpoints. Their members are called upon to lend their minds, their voices, and their bodies to a movement whose trajectory is still uncertain.
This is in line with the irony that, as de Quiros points out, (like a pattern, a rule, if not a divine trick) seems to define the three EDSAs. Establishing parallels, de Quiros notes that Filipino People Power revolutions “came shortly after the rulers had just won a seemingly resounding victory”: “in Ferdinand Marcos’ case, [when] he had just won the [rigged] vote in the Snap Election”; “in Erap’s case, [when] he had just won a crucial vote in the Senate-turned-impeachment court”; and “in [Arroyo's] case, [when] she had just won a vengeful victory in the House against a newfound enemy [de Venecia].” In its latest instantiation, the events seem truly “providential.” As de Quiros explains:
Exactly three weeks ago, [Arroyo] was at her most triumphant, the road open for her to rule forever. Notably through Charter [Constitution] change to be rammed through by Prospero Nograles [the newly-installed Speaker]. Today Nograles stands to be the shortest-lived Speaker ever. Today, [Arroyo] is fighting for her life.
What explains the recent turn of events (as precipitated by Lozada’s revelations)? De Quiros explains it as follows:
What has happened in that small crack of time is that something has roared back to life and given life back to the country. That something is public outrage. Loud, explosive, spontaneously combustive outrage.
This outrage, of course, comes after the seeming passivity, resignation, and even apathy that people showed over what they saw as business as usual–the normal course of events–in which the big names (this time Arroyo and de Venecia) were duking it out, the result of which (de Venecia’s sacking and his vow to revenge) was wholly inconsequential because, well, in the end, there is no change: but new (or, in this case, old) trapos in power who continue to do nothing but enrich themselves. Hence, the Filipino expressions “Ganyan talaga” (that’s just how it is) and “Bahala na” (leave it be). Add to this the stoicism encouraged and ingrained in the culture by the Catholic Church (exemplified perhaps (more so than in France or even Spain) by the figure of Christ tied on the cross that is the striking and dominant centerpiece of all Filipino churches) and, well, any sort of movement is from the beginning halted. As de Quiros points out, the people–over the years, in fact, for as long as they can remember–have been angry, furious–but, in the end, they couldn’t do anything. They were paralyzed.
This, however, does not-by no means!-forestall revolt. But there is for the Filipino (as he’s developed from the time when he was still ruled by Spain, the foreign power that referred to him as an “indio,” an inferior, an idiot, a lesser being) (which partly explains why, in contrast to Spain, the Filipino has an overall positive view of the United States, his other former overlord, who, as mouthed by Theodore Roosevelt, called him a “brother,” a kin) a key ingredient. As de Quiros paraphrases the explanation of independence movement leader-turned-national hero Jose Rizal (who, by the way, used the pen as his weapon, which perhaps explains the peaceful nature of all the People Power revolutions):
Apart from flogged to the very marrow of his bones, [what] drives the Filipino to revolt [. . .] is when he is insulted to the very core of his being [. . . which] finally allows his sense of dignity and self-worth to spring back to life. Then he strikes back.
Faced with the spectacle that Lozada–turning out to be a courageous, competent, trustworthy witness (confirming what the Filipino thought was true but did not know for sure)–offered up in front of Filipino households, the Filipino could hold it no longer. Fed up with the corruption, the cronyism, the ineffectiveness, the states of exception (for the (wo)men in power), the injustice, the paralysis–thousands of Filipinos took out to the streets to stand up against a tyrant whose very placement in her position–like the foreign powers–was, in the first place, questionable. Hence the prospect of another revolution: EDSA III.
This, then, led to the question: Should there be a revolution? And, if such demonstrations do lead to the President stepping down (the beheading of the King, or, in this case, the Queen), is it right to call it a People Power revolution? Would it be another EDSA?
Quezon tries to outline the principles that guided the first two EDSAs and that, ideally, should guide future ones. He writes:
The targets of People Power in the past cannot be the beneficiaries of People Power in the future [referring to (but not only) Estrada here, who has joined the protests]; and also that those who have participated in People Power in the past cannot claim that it should be denied anybody in the future [obvious jab at Arroyo here, who is blocking the protests]. Most of all: People Power is peaceful, it is disciplined, it is idealistic, and it places the leaders and followers side by side and in the line of fire together. It’s a phenomenon that requires certain givens for it to be recognized as such and not considered mob rule. The givens are: People Power must be anchored on moral outrage and moral principles; it must be peaceful; it must have wide support cutting across all classes and barriers of gender; it must at the same time be organized and yet spontaneous. We know full well that People Power, too, is the instrument of last resort. The only question is not how and when, but rather, if enough of us have come to the conclusion that it must happen.
Obviously there is outrage. But should there be? Is it moral? In other words, is there a moral cause for a would-be EDSA III? What exactly is the cause that aroused such massive collective outrage, anyway? Is it simply the latest charge of corruption and, if so, have not people already been habituated to that (hence, should not their response be the typical, “They’re all the same”)? In fact, have not they themselves (even if they’re not in politics, by virtue of just how these mechanisms have defined the whole culture) been doing it? Quezon gives a thoughtful answer:
A system may lead people to be criminals but when a criminal is caught, you begin by punishing the criminal and then addressing the factors that lead people to commit such crimes. But to focus on the factors, to the exclusion of the criminals, is to embolden the criminals in our midst. [. . .] I called for redemption on June 30, 2005 [when doubts surfaced about Arroyo's "(re)election"]; it has taken time but one by one, that redemption has taken place. Year by year, [however,] sectors of society formerly over-prudent have seen that every time they gave the President the benefit of the doubt, she only increased her number of accomplices; and so now, the question has been reduced to this: will you still continue being the President’s accomplice, or not? Because, if any sacrifice is going to be made, it won’t be on the President’s part: she will always abandon her accomplices [as demonstrated by the clash with de Venecia] to try to save herself.
Moreover, we can add to Quezon’s argument that even as (admittedly) crime is a part of everyday Filipino life (which actually leads to jokes (and even serious talk) about how the brains of these “street-smarts”–what with all the clever and inventive schemes they come up with to steal money (pickpocketing made more complex!)–should really be harnessed), more is expected of the leaders of the system that lead to those crimes in the first place. Especially when the leaders keep doing the same thing. Especially when the leaders increasingly abuse the (im)moral license that–again and again–they are given.
Therein lies the difference. That made the outrage exceptional–moral. Added to the outrage that has been building up over the years–and the insult as Lozada presented them with the facts that they’ve known all along but were now offered up on the TV, in front of them–in their face!–That is what made the current circumstances different. That is what brought Filipinos to the streets.
Despite this (and despite the demonstration that people did have it, i.e. that they were outraged (in one of the biggest demonstrations it is estimated (against the government’s own estimate) that 80,000 people turned up), there lingers some hesitation for a full-fledged revolution. Former President Cory Aquino herself, leading the demonstrations, stopped short of calling it as such, instead asking for Arroyo to peaceably step down. Now, Arroyo’s main argument for her (despite many crimes) legitimacy, for her stay in power, is her work ethic, the claim that of all the Presidents that have come before her (especially former-playboy-actor-and-notorious-hard-drinker Estrada), she is the most competent, the smartest (perhaps there there’s no doubt), that she works the hardest and, as a result, she has accomplished much (7% GNP growth!) and will accomplish more. Thus, touchingly, as quoted by columnist Amando Doronila, against the recent demonstrations, she pleads (perhaps proudly, towards the end in fact stirring up, as it were, guilt in a prodigal child), “I am not perfect, but I have worked hard every day to achieve positive and lasting change for the nation.”
This is, however, as Doronila points out, no excuse. Sparring, as it were, with the President, Doronila responds:
No one dared to tell her that work ethic alone does not compensate for bad governance, which spawns corruption. It is tempting to remind her that the members of the Mafia, or the Cosa Nostra, worked their guts out from dawn till dusk, trafficking in illegal drugs and plotting the murder of gangsters who betrayed them or crossed their path.
Another argument that has been made (against another revolution and for Arroyo), the one constantly (readily!) forwarded by former President Fidel Ramos (one of the few remaining Arroyo allies), is that there is no other alternative, that, as it were, Arroyo is the lesser evil. Especially when, as people point out, Arroyo’s vice president (who, as stated by the law, is, should there be a revolution, to succeed her) is former Senator (for, like, 7 years) Manuel “Noli” de Castro, who gained popularity as the news anchor of the evening news, which also happens to be his sole credential for his current job (Arroyo chose her as running mate for this very reason, to, as it were, counteract the star power of her presidential contender, another popular action star figure Fernando Poe, Jr.). Now, de Quiros, suggesting for a moment that perhaps de Castro is actually better than Arroyo, contests this “legal” course. In his own words:
I’ve always disputed Senator Joker Arroyo’s contention that there was a constitutional remedy to a corrupt leader [i.e. Arroyo] but none to a stupid one [i.e. de Castro and Estrada before him]. Corrupt leaders corrupt everything, including the Constitution, including former human rights lawyers. Stupid ones only corrupt the English language with Eraptions [a pun on Erap Estrada, notorious for his English, uttering such sounds as the American u with a wide a, i.e. to erapt]. There is a remedy to stupidity, which, far more than a constitutional one, is a natural one. Or more than a remedy, it is a barrier. Stupid presidents lie less, cheat less, steal less, and murder less, if at all.
In any case, why should Noli naturally succeed Arroyo? It’s true of course that the vice president succeeds the president in the event that the presidency is vacated for some reason or another. That’s not the case here, as I’ve always maintained. The presidency isn’t being vacated, it has never been occupied.
This, of course, is the heart of the matter. Arroyo has been doing all these, committing all these crimes–when, in the first place, she shouldn’t have been able to do so! (Sounds familiar?) The very power with which she commits–and excuses–her crimes was stolen–was itself a crime!–which, after all, is the biggest crime of all–substantiated moreover by hard evidence: the so-called Hello Garci tape that shows that Arroyo spoke to Commission of Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano in the 2004 elections. (This, of course, by no means led the Senate at the time (2005)–thanks to de Venecia–to impeach her).
De Quiros articulates the weight of this, which, after all, is the original crime. De Quiros writes:
Elated as I am by recent turn of events, specifically by Jun Lozada coming out to testify on the ZTE national broadband network (NBN) deal, I cannot for the life of me fathom why the thievery isn’t being driven home by the renewed and frenzied playing of the “Hello, Garci” tape. The latter is the original sin. The theft of money is nothing, the theft of the vote is everything. Compared with “Hello, Garci,” the ZTE-NBN deal is the epitome of moderate greed. The ZTE-NBN deal merely makes Arroyo out to be just as corrupt as, if not more so than, Erap, and therefore someone who has also lost the public trust. The “Hello, Garci” tape makes Arroyo out to be a different breed from Joseph Estrada, who was at least elected president. It isn’t just that she has lost the public trust, it is that she never had it. The difference isn’t just one of quantity or intensity, the difference is one of quality or essence.
Hence, when Arroyo declares firmly against the latest series of protests, “I am the President and no one else. I will follow the Constitution and my own wish to step down only when my term ends. Our people want leaders that are God-fearing, pro-poor, unafraid to make tough choices, hardworking, and loyal to the people of the nation,” her statements, well, ring hollow–in fact, once rebutted by de Quiros, ring as outright lies:
As far as I know people who are God-fearing do not swear, “I will not run,” and run anyway. As far as I know, people who are pro-poor do not steal from the poor to give to Fat Boy [reference to Arroyo's fat businessman husband]. As far as I know, people who are unafraid to take tough choices choose to resign when the people do not trust them or want them. As far as I know, hardworking leaders work hard to empower the people and not to keep themselves in power. As far as I know, people who are loyal to the nation do not sell the nation to the Chinese after selling it to the Americans.
The Hello Garci tape, then, as de Quiros argues, holds the key to everything. First, as to why Arroyo should-must-be made to go:
The people who say, “Let’s wait na lang for her to go in 2010, it’s just a couple of years away,” forget one thing. Which is: why on earth a person who has no compunctions about stealing six years in office, after having no compunctions lying about not running again, will have the compunction to yield that office after her prescribed term is up. Which is why on earth a President who has served longer than any president since 1986 without once having been voted president won’t think she can continue ruling past 2010 without the consent of the governed. Which is why on earth someone who has never been bound by the law, or guided by the law, or bothered by the law, would imagine the law on term limits applies to her.
The “Hello, Garci” tape in, of and by itself refutes the notion or illusion or delusion that Arroyo will step down by 2010. You have ruled illegitimately all these years, you will continue to rule illegitimately past these years. She doesn’t step down now–or be made to–she will never step down.
Secondly, how to proceed and where to go afterwards:
Who is the alternative to Arroyo? Simple. The alternative to an illegitimate president is a legitimate president; the alternative to an unelected president is an elected president. The solution is (snap) elections after she goes. Just as well: why shouldn’t Noli de Castro succeed Arroyo in the way that Arroyo succeeded Estrada? Simple. Because Estrada was ordained by God [having been voted at the biggest margin (by the masses, to whom he (supposedly) was a hero (at least in the movies)], Arroyo was ordained by [Comelec Commissioner] Garci. Arroyo rightfully took over Estrada because the presidency was vacated, Noli may not rightfully take over Arroyo because the presidency has not been occupied since 2004.
The likely outcome of such snap elections, however, (which is the main cause of the hesitation, I think (and Arroyo’s only remaining hold on power?)) is a victory for Erap Estrada, in a Filipino expression, a snap para kay Erap (who, by the way, as part of the deal in his pardon, promised never again to run for public office).
It seems to me that Filipinos here are confronted with a moral choice. Do we uphold the law or do we (as Arroyo did for Erap) grant the lawbreaker exception because she (supposedly) does something good for us (like Estrada supporters did not storm Malacañang when Arroyo pardoned him)? Do we let her, the Queen, steal (in front of us!) from the public vaults because (7% GNP growth! Wider highways! More efficient bureaucracy!) we benefit in the process? Do we turn the other eye and away from democracy because soon (promise!) wealth would peter out and life may just be sweet? In other words: Should we buy the bribe (bribe because (doubt it not) she wants something out of it and buy because (doubt it not) we will later on have to pay for it)? Is the Queen an exceptional being? Do we live in present-day Russia?
Actually, it doesn’t even have to be that hard. It doesn’t even have to be a moral question. We can (like Arroyo likes to do) think about it in economic terms. You have a President who undertakes all these grand infrastructural projects that, yes, improve the way that things work–but that (like any other public investment) you, the regular (now hunted-down!) taxpayer, have to pay for over the years as she and her husband and their many cronies pocket kickbacks (from the said improvement projects) and unhesitatingly (unabashedly!) steal from the public wealth itself until, well, before you know it, the infrastructure has gone bad, there are no more funds to maintain (and pay for!) them (much less create new ones), you have to pay more taxes, accept lower quality from other public services (like on inconsequential, intangible things like education), 7% GNP growth has gone down (as investors, once again, leave) without you having really felt that it was up: Why is that, 7%!–but it’s just a number–and one number at that! It misled you! It deceived you! There were more things that 7% concealed than showed. But one of the tools that–as you recognize 20 years later, when things stand where they were, where they’ve always been, that is to say: the same–the leaders, once again, used to enrich themselves.
To substantiate this basic outline, we can, once again, turn to de Quiros, who supplies actual figures to show just how much corruption (so abstract a word, so common, so pervasive, so mundane) there is in the Arroyo government–and just how much damage it has on the economy (Arroyo’s supposed main achievement). De Quiros writes:
At the time Benjamin Abalos was trying to get Romulo Neri to approve the NBN deal, the kickback he was demanding amounted (at the exchange rate then, which was P50:$1) to P6.5 billion. As is usual with mind-boggling amounts like those, it boggles the mind. It refuses to allow our minds to wrap themselves around it. Well, some friends have done us the favor of helping us see what exactly P6.5 billion means. The amount is equivalent to more than half of government’s entire budget for the Department of Health and more than five times the entire yearly budget of the Philippine General Hospital. It would have paid for 49,000 open heart surgeries, 325,000 cataract surgeries, and a full course of antibiotics for 6.5 million people. That is the size of greed which Neri instructed Lozada to moderate.
That is just one kickback from one deal going to one Malacañang lackey. Imagine the scale of pillage the collective cabal in the Palace is wreaking upon the country. Derail the economy? You assume that the “economy” means the wellbeing of the many and not the (in)satiation of the few, you conclude: No, exposing this deviltry does not derail the economy. No, rising to condemn this crime on the floor of the Senate does not derail the economy. No, taking to the streets to protest this obscenity does not derail the economy. Stealing derails the economy. They derail the economy.
The Inquirer editorial board makes the same case that the supposed economic growth is not trickling down to the masses. In fact, the number of poor families (what do you know!) increased in what the Inquirer calls a losing battle–a number that, of course, (in contrast to 7%!) the administration does not tout in public.
Things get even more haunting (darker!) when, as Quezon notes in another commentary, we see the lengths that this President would go to forward and ingratiate herself (in this case, by using the China card, i.e. citing more good economic numbers thanks to good business with China) when she concedes part of the island chain (the Spratlys) that the Philippines had long (on the lead in Southeast Asia against China) claimed as its own! Imagine that: a President who–(if we want to be generous) for shortsighted economic growth and (which is more likely the case) as buttress for her campaign as lifelong President (the Queen)–gives up her own territory. What do you know? No Philippine President has ever done that. Obviously they’re not half as smart, competent, and loyal (to the nation (and even just her job!)) as the Queen we now have. (A report on the recent Spratlys anomaly can be found here.)
(The Spratly Islands (like the Muslim separatists in the south and the scattered Communist rebels) have been an important (if unconscious) part of the Filipino (in fact, perhaps in all the nations battling for it) imagination/psyche (and potentially, also economically) and a sensitive topic among the Asian neighbors. This, if the Hello Garci tapes haven’t yet, should really do it. I mean, it is simply unacceptable . . . What guts has she, who does she think she is to break Presidential precedent like this and, as de Quiros suggests, sell the country? I mean, I guess one shouldn’t be surprised. Trapos have been robbing their countrymen blind. How is that any different from outright selling the country?)
Given this, de Quiros seemingly irrational outburst suddenly gains sense, takes on meaning:
What is the alternative to Arroyo? Easy. Not lying is an alternative to Arroyo. Not cheating is an alternative to Arroyo. Not stealing is an alternative to Arroyo. Not murdering is an alternative to Arroyo–or [in a recent campaign against the New People's Army, the military arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines] to slaughtering a bunch of kids in the name of a moribund Cold War cause known as ridding the world of communism. Anyone who does not lie, cheat, steal and murder is an alternative to Arroyo. A dog is an alternative to Arroyo. At least it is loyal, at least it is cute.
As all these things came to a head, many intellectuals in the country (rightly so, I think) justified the removal of Arroyo (like removing, to borrow a Rizal metaphor, a tumor that spreads cancer to the whole of society) and called for a full-fledged (an event, an Act) People Power revolution: EDSA III! Doronila was skeptical about Aquino’s strategy and didn’t think that moral pressure–rather than direct public confrontation–would do it. The youth, however, on February 29th (as happens in a blue moon) answered the call.
Reports, however, were that the protest wasn’t big enough. It, unfortunately, did not bring down the government as Arroyo spent a night in the military headquarters where the generals stuck by her side. She was also aided by other key institutions–the Cabinet, some governors–that, amidst the street protests (en route to 29 February), expressed their support. (Doronila, of course, calls the latter for what it is. He writes, “Not content with the military show of force, the President tried to reassure herself or impress the public that she had broad support from the state bureaucracy by parading the governors and the Cabinet members on Palace grounds.”)
Belinda Olivares-Cunanan, another columnist, faults this “failure” of a revolution on what it turns out is the not so unblemished personality of star witness Lozada. Cunanan arouses these doubts when she points out that Lozada “readily admitted to Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago that Philippine Forest Corporation had taken out a P5-million insurance policy with Insular Life with his wife acting as the agent and that it had leased out a 50-hectare property in Antipolo City to a company that he personally controlled.” Cunanan argues:
Comparing the billions of pesos in the ZTE project with the millions of pesos involved in [Lozada's] personal projects is indeed like comparing oranges and apples. But the fact is that in his area of jurisdiction, the irregularities were very serious and he can be charged with graft for them, and yet he pooh-poohs them. Does his record make him a credible witness in a grand corruption issue? What’s even more alarming is that the religious groups backing him up play blind to this double standard. No wonder people are so confused.
But, it can be argued, while it is true that the whistleblower has his sins, it does not invalidate the tune that the whistle sings, that is, it does not make untrue the crimes of the other sinner–whose crimes, after all, are much weightier.
What really causes great damage to Lozada’s testimony, however, is his association with Arroyo’s main opposition in the Senate, former National Police Director-General-turned-Senator Panfilo Lacson, who, from his tenure as Police Chief, has gained a reputation of shrewdness, mercilessness, manipulation, and (so people say) evil (perhaps equal only to Arroyo’s). This leads some people to think that Lozada’s seeming heroic performances in the testimonies so admired by de Quiros was but masterminded by Lacson, who is certainly competent to direct such a performance.
Before the protest, more questions and reports came out attempting to undermine Lozada’s credibility. As Cunanan reports:
On the eve of the rally, the radio news program Radyo Patrol came out with a story about Lozada’s second family and managed to locate their residence. Moreover, Lozada’s record at the government office from which he recently resigned is studded with evidence about not-so-petty corruption and high living, such as taking out three insurance policies paid for by the office on his behalf, with his wife collecting the commissions, and various nepotism practices. As the hearings continued, the star witness was also unmasked as double dealing–with government officials as well as the opposition–in what seems like a plot to contribute to the destabilization of government
Thus, in Cunanan’s words, the demonstration–the revolution–”did not succeed as touted.” She forgets to mention, of course, that the government blocked highways (the ones it so impressively built!), deployed massive police presence on and around EDSA, and prevented media coverage of the affair–reminiscent, as the Inquirer editorial board points out, of Marcos’s martial law. This, of course, by no means, restricted bloggers from waging an online EDSA revolution. (Some of the blogs are Tambayan ni Paeng, BayaniKabayan, and Pedestrian Observer.)
The thing that Lozada’s implication with Lacson demonstrates is just how deeply ingrained corruption is in the government, how much distrust and manipulation there is between State officials and the public, how many power plays are daily being waged (and hatched) by political leaders, how much ambition they harbor, and the acts that it leads them to commit–ultimately to the detriment of the nation and, more importantly, of Juan de la Cruz (Filipino version of Uncle Sam, i.e. the common man).
This, however, by no means refutes the case against Arroyo. If any, it reinforces it, if only by urging the importance of a cleanup–and of starting it from the top, where (without rights, without the mandate of the people) squatters the smartest and most corrupt of them all. Any which way, the case for–and prospects of–a revolution have grown bigger–much bigger–than just the charge of corruption. (Especially given all the points that people like de Quiros have pointed out) It certainly has grown much bigger than whatever Lozada has to say.
Moreover, who is to say that the revolution did not succeed–when it’s not even done, it’s not finished: it has only started. My sense is that (at least based on what most newspapers report) there has grown among the Filipino public an awareness of the situation. In fact, not only awareness (since they’ve known it all along). Something has been incited in them. The outrage, the urgency–but also, hope: the realization that things don’t have to be this way, that change is possible, there can be change, things can be different.
Discourse about Arroyo’s legitimacy (certainly pursued by de Quiros, in many ways beater of the drums in all this, and not only recently) at least continues. More protests are also being planned and investigations are underway regarding the Spratlys deal, which could just be a ground for Arroyo’s impeachment. Something could yet happen. More could yet come. The Queen has not reigned triumphant (again) just yet. Especially when vigilance remains the order of the day (although, of course, we must not forget: the Queen is good, and she’s not yet dead).
Then again, we can ask: All these demonstrations, all these protests, all the noise, the revolutionary energy, the prospect of a revolution–So what? For what? What is it all for? Exploring the question, Quezon cites Livy when he makes us realize that such revolutions “result in no real peace, but instead, [to] mass migration.” Quezon is hinting here at the fact that the Filipino (like the Jews, the Chinese, the Italians–for different reasons, of course) has gained the reputation of being diasporically dispersed in the world. This is because more and more Filipinos have left (and are still leaving) the homeland–and, in a literal sense, the home, as they leave spouses and the kids behind–in search of “greener pastures” (which usually means working in America (to send dollars back to relatives (which, as Arroyo points out, stimulates the Philippine economy! (the credit economy, Filipino style!))).
The rhetorical question that Quezon is asking here is: All these current developments and all the fights for liberation in the past, all the revolutions–for what? What is it all for? So that the Filipino can keep on doing what s/he does, to not (while watching his kids) starve at home, leave the country and serve others (usually in the home, as most overseas Filipino workers end up working as housekeepers) to be extolled (as Arroyo has) as a modern-day (Thank you for all those dollars! You’re my) hero? This lends truth to Quezon calling these migrant workers as “economic and social refugees.” Which leads Quezon (a bit too nationalistically, perhaps) to expound:
Fully a tenth of our population are economic and social refugees, like the boat people of Vietnam or those trying to float from Havana to Miami on inner tubes, except our countrymen are fleeing not war, but what passes for peace! Unlike Fidel Castro (who called his fleeing countrymen “worms” and “trash”), our refugees are proclaimed modern-day heroes.
Now, diaspora in itself is not necessarily bad–and, well, nationalism can be (though, in my impression, the Filipino is more prone, rather than to nationalism, to colonial mentality (i.e. the thinking that others, especially those that have colonized him/her in the past, are somehow better (as illustrated by English having a certain prestige over Filipino))). There is something to be had in a certain amount of decoding and flexibility/adjustability that a nation attains when enough of its members get scattered around the world–which, actually, as they learn to take on new “skins” (new codes), also provides new opportunities (new ways of living/being/performing, other choices) for the scattered members themselves as they reterritorialize in a new “home.” Although, it must not be denied, there is something sad about the phenomenon. And calling the sacrifice heroism is not only an ideological act by which the State excuses its necessity but plain adds insult to the injury. There may be justification for the injury, as painful things sometimes lead to other potentialities. There is, however, none for the insult.
Despite this sober realization, this does not keep Quezon from hoping–calling, in fact, urging–for a revolution, one that really changes things. He hints that these times–preceded as they are by three struggles for independence, three revolutions against home-grown tyranny and incompetence–could just be a Filipino 1968. He writes:
There are times when a nation seems permanently condemned to despairing over the present, where the future can only get progressively worse, and every day leaves a once-great past so much more firmly behind. Yet this, too, shall pass, as it passed for the French, politically as potentially chaotic as us, and as it has passed for the Irish with whom we also share so many similarities.
There is warrant for these many similarities that Quezon establishes, especially between the French in their (what he calls) “defeatist” times and the Filipino of today (no less “defeatist” times). There are, indeed, many similarities. This is, of course, but the same strategy employed by revolutionary leaders against Spain when they (most of them of mixed Spanish and Filipino descent) (such as Rizal) were studying in Europe. Through their explosive writings, these independence-movement leaders (that then inspired the Katipunan, the Filipino revolutionary movement (of which some of them were also members)) tried to make the world aware of, under Spain (especially by the clergy, some of the most oppressive elements of the Spanish occupation), oppression and the Filipino yearnings for liberty–inspired as they were by the French (and American) revolution(s).
Caution must be employed with this strategy, however. While there are indeed many similarities to be found between cultures, there are also differences–sometimes, stark ones. And, well, we have to find a way in which to confront (approach and deal with) the truly different. Otherwise, solidarity in the common struggle (against oppression, for liberty) may just stop short at the sight of difference.
So: revolution, then? In the hope for change. For difference. For a Filipino 1968. But what if, as detractors say, it only returns to power those against whom we fought before (Estrada)? Or someone else who’s just like him (de Castro), if not like them (Lacson)? How do we make sure that the revolution does not get co-opted by a group that simply does the same–especially when (like elections) all previous such revolutions in the past have merely resulted in a change of rulers, not a change in rule? Or, if different, what if this group turns out to subjugate us anew, to make things even worse?
De Quiros suggests some ways, some mechanisms that we can put in place, to (as a start, at least) prevent scenarios such as these from taking place, mechanisms that, in fact, may just better the current system. He suggests to:
Launch a massive, intensive, short-term voters’ education program specifically to warn the world about the evils of “trapo,” complete with posters that, like the “No Smoking” sign, crosses out the trapo. It’s time we drove home the point about what happens when you put people like Jose de Venecia, Prospero Nograles, the horrendous Bicolanos, the drug and gambling lords of Pampanga province, Juan Ponce Enrile and Miriam Santiago, and Arroyo herself, the epitome of the wheeling-dealing trapo, in power. And their ideological twins, the entertainers, who stop being entertaining when they turn politicians even if they still make people laugh with everything they do. It’s time we drove home the point that when you turn away from anti-trapo groups, like Nandy Pacheco’s political party Kapatiran [Brotherhood], presumably because they are not “winnable,” you become a loser.
As I said, this is a start. There is a long way to go. The road by which to get there and where it is headed are, of course, unclear. What has been clearly established, however, is that the Queen must go. There is no way for Arroyo to be there if there is to be change, and there is no way (they’re all blocked!) for change if Arroyo remains. Hence, the (rightful) call for People Power: EDSA III!
There is, it must be repeated again–especially as we see, in one of the rallies, after Aquino, uttering his eraptions, is Estrada, donning his plump and rusty armor–no assurance that this revolution–if it even succeeds (although the wait-and-see strategy and the drawing out of the protests over time certainly seem promising)–will be a Revolution. Still, we are called by this. We must wage it. A revolution–even if, for now, it only means a change of rulers–is called for. In fact, it is long overdue. No matter who replaces her, a revolution now (especially since all such demonstrations–except for the show of force by the government–are (like in the two EDSAs that preceded them) peaceful and backed by the business community) is no mere revolution against the Queen but a revolution against a failed system. So let someone like Arroyo replace her. Sure. By all means.
But let you not be mistaken, Sir/Ma’am, whoever you turn out to be. Huwag kang magkamali. We will watch you. We will remain ever vigilant. We are ever ready to sound the revolution drums (with no bells; we need no help from the Church, thank you) to wage another one, and another one, and another one–should they be necessary, should you, Sir/Ma’am, prove to be the same, should you not be scared enough that you still do us wrong–however many of you trapos we need to overthrow, however many revolutions we need to wage. After all, how many did it take for the French? And they didn’t even have a long colonized history (that still victimizes them) to reckon with and they have long managed to unclasp themselves from that other institution–the Church–that, other than the State–perhaps more so than the State–keeps them chained to their current oppression.
We must do this. This is the task that, in what have been defeatist times, the Filipino is called to. We must be willing–with fear perhaps, but (like our heroes that fought for our independence) with idealism, with passion, with courage, armed with their wisdom and (peaceful) methods–We must say to our “leaders”: Power rests on us. You only have it now because you are delegated to it. Now, if you want to hold it, you had better prove yourself worthy. Public power is by no means a way to enrich yourself–but a way to serve us, the people. If you don’t intend that, if you are deluded by your own ambitions, then you had better stay out of public office. We will have none of it. No more. Not after all these years. For those of you who do decide to take on that power, you had better offer us something else, something different, something better than what we’ve had–or else. Or else.
A vigilant, activated citizenry ever watchful at their leaders’ back–and front–That is the only way to a Revolution, and the best chance (there is no assurance) for Democracy.
Update (10 March 2008)
The Inquirer editorial board asks what all the current political agitation is leading up to. After exploring some possibilities (a snap election to be rigged (yet again!) by Arroyo, a civilian-miltary junta that may just take the country back to its pre-EDSA I military/dictatorship days, an even bigger protest looming on 14 March (though may be the last one)), it estimates that Arroyo is likely to stay in power. After enumerating the many corruption allegations implicating her, the paper concludes, “In any other country, a combination of corrupt deals like these would be enough to bring down a government. Here, we have protests and demonstrations, but so far that is all. Ms Arroyo must be one lucky President!”
Manuel L. Quezon III reflects on how the uneasy juxtaposition of different political forces (represented by personalities (with their own taint and faults)) against Arroyo shows democracy at work (threatened by the central power, of course).
Conrado de Quiros articulates what the whole controversy on the Spratlys really means. He explains:
The latest is Franklin Drilon’s revelation that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo committed treason in signing an agreement with China allowing it to explore resources in the Philippines under the guise of “seismic data gathering.” The “data gathering,” to be conducted in the Spratlys and offshore Palawan, is a cover for hunt for oil, which those places are believed to hold rich deposits of. Observers point out that this is a sellout of the Filipinos’ birthright for, well, not a pot of porridge but for a pot of gold in Chinese loans for the NorthRail, SouthRail and NBN projects. Unfortunately, that pot of gold does not go to the Filipinos, it goes to the First Couple and their favored crew, which used to include Jose de Venecia.
This then, says de Quiros, changes the whole question from:
“What earthly wrong has Arroyo done?” into “What earthly wrong has Arroyo not done?” This is the only Filipino leader I know who has been charged variously with stealing the country blind, stealing the vote, and stealing the nation’s patrimony. Or less metaphorically, with corruption of unprecedented proportions (at least since Marcos), with conniving with a Comelec official to steal the vote, and with selling the country to a foreign power. Any one of these crimes is enough not just to impeach her but to throw her in jail forever. Or since she is the commander in chief, or claims to be so, to line her up before a firing squad. Taken together, these crimes simply have no commensurate punishment.
He then uncovers and refutes definitively the logical tactic employed by the remaining Arroyo allies:
Her allies justify that by saying she is merely accused of doing these things and there is no proof she has done these things. Well, quite apart from that being a symptom of simulated blindness, the lack of proof in some cases merely points to other equally heinous crimes. For that lack of proof is the product variously of kidnapping witnesses (Lozada and the public school teacher in Tawi-Tawi during the 2004 elections), preventing witnesses from talking (EO 464), and to go by the witnesses in the NBN, issuing death threats against truth-tellers or proof-givers. The tack is not unlike cops and soldiers blatantly stopping marchers from marching to the Edsa Shrine and crying out triumphantly afterward: “See? They only got a small crowd.”
Update (15 March 2008)
March 14 end-of-the-semester protest by rock bands and youth leaders, joined by some government officials
Update (27 April 2008)
Survey seems to confirm general discontent against the Arroyo administration—not only in the capital but throughout the nation—in de Quiros’s words, wrecking the tacks of the administration against EDSA III. Arroyo’s posing in the recent rice crisis also seem to undermine her “economic” arguments for staying in power:
The idea that the economy is doing very well while the people are going hungry—the latter increasingly having vivid images to drive home the point—can only raise more shrilly the question of whom the growth is benefiting. Indeed, it can only increase the public’s conviction that government is hugely corrupt and that its corruption is hugely hurting them since the money that ought to go to their food is going to their officials’ pockets. This is one case where the “economic” won’t detract from the “political” but draw the spotlight to it. [. . .] Farmers’ groups have been warning Arroyo from the start about the folly of not making sure this country has ironclad food security, [which Arroyo, proponent of globalization, ignored, thus resulting to the Philippines becoming one of the biggest importer of rice while having some of the most cultivable lands on earth]. Those warnings will come back to haunt. With the rice crisis, Arroyo may not take refuge in the “economic” as opposed to the political; she is perfectly vulnerable there. She is bound to find that haven worse than the battlefield she left.
Quezon III numerically analyzes Arroyo’s chances of staying in power:
Half of the country opposes the President. However, this 50 percent is divided into smaller chunks on the basis of what to do about the President. Another quarter of the population will stick by the President come hell or high water. And the remaining quarter of the population calls itself neutral, but is more likely to support the President, when push comes to shove, at least until 2010 and protesting, all the while, that it has no love for her. The effect though, is that the President’s solid 25 percent support ends up ballooning to 50 percent because of the supposedly reluctant—but tacit—endorsement of the 25 percent who are “neutral”; while the 50 percent against the President remains divided on what to do. In effect all the President has to do is keep the 25 percent that are “neutral” on her side (by repeatedly insisting she’ll step down on June 30, 2010, for example) and play off her critics against each other, according to the classic strategy of divide-and-conquer.
This leads Quezon III’s estimation that perhaps impeachment is the best option.
Interesting article by Quezon, Jr. (Quezon III’s father) on the Filipino colonial mentality I mentioned above. Some insighting paragraphs:
Although our consciousness of being Filipinos is apparently quite strong, our consciousness of being Ilocanos or Tagalogs or Bicolanos or Visayans or from the Muslim areas is still very much in the forefront of our minds.
[. . .] Our national cohesion is also weakened by a very strange manifestation of the colonial mentality—racism. It is of course not the Nazi type of racism. Truly colonial, it is a racism in reverse.
When we read of racial disturbances in other lands, we are justly indignant, we are being more than a little absurd when we have feelings of self-righteousness as a result. It is wicked and stupid enough for one people to look down on another, it is more stupid for a people to look down on it itself, to do both … And that is exactly what we do.
[. . .] It is common enough to hear people say that so-and-so looks like a houseboy or maid or lavandera or driver. The implication is that people in those occupations—perfectly honorable, let me protest with vehemence and considerable indignation—have, as a rule, Filipino coloring and features and are, therefore, according to that stupid frame of mind, ugly.
[. . .] Our surviving tendency, therefore, to consider Caucasians as superior to us in intelligence by the mere fact of their being Caucasians is outrageous. Our tendency to be impressed by those who have Caucasian blood in their veins and to take it for granted that they are more intelligent than the Filipino free of such mixture would be funny were it not so disgusting.
[ . . .] The importance of the Filipino version of racism lies in this—it weakens the bond uniting Philippine society into a cohesive whole. It easily leads us to overlook possibilities in people just because of their appearance or descent. It leads us to have an almost servile attitude toward Americans and Europeans.