Monday, March 13, 2006

For anyone interested in a concise analysis of the current political climate in the Philippines, I'm posting an opinion piece by my dear friend, Jimmy Ong. There is a glut of editorials on various listserves on same topic but until I read this I didn't get a clear picture of the scenario.


By Jimmy S Ong

The country seems fatally divided these days, between those who feel GMA should go because she cheated, and those who feel she should stay even though she cheated.

No one seriously believes she didn’t cheat; not after the damning evidence of “Hello, Garci,” and her even more telltale “I am sorry.” The most her apologists can argue is that the tapes were illegally obtained, and were tampered with, and can’t be used in a court of law, and anyway, Congress trashed the impeachment bid.

Those who say she should go enjoy the advantage of moral superiority. The irreducible argument is, at the center of the democratic process lies the vote; steal that, and you lose all legitimacy. (This may be why, even before the turbulence of last Feb 20, GMA had to tone down the Edsa 1 rites; they might have reminded us that one event that aroused the public 20 years ago was Marcos’s attempt to rig the count of the snap elections.)

Those who say she should stay resent their own lack of moral ascendancy, and so they sound petulant and testy when they raise realpolitik objections to her departure. Who will replace GMA? Are her most vehement critics any cleaner? Do they condone a coup d’etat or a communist takeover? Why doesn’t Cory Aquino stay home and discipline Kris?

Of these arguments, the leftist-rightist-NPA-Magdalo conspiracy sounds most hollow. To be sure, with the world communist movement in a state of collapse – China hasn’t become the world’s fastest-growing economy by strict adherence to MaoTseTung thought – Filipino communists have had to rethink their cherished tenets of people’s war and encirclement from the countryside, and seem more open to tactical shortcuts with disgruntled elements in the AFP.

But a joint venture formalized by a memorandum of agreement seems farfetched at this point, particularly if its leaders plot their takeover at a plush Makati village with a Time reporter recording it for posterity. Navy Lt. Antonio Trillanes did not turn to Joma Sison after concluding that systemic corruption in the Navy had eaten through to the organization’s core. He used his findings (first written up as graduate school term papers over four years ago) to justify a coup.

A coup threat is more real. It is an attractive option to any field commander who traces his troops’ threadbare uniforms and obsolete weapons to plundering generals, or who feels that professionalism in the AFP has been eroded by political leaders who have forfeited their mandate to govern.

But the notion of a coup, with its certain aftermath of military rule, remains abhorrent to those of us who lived through martial law and its trademark practices of warrantless arrests, media censorship and dispersals of peaceful assembly. One evening in September 1972 I returned to the Philippines Herald office after dinner with the other editors, to check on the next day’s edition, only to find the place padlocked and ringed with soldiers. Now it’s the Tribune that gets raided. In the ensuing weeks, friends like Mely Nicolas and Jerry Barican were detained. Now it’s Randy David’s turn. Justice Sec. Raul Gonzalez sounds as haughty today as Defense Sec. Enrile 34 years ago, and Sec. Ignacio Bunye looks as sartorial as Sec. Kit Tatad.. But it doesn’t much matter whether military rule is enforced by some general in GMA’s camp or some colonel who opposes her; both types draw their power not from the mandate of the ballot but from the barrel of a gun.

Still, just as odious as the prospect of GMA ruling through some militarist cabal is the prospect of GMA replaced by discredited faces who have had their turn at the feeding trough, and salivate to get to it once again.

For all of Cory Aquino’s deficiencies as a working president, she will always deserve our thanks for uniting us after Ninoy died, and our admiration for giving up power when her term was up. But to see her today on the same side as JV Ejercito and Imee Marcos? Did we face down the tanks at Edsa to pave the way for Erap’s return? We know that’s not Cory’s goal, but when we see the likes of Ernie Maceda and Nene Pimentel, Dinky Soliman and Linggoy Alcuaz, egging us on, we recall that these people held office and wielded power in their time, and at times they’ve been allies and at times they’ve been foes, and a fat lot of good it did the country. And we no longer feel that their fight is our fight. We feel, more and more, like the less-than-equal animals at the conclusion of George Orwell’s Animal Farm:

Yes, a violent quarrel was in progress. There were shoutings, bangings on the table, sharp suspicious glances, furious denials …. Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike…. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

This is where GMA’s claim – that she is our best and only leader – kicks in most insidiously. Conrad de Quiros and Randy David can insist that surely there are Filipinos more decent, more competent, more worthy than she; but these columnists don’t quite explain where to find such people, when so many institutions – the legislature, the courts, the mass media, the church – seem so diminished and uninspiring. More to the point, in a putative democracy, leaders are elected; but what chance have we got with a Comelec so tarnished by a scandalous and null-and-voided mega-contract, and an Ombudsman that won’t comply with the Supreme Court’s two-year-old directive to determine the Comelec’s criminal liability?

With these aces up her sleeve, GMA can push charter change relentlessly, and bill herself as the best possible leader for a transition – a transition, by the way, to a parliament under the best possible leader, who happens to be GMA. Of course, legitimacy will continue to be a nagging problem, but that’s the whole point of EO 464, Proclamation 1017, guidelines for the media, and stories of the leftist-rightist-NPA-Magdalo conspiracy.

This is where things stand today. Although GMA demeans the presidency, and the office ill-suits her, as the Bard would say, “like a giant’s robe / Upon a dwarfish thief,” we have got to be convinced that she must stay on, that the alternatives are too dreadful to contemplate, that the cure is worse than the disease. But she is the disease.

Jimmy Ong started out as a journalist 40 years ago, and now teaches at De La Salle University.

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