The Arroyo Government: Struggling to Survive till 2010 and Beyond


The probability that the Arroyo government would survive another year and complete a six-year term may be getting higher as we approach 2009; but its concern is no longer limited to staying in power till 2010. With the numerous unresolved issues hounding it, it could not help but try to keep itself in power beyond 2010 to prolong its immunity from suit and to continue accumulating wealth; or at the very least to influence the results of the 2010 elections, which would be very difficult for it to do because of its unpopularity. Thus, the renewed attempts at Cha Cha.

BY BENJIE OLIVEROS
POLITICAL YEARENDER
Bulatlat

Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has survived another year after potentially explosive corruption scandals -both old and new- have again hugged the headlines. The year had just begun when Rodolfo Lozada returned to the country – after earlier trying to elude a Senate hearing – and was kidnapped by government agents after sending feelers that he would be telling what he knows about the National Broadband Network (NBN) deal with ZTE of China. Government officials failed to convince him to keep his mouth shut and the kidnapping only bolstered accusations that the Arroyo family is involved in the shady deal. The removal of Rep. Jose de Venecia as House Speaker made things worse for the government. Even as de Venecia has not sufficiently spilled the beans on the Arroyo government up to now, his sudden removal from the speakership – which was orchestrated by no less than Mikey Arroyo, the President’s son – further tainted the hands of the Arroyo family. The reason for de Venecia’s ouster was clear: he was removed for failing to stop his own son Joey from testifying about the involvement of Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, the President’s husband, in the NBN-ZTE deal.

What seemed like a stroke of luck for the Arroyo government, but a series of unfortunate events for the Filipino people, came in March when spikes in the prices of rice, flour and bread, and oil distracted the public’s attention from the NBN-ZTE scandal. Prices only began to go down by mid-July. However, by August, the Arroyo government was again embroiled in a controversy when it agreed to sign a Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) without consulting all those who would be affected by the agreement. Instead of explaining the MOA-AD to the Filipino people, the Arroyo government even attempted to again invoke ‘executive privilege’, thereby fueling controversy and raising suspicions that there was something more to the planned agreement than the desire to forge peace with the MILF. Then the Arroyo government began raising the need for Charter Change (Cha Cha).

The controversy over Cha Cha was just picking up when high ranking officials of the Philippine National Police (PNP), starring retired PNP Director for comptrollership Eliseo de la Paz, were caught by Russian customs officials carrying 106,000 Euros as they were about to leave Russia. While the scandal dubbed as ‘Euro generals scam’ did not involve the President, it nevertheless exemplified the corruption prevalent under the current administration. The ‘Euro generals scam’ was still in the focus of the public’s attention when former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc Joc” Bolante was deported from the US after four years of trying to evade the Senate investigation on the P728 million fertilizer fund scam, an issue in which he was the alleged operator of the Arroyo government. Thus, the P728 million fertilizer fund scam, which was never resolved, was thrust in the limelight again.

This bolstered another impeachment complaint against President Arroyo. Again the Arroyo government had to employ the power of its numbers and money to summarily junk the complaint. The public furor over the junking of the impeachment complaint was just starting to build up when the Arroyo government intensified its Cha Cha offensive, with Mikey Arroyo leading the charge. They were only stopped in their tracks when a broad array of forces converged in Makati to express opposition to Cha Cha.

Before the year ended, the Washington-based Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) announced last December 15 that it is withholding financial assistance to the Philippines until the government undertakes more measures to curb corruption.

Established in 2004, the MCC provides financial assistance to reduce poverty in developing countries. In 2006, it provided $21 million to the Philippines. Another grant could have gone a long way in addressing poverty, which is expected to worsen further in 2009. However, the impact of the punitive measure undertaken by the MCC goes beyond being merely a lost funding opportunity. The withholding of financial assistance by the MCC demonstrated the concern of international agencies over the worsening corruption in the country. The concern over corruption in the Arroyo government was also expressed by business groups earlier. The Arroyo government merely brushed these aside claiming that measures to curb corruption are already in place.

During the past years, the Arroyo government has been parrying the issues hurled against it by claiming credit for its supposed ‘good economic management’, and dismissed these as ‘politicking’, which it said was hurting the economy. However, the rice crisis that unravelled in March and its subsequent over-importation of the country’s staple, the suffering caused by the unprecedented spikes in oil prices from February to July this year, the continuing free fall of the stock market and the value of the peso, the worsening unemployment, hunger and poverty, and the onset of a worse crisis in 2009 because of the lay offs of overseas Filipinos, which would affect the economy’s lifeline – dollar remittances- the slowdown in exports and foreign investments, reveal the fundamental weaknesses of the economy and the folly of the liberalization, deregulation, and privatization polices of the Arroyo government.

The Arroyo government – the most unpopular, the most impeached, and widely perceived as the most corrupt administration in the country’s history – has survived another issue-filled year. President Arroyo is the longest-serving president after Marcos, totaling eight years. However, it has been confronted by corruption scandals, human rights issues, and attempts to unseat it from power for most, if not all, of the past eight years.

The probability that the Arroyo government would survive another year and complete a six-year term – in addition to the three years it was in Malacañang for the un-expired term of the Estrada administration – may be getting higher as we approach 2009; but its concern is no longer limited to staying in power till 2010. With the numerous unresolved issues hounding it, it could not help but try to keep itself in power beyond 2010 to prolong its immunity from suit and to continue accumulating wealth; or at the very least to influence the results of the 2010 elections, which would be very difficult for it to do because of its unpopularity.

However, its efforts at paving the way for prolonging its hold to power through Cha Cha is confronting opposition from a broad array of forces. The most recent powerful group to add its voice in the opposition against Cha Cha is the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). For, perhaps, the first time, the CBCP is united in opposing a move of the Arroyo government. The CBCP did not even issue a unified statement during the height of political killings and enforced disappearances from 2005 to 2007. Only its president Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, as well as the vocal critics of the Arroyo government within the CBCP – Archbishop Oscar Cruz, Bishops Julio Labayen, Deogracias Yñiguez,and Antonio Tobias – did. This time against Cha Cha it did, manifesting its strong unity on the matter.

The Arroyo government and its allies made a tactical retreat in its push for Cha Cha, saying that it shelved Cha Cha for the moment because the Senate was against it. However, Kampi stalwarts have expressed that the fight for Cha Cha isn’t over. It seems that the tactic of the Arroyo government now is to just let the steam cool down then spring a surprise next year perhaps around January, when the protest movement has still to regain momentum after the Christmas break.

It would therefore be prudent for the Filipino people to remain vigilant.(Bulatlat.com)

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