Arroyo’s Diminishing Options


With all remaining options including attempts at another Cha-Cha diminishing the whole nation should brace for some extreme measures being resorted to in 2009.

By the Policy Study, Publication, and Advocacy (PSPA) Program
Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)

By law, Gloria M. Arroyo steps down from the presidency 19 months from now. Before that presidential elections will be held in May 2010 to elect the new president. The big question foremost in the mind of many Filipinos is: Will Arroyo really voluntarily leave the presidential palace to make way for her successor who will then govern the country for the next six years?

By June 2010 when she is expected to leave, Arroyo, the Philippines’ 14th president, should have been in power for 10 years–the longest tenure after Ferdinand Marcos who became president and dictator for 20 years (1966-1986) until he was ousted by civilian uprising.

If Arroyo clings to power beyond 2010, as dissenting voices from various sectors fear, she would be the third president to attempt so. Marcos declared martial law in September 1972 on the pretext of protecting the republic from Rightist and Leftist forces and ruled as a dictator for 14 more years. During his presidency (1992-1998), former General Fidel V. Ramos called for charter change (that’s where “Cha-Cha” came about) in a bid to restore authoritarian rule and establish a strong republic. His two attempts failed, chiefly because of a stronger public resistance. He ended his term in June 1998.

From the very beginning when she took over as president on the heels of the fall of Joseph E. Estrada in a second civilian uprising in January 2001, Arroyo’s term had been challenged. The whole length of her presidency for the past nine years can qualify as a perfect episode for the popular TV series: “Surviving the Presidency.”

Coup attempts

Arroyo faced at least five coup attempts and mutinies: The first was in May 2001 when civilian supporters of Estrada tried to storm Malacañang. The siege was to climax with a coup fomented, reports claimed, by former Estrada officials and allies. Some of these ex-officials have since been co-opted by Arroyo. Calls for her resignation or removal began as early as 2002 picking up steam after the 2004 presidential race amid strong allegations of rigging the elections. Three impeachment complaints were filed against her at the lower House in 2005-2007 and the fourth complaint was thrown out by Arroyo’s political cronies last week (first week of December, 2008).

Arroyo was wily enough to pick a vice presidential candidate (Noli de Castro) who, despite his claimed popularity as a broadcaster, has no presidential credentials thus making him a no-no in the event of a third civilian uprising.

To stay in power, the beleaguered president used political patronage to the hilt in order to rein in her narrow political base among members of Congress, local governments, senior military and police officials, business cronies, and, in some respects, even among leaders of the influential Catholic clergy. The political support purchased by patronage, allegedly in the form of bribery, distribution of pork barrel, promotions, junkets, and other means has been pivotal to keeping Arroyo in Malacañang.

Patronage

While patronage guarantees support for Arroyo at the most propitious times, such as during impeachments and elections, central to crippling any organized mass movement–key to any extra-constitutional presidential transition–is the neutralization of the Left. A government document underscores a national security strategy against the Left–which includes dislodging progressive Party-list groups from Congress–as vital to the Arroyo presidency. Thus, Arroyo’s presidency has also been propped up by the gun leaving nearly 1,000 activists summarily executed and hundreds of others missing since 2001. Civil liberties are threatened by illegal arrests and detention, trumped-up criminal charges, an anti-terrorism law, and the absence of any legal protection.

To conclude, the greed for power has been sustained at the cost of making the Philippine government the most corrupt in East Asia, based on the latest Transparency International report, and by a culture of impunity making the presidential office unaccountable to alleged election cheating, corruption, and crimes against humanity. Arroyo’s presidency has further reduced Congress into a rubber-stamp legislature and the judiciary tarnished by both alleged corruption and presidential appointees.

As a result, Arroyo has become the most unpopular president of all times based on public surveys. There are scores of issues and charges to settle with the president, something that is much anticipated if and when she steps down from the presidency in mid-2010 and becomes a private citizen. To pre-empt this inevitable scenario, she will be spending the rest of her term to either install a friendly successor or use all possible means to stay in power.

With all remaining options including attempts at another Cha-Cha diminishing the whole nation should brace for some extreme measures being resorted to in 2009. She will be capitalizing on all the conditions she needs, including an anti-Arroyo opposition extremely divided by presidential ambitions and a judiciary dominated by her own appointees.

Critical times call for critical leadership. It is up for the people and their organized forces to be equal to this challenge.

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