Image looted from Retzwerx
It has been little over a week since I wrote Where I Stand. Things are still confusing, but this early on, I think some things are getting clearer. What are these things? One: the President won’t budge. Two: The opposition won’t learn. Three: The public remains skeptical of both sides.
I. The President won’t budge
She is methodically using the vast, inherent resources of the state skillfully. She has refused to speak, but has hinted she will speak “at the proper time,” which, of course, serves to gain her more time, time she is using to ensure she won’t have to speak up at all. I believe she is counting on the short attention span of both the media and the public: delay long enough, and the focus will shift from her to other controversies, sooner or later.
The methodical use of the vast, inherest resources of the state is easily demonstrated. The powers of the presidency are: institutional inertia; access to the enforcers of the law; command over the armed forces and police; primacy in media reportage; dominance over the legislature.
Let me tackle these one by one.
By institutional inertia I mean that a president, any president, once in office has to be spectacularly incompetent or thoroughly discredited, to lose that office. Eroded as it has been over the years, the inherent prestige and authority of the presidency is still great, and the majority of people will look to it for patronage, guidance and leadership, and give the incumbent the benefit of the doubt. Even Ninoy Aquino, to the end of his days, hoped that Marcos would have a change of heart, while knowing at the same time that if Marcos was so stupid as to eliminate (or so weak as to be powerless to prevent the elimination of) a rival offering him a chance to exit gracefully, either way, the public would have to be shown a president was totally beyond hope of salvation.
By access to the enforcers of the law, I mean that a president has the best legal minds on call; and that if brilliance in legal thinking is in short supply, then there are many willing to use their talent and connections to twist the law to suit the needs of the incumbent. A president also has state prosecutors, as well as entire bodies such as the Department of Justice, the National Bureau of Investigation, as well as all the regulatory and supervisory bodies of the government to project and enforce the president’s will.
Command of the armed forces, too, relies on a kind of inertia, the chain of command, which ultimately is more difficult to break than simply follow. Strategically, the police and armed forces have learned many lessons from Edsa Dos and Tres, chiefly the usefulness of the “no permit, no rally” policy and the swift, and methodical, deployment of troops so as to prevent marchers from converging on a point where they can achieve a critical mass.
By primacy in media coverage, I mean that by virtue of a president’s position, the incumbent dictates the news cycle for any given day; the best-laid plans of any opposition group can easily be derailed by the president’s decision to come up with something more news-worthy. The president, too, has a vast array of state-owned media outfits to push the administration line, as well as a large reservoir of patronage goodies with which to dispense to media practitioners.
There is the reality of the administration’s dominance over the legislature. While her allies in Cebu play tough others want to stonewall, but stonewalling has its risks. Very few presidents have failed to maintain influence over Congress. What is more important is whether a president can prevent the rise of a minority that is big enough to have access to the Constitutional means for questioning a president’s legitimacy, either by successfully initiating impeachment proceedings, or perhaps triggering a vote (or resolution) of censure, or simply derailing the president’s legislative agenda.
II. The opposition hasn’t learned its lessons
The partisan shrillness of the existing opposition (and its supporters) aside, the opposition remains firmly stuck in the past. The opposition, of course, remains divided, although efforts are being made to change that. Still, it is dominated by ex-Marcos minions, ex-Estrada leaders (and the Estradas), and the Left. All have demonstrated their political limitations. The ex-Marcos people are getting old, but there remain enough anti-Marcos people to firmly remind the public of the ex-Marcos people’s past. The Estrada people suffer from two major liabilities: first, they lost power in a disgraceful manner, and once lost, power is twice as difficult to regain; second, they ignore a lesson the Marcos people learned time and again, which is that people power cannot be used to benefit those who were its targets in the past. People power is not merely a political tactic, it is a philosophy; it has been practiced, bravely and conscientiously, by individuals. Veterans of people power have pointed out precisely this. A credible opposition might take its cue from people like Cory Aquino, who, so far, has remained circumspect in her statements.
The Estrada camp and the ex-Marcos camp are basically one and the same: for all their ranting against the elite, they form part of the elite, and all the rhetoric in the world cannot disguise this fact. President Estrada’s personal charm and residual popularity can be enough to elect his sons and wife to office, but suffer from the Estrada camp believing its own propaganda -that they had an overwhelming mandate from the people in 1998. They -he- did not. In 1998, Estrada gained 39.6% of the vote, which was much better than Fidel Ramos’s 23.6% percent in 1992, but not even as good as the last plurality (and not majority) president before that, Carlos P. Garcia in 1957, who got 41.3%. The numbers of votes doesn’t matter: our voting population is always increasing. Percentages matter, and from the start, 60.4% of voting Filipinos voted against Estrada. His plurality in 1998 defines his constituency. If we take the 2004 results at face value, for the sake of argument, then on the surface, FPJ got 36.51%, less than Estrada, while the rest of the opposition got roughly 23-24% between them, with 40% for the President. This means 60% were against GMA, but also that among the opposition, 24-25% were against FPJ (and by extension, Estrada), with a phenomenal 64-65% against FPJ and 60% against GMA, in other words, more were against FPJ (and Estrada) than against GMA. While an astounding 75% or so were against Lacson, Villanueva, and Roco.
This shows the bankruptcy of both sides, I think. If you factor in allegations of cheating, the general trends, I’d think, would hold true, although possibly either the Lacson-Villaneuva-Roco minority might get larger, and the FPJ chunk also might increase, diminishing the percentage that could be considered the GMA constituency. However, it would still show a formidable division against each camp; for the sake of argument, say the Lacson-Villanueva-Roco camp divided among themselves 30% of the vote, FPJ got (let’s be generous) more than Estrada and actually obtained 40% of the vote, this leaves GMA 30% of the vote: think of the anti-votes, then. 70% against Lacson-Villanueva-Roco, 60% against FPJ, 70% against GMA; 70% purely anti administration, but also, 60% purely against FPJ, and 70% purely against Lacson, Villanueva, Roco. Analyze the results of our past presidential elections and you will see where I’m getting at.
As for the left: it can mobilize, but it’s powers in the political arena are limited by the small number of its representatives (in the party lists), and its inability to rally to its cause more than its hard-core believers and those it’s willing to ally with.
As Amang Rodriguez said, “politics is addition.” For the opposition, how much must you add to your natural constituency, to bring down the other side? For the administration, how much must you keep, to prevent the opposition from achieving a critical mass? It is inherently easier for the administration to keep, rather than lose, supporters, because of the things I’ve enumerated above.
III. The public is skeptical
The third is that even as the public’s skepticism about both the President and the opposition solidifies,no consensus has emerged, as to how the public should approach the controversy regarding the tape(s). Public interest is high, but the public still wants to see how things will play out. I believe the silence of Cory Aquino has been crucial, as has been the refusal of Susan Roces to be drawn in. Both remain the lodestars for their constituents. Were both to speak up against the President, she would be in trouble. An Aquino-Roces joint statement would be historic and potentially heal the class divide that’s existed since Edsa Dos and Tres. Aquino is the keeper of the flame of Edsa I, Roces inspires confidence and respect on all sides. Until both speak up and indicate a person, or persons, they believe can be trusted to keep things peaceful, and morally clear, all that can be accomplished by administration and opposition are simply survival on the part of the administration, and the continuation of a war of attrition that weakens the opposition as much as it weakens the administration.
Where we’re at
Concerned individuals are doing what they can, to clarify the law to the public. This is the real action going on. It will take time. Among lawyers and lawmakers, there are serious, and honest, differences of opinion as to how the tape(s) should be handled. A consensus will emerge, but until it does, the energies of lawyers and lawmakers who are sincerely interested in the issue will be devoted to threshing out those differences.
Concerning the President, she has skillfully deployed her assets, but they tend to stumble. The public will eventually notice that. If a sustained effort at stonewalling on the part of administration legislators flags and fails, then public scrutiny of the issue will increase. Sustained public scrutiny will be harmful to the President, and it may be to diffuse a period of sustained scrutiny that’s causing her to refrain from speaking out. Speaking out, so to speak, would be her ace in the hole.
Sustained public scrutiny will then afford those seriously studying the issue to start explaining things to the public. The gravity of the things discussed on the tape(s) will begin to sink in. Combined with how it was obviously the administration’s intent to keep people in the dark, as far as the tape(s) goes, and public opinion might begin to sway in the direction of demanding some sort of accountability.
What’s lacking are:
some sort of credible determination of which tape(s) are authentic;
some sort of consensus as to the gravity of what’s contained in whichever tape proves authentic;
some sort of demonstration that the government’s reaction to the controversy has eliminated its right to govern;
some sort of leadership credible enough to pose an alternative.
Then, and only then, will some sort of public consensus crystallize. Then, and only then, will people decide if this is a cause worthy of people power, or not.
P.S. And by the way, if you’re lazy to read, Cat has translated this post into pictographics!