As the late Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez once put it, “politics is addition”. Based on that principle, let’s look at the strategic situation, as it stands. You might want to draw Venn diagrams to help visualize things.
Strategic situation for the President
A post-mortem of the situation would show that had the President not swayed back and forth between her hard line advisers and the Civil Society camp, she’d be better off than she is. Make no mistake, the Civil Society camp reflected the opinion of a substantial part of the President’s former constituency. But as the way they managed (or mismanaged) their exit and the subsequent Palace counter-attack shows, they’re pretty ineffective politicians. In TV interviews, one of those that resigned (either Deles or Soliman) said the President was obsessed with micromanaging the controversy, instead of focusing on governing (which reminds me of La Vida Lawyer’s advice).
Still, the President’s official family has now been purged of those whose loyalty to her ends where their loyalty to whatever else, begins. She’s rid of Civil Society do-gooders, and is left with a pretty formidable array of hard-boiled politicos and operators. One major benefit of this purge of sorts is that many leaks to media have been plugged; the outside world will have a much harder time figuring out what’s really going on in the Palace. Still, aside from a few people like Rigoberto Tiglao and perhaps, Alberto Romulo, the President now depends heavily on an alliance ifor whom her interests, her legitimacy, and ultimately, her vindication, aren’t a primary concern. This means a kind of tension will continue as Fidel Ramos and his loyalists push forward the Ramos solution, backed up by the Speaker (but the Speaker, personable as he is, tends to be tripped up by his own over enthusiasm, as Dong Puno puts it). The tension is between the President and those who back her, who may have a different idea from what Ramos wants.
The President has the great advantage of a confident and skilled group of spokesmen who can be expected to consistently push the party line of the day. They are doing so vigorously and without the kind of scruples that erode effective communications.
The President, too, continues to count on a heavy-hitting alliance of city mayors, provincial governors, congressmen, and so on, representing both the majority of Metro Manila cities and the Visayas and Mindanao. These local politicians are aggressive and have organizational ability, which will be demonstrated during the pro-President rally at Rizal Park tomorrow. Still, the usefulness of their support is limited. You can only play the civil war card so many times, and each time you, there’s the chance either your constituents will call your bluff and you will really have to secede, or your constituents will rise up against you for playing fast and free with the sovereignty of the country. The majority of local officials always remain loyal to the incumbent, so it isn’t surprising they have rallied behind the President. One must ask, then, how long they will remain politically useful, or want to remain useful. One politician (retired) I ran into, chuckled that the governors flown in to Manila by Chavit Singson (who is terrified by the idea of an Estrada restoration), have begun grumbling that they received no more than the President’s thanks (“no leases, or contracts, you know,” said the ex-politico); and besides, if Singson is one of the President’s important fixers during these times, even his war chest isn’t inexhaustible. Also, Chavit may be one of those wild card allies, useful and destructive of the cause in equal measure.
One can’t discount a couple of other factors: Filipino-Americans (who are generally conservative, in a Republican sort of way), and a loyal middle class and upper class base. For example, it’s interesting to note that in the various comments to the entries in this blog, there are more independent-minded people willing to rally for the President (regardless of whatever opinion they have of her), than those willing to rally against her, in no small part due to how utterly unattractive the mainstream opposition is. Activities such as forcibly entering and vandalizing government buildings, push the law and order types to embrace the President, too.
The President is poised to achieve several things: first, the expected Supreme Court ok for the VAT law will improve the fiscal situation (more money, smoother governance, and of course, more patronage to dispense); her ability to find people of stature to accept cabinet appointments proves those that resigned aren’t as big a loss as originally seemed the case; the Vice-President remains loyal; her majority in the House seems safe; and as her confidence grows, so do her opportunities to show she has her own mind vis-a-vis Fidel Ramos, which means her chances to preside over a charter change exercise more according to her terms than his, are improving. There is no substitute for having control of the levers of power; more and more, she will be seen to be actually governing instead of simply surviving.
There are risks: the return of her husband or son would be harmful; any new scandals, unless spectacularly mismanaged by those doing the whistle blowing, could send her back into siege mode; if the House is seen to waffle on impeachment, her sincerity could be put in doubt; and the Truth Commission problem could continue to haunt her: she seems inclined not to appoint one, but if the senate moves to convene such a commission, it places the burden of cooperating on the House, which she controls.
Strategic situation for Fidel Ramos and Cory Aquino
Fidel Ramos has the following advantages: international stature; support from part of the middle and upper classes; the generals; a well-organized party; a plan. A source solemnly assures me, the United States supports the Ramos plan, which the source claims was vetted, and approved, by the State Department prior to Ramos’s publicizing it. The problem is the plan is liked neither by politicians outside the Lakas-CMD, nor other proponents of Federalism or parliamentarism, or even by the public, which perhaps views it as a means to achieve Ramos’ plans at the expense of the President (and everyone else). This doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who like the Ramos plan. There are: some previously for the President’s resignation are for the Ramos plan precisely because they like “win-win” scenarios. However, during the recent summit of political parties, Rep. Teddy Locsin (who is anti-Ramos) says the parties aren’t fully behind the Ramos plan, their gravest doubt being the timing of the whole thing.
Rep. Teddy Locsin, talking to David Celdran on ANC, says, further, that it’s the sense of the House that they hope the numbers won’t be mustered to send impeachment to the senate right away, because congressmen want a chance to “ventilate” their opinions on the charges against the President. If this is true, it means one of two things: impeachment could end up talked to death (which will antagonize the bishops, those wanting impeachment as the proper forum for resolving the crisis, and more radical elements), or, it will be so actively pursued that it will derail the Ramos plan.
Cory Aquino has on her side, what’s left of “Yellow power,” which, after all, she hasn’t fully tested because she hasn’t summoned anyone to the streets; a hard-core following of able people in business, academe, civil society, etc.; long experience in bringing down presidents. Against her are doubts in certain sectors due to the Hacienda Luisita incidents, her having been perceived to have endorsed the president earlier in this crisis, and her own unwillingness to get fully engaged.
In a battle of attrition, I think Cory Aquino will win, as I point out in an upcoming Free Press article. In a battle of swiftness, the advantage lies with Fidel Ramos. If the President begins to waffle on the Ramos solution (as she is showing signs of doing), the advantage passes to Aquino:
My belief is that the long-term advantage lies with Aquino, for now, though the short-term tactical advantage belongs to Ramos. Ramos must manage to railroad a new constitution through a Congress dominated by, but not entirely controlled, by his party in the lower house, but which is already being threatened with a pitched battle in the upper house. Ramos must accomplish all these things under the auspices of an unpopular, gravely wounded, but still independent, President, and with many sectors deeply suspicious of the kind of constitutional order that may emerge. Aquino, on the other hand, has access to veteran organizers, and has wrapped the issues against the President in a mantle of morality. With sustained efforts, her call could be the only one that counts after the traditional opposition and the Left exhaust themselves in a series of tiring, and expensive, rallies and events. Her way, the slow, methodical, people power way, may just keep things simmering so that it either bursts in flames of passion during an impeachment or, showing signs of impending combustion, finally achieves a change of heart in the President.
Aquino knows how to conserve her ammunition. She already came out against the President, but she has been careful to ignore the traditional opposition. While her decision to support a swift transition are being criticized now, if the President gets stuck in an impeachment spinning out of control, or if the traditional opposition spectacularly mishandles the situation and becomes a force for anarchy, then the Ramos option might recede and as it recedes, the Cory option will regain strength. If the wider public gets engrossed in an impeachment and the President weakens again, and the economy takes a turn for the worse, again, Cory’s judgment is revalidated and people might then be willing to march to ask that the whole farce comes to an end, with the resignation of the President.
Strategic Situation for Susan Roces
Susan Roces: it’s important to note that the only politician whose hand she raised before the public, was Renato de Villa, who is one of the least odious in the opposition, and who has never been identified with the Estrada forces. Everyone else was politely greeted but asked to leave the stage. That was a move pregnant with symbolism. People who have met with Susan Roces assure me that she does not like the United Opposition (except for certain individuals such as Chiz Escudero), she cannot stand, personally, Rez Cortez, and that she has ill-feelings for the Estradas and their ilk, because she blames them for being bad influences on her husband. The forces that claim to have her ear (besides Manang Ichu, who has good political instincts) are trying to influence her in a more profoundly reformist direction. There also seems to be a consensus that Susan Roces is aware she showed too much emotion during her press conference demanding the President resign, and that she is doubly-careful not to sound shrill and inflammatory in the future. My original observations, I think, remain valid: she is reformist, but conservative in her instincts, and aware of how her remaining prestige and drawing power are susceptible to manipulation. I think she continues to be firm in rejecting calls for her to lead the opposition to the President.
Strategic Situation for the United Opposition and Left Forces
These forces only have one option, really: to push for impeachment even while maintaining pressure on the President to resign, through street demonstrations.
The impeachment hangs on several events. First, taking the complaint, whether modified or amended, or not, out of the hands of the Committee on Justice, and sending it directly to the Senate. Second, once in the Senate, determining whether the tapes can be admitted into evidence or not (which may be settled either in the Supreme Court or in the Senate itself); whether the case for obstruction, etc. of justice or at the very least, a condemnable cover-up, can be made due to the President’s people trying to confuse the issue (the Bunye CD’s, and all sorts of other issues. Third, maintaining a credible case, and a case of sustained interest to the public.
But the opposition will continue to be the President’s biggest asset. Here’s the elemental truth about People Power that I’ve been hammering away at: first, the targets of people power can’t be it’s beneficiaries in the future; second, those who benefitted from people power in the past, can’t deny it to the public in the future. This basic truth harms the opposition more than it hurts the President. The President only needs to prevent people power; the opposition needs to, and can never, inspire it. The one who could, Cory, won’t do it, she says, at least now -not when it could backfire and benefit the Estradas and ex-Marcos types.
The only segment of the opposition with a national constituency is the Left, but whenever militants throw rocks at the President’s office in Cebu, they drive people to cling to the President. Whenever they storm offices, it frightens the public. And when provincial leaders in the Visayas and Mindanao speak up, they do so in defense of the things the Left are identified as opposing: the freedom to make money, establish business, keep stability and order and make development possible.
update: Wildcard: Ping Lacson
Torn and Frayed suggested a closer look at Ping Lacson, who, after all, I suggested might be the last senator standing. His comments, emailed to me, were:
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pretty much on the money as always, but just a
If the Supreme Court changes its mind on EVAT that
will, as you say, have many advantages for government
finances, but wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t it also carry with it considerable
risks for the president? A few pesos here and there
might not mean much to you and me, but for the very
people the opposition is looking to attract to its
rallies it means a great deal. EVAT could be a great
recruiting poster for GloriaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s opponents.
My feeling about impeachment is that she has to stop
it from going to the Senate. We all saw how televised
Senate hearings gripped and politicized the nation
four years ago, they could do so again. However, I
read in yesterdayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Inquirer that the numbers in the
House look shaky for her Ã¢â‚¬â€ a one third majority may
not be that hard to achieve with so many balimbing
supporters susceptible to pressure from the
The key thing for the United Opposition is to rally
round a leader and to stop sending mixed messages. Of
the current crop, it has to be Ping (from their
perspective, not mine). I suspect you wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t agree
with me, but if Gloria crumbles and there is rioting
in the streets, I believe much of the middle class
will meekly trot behind Ping.
But of course even if the United Opposition does get
its act together in this way, and if the President is
impeached or resigns, what then? The plan for a
civilian-military junta is still improbable, but I
donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think it can be ruled out.
I do suspect the President will try to wriggle out of an impeachment. I also suspect, but it’s just a hunch, that when the history of all this is written, it will emerge that the person sending audio tapes to people like Kit Tatad and leaking things to the Palace, was no other than Senator Lacson. He’s the only one in the opposition with the nerve -and nerves- to undertake such an extended cloak-and-dagger operation, harming both the President and the Estrada-Poe opposition. And yes, indeed, if things reach the point of rioting in the streets, the military will trust him as someone with anti-Communist credentials. Torn and I have debated the question of the Philippines turning to the right for some time now, and as I said a few weeks back, that option seems riper by the week.
What has to happen for the President to win or lose
The only thing the President has to do, is not endure yet another scandal involving her family, friends, or appointees. She only has to keep attracting credible and talented people to her side. She has to keep the military focused on preventing the build up of rallyists, without being seen as being bloodthirsty; she has to keep the politicians dazzled with charter change, and not suffer any reverses as far as the perception of the Visayas being solidly behind her is concerned. She has to keep control over the impeachment process. If she does all these things, she can look forward to being in office until 2007, if not 2010.
To lose power, she has to lose the support of the middle class, which will only happen if the economy collapses (the middle and upper class will then be at the mercy of a radicalized population), or if a “second envelope” scenario takes place during an impeachment, at a time when the traditional opposition has exhausted itself, leaving the field open to the middle-ground Cory forces and the bishops. The bishops, if they turn against the President, then have their legions (schools, parishes, Catholic organizations) to provide the muscle Cory Aquino needs.
So the bishops, and the middle class, must continue to be satisfied that normal constitutional processes can settle the issue. If they decide they can’t be settled through an impeachment or truth commission, more radical options, including pressuring the President to resign so things don’t fall into the hands of the radical Left and traditional opposition already in the streets, will become attractive. Most attractive of all, I think, will be a redefinition of our national institutions, a redefinition undertaken by the middle class, to prevent a similar achievement by the Left.