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Sep 29

Brinkmanship resumes

My PDI column today is Five months. I am of the belief that events are accelerating and that one way or another, the political fate of the President will be decided within five months, at the longest. My Arab News column is Philippine Military Coup Rumors, Though Rife, Are Taken Seriously: this reflects mainly the opinions of one of our military heroes, Gen. Vicente Lim, opinions I believe are held in a similar manner by our officer corps (at least the ones who remain idealistic) today.

We have, at most, five months, to get our act together, because this country can no longer “move on.” We are beyond that. The President has made any sort of “moving on” impossible, because within five months she faces two possibilities: the loss of power, or the need to retain it at a cost of so much bloodshed and repression, while lacking either the skills, or means, to effectively use the tools necessary for repression: a compliant or complicit armed forces, a political class engaged as a co-conspirator, and a public that thinks she can be the solution, and is not the problem.

The only way to head off such a debacle is to start gambling even bigger than the President has gambled before. The President and her people are, therefore, once more, engaging in brinkmanship. Let’s review, briefly, what that is:

Brinkmanship is ostensibly the escalation of threats to achieve one’s aims. Eventually, the threats involved might become so huge as to not be manageable.

The threats made by government have been escalated. First, there was the threat of various cases against enemies of the President, either charging them with sedition, or with various crimes. Next, came the announcement of the use of “calibrated, preemptive response” to public manifestations of dissent. Then came an unprecedented appeal to the Senate not to mount hearings and investigations. This was followed up by the signing of an executive order affecting both the military and civilian sectors. Instead of picking and choosing its battles, as it has (wisely) preferred to do so, so far, it seems the Palace has decided to mount an all-out war, on several fronts.

The first front is on the streets. This means preventing rallies from even taking place, and quickly dispersing them when they do take place; it means that the previous Palace line that rallyists are a nuisance and should just go home, is failing to resonate with the broader public. To put it another way, the Palace has decided it’s better off using force, in the hope that it will either provoke those who rally to defy the law (helping the Palace’s “rule of law” line), or that they want to prevent, at all costs, the message that there are civilians willing to mobilize -and keep mobilizing- against the government.

The second front is regarding constitutional change. President Ramos has been unhappy with the whole idea of a consultative commission. His being appointed some sort of senior adviser to it, is merely an obvious attempt to flatter him and diffuse the effects of his displeasure. The consultative commission for charter change is supposed to finish its work on December 15. But then what? Does the President then submit its findings to Congress? And what if the findings are in variance with what President Ramos and Speaker de Venecia want, which is parliamentary government under a unicameral setup? Recall that Jose Abueva, elected Chairman of the group, has some pretty clear proposals, including a bicameral parliament, and 11 or so Federal States, which worries local government executives: we currently have 79 provinces, each with a governor, vice-governor, provincial board, and so on. Do all these people stand to lose their jobs? And if the Speaker and Ramos prefer only a shift to parliamentary rule, and don’t care for Federalism, what of the non-politicians in the provinces who care more about Federalism instead of parliamentary government?

The third front is in the House. The President’s pork barrel has been increased, that of the congressmen hasn’t. That means they’re going to be held hostage to her next year, come election time. Also, how many of the promises she made during the impeachment period, have been fulfilled, and how many have been broken? How many promises have turned out to contradict each other?

The fourth front is in the Senate. The Palace is frustrated that the Senate can’t seem to be cowed, or bought, or blackmailed or ignored. In his testimony -during which he was foolhardy enough to decline to have counsel at his side- Sec. Norberto Gonzalez let slip what the Palace has been careful to avoid admitting for months: the President was bugged. This justifies all sorts of investigations. Then comes the attempt to screen people who may end up being called to Senate hearings: through the most blatant, and confrontational, manner possible: an Executive Order. The legality of this order can be debated till kingdom come, but it made for extremely bad politics. Such an order divides government officials between those loyal to the President, and who obey her wishes, and those disloyal to her, when they choose to appear before the Senate. This sets apart Congress as the enemy, and cooperation with either chamber as something tantamount to treason. Any other president would have reacted to the Gonzalez snafu by talking to her people, and writing a polite but firm letter to the Senate President and the Speaker of the House. But not by signing an executive issuance which pits the bureaucracy and military against Congress.

The fifth front is in the civilian bureaucracy. Again, the tactics being used are to publicly punish anyone with dissenting views or who doesn’t toe the party line, and instilling a culture of personal loyalty to the President, and not to the civil service or any other civilian bureaucratic institution. The larger signal here is not aimed at officials with civil service protection, but the overwhelming number of government employees who are contractual, and whose livelihoods could be endangered simply by someone reporting they refuse to toe the party line, or actively participate in the President’s political survival efforts.

The fifth front is against the military. She counts on the generals. She has to head off both the idea that there can be independent-minded generals, and that she cannot fully rely on the institutional inertia that comes from the well-drilled concept of the chain of command. In the President’s favor is the inability of the reform-minded young officers, at least at this point, to make a conceptual leap beyond the doctrines and failed strategies of the putschists of the past. The method for attempting a coup drawn up by Gregorio Honasan have been proven wrong time and again: Oakwood, with it’s fetish for taking over a “symbolic” center, then making bad speeches, was the dying gasp of the Honasan doctrine. What the military have failed to grasp is they would do more to prove the sincerity of their convictions, by engaging in a kind of mutiny. The kind that the General and Lt. Col. who testified before the Senate committed (which is why they are being court-martialed). In Germany after World War I, in Russia in 1917, even in France in 1915 and 1917, the enlisted men turned on their officers and generals living in luxury, and in some cases, lynched them, or had them shot. Or they simply imprisoned them. This is what reformist soldiers do: they don’t take over governments, they clean up their own ranks. Do that, and the civilians can then clean up their own civilian ranks, since those who abuse authority rely on the generals to save them.

The common tactic, in all these cases, is divide and rule. Sure, some may defy the President, but all who defy will be punished. Not everyone has the courage to dissent, or even insist on following the rules. The rules, after all, can change as the administration decides to redefine those rules. The President’s power must be upheld by the strongest card she still has in hand: the way she, and her people, can directly ruin the lives of lower-ranking soldiers, government workers, and anyone with more ambition than integrity, who don’t think being hailed a hero is worth losing a regular paycheck.

Others are attempting brinksmanship, too. Yesterday, former President Ramos (belatedly made some sort of honorary invited the “Hyatt 10” to a book launching of his, the first time he has made an effort to be seen with them in public. Prior to this was Carmen Pedrosa’s column (unfortunately not linkable) in the Star some days back, warning the President she owes her survival to Lakas-CMD, and that the President’s pet party, Kampi, should not get any ideas it can affect the political landscape. Pedrosa’s column was followed up, in turn, by Speaker de Venecia reminding everyone that constitutional change must proceed, and that most of the constitutional amendment scenarios require either the clipping of the President’s powers soon, or her leaving office before the end of her term in 2010. This means the main bulwark of support for the President is sending definite, clear, and strong signals that it is studying its options and those options consider the President expendable.

The opposition, despite the attempts by the Palace to portray it as hopelessly divided, is coalescing, too. Good will is being built, mutual distrust is slowly being set aside. Those formally disliked have discovered they rather like being hailed for standing for principle. This is something we forget about People Power: it began with people realizing no one, not even themselves, were beyond redemption. Support of the President has involved far too many mental reservations and compromises. Opposition to her has been handicapped by too many sins committed in the past by its leaders. Yet recall at Edsa 1986, the nation absolved Juan Ponce Enrile (and even let him keep his loot) by his confessing to his role in martial law and in the cheating during the elections.

Finally, another point. People, I think, have been waiting to see individuals willing to pay a personal price for saying what they believe. The officers who testified before the Senate took their punishment like men. They’re not complaining. They took a stand. The Hyatt 10 should have done that, and people are still hoping they will do that. In the coming days, or weeks, we might suddenly see an epidemic of people deciding they have to take a stand for their principles. If a general and a lt. col. can simply tell it as it is, if the House and Senate can simply stand for the principles of Congress’s right -even duty- to exercise oversight over the Executive; if civil servants decide they will stick to the rules; if people like Cory Aquino, threatened with the dismantling of her estate, simply reply, go ahead; and if the young decide to stop waiting for the old, and start something bold, and new, what then?

The President had better decide where she wants to be setting up her new home within the next five months.

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  1. acidboy

    this is what we will eventually call:
    pinoy big brother!

    what? somebody owns that name already? dammit!

  2. joselu

    Manolo, it does look heroic to step forward and be herd, patriotic i have my doubts.Pls. tell me w/c country they are patrotic for? I know that Filipinos have never been know for their patriotissim. Maybe partisan yet. steping forward & defying an order is not anything new in our society, it happens everyday from street trafic to garbage. Maybe it’s because we have a penchant to challange anything & everything.
    whatever the people will say in the senate will be exciting, maybe further weaken the administration. The question is will it stand in court?
    But since everything is political so that does not matter.

    talking or testifying in a senate that is not doing the work it’s supposed to do but concentrating all it’s guns to bring done the administration looks exciting.
    We are spectators to battle royal.
    The only thing is are you sure of what the results will be?
    Honestly, how I wish I had the means to tell the Senate to shut-up!
    Tell them that hearing will no longer covered by live TV! I have my doubts if they will still perform for the cameras!
    We are clearly so weak to move on.At least not until we get our candy, whatever that is.
    The investigation is damageing the entire country, our relation w/ China. But who gives a shit! Important to get PGMA out of the way!
    Question is, and than what?
    Anyway…..

  3. mlq3

    joselu, the very spirit of democracy is to challenge everything and anything, especially illegal orders.

  4. jj blue

    The new EO issued by the palace kills the whole concept of check and balance, accountability, and separation of powers between legislative and executive branches of government! We have become apathetic citizens of this country! This president is killing the basic principles of democracy…. The worst thing… the absolute worst thing we can do is to do NOTHING!!!!!

  5. noid

    A presidency in its death throes. All these flailing and kicking are the signs of a dying regime. The good thing is, these desperate moves are hastening its demise. Let’s just pray that this virtual corpse does not take the nation with it to its well-deserved grave.

  6. Carl

    Gen. Vicente Lim’s words are even more relevant today. Very interesting article.

    I agree, something’s gotta give. Perhaps sooner than in 5 months.

    In the case of Hacienda Luisita, I hope it gets dismantled, but not for the wrong reasons. It deserves to be dismantled because Cory Aquino and her family unfairly exempted their huge estates from land reform when she subjected the rest of the citizenry to expropriation. It would be for the wrong reason if Luisita were subdivided simply because of political vendetta. Hacienda Luisita deserves to be expropriated because it is an injustice, a mockery, a sore thumb poking at the face of land reform.

  7. mlq3

    Carl, while I support land reform in principle, it should have been accomplished 40 years ago and becomes increasingly irrelevant today. what’s interesting is that with so many beneficiaries, luisita might result in each beneficiary getting 300 square meters of land or so. why might suggest why the stock option might have been a better idea. whatever the reason though, distributing the land puts the issue to an end, which might be why now, the Left is quietly trying to prevent the distribution or reach its own direct accomodation with the conjuangcos rather than a straight implementation of the law.

  8. Ed

    Why does almost every politicos think that they can control the military? Gudani just became a martyr in some junior officer’s eyes. and now I kept on hearing that some of them will follow what gudani will order. Man o man gloria just buried herself a six foot hole by messing with a general. Lets remember their motto Blood is thicker than water.

    cojuancos are right by just distributing stock options rather than just giving their lands to those workers who tilled it but they are also getting compensation from it. Lets face it Cojuancos owned the land. If somebody will try to get whats rightfully yours what will you do? I am not an anti worker or what ever. take my father’s grandpa for example, He used to own 100 hectares of land and it got carp. He was mad because when he got the land HE USED HIS ENERGY TO TOIL IT AND MAKE IT LOOK LIKE A RICE PADDY. He bought the land from a peninsulares. He got the land using his own energy and ST(sipag at tyaga) and now the government distributed it to his PAID workers? He died cursing that macapagal president. Now to the point, cojuancos made that land profitable. if you put it on the hand of those paid workers then I must wonder what will happen inside our kitchen table.

    Hindi po ako sundalo at lalong hindi anti mahirap. Hindi din ako mayaman. ito lang po ang aking opinion.

    shameless plug – http://www.talkphilippines.com

  9. acidboy

    methinks the executive order is stepping on the lines of the ‘check and balance’ thing, but then somehow i am also starting to believe that what gma is doing with this, and with the other ‘marcosian’ tactics, as the allies of imee marcos are now calling it, is to, uhm, test the waters, to see how far she can go with her ‘strong republic” idea. a lot of people think these moves are desperate moves by a desperate president. on the contrary, i think these moves are moves by a president who is gaining strength and shoring up her powers. only someone who is confident in his/her power can do these things so openly. gma losing her grip? don’t underestimate her just yet.

    btw, regarding gudani; he would only sound credible if only for one thing he said that literally broke the thing glass of credibility: when asked about his plane ride when back to manila he was recalled and how come ms loren legarda was seated beside him and ms jamby madrigal was seated behind him, his answer was it was just a coincidence! ha!

  10. Carl

    I agree, Manolo. Productivity is the key in agrarian reform. But Cory Aquino implemented CARP without paying a personal price. As you rightly point out, leadership entails personal sacrifice. She made the middle classes in the provinces pay the price while her family exempted itself. This rankles until today. Cory cannot take the moral high ground because she refused to pay the price when she had to. It was a great chance to show leadership and she only proved that she didn’t have it. It would be poetic justice to see her lose her estates now.

    On productivity, small landholdings can be viable. What is needed are infrastructures to make them productive. This includes irrigation and post-harvest facilities, farm-to-market roads, credit, etc. There should also be more work done on uniting small farmers into cooperatives. These should have been in place before expropriating lands. But instead of doing the hard work of putting up the proper infrastructure, Cory gave in to political pressure from the Leftists and Trapos who were in her government and wanted to make a statement, no matter how empty it was. Her land reform program was mere lip-service. It was a sham. But it hurt a lot of middle class folk who actually lost their small landholdings and were subjected to so much harassment and aggravation.

    The Aquino government knew all about the arguments regarding productivity and infrastructure. But it turned it’s back on these arguments for political expediency.

  11. joselu

    No one argues against democracy, i think it is a nice thing.
    My doubt are those proclaimimg it.
    What Gen. Gudani said really just amounts to hearsay.If he saw something then why is it only now that he is talking? Is it because then it was not popular and now it is? Was he being repressed already than? Is not the place his taking about where FPJ won anyway? and the latest salvo is God has ordered him to talk, wow man this drama is getting starnger everytime.
    since we have the penchant of challeging everything all our asian neighbors have prospered while we are still digging a deeper hole for ourselves.
    It seems that all we want from democracy is what we can get out of it but never what we can give for it.

  12. joselu

    I agree w/ that E.O.
    No one will argue w/ the concept of check & balance.
    But may I also ask where this check & balance has lead?
    One thing sure it has provided a lot of thrilling entertainment.
    I guess the Senate has been reduced in providing the greatest entertainment materials!
    If the Senate is Checking the executive, so who is checking the Senate/legislative?
    Is not the Senate just another layer where mystery and magic can happen?
    As i have already said in the past. The senators will not let the defeat of the impeachment in the lower house.They will use all their powers to get back at PGMA.
    They tried their best on Gonzales but they ended up looking like fools!
    I’m sure that the E.O. will pass in the SC.
    It’s about time the Senators do their work and stop sitting on so many pieces of legislation.
    In a way PGMA has pulled the rug under their foot and they have no more materials to put up a shom and flunt their egos!
    Befor we pretend to be democratic we must first be dissent and not use democracy to suit our ends.
    I think it’s about time PGMA puts some dicipline in this country.
    We are like a buch of kids in max tantrums wanting everything but not wanting to give anything.
    Tayo na lang ang tama & everbody or anybody who disagrees is wrong.

  13. bogchimash

    what is the alternative to the gma administration? certainly she must go but what lies beyond removing her? an honest to goodness government does not seem to be enough. we are beset with so many impending crises that the question of who will replace her must be settled before lives are committed to the cause. i suppose the question of whether the system of government should be replaced must be also be addressed before we take off. bonifacio’s replacement government, i am sure, increased the numbers of the katipuneros dramatically because rebellion was not the movement’s end all and be all.

    to fight for the truth is already a dangerous business. why not go all the way? let the truth come out and offer solutions for the country’s problems as well even if means undermining the present government. just like in a relay race, the baton is handed over to the next runner while he runs parallel to the previous one.

    going back to bonifacio, his replacement government was not an instant solution. if i am not mistaken, his group planned it for five years and the final blue print was arrived at through consultations with the people. since it was responsive to what the real majority wanted, the masses dared rise up against the spanish empire, making the fight their own.

    draw up a nationalistic program of government. present it in a freedom park. everybody will come to support it. we will turn it into our field of dreams. just like in the movie of the same title, i sincerely think that if you build it, they will come.

  14. Carl

    Push will come to shove. We will see how events unfold. What GMA’s opponents are really hoping for is that the sleeping tiger, the military, will awaken and devour GMA. The problem is that the military doesn’t like what it sees in the opposition either. But as the stakes are raised, bluffs will be called. This game of brinkmanship will have to play out to some conclusive end. And, as in the past, it will be the military that will have the last say.

  15. Ed

    you guys kept forgetting the military loved Erap for being generous to them. The military wanted to have a winable war and erap gave them orders to level that milf camp. I talked to a scout ranger the other day and he said buti pa nung panahon ni erap hindi kami nagugutom. t_ng na ni angelo reyes. thats what he said. go figure.

  16. Alex

    From my observation, the opposition groups and the Senate, fueled by the media, have waged brinkmanship much earlier than Malacanang and certainly far more blatantly and irresponsibly. They have openly incited the people to revolt against the administration through numerous and mostly ill-attended street protests that cause more headaches to the citizenry and to businesses than to Arroyo. They have surreptitiously courted the military to join in overthrowing the administration. They encourage anarchy by not respecting our Constitutional processes and our democratic system if they don’t jive with their interests.

    I admire the citizenry for the patience and clarity they’ve shown throughout this political turmoil. I think the people are starting to get it, what it takes to achieve democracy. It’s not faith but a belief. A belief in a government of laws not of men. We may not get the perfect men and women to serve all the time, but as long as we stick to our democratic system and uphold our laws and not just break them and change them whenever they don’t suit the opposition we’ll be on our way to a better and more stable government.

  17. Alex

    Hi Manolo, by the way, just a typo comment on the topic title. It is spelled Brinkmanship, without an “s” on the “brink”.

  18. mlq3

    Alex, hala. Thanks!

  19. joselu

    If your thinking about the military as some sort of a savior, think again.
    The next time they come in it won’t be a work in the park.
    With our penchant for critisizing, we will think twice this time because there will be the barrel of a gun pointed some where.
    Maybe we are looking for the truth in the wrong places?
    Maybe we are hopping for something that will never come?
    Maybe in our sub concious we are playing it safe just satisfied to be expectators?
    Maybe it’s because we do not have the courage to tell our politicians and buckle down to work?
    Maybe we are concerned more w/ our things than the Nation.

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