Yesterday, one of the President’s efforts to mold a more favorable political landscape, the so-called People’s Initiative, did a kind of about-face and dangled the prospect of a French-style system, one closer to the heart of the professional politicians, such as the Speaker of the House (who knows what is doable and what is not), and the public at large: retaining a popularly-elected president. Another volte-face to pander to public expectations: assurances elections will proceed as scheduled next year.
Today the President added her voice to the latest twist and turn in her government’s efforts to remain in the saddle. She reemphasized her interest only in staying on in power until 2010 (at least in her current position). Her allies continue to be hounded by the opposition; the bureaucracy continues to find itself bedeviled by the consequences of obeying orders; the national purse is once more doling out funds to protect the Palace from an assault in the legislature.
(photo from Wikipedia)
As Winston Churchill said in his eulogy on the death of Neville Chamberlain:
It is not given to human beings, happily for them for otherwise life would be intolerable, to foresee or to predict to any large extent the unfolding course of events. In one phase men seem to have been right, in another they seem to have been wrong. Then again, a few years later, when the perspectives of time has lengthened, all stands in a different setting. There is a new proportion. There is another scale of values. History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days.
It’s been a year since Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye called a press conference and presented two CD’s, one of which, he said, had an authentic conversation featuring the President and the other, a doctored version of the conversation. The PCIJ would later on report that the existence of the recordings (one set of which would prove to be on audio tape, thus further muddling the discussion) had been scuttlebutt for weeks.
It remained for Malacañang Press Corps member Jove Francisco to give an eyewitness account of the fateful press conference. In the beginning, the Palace spin put forward that the President was saying “Hello, Gari,” but it would turn out that it was “Hello, Garci.” Thus began a timeline that continues to this day.
I agree with Philippine Commentary that theories aside, the issue remains haunted by the Big Unknown: who, really, was behind the tapes?
As Marit Stinus-Remonde points out in her column, by the time the controversy occured, Estrada had fallen from power not least due to his own limitations. Edsa Tres, though, had proven the limitations of the alliance upon which the President depended. The elections in 2004 was the Last Hurrah of that alliance and the controversy involving the recordings resulted in a great division. That division persists.
From what I understand, the protagonists in those crucial days have kept much of the information they know to themselves. The public only knows bits and contradictory pieces of what took place. But then, as now, without having to delve into the little details, I think what emerged was a presidency torn between its reformist aspirations and amoral political instincts. That it felt it had to totally sacrifice ethical considerations in order to achieve survival, meant that it suffered the loss of its reformist allies and followers. Those more pragmatic, perhaps, or ruthless if you will, stayed: and were enough to prop it up. The professional politicians were vindicated in assuming, as they had prior to the elections, and ever since, that it’s not how you play the game, but winning, that matters.
To me, it remains clear: regardless of allegations about cheating, or whatever one thinks about where the recordings came from and why they were released, there is more than enough, when looking at how the President handled that crisis and has governed ever since, to realize she lost not only legitimacy, but a positive place in history.
And so, since then, we’ve continued to wrestle with the reality of an amazingly thick-skinned political class; our only comfort may come from the realization that others, such as the Thais, are faced with the same dilemma as well.
From the Analects of Confucius, Lionel Giles translation:
Fan Ch’ih asked to be taught the art of husbandry. The Master said: Any farmer can teach you that better than I can. He then asked to be taught gardening. The Master said: Any gardener will teach you that better than I can. Fan Ch’ih having gone out, the Master said: What a small-minded man is Fan Hsü! If the ruler is addicted to modesty and self-control, his people will not permit themselves to be irreverent. If the ruler loves justice and duty, his people will not venture to be unruly. If the ruler loves sincerity and good faith, the people will not be slow to respond. Such being his qualities, the people will flock to him from all quarters, with their babes strapped to their backs. What need for him to know the art of husbandry?
The Master said: If the ruler is personally upright, his subjects will do their duty unbidden; if he is not personally upright, they will not obey, whatever he is bidding.
A more scatological summation of what we’ve learned is provided by the Black and White Movement.
Four interesting pieces on education: The Nation of Thailand’s editorial on how the political crisis is stalling education reform; the Inquirer editorial calls for a commission to objectively study the requirements of modern education; Connie Veneracion on how population is the problem; and Wilfredo Prilles on the potential benefits of bringing education under the control of local governments.