GMA Expert at Manipulating Events So That Plausibility Remains
by Manuel L. Quezon III
In explaining how usually numerically inferior (though perhaps better-armed) imperialists managed to colonize other countries, the Roman maxim “divide and conquer” is usually quoted by way of an explanation. Victory needn’t be absolute; and the intrepid solution to an enemy superior in numbers is to sap its morale, turn others against it, and prevent, by whatever means, an unquestionable victory for that enemy. This tactic has served Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo very well. And as it continues to be effective, so has the tactic been refined.
When Mrs. Arroyo began her uphill campaign for election in 2004, she did so armed with something her opponents weren’t: A historical memory of how past presidents, including her father, harnessed the powers of their office for electoral purposes, and a principle expressed by the widow of the man who beat her father. As Imelda Marcos famously said, “every man has his price.”
For some, the price was continued access to power and Mrs. Arroyo’s patronage: Barely in office three years, the prospect of six more could be expected to banish any scruples her allies might have had. For others, the price was setting aside law or the concept of a fair fight, in order to prevent what was portrayed as a greater evil: The victory of her leading opponent, the movie idol Fernando Poe, Jr. As an appeal to one’s nobility is generally more convincing than appealing to greed, otherwise honorable people were perhaps convinced to bend the electoral rules, in order to prevent the election of another movie-actor president.
I have even heard it alleged, that this idea was developed as far as obtaining a theological opinion that it was morally justifiable to cheat, in order to prevent a Poe victory. Although infuriatingly enough, no one has dared come forward to actually testify that this opinion was actually provided to officials. It has also been alleged, with a more apparent basis, that two decades of relative neutrality by the military in elections was broken for the same reasons.
When the current political crisis began in June of 2005, it seemed to me that Mrs. Arroyo could not survive the elimination of a crucial thing. That thing was the plausibility, never mind the reality, of her electoral victory the year before. It seemed reasonable enough to think, back in May of 2004, that Mrs. Arroyo’s opponents, as the saying goes, had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. They were divided, they didn’t run very effective campaigns, and so forth. The initial scandal about the election — that allegedly, tens if not hundreds of thousands had been stricken off the electoral rolls, and thus not allowed to vote — didn’t have the impact it should have, perhaps because so many of those affected were poor.
But even when the president’s victory was shown to be, at best, questionable, the increasingly implausible nature of her claim to legitimacy didn’t resound as much as it should have. Why was that? The reason, I’ve come to be increasingly convinced, is that she simply has too many accomplices among the ranks of those used to considering themselves the moral custodians of Philippine society. Which is why, one of the violent objections to opposition to the president is often couched in terms that denounce “moralism,” or “self-righteousness”. Yet these were the characteristics that justified the removal from office not only of her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, but of Ferdinand Marcos, whose removal from office is the founding event of present-day Philippine democracy.
Obviously a bishop, for example, who decides that electoral fraud is morally justifiable to prevent the victory of a particular candidate; a general or colonel who exerts efforts to stuff ballot boxes for the same purpose; and members of the upper and middle classes horrified at the thought that people less educated and polished than they not only dare to run for president, but enjoy the support of millions of the poor, disenfranchised, and thus, dangerously uninclined to take instructions from their social superiors: All these of course will recoil at any suggestion they have betrayed their ideals. But they will know that is what they did; but they can never admit it; to do so would only (perhaps) be understood by their social equals but never by the electorate at large.
That the same crowd points to the moral bankruptcy of former President Estrada and some characters in the Poe camp, only emphasizes the validity of this observation. As does their contention that the deaths, soon after the election, of Mrs. Arroyo’s leading opponents, Poe and Raul Roco, was the signal of a kind of Divine Mandate on Mrs. Arroyo. Even their argument that the longer Mrs. Arroyo stays in power, the more obvious the rightness of her cause is, is selective reasoning at best. It ignores the culpability of those propping her up; and it turns a blind eye to what Mrs. Arroyo continues to do, to remain in power.
The chief thing she has done, is to prevent any unquestionable resolution of the issue of her legitimacy. Public protests have never been allowed to take place unimpeded. All constitutionally ordained methods for resolving her right to rule have been carefully managed to permit a maximum of noise, but a minimum of really damaging information to surface. Add to this a crafty ability to seize certain slogans — such as a pretty widespread desire to achieve increased autonomy for the provinces, or a general dissatisfaction, even contempt, for the ruling class — and you have a recipe for restoring that which was lost: Plausibility.
Mrs. Arroyo can therefore point to many plausible reasons for her remaining in power. The opposition’s divided, there’s no real proof of her sins (since it’s never permitted to emerge, and when it does, those who squeal are bribed or intimidated into changing their testimony. That she and her supporters, whether certain clergymen, generals, and members of the middle and upper classes are loftily above “the political noise.” All this serves as a smokescreen for what’s really taking place. The middle class, which together with the upper class, kicked out a dictator in 1986, gradually discovered its upper-class allies had been starved so much by Marcos’s martial law, that they’d become identical to those they kicked out in terms of greed and stupidity. So the middle class fled overseas.
In 2001, the same combination evicted Estrada from the presidential palace. The disenfranchised many, supporters of Estrada, were willing to give them a chance until they arrested Estrada, but the rebellion of the poor was crushed due to a lack of courageous leadership. But Mrs. Arroyo’s government proved no better — and in some ways, worse, because of the gap between their rhetoric and actual corruption — than the gang they replaced. Faced with repudiation at the polls, they engineered the stealing of the election. Such a thing can never be admitted; and so, from democracy, however flawed, the country has slipped into the grip of reaction.