That was the theme of a gathering I attended last night. The main attraction was fellow columnist Conrado de Quiros. I was able to record his speech (lots of ambient noise though), and I’m glad I did because it makes for a great listen. Listen to Conrado de Quiros on the theme, “calm before the storm.”
A few minutes ago I finished being interviewed by a crew from Reuters television, and they asked me about my views about the coming elections.
1. Certain assumptions, first of all. There is a four-cornered fight going on. The first corner: the Senate. The second: the House of Representatives. The third: the gubernatorial and mayoralty races. The fourth: the legal arena. In the first, the opposition (and I include independents in this camp) is poised to win; in the second, the president will win, but there will still be a significant enough opposition to make things a pain in the rear; in the third, the president will win, but the support will be conditional, and thus fickle, going into the challenges she’ll be facing; in the fourth, the Chief Justice has shown signs of putting up a fight which will be problematic for the president.
Does the president possess a trump card, in terms of the police, followed by the military? That is the question. The military is affected in turn, by how the winds are blowing in Washington, since it still provides much of the armed forces’ bread and butter.
What I’m assuming, though, is that just as the opposition can achieve only a partial win, the same applies to the President. But she needs a big win, because she has a couple of big fights lined up as soon as the second half of this year: she has to raise taxes (never popular); she needs to start on her major infrastructure projects (for which she needs taxes); she will have to keep her critics on the defensive by mounting a new effort to amend the constitution: all three add all sorts of dynamics to what may be merely the ritual of going through another impeachment effort.
2. We can understand candidacies like Fr. Panlilio’s in the context of two things. First, how ultimately, a political crisis ends up with the public looking to the Catholic hierarchy to determine the existence, or lack of it, of the “mandate of heaven.” The bishops bungled it, because some lacked the balls, the others are enamored of the President, the ones who can tell right from wrong are outnumbered by the other two groups. But even if the bishops dropped the ball, the expectation, or perhaps a better phrase is yearning, for a kind of spiritual direction to politics, remains. And if some bishops won’t do it, the clergy will.
I remember two years ago, the talk among clerical circles was that the bishops had their hands full containing the outrage of their priests, who were much more vocal in opposing what was going on, than the bishops were willing to express in public. Second, its part of a larger trend that other faiths, without the historical baggage of the Catholic Church, have embraced far more readily, even eagerly: dating all the way back to Gregorio Aglipay’s presidential bid in 1935, the rise of the Iglesia ni Cristo as a political force starting in the 50s and 60s, and the Eddie Villanueva campaign in 2004. So the Catholics are catching up: Panlilio in Pampanga and the Abang for Congress movement, which supports the bid of Abang Mabulo to contest the position Dato Arroyo is seeking, are part of the same phenomenon.
3. In view of the above, here’s something else. Just as the Catholic hierarchy may be part of any political “tipping point,” our society, including media, relies on certain institutions to hand down a verdict on the validity of any electoral exercise. This includes the CBCP, but also includes Namfrel and similar groups. By all accounts, Namfrel is in such disarray that it’s unclear if it’s even managed to reserve the La Salle GreenHills gymn for the traditional (and expected) Quick Count. If the organizations traditionally expected to serve as election watchdogs prove completely overwhelmed and uprepared for this election, one which a significant portion of the public already expects to be rigged, then we will simply have a he-said, she-said situation with regards to the election. Again, those who will follow the President to the bitter end, and those who bitterly oppose her, will claim their version of events while the public ends up not fully believing either side.
Which makes me very, very anxious. Today’s Inquirer editorial calls it karma.