In the news, positive headlines around the world as Philippine terrorists get life for holiday island kidnapping (not much notice, except domestically, that RP ranks 10th in global bribery survey). Meanwhile, Arroyo: No mercy for Trillanes even as, a report finally makes public what’s been the scuttlebutt for some days now: Trillanes considered marching on Senate to claim seat (personally, I think that would have made much more sense). In Congress, the Daily Tribune claims GMA’s House allies start dancing the Cha-cha. In other House news, Solons wary of colleague’s antics on cheap medicine bill while House-Senate clash likely over cheaper medicines bill.
Cartoon courtesy of Uniffors:
I believe this column by Alan C. Robles in The South China Morning Post explains things very well: the President’s relative advantages, the disadvantages of her critics, but also, the folly of confusing the President’s staying in power with any sort of moral ascendancy on her part:
Shaken, not deterred
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has survived a series of scandals to hold onto her presidency
Updated on Dec 07, 2007
In 1997, the influential Catholic prelate, Jaime Cardinal Sin, belittled the ambition of then-senator Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to run for president. He asked her disparagingly: “What would you do when there is a coup d’etat? Cry?” The cardinal, who died two years ago, couldn’t have been more wrong about the diminutive leader’s personality. Far from being a faint-hearted, delicate creature, Mrs Arroyo has proven to be as tough as nails. And she’s needed the grit because she’s also turned out to be one of the troubled nation’s most contentious and beleaguered leaders. If opinion polls can be believed, the 60-year-old Mrs Arroyo is now the most unpopular president the Philippines has had in the past 20 years. A few months ago, her trust rating was lower than that of her ignoble predecessor, Joseph Estrada. Her administration has been linked to murders and human rights abuses, corrupt deals involving billions of pesos, systematic abuse of power and election fraud. Yet, in a country where two presidents were ousted by “people power” uprisings, she has thwarted every attempt to dislodge her. She neutralised two impeachment complaints in congress, foiled at least three military coup plots, including one last week, and shrugged off desertions of cabinet members and key political allies. Armed Forces chief Hermogenes Esperon described her as “very strong. Very determined.” Having taken power in 2001 and due to step down in 2010, the former economics teacher looks set to become the republic’s longest-serving president outside of the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. Mrs Arroyo’s fortitude has earned the grudging admiration of adversaries. “We call her taga-Pata [from Pata],” joked Ustadz Sharif Zain Jali, an official of the Moro National Liberation Front, in a reference to a small island in Muslim Mindanao renowned for its fierce inhabitants. “A woman who can be president has to be braver than a man.” He said the people of Pata like telling a tall tale of a fellow islander convicted of murder, imprisoned in Manila and then married to a laundry woman, who gave birth to a girl who was adopted by a politician. That baby, goes the legend, became Gloria Arroyo. To Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales, the reasons for his boss’ staying power are simple: “She has done a lot for the economy as shown by the [growth in] gross domestic product and investments … I admire her. I know she is very dedicated to the job. She’s sincere in seeing to it that the programmes she has set forth are carried out.” The problem is, each time Mrs Arroyo’s programmes have worked up a head of steam, they’ve been brought to a lurching halt by scandal. She’s also endured embarrassing revelations such as the temporary exile of her husband a few years ago over allegations he was involved in election cheating. Other embarrassments include the resignation of her hand-picked election commission chairman under a cloud of corruption allegations, and the furore over an agriculture undersecretary who fled to the US rather than face an inquiry into public funds allegedly used for Mrs Arroyo’s 2004 election campaign. Just before last week’s abortive coup, Manila was savouring two tales: one had Mrs Arroyo’s husband squabbling with other politicians over huge kickbacks from a telecommunications project funded by China; the other concerned hundreds of congressmen and governors invited to meet the president in her palace and then later receiving bags of cash. A couple of recipients said they were given half a million pesos each. Stories like these explain why Mrs Arroyo is unpopular – and her reaction to them doesn’t help. She has issued executive orders banning officials from participating in investigations, in effect blocking any inquiries. She also has tried banning public rallies without permits, a move the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional. Lately, her adversaries claim, she has moved against the media, with which she has a poor relationship. Justice Secretary Gonzales said there were “elements who want to destroy her leadership; these people who are envious of her, who want to sow dissension”. He added: “There is much black propaganda [against Mrs Arroyo] … so many people are being misled by these things.” It’s hard seeing the accusations as unfounded rumours, when their airing has led to officials resigning or fleeing the country. Mrs Arroyo has never satisfactorily explained the so-called “Hello Garci” affair of 2005, when opponents released a recording of a phone conversation between someone who sounded like her and election commissioner Virgilio “Garci” Garcilliano. The two voices discussed padding the presidential election and kidnapping an election fraud witness. In a televised “apology” Mrs Arroyo admitted talking to an election official, but did not identify him and denied any wrongdoing. There were huge demonstrations, nearly half her cabinet ministers resigned in protest and there was an impeachment hearing in congress. Although some insiders said that at one point she was almost ready to resign, Mrs Arroyo decided to tough it out. She survived, but that year was a turning point for many erstwhile supporters. Florencio Abad, who was education secretary until he joined the walkout, said: “I saw her ascension to power as an opportunity for reform. But after Garci it was a slide down from then on.” Vicky Garchitorena, another cabinet member who resigned, said: “You have to demand accountability from our elected officials. It’s shameful when you have well-known individuals getting away with breaking the law with impunity.” Despite being reviled and mocked, Mrs Arroyo almost succeeded in rewriting the constitution to allow her to stay in power indefinitely. “She is doing her job properly,” said Mr Gonzales. “I do not think the Filipino people at this point are still willing to be duped by these false prophets of doom.” Several factors have sustained the president, the most important being the continued support of the military. As Mr Gonzales put it: “The chain of command is holding, police and military are beholden to her.” A senior military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that as far as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) were concerned, “She is the legitimately elected president. The AFP does not have a hand in determining whether she was legitimately elected, that’s up to the Commission on Elections.” He said he opposed any military coup because “I don’t agree with a politicised military”. Mrs Arroyo was unpopular “because her detractors are effective in undermining her credibility. And the government has really failed to convince the public she’s a good president,” he said. It helps her cause that Mrs Arroyo has close ties with General Esperon, who said he not only “admired” his chief, but had a “crush” on her. Mrs Arroyo was one of the sponsors of General Esperon’s wedding. The second factor is the weakness of Mrs Arroyo’s enemies, who are not only disorganised but also have nothing to offer as a replacement. William Esposo, a marketing specialist who helped build Mrs Arroyo’s image 10 years ago but is now a staunch critic of hers, said he could never imagine bringing back Joseph Estrada. “Between the two, I’d rather stay with Gloria.” Her foes have repeatedly underestimated her. Apparently last week’s plotters thought they needed to do nothing more than barricade themselves in a hotel and wait for “people power” to erupt. For their trouble, they were assaulted, tear-gassed and dragged to detention. Sheila Coronel, a journalist who has investigated coups and corruption, said of the president’s foes: “Their judgment is warped by their hatred of Gloria. I wish we had more political actors who can see clearly through their hatred.” In contrast, she noted, “Gloria has managed to stay focused and clear-eyed, despite her hatred of those who hate her … and that is why she’s managed to survive.” Mrs Arroyo has never been more resourceful and ruthless than when she’s defending herself. She hasn’t hesitated to tap dubious personalities, and has given largesse generously to supporters. Mr Esposo said her political opponents “never imagined she would cross so many lines”, ignoring both the constitution and the Supreme Court when it suited her. “She is the epitome of patronage politics, she has perfected the art of patronage,” he said. A third factor that has helped her is the inertness of the millions of Filipinos who, six years ago, took to the streets to overthrow Estrada in a peaceful uprising. Not only is civil society divided over what to do, many people are tired of uprisings. Fearful of what an Arroyo ouster might produce, they’d rather give the democratic process a chance. Mr Abad said that “as a country we have not been able to muster the unity we showed in ousting the Marcos dictatorship, in ousting Estrada … it’s every difficult to do that now.” Although Mrs Arroyo has succeeded in hanging on, the downside is that a large amount of her administration’s resources and talent is devoted to the goal of self-preservation. “You are no longer talking about governance, about development, about being able to address basic problems,” said Mr Abad. “You’re talking about being able to survive.”
Copyright © 2007 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All right reserved
Another outstanding piece today was Raul Pangalanan‘s column:
If at all there was anything worrisome about The Peninsula standoff, it wasn’t that they were so few. It was that they could have actually pulled it off without a civilian component, and that if the military reinforcements had not been blocked, bought off, or preempted, we would have had our first coup d’état without the façade of a civilian cover. Marcos staged a coup against Congress in cahoots with his “Rolex 12″ generals and, with a little help from a pliant Supreme Court, called it “constitutional authoritarianism.” The two EDSA People Power events were, to use the felicitous but not entirely truthful catchwords, civilian-led but military-backed uprisings.
So now, some Filipinos exclaim in disgust: Oh, Lim and Trillanes thought they could pull it off without our help? But I recall, the last time around, on that memorable day of Feb. 24, 2006, that was exactly what Brigadier General Lim did. With far more civilians involved, the element of surprise was inevitably compromised — and people then concluded: The plotters should’ve kept the secret to themselves!
Do not feign surprise at this latest attempt to oust Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. It has been long in coming. “They who make peaceful change impossible make violent revolution inevitable,” said John F. Kennedy.
Overseas, Brazil’s senate leader resigns, averting a political crisis. And a very chilling reflection on the habeas corpus debate going on in the U.S. Supreme Court, in It Was the Best of Habeas, It Was the Worst of Habeas:
The question the court must answer is whether Congress properly stripped the remaining 300-and-some detainees at Guantanamo Bay of their right to go before a neutral judge and challenge their detention. If that feels familiar, it’s because we’ve heard this fight before in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006). And also before that in Rasul v. Bush (2004). What’s changed is that Congress, by enacting the 2006 Military Commissions Act (PDF), joined President Bush in the family habeas-stripping business. Now the president and the legislature together are telling federal courts to stay out of the executive’s decisions about who gets detained where and on what charges. Rasul gave detainees a statutory right to habeas corpus. The MCA erased it. Hamdan struck down the president’s military tribunals. Congress reinstated them. The Bush administration keeps winning by losing. The question is whether the third time’s a charm.
The piece goes on to grimly conclude,
But I just couldn’t count five votes today for the proposition that the kangaroo tribunals are better than the alternatives, or even that they are any good at all. After six years, zero trials, multiple suicide attempts, and myriad resignations, even the claim that serfs on the Isle of Jersey in 1597 would have been delighted with the CSRTs sounds a false note. The one unifying theme today may be that every justice present longs for the good old days of the 14th century. The conservatives because life was better then. And the liberals because even the Middle Ages look better than what the administration is doing now.
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