The Long View
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:36:00 07/30/2009
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo saved the genuinely popular for last – Manny Pacquiao, the ultimate human prop in her State of the Nation Address – not only out of a genuine, shared affection and admiration for the Pinoy pug, but because she wanted everyone to identify our country’s prize Lightweight-Featherweight-Superfeatherweight-Superbantamweight-Flyweight-Lightwelterweight-Champion with herself. Thus making her (in her own mind, at least) the No. 1 pound-for-pound chief executive of the country just as “Pacman” is the No. 1 pound-for-pound boxer in the world.
To take the boxing analogy to its logical conclusion, perhaps we should ask ourselves what boxing champs could have taught the President by way of announcing their retirement from boxing. More often than not, they announce the next one will be their last bout, or they simply say, it’s time to go, goodbye, thank you, I love you, fans.
Such a statement was what people were expecting from the President when she addressed the nation and Congress.
It is remarkable that instead, she basically declared she was going to treat her potential successors as challengers. But none of them is going head-to-head with her, and so the belt she wants to hold on to until the very last second of the very last minute of the very last hour of the very last day of her presidency isn’t hers to defend anymore, is it? Not least because she supposedly stopped being the defending champion once she claimed the title of president in 2004.
Well, fine, she also says people repeatedly tried to mug her, but that her Fists of Determination saved the day, in and out of the ring. But that’s the point, even if you accept her take on events: the title belt could’ve been taken away from her, sure; but never by means of a title fight, because under current rules our presidential slugfest is fought only once every six years, and every title holder gets to keep it for strictly six yearsâ€”unless the referees take it away for things like, say, fixing the fight in the first place. But then she gave all the referees black eyes.
So even if the President, in her own mind, is a prizefighter, then last Monday’s performance was a case of prancing around the ring, engaging in shadow boxing. She says she intends to keep on swinging until the bell rings marking the end of her fighting career in 2010. Against whom? And for what? Either she’s punch drunk or she isn’t going to retire and is in training to win another title belt in another weight class.
Now before I end up like Ronnie Nathanielsz – publicly criticized by the Pacman for being uninformed – I will leave the boxing analogy and focus on the President and the adoring fans packed into the Bastusang Pambansa last Monday. It was supposed to be the Big Goodbye, the Fond Farewell, the Swan Song; instead, it became a despedida where the guest of honor lingers by the door, refusing to leave, trapping all the guests at the banquet hall – even if half of them already have indigestion. You know everyone – from guests to waiters to janitors – are dying to go home and prepare for the next party, but the big shot won’t leave. Instead, the big shot proposes that everyone go to an after-party or, worse, that the waiters and everyone stay on and keep the buffet tables filled because everyone’s going to continue partying. But then again the guest of honor knows never again will everyone who is anyone be under one roof – so it’s best to make the most of it.
The practical question confronting the ruling coalition is precisely this: It took so long, and required so much effort, to build it up that it seems a pity to watch it disappear, as it must inevitably disappear, once the current boss bows out and another takes her place. The ruling coalition has to start disintegrating come Nov. 30, when presidential candidacies are formally announced, because its members may be fat and happy under the President but they have no intention of being lean and hungry under the next dispensation.
The President, instead of announcing she will take the lead in grooming a successor who can lead her partymates to victory, not only mocked her potential replacements, but basically said everyone in her coalition will have to continue courting her favor because she fully intends to be the boss. This means the next three months, when her coalition should be concerned with figuring out who will be its standard bearer, will be spent leaping out of the trenches in charge after charge in pursuit of Charter change.
No wonder some of the President’s own allies have leaked that the Frankenstein coalition is “leaving the door ajar” for a possible Villar-de Castro, Escudero-de Castro, or Villar or Escudero with Teodoro as veep tandem.
This seems more of speculation in aid of implanting the kiss of death on the current coalition outsiders, rather than a reflection of desperation because the coalition lacks “winnable” presidential and vice-presidential candidates. It simply wants to take everyone down a peg out of spite, with Pampanga Rep. Mikey Arroyo as the spite-mongerer in chief, with his assertions that Villar and Escudero have had back-channel negotiations with his mother to get her support.
Much as they float on a cloud of sycophancy while in power, presidents are ultimately disposable, because there’s only room for one at a time while every president needs a coalition to either to get into power or sustain them once there. The President likes multiple scenarios, but all require the incumbent to foster a political Stockholm Syndrome where her Frankenstein, instead of seeking freedom, falls head over heels with its creator and views her bowing out of office as death for both.
And if that doesn’t work, well, there’s Teodoro as the son of Frankenstein to take care of the Bride of Frankenstein.