Brinksmanship begins tomorrow

This evening, I will be a guest on The World Tonight, where the discussion will most likely lead to analyzing what will take place this week. I believe the guiding principle of the next few days will be brinksmanship. As Wikepedia puts it,

Brinkmanship is ostensibly the escalation of threats to achieve one’s aims. Eventually, the threats involved might become so huge as to not be manageable. This was certainly the case during the Cold War, as the threat of nuclear war was also suicidal, through mutually assured destruction. Brinksmanship is not just a political or military term: unions that threaten to strike and spouses that threaten divorce can also be involved in games of brinkmanship.

The dangers of brinkmanship as a political or diplomatic tool can be understood as a slippery slope: In order for brinkmanship to be effective, the threats used have to be continuously elevated. The further one goes, the greater the chance of things sliding out of control.

The British intellectual Bertrand Russell compared nuclear brinksmanship to the game of chicken. According to Russell, the principle between the two is essentially the same: to create immense pressure in a situation until one person or party backs down.

What forms will this take?

First is speculation over the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order on the VAT law, which the government will challenge. At present it seems the Supreme Court views objections (to the authority given the President to adjust levels, and the law having two subject matters when a law should only have one, among others) serious enough to take such a big step, which rattled foreign analysts last Friday.

Observers view two possible scenarios. The first is that the decision was a shot across the bow, so to speak, from the Supreme Court, to indicate it will be independent during the crisis. The second is that the Palace pressured the Supreme Court to issue the TRO, to deflect public anger over the effects of the VAT Law (higher costs for fuel, and also, new provisions on VAT credits that small and medium enterprises find highly objectionable and potentially ruinous). The political gamble here is that the Palace would forego at least 60 billion pesos in urgently-needed new funds, and the confidence of foreign business, to achieve a short-term calming down on the part of the public, including entrepreneurs and the middle class. I have heard some skepticism over the choice for a hearing date set by the high court -the day after the President’s State of the Nation Address, which is a landmark date in the current crisis (if she makes it to that date, she’s widely considered to have much better prospects for holding on to office).

If true, this is playing for extremely high stakes, not least because it could antagonize members of the cabinet such as Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, widely considered independent-minded. If the centerpiece of the President’s fiscal reform program was derailed for political reasons, it could shake confidence within her cabinet and among businessmen. Much will depend perhaps, on a knee-jerk drop in the peso’s value tomorrow, which could be great or minor, depending on how analysts have digested the news over the weekend (have they calmed down? or are they out for blood?).

Next is the widely-expected raising of the ante in the House, with the opposition being given the chance to play Alan Paguia’s tape, setting a precedent for playing any and all tapes that surface. Paguia is slowly being made to realize that he isn’t as smart as he thinks he is; he has already had to admit he abridged the original tapes he had, because there might be things there embarrassing to the opposition. Yesterday, Escudero of the opposition admitted that there might be prominent opposition personalities implicated by talks with Garcellano (so far, the names bruited about are Loren Legarda, Juan Ponce Enrile, Jamby Madrigal and Jinggoy Estrada).

The administration gamble would be: fine, play the tapes, we’ll play ours, we’ll all sink together but you will sink more. Consensus among observers seems to be it will help the administration, but some of us think there’s a delicious chance here for a more far-reaching consequence to this scandal. Personally, I believe this will not help the President as much as her people might like, but will harm the Estrada camp, which can only be good in the long run. Check-mating the Estrada camp may just improve the prospects of the middle class and business finally taking a stand.

Civil Society, as indicated by what the bishops, Cory Aquino, and other signs such as today’s Inquirer editorial, that the minimum expected of the President is to convene a Truth Commission with credible members, and overhaul the Comelec. The former seems more likely than the latter, but both demands may be tests the middle forces don’t quite expect the President to pass.

The Catholic heirarchy has been meeting and initially announced that their consensus is that the country’s options are three: impeachment, the status quo, or resignation. The gathering of prelates will also result in the election of a new President for the CBCP, the organization of Catholic bishops. The Philippine Independent Church has already decided that resignation is their preferred option. Their meeting with Cory Aquino at UST on Wednesday may be crucial.

In a paid advertisement today, the de la Salle academic community (DLSU, La Salle Canlubang, La Salle Zobel, La Salle Greenhills, etc.) came out strongly for resignation:

We must restore our people’s faith in the Presidency and in the democratic process. This will most certainly require the full exercise of leadership that our President alone could effect. We would like to believe that she was sincere when she expressed her commitment to make a personal sacrifice for the nation’s interest. We now pray her [the President] to bring it to a full fruition -the supreme sacrifice of surrendering personal want, comfort and position. We pray her to voluntarily relinquish power so that a constitutional process of succession may proceed.

Tony Abaya’s column that was initially disapproved finally came out. Abaya’s column reminds us of something I wrote about too, which was the question of disenfranchisement during the last election. At the time, I said this was an issue and that also, it seemed quite probable the President won with a slim plurality. I pointed these things out in the Inquirer and the Philippines Free Press. If you want a broader view on elections, you can read my survey of our past elections, in my essay, Elections Are Like Water.

The indomitable Torn and Frayed is puzzled over my reaction to Susan Roces and I responded by pointing out the following:

This is what I see in Roces: she is the valve in the pressure cooker. Despite her losing it that day, she held back from the brink, which means she’s foregone two chances to call out the mobs. One more strike, and she’s out. At the same time, she has clearly shown disdain for the usual suspects rallying in Makati. This helps them neutralize themselves -its Jinggoy, Maceda, etc. trying to pretend they know what people power is, that’s paralyzing the middle forces.

At the same time, she’s allowed Cory Aquino to get a foot in the door, and I don’t think we can discount a Two Widows Finally Speak Up scenario, or, conversely, that having neutralized herself while allowing people to realize how cathartic it is to vent, the field is once again left to Cory. I think Cory will have to speak up sooner or later, and she can contribute to the tipping point.

I added a follow-up comment: By all accounts, Enrile will be hammered with allegations of massive fraud when the administration releases its own version of the Garci tapes. Recall that Susan and her husband both looked slightly askance at many in the opposition, and she feels stronger about that, since she may blame their bickering for her husband’s death (just as she lost it over GMA’s apology which rubbed salt into her wounds). I think some middle forces, including Cory, are wooing Susan to keep her from doing something rash, and having lost it on national TV Susan will be inclined to be extra-prudent.

Cory is the lodestar still, of many people, as far as democratic action. Definitely, if Cory speaks up for impeachment or resignation, the President will have lost yet another prop. Regardless of her presidency (which achieved two main things: keeping democracy afloat, and accomplishing a transition, remember we had the most phenomenal economic growth ever until Gringo’s coups), she remains aa figure of great importance.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

11 thoughts on “Brinksmanship begins tomorrow

  1. “Personally, I believe this will not help the President as much as her people might like, but will harm the Estrada camp, which can only be good in the long run. Check-mating the Estrada camp may just improve the prospects of the middle class and business finally taking a stand.”

    Yup. Agreed. If government goes scorched earth by releasing the rumored tapes, that can cripple the Erap camp much more than it does them. Maybe marginalize them or take them out of the equation. Which can only benefit the middle forces who are appalled by Jinggoy’s “national council” wet dream. When vanguards of the middle forces ( Cory, Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales, Bro. Eddie) broadcast their own displeasure at Gloriagate, they timed their utterances to coincide with the day the EVAT first took effect. They believe the ranks of the disaffected would spike dramatically in the weeks to come. And seeking venues to express their rage, the disillusioned would be attracted to the only visible anti-Gloria movement at the moment — the one led by the Left and the Erap forces. The masses and prayer rallies of the past week are the opening bid of the middle forces to seize the initiative from the political Opposition. They supply an alternative path ( limp though it may be) to the chaos the other camp promises. The middle forces are not quite ready to take to the streets if all those warm bodies will do is restore the ghosts of regimes past. It’s good of the Supreme Court to issue that TRO. Buys breathing room for everyone. But soon the game will be on again. And tape or no tape, the putative leaders of the middle forces will have to decide whether they will lead events or have events lead them. Prayers alone won’t cut it. A Truth Commission seems dodgy and smells of foot-dragging. This is no time to be afflicted with analysis paralysis. I certainly hope Civil Society leaders other than Cory are talking to Susan Roces. And I hope, MLQ3, that your intuition about the widow is right. I feel the opposing camps battling for her soul.

  2. Why does it seem that the issue is always “keeping democracy afloat”. What if we take one conceptual step further back and ask ourselves if “democracy” is truly the right form of government for us.

    After all, most of the Asian Tigers prospered under authoritarianism before they dabbled in democracy.

    Democracy is a Western concept. Its application in a half-arsed manner in an Asian culture that exhibits none of the philosophies that originally underpins it (democracy) is perhaps the reason why it fails us (note that maybe the real way to say it is that *we* failed democracy).

    And how can one expect a system of governance that is based on its practitioners’ ability to critically evaluate issues be effective in a society where *critical thought* (much less speaking out) is not exactly a common talent. And let’s not forget the dismal state of the level of education of the average Filipino and our steadfast reliance on dogma to determine the choices and courses of action we take. Not exactly fertile ground for critical and logical minds to flourish.

    And let’s ask ourselves this question: IS FREEDOM REALLY THE WHOLE POINT OF DEMOCRACY?

    Think again. I believe freedom is a *priviledge* enjoyed by societies that apply democracy PROPERLY. Democracy is about having the discipline and consistency to allow the Law to deliver its function effectively.

    Trouble with Filipinos is we want to enjoy the fruits of Western ways yet are clueless as to how Western civilisation created those fruits in the first place.

    Freedom is but a fruit of a Western DISCIPLINE. Just like Western standards of living are fruits of world-class ways of doing things.

    I have an entire article on what “democracy” really means. Check it out by following this link:

    When we consider that Filipinos are neither disciplined nor have an ethic of seeking perfection (which leads to world class results), then we need not wonder about why we are what we are today.

    The politics that are the more popular place where Filipino seek answers to our problem is but a thin layer that masks the true rot that is at the core of our society and culture.

    More views like this? Visit:

  3. Very good analysis. However, I think the scorched earth scenario overlooks two very simple words – Hello Garci. Those words will float over all the flotsam and jetsam.
    I agree with you that making it to the SONA and maybe announcing cha-cha will probably save her thick hide. Although, I fervently hope the SONA will be the occasion for her to announce resignation.

  4. Calling on my fellow Ateneans.
    Naunahan na naman tayo ng kalaban. the delasallites. but it doesn’t matter.

    when are we gonna speak up. better late than never. otherwise I would be shamed to call myself Atenean. batch 83.

  5. “The political gamble here is that the Palace would forego at least 60 billion pesos in urgently-needed new funds, and the confidence of foreign business, to achieve a short-term calming down on the part of the public, including entrepreneurs and the middle class.”

    When I read about PGMA’s move to delay that measure, it only underscored how little she and her advisers care for the long-term benefits of the country. If the measures were, as she claims good for the economy, she should’ve went ahead with it, her political life be damned.

    Her confession to the authenticity of the tapes erased whatever moral ground she had. “Placed here by God” my foot. Pushing back those new measures for the supposed funding of the government just makes her look more guilty despite what her legal counsels try to say.

    But you’re right: no junta, no extra-legal measures. Should I start having short-cut keys for ‘President Noli de Castro’ on my blog console then?

  6. benign0,
    Forget about democracy. The Philippines is not a Democracy. We are a Republic.

    To understand the distinction.

    try and google : republic vs democracy

  7. di ko na kaya mag react. hehehehe

    noted: alam na natin yan.

    basta, let us prepare ourselves for another political week.

  8. There’s one more reason why the middle forces must
    make their play soon. Other actors: restless factions within the military just itching to play
    Messiah, if we go by tonight’s news. That’s one more group that won’t be waiting for a Truth Commission.

  9. Love that term: brinksmanship. First to blink loses: blinksmanship. Amy Perez losing her husband: a lack of Brixmanship. Okay, that’s enough.

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