The strategic situation

As the late Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez once put it, “politics is addition”. Based on that principle, let’s look at the strategic situation, as it stands. You might want to draw Venn diagrams to help visualize things.

Strategic situation for the President

A post-mortem of the situation would show that had the President not swayed back and forth between her hard line advisers and the Civil Society camp, she’d be better off than she is. Make no mistake, the Civil Society camp reflected the opinion of a substantial part of the President’s former constituency. But as the way they managed (or mismanaged) their exit and the subsequent Palace counter-attack shows, they’re pretty ineffective politicians. In TV interviews, one of those that resigned (either Deles or Soliman) said the President was obsessed with micromanaging the controversy, instead of focusing on governing (which reminds me of La Vida Lawyer’s advice).

Still, the President’s official family has now been purged of those whose loyalty to her ends where their loyalty to whatever else, begins. She’s rid of Civil Society do-gooders, and is left with a pretty formidable array of hard-boiled politicos and operators. One major benefit of this purge of sorts is that many leaks to media have been plugged; the outside world will have a much harder time figuring out what’s really going on in the Palace. Still, aside from a few people like Rigoberto Tiglao and perhaps, Alberto Romulo, the President now depends heavily on an alliance ifor whom her interests, her legitimacy, and ultimately, her vindication, aren’t a primary concern. This means a kind of tension will continue as Fidel Ramos and his loyalists push forward the Ramos solution, backed up by the Speaker (but the Speaker, personable as he is, tends to be tripped up by his own over enthusiasm, as Dong Puno puts it). The tension is between the President and those who back her, who may have a different idea from what Ramos wants.

The President has the great advantage of a confident and skilled group of spokesmen who can be expected to consistently push the party line of the day. They are doing so vigorously and without the kind of scruples that erode effective communications.

The President, too, continues to count on a heavy-hitting alliance of city mayors, provincial governors, congressmen, and so on, representing both the majority of Metro Manila cities and the Visayas and Mindanao. These local politicians are aggressive and have organizational ability, which will be demonstrated during the pro-President rally at Rizal Park tomorrow. Still, the usefulness of their support is limited. You can only play the civil war card so many times, and each time you, there’s the chance either your constituents will call your bluff and you will really have to secede, or your constituents will rise up against you for playing fast and free with the sovereignty of the country. The majority of local officials always remain loyal to the incumbent, so it isn’t surprising they have rallied behind the President. One must ask, then, how long they will remain politically useful, or want to remain useful. One politician (retired) I ran into, chuckled that the governors flown in to Manila by Chavit Singson (who is terrified by the idea of an Estrada restoration), have begun grumbling that they received no more than the President’s thanks (“no leases, or contracts, you know,” said the ex-politico); and besides, if Singson is one of the President’s important fixers during these times, even his war chest isn’t inexhaustible. Also, Chavit may be one of those wild card allies, useful and destructive of the cause in equal measure.

One can’t discount a couple of other factors: Filipino-Americans (who are generally conservative, in a Republican sort of way), and a loyal middle class and upper class base. For example, it’s interesting to note that in the various comments to the entries in this blog, there are more independent-minded people willing to rally for the President (regardless of whatever opinion they have of her), than those willing to rally against her, in no small part due to how utterly unattractive the mainstream opposition is. Activities such as forcibly entering and vandalizing government buildings, push the law and order types to embrace the President, too.

The President is poised to achieve several things: first, the expected Supreme Court ok for the VAT law will improve the fiscal situation (more money, smoother governance, and of course, more patronage to dispense); her ability to find people of stature to accept cabinet appointments proves those that resigned aren’t as big a loss as originally seemed the case; the Vice-President remains loyal; her majority in the House seems safe; and as her confidence grows, so do her opportunities to show she has her own mind vis-a-vis Fidel Ramos, which means her chances to preside over a charter change exercise more according to her terms than his, are improving. There is no substitute for having control of the levers of power; more and more, she will be seen to be actually governing instead of simply surviving.

There are risks: the return of her husband or son would be harmful; any new scandals, unless spectacularly mismanaged by those doing the whistle blowing, could send her back into siege mode; if the House is seen to waffle on impeachment, her sincerity could be put in doubt; and the Truth Commission problem could continue to haunt her: she seems inclined not to appoint one, but if the senate moves to convene such a commission, it places the burden of cooperating on the House, which she controls.

Strategic situation for Fidel Ramos and Cory Aquino

Fidel Ramos has the following advantages: international stature; support from part of the middle and upper classes; the generals; a well-organized party; a plan. A source solemnly assures me, the United States supports the Ramos plan, which the source claims was vetted, and approved, by the State Department prior to Ramos’s publicizing it. The problem is the plan is liked neither by politicians outside the Lakas-CMD, nor other proponents of Federalism or parliamentarism, or even by the public, which perhaps views it as a means to achieve Ramos’ plans at the expense of the President (and everyone else). This doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who like the Ramos plan. There are: some previously for the President’s resignation are for the Ramos plan precisely because they like “win-win” scenarios. However, during the recent summit of political parties, Rep. Teddy Locsin (who is anti-Ramos) says the parties aren’t fully behind the Ramos plan, their gravest doubt being the timing of the whole thing.

Rep. Teddy Locsin, talking to David Celdran on ANC, says, further, that it’s the sense of the House that they hope the numbers won’t be mustered to send impeachment to the senate right away, because congressmen want a chance to “ventilate” their opinions on the charges against the President. If this is true, it means one of two things: impeachment could end up talked to death (which will antagonize the bishops, those wanting impeachment as the proper forum for resolving the crisis, and more radical elements), or, it will be so actively pursued that it will derail the Ramos plan.

Cory Aquino has on her side, what’s left of “Yellow power,” which, after all, she hasn’t fully tested because she hasn’t summoned anyone to the streets; a hard-core following of able people in business, academe, civil society, etc.; long experience in bringing down presidents. Against her are doubts in certain sectors due to the Hacienda Luisita incidents, her having been perceived to have endorsed the president earlier in this crisis, and her own unwillingness to get fully engaged.

In a battle of attrition, I think Cory Aquino will win, as I point out in an upcoming Free Press article. In a battle of swiftness, the advantage lies with Fidel Ramos. If the President begins to waffle on the Ramos solution (as she is showing signs of doing), the advantage passes to Aquino:

My belief is that the long-term advantage lies with Aquino, for now, though the short-term tactical advantage belongs to Ramos. Ramos must manage to railroad a new constitution through a Congress dominated by, but not entirely controlled, by his party in the lower house, but which is already being threatened with a pitched battle in the upper house. Ramos must accomplish all these things under the auspices of an unpopular, gravely wounded, but still independent, President, and with many sectors deeply suspicious of the kind of constitutional order that may emerge. Aquino, on the other hand, has access to veteran organizers, and has wrapped the issues against the President in a mantle of morality. With sustained efforts, her call could be the only one that counts after the traditional opposition and the Left exhaust themselves in a series of tiring, and expensive, rallies and events. Her way, the slow, methodical, people power way, may just keep things simmering so that it either bursts in flames of passion during an impeachment or, showing signs of impending combustion, finally achieves a change of heart in the President.

Aquino knows how to conserve her ammunition. She already came out against the President, but she has been careful to ignore the traditional opposition. While her decision to support a swift transition are being criticized now, if the President gets stuck in an impeachment spinning out of control, or if the traditional opposition spectacularly mishandles the situation and becomes a force for anarchy, then the Ramos option might recede and as it recedes, the Cory option will regain strength. If the wider public gets engrossed in an impeachment and the President weakens again, and the economy takes a turn for the worse, again, Cory’s judgment is revalidated and people might then be willing to march to ask that the whole farce comes to an end, with the resignation of the President.

Strategic Situation for Susan Roces

Susan Roces: it’s important to note that the only politician whose hand she raised before the public, was Renato de Villa, who is one of the least odious in the opposition, and who has never been identified with the Estrada forces. Everyone else was politely greeted but asked to leave the stage. That was a move pregnant with symbolism. People who have met with Susan Roces assure me that she does not like the United Opposition (except for certain individuals such as Chiz Escudero), she cannot stand, personally, Rez Cortez, and that she has ill-feelings for the Estradas and their ilk, because she blames them for being bad influences on her husband. The forces that claim to have her ear (besides Manang Ichu, who has good political instincts) are trying to influence her in a more profoundly reformist direction. There also seems to be a consensus that Susan Roces is aware she showed too much emotion during her press conference demanding the President resign, and that she is doubly-careful not to sound shrill and inflammatory in the future. My original observations, I think, remain valid: she is reformist, but conservative in her instincts, and aware of how her remaining prestige and drawing power are susceptible to manipulation. I think she continues to be firm in rejecting calls for her to lead the opposition to the President.

Strategic Situation for the United Opposition and Left Forces

These forces only have one option, really: to push for impeachment even while maintaining pressure on the President to resign, through street demonstrations.

The impeachment hangs on several events. First, taking the complaint, whether modified or amended, or not, out of the hands of the Committee on Justice, and sending it directly to the Senate. Second, once in the Senate, determining whether the tapes can be admitted into evidence or not (which may be settled either in the Supreme Court or in the Senate itself); whether the case for obstruction, etc. of justice or at the very least, a condemnable cover-up, can be made due to the President’s people trying to confuse the issue (the Bunye CD’s, and all sorts of other issues. Third, maintaining a credible case, and a case of sustained interest to the public.

But the opposition will continue to be the President’s biggest asset. Here’s the elemental truth about People Power that I’ve been hammering away at: first, the targets of people power can’t be it’s beneficiaries in the future; second, those who benefitted from people power in the past, can’t deny it to the public in the future. This basic truth harms the opposition more than it hurts the President. The President only needs to prevent people power; the opposition needs to, and can never, inspire it. The one who could, Cory, won’t do it, she says, at least now -not when it could backfire and benefit the Estradas and ex-Marcos types.

The only segment of the opposition with a national constituency is the Left, but whenever militants throw rocks at the President’s office in Cebu, they drive people to cling to the President. Whenever they storm offices, it frightens the public. And when provincial leaders in the Visayas and Mindanao speak up, they do so in defense of the things the Left are identified as opposing: the freedom to make money, establish business, keep stability and order and make development possible.

update: Wildcard: Ping Lacson

Torn and Frayed suggested a closer look at Ping Lacson, who, after all, I suggested might be the last senator standing. His comments, emailed to me, were:

That’s pretty much on the money as always, but just a
few points.

If the Supreme Court changes its mind on EVAT that
will, as you say, have many advantages for government
finances, but won’t it also carry with it considerable
risks for the president? A few pesos here and there
might not mean much to you and me, but for the very
people the opposition is looking to attract to its
rallies it means a great deal. EVAT could be a great
recruiting poster for Gloria’s opponents.

My feeling about impeachment is that she has to stop
it from going to the Senate. We all saw how televised
Senate hearings gripped and politicized the nation
four years ago, they could do so again. However, I
read in yesterday’s Inquirer that the numbers in the
House look shaky for her — a one third majority may
not be that hard to achieve with so many balimbing
supporters susceptible to pressure from the

The key thing for the United Opposition is to rally
round a leader and to stop sending mixed messages. Of
the current crop, it has to be Ping (from their
perspective, not mine). I suspect you won’t agree
with me, but if Gloria crumbles and there is rioting
in the streets, I believe much of the middle class
will meekly trot behind Ping.

But of course even if the United Opposition does get
its act together in this way, and if the President is
impeached or resigns, what then? The plan for a
civilian-military junta is still improbable, but I
don’t think it can be ruled out.

I do suspect the President will try to wriggle out of an impeachment. I also suspect, but it’s just a hunch, that when the history of all this is written, it will emerge that the person sending audio tapes to people like Kit Tatad and leaking things to the Palace, was no other than Senator Lacson. He’s the only one in the opposition with the nerve -and nerves- to undertake such an extended cloak-and-dagger operation, harming both the President and the Estrada-Poe opposition. And yes, indeed, if things reach the point of rioting in the streets, the military will trust him as someone with anti-Communist credentials. Torn and I have debated the question of the Philippines turning to the right for some time now, and as I said a few weeks back, that option seems riper by the week.

What has to happen for the President to win or lose

The only thing the President has to do, is not endure yet another scandal involving her family, friends, or appointees. She only has to keep attracting credible and talented people to her side. She has to keep the military focused on preventing the build up of rallyists, without being seen as being bloodthirsty; she has to keep the politicians dazzled with charter change, and not suffer any reverses as far as the perception of the Visayas being solidly behind her is concerned. She has to keep control over the impeachment process. If she does all these things, she can look forward to being in office until 2007, if not 2010.

To lose power, she has to lose the support of the middle class, which will only happen if the economy collapses (the middle and upper class will then be at the mercy of a radicalized population), or if a “second envelope” scenario takes place during an impeachment, at a time when the traditional opposition has exhausted itself, leaving the field open to the middle-ground Cory forces and the bishops. The bishops, if they turn against the President, then have their legions (schools, parishes, Catholic organizations) to provide the muscle Cory Aquino needs.

So the bishops, and the middle class, must continue to be satisfied that normal constitutional processes can settle the issue. If they decide they can’t be settled through an impeachment or truth commission, more radical options, including pressuring the President to resign so things don’t fall into the hands of the radical Left and traditional opposition already in the streets, will become attractive. Most attractive of all, I think, will be a redefinition of our national institutions, a redefinition undertaken by the middle class, to prevent a similar achievement by the Left.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

21 thoughts on “The strategic situation

  1. I think most people would rather see the scandal resolved by the rules and give the constitutional processes a second try, but any show of stonewalling similar to Etrada’s second envelope– invoking strict legal rules regardless of the impression it leaves on the people– could provide that lethal spark. But how, without exposing GMA and those things that she tried to cover up?

  2. reading the above post can me me ask “where do you stand now? you seem to be just the spectator of the show or better yet an audience at a chess tourney watching how the players will move and what are their strength and weaknesses. How would you assess now the strategic situation for the people? are we better off with GMA who cheated in (i believe) the election for wich reason we are demending her to resign since her legitimacy is in question or are we better off with whoever played the chess well?

  3. It will be a delicate dance, for sure. I have a question: In terms of evidence presented and their acceptability in an impeachment trial (is that the term?), what would be the difference between this and a regular court trial? I understand there’s no need to prove guilt “beyond reasonable doubt” in the former?

  4. Very brillant analyses Mr.Quezon. Idol ka talaga. I thought that with Teddy Benigno’s death my days of reading the columns are over. I only discovered you lately ( I deeply apologize for this) and now I have something to look forward to read everyday ( every hour even). More power and stay healthy.

  5. aal: I don’t think the President deserves to stay in office. I think she should resign. But she says she won’t. She says, impeach her. So, impeachment it is. My personal view is that whether she resigns, is impeached, is impeached then resigns, or gets kicked out, we have a chance to drastically reform our institutions. Question is, whether it will be a democratic or non-democratic type of reform.

    wabbit: impeachment is a political exercise, the rules used in court are a basis, but you don’t have even have to have reasonable doubt, i believe. Problem is, impeachment will be run by lawyers who will excpect a strictly judicial exercise.

    kulas: salamat.

  6. That’s pretty much on the money as always, but just a few points.

    If the Supreme Court changes its mind on EVAT that will, as you say, have many advantages for government finances, but won’t it also carry with it considerable risks for the president? A few pesos here and there might not mean much to you and me, but for the very people the opposition is looking to attract to its rallies it means a great deal. EVAT could be a great recruiting poster for Gloria’s opponents.

    My feeling about impeachment is that she has to stop it from going to the Senate. We all saw how televised Senate hearings gripped and politicized the nation four years ago, they could do so again. However, I read in yesterday’s Inquirer that the numbers in the House look shaky for her — a one third majority may not be that hard to achieve with so many balimbing supporters susceptible to pressure from the opposition.

    The key thing for the United Opposition is to rally round a leader and to stop sending mixed messages. Of the current crop, it has to be Ping (from their perspective, not mine). I suspect you won’t agree with me, but if Gloria crumbles and there is rioting in the streets, I believe much of the middle class will meekly trot behind Ping.

    But of course even if the United Opposition does get its act together in this way, and if the President is impeached or resigns, what then? The plan for a civilian-military junta is still improbable, but I don’t think it can be ruled out

  7. Sir Manolo,

    I believe that it was De Villa who raised the hand of Susan and not the other way around. Yes, she seems to have realized that now more than ever she has to be careful with the power she has. Her speech in Ayala has reflected once again her possession of native wisdom and grace.

  8. mlq3, fantastic analysis, you’ve got excellent insight! its just too bad that only those with internet access can view your blog on a regular basis. i wish there was a way to publicize your view to the masses, so they could have a clearer understanding of our present political situation.

    maybe it would also help if you got rid of that american twang that comes out everytime you speak tagalog, hehehe 🙂

  9. nenet, just call me manolo. thanks for the added info. its comments like your that add to the importance of a blog. we can’t see everything ourselves, but each of us adds a piece to the puzzle.

    michelle: thanks. don’t you think more and more of the younger masses are on line? but yes, someone asked permission to print my manifesto, i said ok. precisely for the reasons you’ve given. and hey, give me the name of a tagalog teacher and i’ll sign up 😛

  10. hi mlq3, i read this entry entitled Weekend Amusement, regarding dilangalen and erap, i cant find it now, hehehee

  11. hi mlq3, i read this entry entitled Weekend Amusement, regarding dilangalen and erap, i cant find it now, hehehee

  12. Your analysis is great. heres what I think

    FVR: Played the devil by giving Gloria a rope for hope. I mean He gave the woman some spine in return of something else more terrible, the power to run the show.
    I believe those so called Gloria supporters ( local officials and the likes) are really for Ramos. Gloria seems to be more like a figurehead now because of Ramos. Let’s remember Ramos owns Lakas not Gloria.

    Cory Aquino: her name got some mud because of the Luisita incident. But we might never know the extent of her influences on street rallies or drawing power.

    Susan Roces: if a real extra-conshit made Gloria to get out of the palace, She’s a viable option to replace GLoria.

    Ping Lacson: Filipino-Chinese advocated for and they are the ones with money. Those who guards us while we sleep rooted for him. Drivers who take us to work, respected the dude. The military (except those real sipsip of malakanyang) and the pulis can and might rally behind him. Lacson cannot be really discounted as a fluke or whatever. If shit hits the fan lots of people will rally behind him. if the opposition (for now) really get their acts together, Ping Lacson can be their poster boy.

    Impeachment: we have to wait for 1 year to file the impeachment because this fcuking partylist congressman filed an impeachment complaint hastely. I heard you can only file 1 ipeachment complaint in a year.

    can you wait for another 1 year to get the “pandak” out of the office?

  13. Manolo, I enjoyed your piece immensely but would like to ask for qualification on two things. First, is the minor role you assign local officials. You are right, they do often always favor the incumbent mainly because of the mutual benefit they get from that relationship. But I may think twice about downgrading their ability to undermine the national government. In the two instances where local political power got waylaid from that mutual accommodation, the effects had been devastating: I am thinking here of the MNLF rebellion, which began as an attempt by local politicians from Lanao and Cotabato to form a coalition with young Muslim radicals, and which then blossomed into a full war that basically undermined any effort of the Marcos dictatorship to consolidate its power. The second one was the loss and destruction of the Federalista Party in the 1906 elections after promdis like MLQ and Don Sergio upstaged them. Since then all politics in Pinas became localized (save the brief period under the Commonwealth when MLQ succeeded to centralize).

    If the promdi’s power are de-emphasized, your essay assumes the Church remains powerful. I think it has ceased to be the same major player that it was under Sin. The steady attempt by the late John XXIII to remove whatever traces of radicalism AND liberalism inside the Church has succeeded. The Church’s centrists — identified then with Sin — are no more, joining their radical rivals in the margins, silenced by Ratzinger and his Papal Nuncio.

  14. Thanks for your blog, Manolo. It serves as a ‘neutral intellectual space’ amidst the chaos.
    I am deeply for deep institutional change. But it will take time and then how deep the change will be is also the question. Further than institutions, we need to re-look at the economic programs our institutions have espoused since the Americans left. We have seen GDP growth, which does not reflect the true state of the development of the majority of our people. Institutions that continue this will not bring the sorely-needed long-term stability that is not solely a function of global economic conditions. Current leaders laud and support the mass export of human resources. Would new institutions arrest this hemorrhage? We are trying to be a Singapore or a Japan that imports most of their food and lives way beyond their ecological footprint and yet the majority of Filipinos rely on the much-neglected agricultural sector. What vision for the country do we want then? Would a revamp of our institutions address this?
    Further to Gloria’s sins, she should resign because we need a leader with a much broader view than macroeconomics. She is limited by her discipline in addition to her greed. Her few years in office proved this. The world is changing. With all the tumult in the political and social life in this country, like long-distance runners on a treadmill, we are not because we continue to follow the same economic programs under different guises.
    I guess the answer to my rant is, see where we’re at when the dust settles, then take it from there.

  15. Ed, I think they’re not worried about the 1 year rule, as they can amend lozano’s original complaint.

    susan, i don’t know if i’m entirely neutral. as for change, that’s what i keep telling people, in person -start talking to other people so that you have your positions mapped out.

  16. Thank you Manolo for a very sharp analysis.

    I just would like to add few takes on how the role of local political dynamics plays in this strategic situation. There is a fast changing configuration in the local political landscape particularly in Mindanao that needs to be factored in.

    There is a rising Mindanao consciousness which at the moment is articulated by a middle class lead Federalist movement. This vision captures the imagination of the middle forces and rising business elites of Mindanao. An option that presents itself as a middle ground to extreme solutions like seccession and the continuing underdevelopment and never ending conflict in the islands under the present set-up. A vision that is acceptable even by new political leaders of the Moro people.

    Presently most of the rising political leaders in Moro politics no longer comes from the ranks of the traditional aristocratic families but from the religious, business and former commanders of Moro revolutionary forces. In Lanao del Sur, old aristocratic political families, like the Dimaporos, Pangarungans, Alonto’s etc. could no longer sway over the politics of the province. The present Governor of Lanao del Sur is an obscure religious leader. The Dimaporo’s now maintain political clout only in Lanao del Norte courtesy of Bobby Dimaporo’s wife who is the daughter of Lanao del Norte’s former Governor. The likes of Mangungudatu of Sultan Kudarat and businessman Toto Paglas (now running for ARMM Governor) of Maguindanao are becoming more prominent and influential. Ben Loong of Sulu, although coming from a traditional political clan would prefer to be identified with new politics. Former Commanders of the MNLF are now Mayors of Municipalities and cities like in Marawi City and Cotabato City. The MILF would even prefer to deal with these new brand of Moro political leaders than the older ones. The old system of governance and political set-up is strongly maintained only by few surviving Moro traditional aristocratic politicians. They know that their clout and survival depends much on the status quo.

    Naturally in the present political set-up most of these officials still maintain close links and collaboration with Malacanang but only for political expediency. If given a chance to decide for a more devolved set-up, it is most likely that they would be the first takers. Unless they are given attractive political and economic concessions by the Manila government, the present brand of Moro political leaders would prefer an alternative and more progressive set-up than the old system of governance.

    But then again, the question of real democracy and genuine peoples empowerment under a new set-up is another story.

  17. Manolo, you’re not entirely neutral, but you provide the space.

    Further to asking people not to vote for dynastic political families in the next election, we should ask them to vote on platform.

    Sam, It’s interesting that Mindanao seems most conducive to the kind of change we need, more open to alternatives. If finding the middle ground is a result of extreme turmoil, what stage in the process is the rest of the country?

  18. I still dont like these tone about secession and stuff. If these people really wants to depart from the Republic they could had done so when Cory became a president or more likely when we gained our independence from the americans. yes I know there are these guerilla and terrorist wanting for their own bangsamoro republic but why didint the people of mindanao join them? because the majority dont want to break away from manila.

    About that charter change or constitutional amendment or what ever, I thought the constitution is the answer to any problems arises? Why do many people wants to change the constitution? Maybe because they cant benefit from it.

    The promdis are more powerful than what lots of people think. almost all the the presidents came from the provinces. They just stayed here in manila.

    Manolo, I like to ask if any manilenos became a pestident of the republic? and how many of them came from political family?

  19. Ed, the only Manileno to become President was Joseph Estrada. And generally, until Arroyo, most presidents were self-made men; their descendants may form dynasties now, but in our system, only a self-made man can have the right combination of ambition, adaptability, and communication skills needed to connect with the majority of voters. the only exceptions were Aquino (who is a cojuangco and a sumulong) and Ramos (whose father was an accomplished politico). This is also why, until Arroyo, the children of presidents aspiring for the presidency were ill-fated, they simply lacked their parent’s ability to communicate.

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