(Right: Official Palace photo. Add your own caption.)
As I’m writing this, the President is addressing the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industries, and giving a verbal spanking to those opposed to her -opposing is ok, she says, as long as the opposition is restricted to “fiscalizing.”
Our word for the day is autogolpe, or self-coup, a term popularized by the autogolpe of Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori. A self-coup is, in a sense, a type of purge, such as the Night of the Long Knives, in which Adolf Hitler terminated party rivals and by so doing, ensured the support of the armed forces for his rule. In our own history we have self-coups, such as Marcos’s proclamation of martial law; and we have had purges aplenty, the Bonifacio-Aguinaldo leadership showdown being one, and more recent ones in revolutionary movements such as the Huks and the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Newsbreak’s article titled War Games, detailing how the President dealt with rumors of a coup attempt last October 2, has set the stage, or rather, put ongoing events in a military perspective.
Based on our interviews with civilian and military sources, it appears that those who have been actively recruiting for a coup are the following: members of Magdalo, or Philippine Military Academy graduates in the 1990s; former members of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement-Young Officers Union (RAM-YOU), who have apparently regrouped and reunited; junior officers who are linked to the RAM-YOU; and the remaining Marcos loyalists within the military.
The government is bent on jumping the gun on the plotters, thus the successive moves of issuing a tough order preventing bureaucrats and police and military from testifying against the President and peddling reports of assassination threats against Ms. Arroyo.
The PresidentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s loyalists wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t give in easily, and many anti-Arroyo officers are aware of this. Thus, they are spending a lot of time convincing as many officers as they can, preferring that if thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a withdrawal of support by the military from their commander in chief, it would be complete, similar to what happened in Edsa 1 and Edsa 2.
So there you have it, an amazing race, so to speak. There has been scuttlebutt aplenty about the Secretary of Justice ostentatiously leaving drafts of orders (a Proclamation declaring a state of lawless violence, rebellion, and a state of national emergency, and one establishing a revolutionary government which is said to be an unnumbered draft for an Executive Order) on his desk, of functionaries in his department being instructed to prepare warrants of arrest, and even of other officials being told to prepare arresting teams (the list, as supposedly leaked around since Monday: Rep. Escudero, Sen. Lacson, Atty. Vinzons-Chato, Atty. Homobono Adaza, Pastor Saycon, Guillermo Luz, Concepcion, Benigno Aquino III, plus active and retired military officers such as Danny Lim, Gen. Gudani, Dominguez,Nazareno, de los Santos, Abat, de Villa -as one colleague put it, “no one will weep for many of them”).
The process going on then, is pretty uncreative: testing the limits of what the public will accept, while conditioning the public as to what scenarios to expect. What the Inquirer editorialized yesterday as the trial balloon system of the President has been stepped up a pace by the Palace itself suggesting there are three conditions for emergency rule:
Ermita cited three factors that could force the President’s hand to push the emergency rule button — terrorism, oil prices and peace and order — all of which the government had declared in the past few weeks as emerging threats to economic and political stability.
Today’s Inquirer editorial characterizes the Executive Secretary’s statements, combined with other Palace pronouncements, as an Unspeakable Peril. As for terrorism opportunities, so to speak, they could range from attacks on protest rallies, or, God forbid, one on the 2005 Southeast Asian Games to be held in Metro Manila, Cebu, Bacolod and Subic; peace and order problems are already emerging: there’s a sudden epidemic of robberies ranging from to cake shops; threats to economic and political stability might include a simulated failed coup attempt or an even more aggressive confrontation between the President and the Senate (or an uncooperative Supreme Court failing to mediate to the satisfaction of either party).
Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ believes the President has vast powers still under a martial law scenario; and that any discussion on the issue of special powers or martial law boils down to whether one trusts or distrusts, the President.
But nervousness is particularly extreme as Congress embarks on a recess that will find the Senate President overseas, the population distracted with a long weekend at the end of the month, and vast numbers of citizens traveling to pay their respects at the tombs of their family members. From the beginning of this recess to the New Year, there are simply too many opportunities ripe for exploitation both by the government and its enemies.
Just as the Palace says there are three conditions that would (or might, or is it will?) trigger some sort of emergency rule, there seem to be three avenues being explored to enable the President to achieve the same thing without having to call it emergency rule or even martial law:
The first is through the anti-terrorism bill. There is a brilliant entry by the Sassy Lawyer dissecting the anti-terrorism bill, and she argues that it is no less than a Bill of Attainder, something the Constitution forbids but which most people are hazy when it comes to actually defining. She defines it, and indicates how the proposed law is unconstitutional. Not only that, she examines, in detail, how the President could use the proposed law to suppress all opposition. Benito Lim has his own take as to why the proposed law seems sinister.
The second is through Constitutional amendments, or forcing a confrontation that would provide the pretext for an autogulpe. The President’s pet party, Kampi, has begun to challenge the timeline the dominant administration party, Lakas-CMD, wants. Read Julius Fortuna’s column today: the President’s putative speaker, Ronnie Puno, is sowing confusion and dissension within the ruling coalition.
The third way is to simply demolish the credibility of all those opposed to the President, while systematically provoking them so that the rash will react heatedly and strengthen the government’s argument that it must instill order (and fend off rumors stemming from things like anti corruption adviser Tony Kwok’s declaration that the anti-corruption drive is in crisis). Parties in a position to oppose have been split, and continue to be split, with the Palace’s encouragement. You know the mentality of the Palace is headed in a sinister direction when quite openly, a partisan of the President such as Alex Magno, can compare Manila Mayor Lito Atienza favorably to the late Ramon Bagatsing, a Marcos stooge if there ever was one.
Two pundits have parallel opinions as to what all these moves and counter-moves, whether in public or in the shadows, portend. Both seem to think it involves a signal from a foreign power -the United States. Tony Abaya believes the Palace suspects or even knows, that the United States is not pleased with the President, and to forestall any damaging revelations, might as well launch a crackdown now:
How damaging? Possibly details about the dollar deposits, real estate holdings and other assets of husband and wife in the US, and possibly details about his and her (separate) sex lives. I cannot imagine anything more damaging than this. All of which may tumble out into the open when the indictments against Aquino are made public next week.
In anticipation of the public uproar that will greet these revelations, the Arroyo government is deliberately sending signals that suggest an impending declaration of emergency rule, short of martial law.
... I would not be surprised if the credible and straight-talking Gary Teves is fired or is forced to resign soon.
It is also possible that Lacson already has those damaging dossiers stolen by Aragoncillo from Dick CheneyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s office, but was/is biding his time to make them public until he is ready with his own grab for power, which would be distinct and separate from BinayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and MoralesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ silly Solidarity Ã¢â‚¬Å“caretaker (revolutionary) councilÃ¢â‚¬Â that seeks to restore Erap to the presidency. The Americans may have unwittingly upset Lacson plans, but it does not necessarily mean that they are solicitous about GMAÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s future.
On the other hand, Ricky Carandang believes the United States has decided to send a signal as to the parameters that should govern regime change, although actively engaging in the effort simply isn’t worth America’s time or energy:
So while they are not willing to step in decisively to influence events here, Washington is not so indifferent that it will not convey its preferences in a discreet way.
And this I believe is the message: The US is not inclined to step in to defend the Arroyo Adminstration if it comes under attack. Neither will it participate in any attempt to illegally undermine GMA. But it may step in to defend Arroyo if those who seek to bring her down are connected in any way to Joseph Estrada or the communists, who Washington believes would be worse than GMA.
Who could they be sending this message to? Go figure.
It seems characteristic of the Palace, to me, to overreact to any potential actions by Senator Lacson, who enjoys a reputation for cleverness and ruthlessness (he has more of the latter than the former, I think), just as it seems quite characteristic of the Americans not to particularly bother about the Philippines when it has bigger fish to fry.
Anyway, my column for today is Country First Always. The punditocracy weighs in with views on the Aragoncillo spy case, such as Dong Puno’s view that it’s all much ado about nothing, and views on the opposition and the Palace’s attitudes towards its opponents: Emil Jurado says the Palace’s enemies are engaging in their own “calibrated preemptive response”; Fel Maragay thinks the Palace’s worst enemies are in the bureaucracy; Bong Wenceslao thinks the opposition isn’t much of a threat, period. Juan Mercado, back from abroad, thinks the country is adrift.
In the blogosphere, Leon Kilat reports on how Catholic bishops are being encouraged to set up blogs; TPM cafe has a link to a new essay on American politics (the essay defines it as the politics of polarization); Bulletproof Vest has some spy-related links and an analysis of the lapses in grammar of a top Philippine official; Parallel Universes comments on the difficulties Filipino doctors-turned-nurses are having in some parts of the USA; Yuga analyzes Inq7.net and decides it has too many ads; Carlos Celdran blasts ANC.
Curious historical footnote of the day: a quotation from a book by Napoleon Hill in Sky Ferret has Hill claiming he counseled Manuel L. Quezon on how to be successful:
There is a well-recognized power in setting up a definite goal. Few, however, realize the power of setting a realistic time limit in which one intends to attain that goal. After having counseled Senor Quezon for some years, I induced him to set a definite time limit for freeing the Philippines and becoming the new nation’s leader. I also prepared an affirmation which he repeated to himself daily. It closed with a statement of this nature. “I will allow no person’s opinion, no influence to enter my mind which does not harmonize with my purpose.” Both the time limit and the affirmation were of great help to Quezon in knowing his own mind and keeping his own direction in the face of the enormous difficulties which besets him.