Epidemic of messiahnism (updated)

American blogger (and fellow Palamas Media person) Austin Bay sends a shiver (of something approaching delight, over the attention, including an ongoing conversation with Philippine Commentary, it seems to me) in the Filipino blogosphere over focusing on coup rumors: part one and part two takes a look at reports from various sources, including a Voice of America article (with the kind of unflattering picture of the President that’s de rigeur; incidentally, Jove Francisco has an insider’s view of what transpired in the Palace yesterday). Ricky Carandang asks, what’s going on?

I’d ask, not only what, but why, and add, further, it would be wrong that the country has reached its present, crucial, juncture, simply due to the egotism of the soldiery and the ambitions of some within the citizenry.

First and foremost, the President has brought it upon herself.

Oscar Lagman, in his Business World column today, catalogs the reasons why the Armed Forces of the Philippines are upset with the President (click on the image below to download his column).

Riding The Tiger-2

Lagman summarizes the President’s strategy -which is boomeranging- as follows:

Cognizant of the fact that the withdrawal of support of the generals of the armed units of the government was what finally brought Erap down (she never fails to take the opportunity to express her gratitude to the military for its contribution to her ascent to the presidency), GMA has been courting the personal loyalty of the generals from the day she took over from Erap so they would not themselves plot against her. She has pleased the pliable but undeserving with quick promotions and choice assignments in the military/police establishment and rewarded those who served her personal interests well with Cabinet appointments, high-paying jobs in government corporations, and ambassadorial posts, appointments for which the ex-generals were not trained.

She hopes that each appointment has a multiplier effect on PMA graduates whose fraternal ties welded during their academy days made them closer than brothers throughout their military careers and beyond.

The President, too, in the civilian sphere has embarked on an arrogation of power virtually unprecedented; her allies either on her sufferance or with her active connivance, have embarked on the most shameless and squalid effort to establish an unaccountable oligarchy we’ve ever seen. As I’ve repeatedly pointed out, pointing to Machievelli (and Sun Tzu, too!), the President lacks a happy shrewdness; she is neither loved, nor, increasingly, feared; in Italian renaissance terms, she relies on the nobility to maintain her in power; and she lacks judgment in choosing her ministers. That the public at large dislikes her, but would tolerate her “for lack of an alternative,” only goes to prove that the seductiveness of the reasoning of tyrants and dictators is a spell not only hard to break, but difficult to resist: better Hitler, his autobahns, and the Volkswagen, than the Communists! Mussolini made the trains run on time! GMA Cares!

Yet there is, as Newsstand observed, the necessity of pointing out the reality of the situation. Two things are at work here: the President’s culpability in making a train wreck of government, and the equally botched efforts of her opponents to pursue constitutional paths to redemption.

Observers more cold-blooded than I might conclude that an epidemic of messiahnism has struck significant swathes of our population (including, I would think, the ranks of the administration, eager to wrap the flag and constitution around itself). The Armed Forces, after the marvelous failure that was the 2003 Oakwood Mutiny, is feverish with adventurism again; surely civilian cheerleaders can’t be far behind. Newsstand, in his entry linked above, has no patience for military messiahs:

…What recommends San Juan, or any Magdalo mutineer for that matter, as our country’s savior? That they were incompetent enough to botch their coup attempt in 2003? That they are two-faced enough to apologize, in public, to the President for their role in the mutiny a couple of years later? That they are hypocritical enough to lambaste corruption and cronyism in the military and yet depend on their own set of cronies and network of contacts in the military to escape detention or enjoy unusual privileges? That they are cowardly enough to find courage in their arms and makeshift bombs and other instruments of violence?

Let the mutineers (one of whom was just arrested today) answer themselves. Newsbreak Magazine has made available an interview conducted with four of the putschists (click below to download the interview, which will appear in its next issue).

Hot Seat-Magdalo

From the interview, an illuminating extract:

Q. But other soldiers would say that Oakwood was a failure and because of this they would not join another failure.

Rabonza: We’ve been telling them that it was not a failure. In fact, it became an eye-opener to a lot in the AFP and the civilians. They told us before, why not wait for the 2004 elections? Look what happened in that election.

San Juan: If Oakwood was a failure, then we should not have escaped from jail. More recruits would not be joining us now. We are still defiant, and even those in detention — despite the restrictions — continue to break the chain of command. We have former comrades, who were very bold and very radical [during Oakwood] and who are [now with government.] But they are isolated. They told us that after Oakwood, the job is done and that we should just accept our punishment.

Compare the above with what Generalissimo Francisco Franco said, at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War:

Q. What would your government do, if you won?
A. I would establish a military dictatorship.
Q. What would happen to the politicians of the republic?
A. Nothing, except they would have to go to work.
Q. Why were you able to collaborate with the government in apparent loyalty for so long?
A. I collaborated loyally as long as I thought the Republic represented the national will.
Q. What about the February elections? Don’t they represent the national will?
A. Elections never do.

Are there significant differences? And are the differences reassuring? Put another way, I would invite the reader to ponder the following questions, in trying to discern their own opinions -and convictions- in the face of coup-related news:

1. Is a coup merely a possibility, or an inevitability?
2. If it is merely a possibility, is a coup something that should be discouraged, or encouraged?
3. If it is inevitable, are the chances for success high, or low? Even if inevitable, is it being rashly accelerated by outside manipulation, for example, by a government that would prefer a bungled coup attempt now, to a successful one, later?
4. Either way, what would be the consequences for the country, in the short and long term?
5. And what will the consequences be, for the average citizen, never mind officials or those already politically involved on either side?
6. Are the circumstances such, that a coup, in the first place, becomes a manifestation of the inherent right of the citizenry to overthrow a despotic regime? Does a tyrannical, or illegitimate, regime exist?
7. Even presuming the right to revolt can be invoked, by what authority do (by necessity, a small minority composed of the armed forces, assisted or at the very least, unimpeded by civilian forces) those planning to move, have the right to move?
8. Does anyone, whether in or outside government, for or against the present administration, know enough about the motivations, plans, methods, inclinations of the military, to form an educated and discerning opinion about the proclaimed plans of those who want to mount a coup?
9. If so, will one be passive or active in response? If not, is passivity even an option?
10. And as for reform, what proof is there, that a national consensus exists, as to which avenues of reform to pursue? All questions concerning the administration focus on two, simple issues: the President is not the legitimate president, or, the President’s previous legitimacy has been made irrelevant by her action since July, 2005. This being the case, is not the call of the times simply to restore what has been lost -a chief executive with an indubitable mandate- and that therefore, the task of reform should only be pursued once proper presidential elections have been held, and not before?

I believe these questions are urgent. They are necessary. They should be answered (others have been asking similar questions, too). I am particularly emphatic about what sort of claim anyone can make as to the existence of a national consensus: in June, 2005, I called for the process to begin; in September, 2005, I said a consensus must be accomplished within five months: those five months have come to pass. The question of a consensus and our common ideals acquires a special urgency because we are confronted by Edsa I, and our being the heirs of the freedom gained, and maintained, since then.

Austin Bay also points to a Time Magazine by Anthony Spaeth (once upon a time, not one of my favorite American parachute journalists, although since Edsa III, I’ve ended up reconsidering my vehement objections to his points somewhat: see my blog entry on the conditions that lead to coups being considered to eliminate a government, or preserve it):

In the past few months, an alarming range of prominent Filipinos has gone public to insist that the only cure for the country is “revolutionary change” or “a change in the system.” When they stop mincing words, they say a dictatorship would be useful, at least for a few years. People Power is a national pride, but also a curse — a Pandora’s Box that, in the minds of many, should be permanently welded shut.

I do believe that a citizen, to borrow a phrase from the late Teodoro M. Locsin, Sr., can -and should- “thunder and shrill” when government fails to address the aspirations of the citizenry. But there is a big difference between a citizen marching in the streets, or writing manifestos, or pondering the urgent tasks required to renew the nation, and the citizen who is armed, and thus has an absolute veto against debate. The ultimate question is, if People Power has been criticized as too much of a shortcut, is a coup anything less? Or is it time to cut the Gordian knot?

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Manuel L. Quezon III.

22 thoughts on “Epidemic of messiahnism (updated)

  1. We can of course ponder about all the questions for good answers until 2010 and beyond. Meanwhile GMA could be saying in turn, ohh those intellecuals? they have no balls, they are just good on philosophizing but fear blood and gore. Then she orders her loyal men to hunt down and put behind bars our society’s idealists because they’re unduly destabilizing her sleep and good plans. And hands over the custodianship of our institutions to the likes of two-disc Bunye, two-faced Defensor, Habacon, and their other outstanding kind.

    She should resign but she won’t. How do we deal with that?

  2. At least dictators like Franco and Pinochet set the stage for the economic take-off of their respective countries. Franco’s comprehensive tourism programs, initiated by a young Manuel Fraga, started from the grassroots and laid the basis for an economic miracle that had its humble beginnings in tourism. Franco also had an ambitious industrial program, developing the steel and shipbuilding industry (at one point it became one of the world’s biggest shipbuilders) and automotive industry (bringing in Fiat, Volkswagen and GM). Franco also developed Spain’s hydroelectric power and built nuclear power plants. Industry would be assured of a continuous and reliable source of power, free from the uncertainties of imported gas and oil.

    In short, Franco laid the groundwork for Spain’s economic miracle and, in the end, he made sure there was a smooth transition into democracy by setting up the monarchy to rule after his death. He brought the future king to Madrid and handpicked the king’s tutors and professors. After Franco’s death, there was much rumbling from the military, which was averse to political noise brought in by the new democratic space. But the stability provided for by a monarchy prevailed and democracy, as well as economic prosperity, continues to this day.

    Pinochet, despite the demonization he has been subjected to, provided stability to Chile and also laid the groundwork for the only economic miracle in Latin America during the past 30 years.

    Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathir Mohammad are also examples of dictators who did good for their countries and ushered in prosperity. That is what makes Marcos such a tragic figure, because he could have done the Philippines a lot of good.

  3. Dicatators lifting their country…..

    Per Joker EO464 makes GMA a quasi dictator( afew minutes ago he was at the SC regarding EO464)

    Do we really want a dictator to lift us…remember that was the tactic used by lacson during his campaign…we all know what happened next…..

  4. “The ultimate question is, if People Power has been criticized as too much of a shortcut, is a coup anything less? Or is it time to cut the Gordian knot?”

    Although, i am a military brat..i never was a fan of coups..

    Ok if we don’t want short cuts let’s wait for the next impeachment to be filed to test our patience and attention deficit syndrome…

  5. Carl,

    I was told that the massive infrastructure-building projects that FVR took on during his term were based on Marcos projects for the capital region. I’m inclined to believe the person who said it.

  6. Karl,

    I agree with you.

    A brewing coup d’etat in a nation is an extremely strong reflection of a very inefficient, untrustworthy and corrupt commander-in-chief and by extension his/her government.

    A coup d’etat spells and will inevitably spell deeper social, political and economic disorders and greater unrest. Moreover, a successful coup d’etat does not guarantee that the civilian scums in government will not be replaced by military scums.

    That the population must face such an extraordinary dilemma today is proof that the current occupant has pushed the nation to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea or worse, is pushing the republic to the brink of a civil war.

    Short of America’s or Bush’ withdrawal of support for the current commander-in-chief, who continues to aggress her people with her continuing breach of law and all that is moral needed to sustain a republic, how do you topple this government of agression that has more guns, more goons and more gold than all the opposition groups combined (without an armed backing by members of the institution whose constitutional mandate is to protect the people from external and internal agressions)?

  7. I copy ADB

    I know what happened…you pressed submit more than once because comment did not appear..

    i too keep on forgetting the note below….
    Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.

    Mea Culpa or My Bad

  8. Sacré bleu! Mille excuses MLQ3! I don’t know how I did that – posted my entry three times! How embarassing…

  9. What does not kill you, makes you stronger.

    That could be true to GMA.
    GMA was able to deflect all the crisis thrown at her.
    She killed the impeachment early by her pork barrel fatted congress.
    She shutdown senate with her EO464.
    She secured military by rewarding her generals.
    She avoided the church pastoral call for resignation by giving the church what they wanted like scrapping the mining act.
    In short, GMA had done an excellent job in diminishing those who opposed her.

    If you care to look at Philippine TV shows, it is either about press information about GMA’s program or the overwhelming drama genre patronizing the underdog. It is not farfetched for the viewers to see GMA as an underdog considering all the political drama and crisis.

    Even GMA’s friend in Senator Santiago accurately pointed out that the press office has bigger budget than the more important and larger offices like the Department of Budget & Management (DBM) or the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA).

  10. GMA is largely seen to finish her mandate until 2010 unless she committed a terrible blunder than the Garci episode.

  11. Recently, GMA announced that she will work to scrap the death penalty which is another big score for the catholic church. No military action had been successful in the past without the blessing of the powerful catholic church.

    The planned tactical alliance by the idealist young military officers with the old communist rebels is indicative of growing frustration and hopelessness. It is also a huge mistake because the relationship will only serve to keep the church from giving its blessings which is badly needed to change the national leadership.

    Civil disobedience is best seen as another failure. It cannot translate to non-payment of taxes which is the best way to starve-off government revenue. Individuals get their salaries net of taxes.

    The intended effect can be done by few senators who have the power to assign a one peso budget. But no one has the courage to sacrifice oneself let alone accuse of bullying the lowly government workers except those in the justice and press department.

    GMA can only exploit the recent situations to continue her mandate until 2010.

  12. Mrs. de Brux, FVR could well have borrowed a few pages from his cousin. After all, there were some things that Ferdinand Marcos did right. In today’s issue of the Philippine Star, Boo Chanco (who certainly cannot be said to be sympathetic to the former dictator) comments on Ronnie Velasco and the Marcos energy program, and I quote:

    “It was a pity that after EDSA 1, the Cory administration threw the energy plan we prepared into the trash heap. The country paid dearly for this act of political myopia. It didn’t take long for serious power blackouts to plague the economy in the late 80s and early 90s. If only they pursued the program we had evolved under Velasco, if only they built on it and given it the importance it deserved, maybe we wouldn’t have had the blackouts which were used by FVR as reason to sign all those IPP take or pay contracts that solved our emergency need for power but produced a glut and raised our power cost so much that it continues to hobble the economy today.”

    Another person whom FVR looked up to was Mahathir of Malaysia, who was also an advocate of massive infrastructure and industrial projects. Witness Petronas Towers and the Proton project. To some extent they were gambles, but they have paid off great dividends. And these dividends are not just economic in nature. Malaysians take great pride in these projects. It gives them an identity.

  13. I agree, there were things right on Marcos like the energy program.

    I cannot understand our vengeful attitude on mothballing the Bataan nuclear plant and yet we are still paying the loan and interest today without any benefit to us. Our government had not asked any loan relief from IMF or international court either. The Hawaii case could have been pursued to include indemnification of contract entered by Marcos government.

    Today, we have a double hit, one – we are still paying the Bataan loan and interest, two – high energy cost due to non-use of nuclear energy program which we put into waste.

  14. Carl, dodong,

    I wholeheartedly agree with your views on past energy policies/actions/non-actions…and the present debt situation they created.

    GMA continued to feed this problem during her “first” term by allowing Napocor’s debt to continue to balloon. I was very frustrated by that, but I also realized that she didn’t have the political clout to take bold action as her mandate/Erap’s ouster was quite shaky.

    That said, the present admin’s technocrats have been doing a good job in attacking the power problem and rectifying the situation. Selling Napocor and rationalizing the policies in the energy sector (and creating a true supply-demand calculus) are the right medicines.

    Meanwhile, until the BOC and BIR can be cleaned up, the VAT is a quick, clean way to raise cash and start trimming the debt. Because without solving the debt problem, there’s no way to solve any of the other problems.

  15. “…without solving the debt problem, there’s no way to solve any of the other problems.” …Amen!

    Education? Social Services? Roads, bridges, irrigation canals or other infrastructures? Can’t even talk about improving or expanding those when there’s barely enough money in the budget for salaries because debt servicing consumes more than 3/4 of national revenue.

  16. Geo,

    The move by GMA’s technocrats to solve the ever-ballooning Philippine debts are wonderful on paper but are mere artifices.

    I am convinced that if the Philippines could negotiate many of its debts and even write off huge chunks of their debt with the help of a couple of leaders/members of the G8 nations had the country possessed a credible record of political stability as well as a passable graft & corrupt free government.

    No one, but no one foreign government today would intercede for the Philippines, let alone the USA with the kind of political and corruption record that Gloria’s government has been projecting.

    S&P’s, Moody’s, and other credit risk evaluators who have rated the Philippines recently with what I would generously call “encouraging” economic/credit points will be hard put to sustain their assessment or to give the country a more than “encouraging mark” given the negative factors that continue to beset Gloria’s management of the country: corruption, graft, runaway population, natural disasters (government’s inability to pre-manage natural disasters/calamities), security threats, etc.

    Which individual foreign country today, particularly from Europe, would back up its own business investors to invest in the Philippines today? NONE.

    The Philippines is very difficult to sell as an investment ground because it is an extremely high risk investment zone, period! No serious world-class investors today would consider financing an enterprise in the Philippines unless their own governments gave their financial guarantees.

    The OFWs are the only serious “foreign” investors that the country have today and they’ve proven that with their more than 10-billion dollar remittances for 2005.

    Bottom line is the Philippines must have a credible political government before it can attract serious foreign investors.

  17. Geo,

    Allow me these remarks on Mahathir (I lived in Malaysia for 4 years when my husband was Pres-CEO for Malaysia-Singapore of one of the world’s largest conglomerates):

    Mahathir prescribed and enforced a cap or ‘ceiling of corruption’ for backshish in Malaysia during his tenure – 5%, with the bulk being invested right back into his own political party that poured, distributed, invested the money back into investments for the country’s own industries.

    Mahathir DID NOT gamble on national projects because he kept a tight watch over contract negotiations and enforcements of contracts signed by the government.

    Moreover, Mahathir didn’t have a beggar’s mentality and ceratinly enforced the ‘no begging’ practice by his people in government: MODERN FOREIGN TECHNOLOGIES WERE PURCHASED and were not begged for by Malaysia under his term which encouraged no-nonsense foreign businesses to invest heavily in the nation’s industrial and high-tech projects.

    That’s how Malaysia became economically progressive under Mahathir.

  18. And I can tell you this much: Under Cory’s government, the backshish cap for a government contract was an average of 45%.

    Under FVR: practically the same % although he put a semblance of tougher measures with his self-reliance projects, an extension of the BOT scheme.

    Under Gloria? Don’t know… no-nosense foreign companies don’t want to deal with the Philippines anymore!

  19. adb wrote:

    “I am convinced that if the Philippines could negotiate many of its debts and even write off huge chunks of their debt with the help of a couple of leaders/members of the G8 nations had the country possessed a credible record of political stability as well as a passable graft & corrupt free government.”

    ***Which debts could governments forgive? Aren’t the majority of debts vis issued paper (T-bills, bonds, etc)? And have G8 countries ever forgiven national debts other than for incredibly poor countries (for ex, in Africa) or for countries just as they transitioned from communist leaderships to democratic ones (in east Europe, for ex)?

    If there ever was a chance to get the Philippine debts forgiven, I think that was after Marcos’ dictatorship was toppled. That time has come and gone.

    I strongly doubt debts would be forgiven now if Gloria is forcibly ousted (even if a saint takes over). If anything, it is virtually assured that the debt burden would get bigger/worse if GMA is ousted or if the country stops improving it’s financial and economic improvements.

    You also wrote:

    “No serious world-class investors today would consider financing an enterprise in the Philippines unless their own governments gave their financial guarantees.”


    “The OFWs are the only serious “foreign” investors that the country have today.”


    “no-nosense foreign companies don’t want to deal with the Philippines anymore!”

    ***Patently false. The facts clearly say otherwise. However, these investors DO point to the incessant political noise which espouse non-constitutional actions.

  20. Geo,


    How can you begin to discuss a potential G8 debt write if you fail to recognize that the Philippines is one of the world’s poorest countries in the ranks of some African nations? This is a fact (check your economy index rating).

    I will admit to one thing however: under Gloria’s mandate, there have been a few foreign investments (which include dubious but ‘worthwhile’ heavy investments by foreign gambling lords) not the class of investors that a country needs to fly off to the level of developed Asian countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, China and even in wobbly Thailand.

    I’m talking here of world-class investments by billion-dollar earning companies and not just an investment trifle of 1 or 2 million dollars!

    Factual example: The company my husband was working for invested heavily when they set up their Asian manufacturing operations in the Philippines during FVR’s term but pulled out the bulk of what could have been one of nation’s multi-million dollar remitting businesses when Erap was deposed.

    Let’s get our facts right: although the country’s GDP is passable, poverty incidence is growing at an alarming rate, translated loosely, the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer and the gap widening more than ever.

    FACT: The single most decisive factor which keeps the economy from going bust is because the 8.5 million OFWs’ more than 10 billion dollars (2005 BSP figure) in remittances allow Gloria to service foreign debts.

    This is one untampered data that should define the OFWs as the country’s biggest ‘foreign investors’ today. Compare that to so-called Philippine total big business earnings of roughly less than 8 billion US $ (which one hopes these big businesses are pumping right back in their local operations but I seriously doubt that because there are evidences of a strong capital flight from the country). And this is a fact!

    With regard to the political noise that investors point to and to which you allude, I must remind you that Gloria and her cabal themselves created that pattern of political noise barrages (and continue to provoke the political infighting thus scaring off investors both local and foreign) when she and her friends deposed a duly-elected president of the republic.

    Moreover, Gloria has not deemed it fit to alter her own governance and instead maintained the same poor, bad governance as the one that she had violently rebuked earlier on. Absolute and irrefutable facts!

    Overall, these facts are summed up as follows: graft much too prevalent on all levels of bureaucracy, politically very unstable, extremely high risk investment zone, government is much too corrupt, internal security threats are worsening, very inadequate infrastructures, etc.

    You must admit that those facts are not particularly attractive to world class investors…

    Of course, like any Pinay who feels strongly for her country, I would like to be proven utterly, completely wrong but am I totally wrong?

    For the moment, I do believe that in order to reverse these trends, something’s got to be done. I am truly interested to know what you think should be done.

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