The Long View: She is as they are

She is as they are
By Manuel L. Quezon III

THERE are two things I have been saying in private since the present political crisis broke out. The first: We must assume that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has no choice – and no other desire - but to be president for life. The second: Her presidency is being propped up by the most immovable of forces: a stubborn refusal by many Filipinos to reject her, because to do so would entail rejecting themselves.

For both reasons, it is dangerous to hold on to the romantic notion that Ms Arroyo and her supporters are susceptible to appeals to “the better angels of their nature.” We face their fiendish refusal; the demon of selfish class interest has possessed them.

On the first point, does anyone really believe that even if the President makes it to June 30, 2010, she can quietly go into retirement? The most she would have accomplished by then is postpone a debacle. Bereft of presidential immunity, deprived of access to the national treasury, lacking the power to hire, promote and fire, stripped of the ability to issue orders as commander in chief, who will defend her? Who will protect her? Certainly not a Congress - or parliament – which, even today, needs all sorts of inducements just to muster a quorum. Definitely not the governors or mayors who support her now because she’s dangling an extra term, election-free. Surely not the people who, her own defenders claim, are virtuously above “all the political noise.” So who among the citizenry will budge even if she squeals bloody murder? No, she has to keep going, and going, and going.

On the second point: Filipinos find it difficult to reject Ms Arroyo because she embodies everything conservative Filipinos want to be, admire and respect. She enjoys social prominence; she is extremely well-educated, she is clearly capable of being cultivated, even polished; she can be elegant or, at least, handle herself without the obvious insecurity of a parvenu; she has been, in so many respects, to the Manor born. She speaks the right languages, went to the right schools, belongs to the right church, married into the right family, and is aloof – even contemptuous of the coarse manners and enthusiasms of the vulgar herd.

There are those who are furious at Cory Aquino, and who say she’s only interested in getting even because of Hacienda Luisita. What about the Arroyo haciendas? Let’s list them down: Hacienda Bacan, Hacienda Manolita. (Hacienda Grande was chopped up – with most of the slices going to family members; hundreds of hectares were handed out by the President and her husband, but some farmers’ groups are complaining that all they got was hot air.) Has anyone heard whether the Arroyos even attempted a stock sharing plan, or are the Arroyo tenants still living blissfully in the 19th century, resting under the shade of the generous paunch of the President’s husband? All we’ve heard, particularly in the case of Hacienda Bacan, is the Arroyos’ claim that their loving tenants want the property removed from land reform coverage. So forget about even a token land reform.

If Cory Aquino has not done enough, it’s because she’s not even the largest – much less the sole – owner of Hacienda Luisita. And I know for a fact that as far as she’s concerned, if the government wants it, it can take it; except that her other relatives cling to it.

But set that aside for a moment and ponder this: The apologists of the President rage against communists and how evil they are; then in the same breath repeat communist propaganda about Hacienda Luisita. Can it be anything else but a smoke screen? Talk about smoke-belching.

Then again, if you cannot attack frontally, attack from the rear and at the heels. Unleash little lapdogs - like lawyer Romela Bengzon - to yip and yap at Cory’s heels. (That, too, should serve as a reward for Bengzon who was one of the main sponsors of the Consultative Commission’s notorious proposal to keep Ms Arroyo in power, and to expand her powers, too. The other sponsor was lawyer Raul Lambino, who replied with an emphatic “Yes” to former Sen. Vicente Paterno’s pointed question as to whether their proposed amendments effectively gave Ms Arroyo the same power Ferdinand Marcos accorded himself in 1972. As a result, Paterno has disowned participation in the Consultative Commission and Charter chanage.)

And if the canine behavior of the Palace pooches weren’t bad enough, there are those whom a commentator calls the “Pekingese press” (a phrase apparently coined by an American journalist, Jimmy Breslin). Members of the Pekingese press, commentator Manuel Buencamino points out, find nothing wrong with asking the question: “As the world rushes aid to the victims of the Leyte landslide, why are the political players of Manila more engrossed with power grabs?” Buencamino points out such comments are “a shameless act of enlisting the dead as soldiers to protect his self-elected patroness, Gloria Arroyo.” George Bush tried to do with the 9/11 dead what government apologists are doing with the Leyte victims, except that in America, the victims’ families denounced Bush. It took someone of our threatened media to point out that an apologist like Alex Magno is “nothing but a maggot feasting on Leyte’s cadavers.” Like all others who use the Leyte tragedy to defend the President.

Says Philippine National Police chief Arturo Lomibao: “I am trained to command with arms, rather than with words.” That is the argument of the brute; the defining statement of this administration’s governance. That so many are prepared to accept it says as much about them as it does about the administration proud to hear its people utter such lines. It is a society that will stubbornly defend Ms Arroyo because its members and she believe in the golden rule: Whoever has the gold makes the rules. A mentality best described by the Spanish word, “Somos.”

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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