The Long View: Racing against the clock


Racing against the clock

 / 05:09 AM October 11, 2017

In politics, the most direct path from point A to point B is a zigzag and not a straight line. To try otherwise is to line up possible opponents all in a row: big business, media, the military, the bureaucracy, the Supreme Court, foreign allies (or those with influence), the Church, and the political class. Creating one collision after another heightens the risk factor in terms of the two variables — public opinion and time — that can get in the way of achieving your objective. In his time, Ferdinand Marcos, who famously said never make a decision when you are angry, hungry, or happy, mastered the management of time and public opinion as he island-hopped his way to dictatorship, isolating or co-opting each possible opponent in turn. Cory Aquino, intent merely on presiding over a constitutional handover of power, was able to weather a collision with the military. Fidel V. Ramos, in attempting Charter change, nearly did it, except memories of Marcos were still too fresh. Joseph Estrada was reckless. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo first played the China card to stay in power, then moderated her aims to finishing her term and laying the foundation by means of midnight appointments, to ride out her successor’s term. Benigno Aquino III alienated big players by taking a level playing field too seriously, anointing a successor perceived as a traitor to his class by his peers, offended the middle class by attempting to confront emotion with reason.

What the President’s — or his coalition’s — objectives lack in detail or focus are more than made up for by ambition. Eliminate direct election by the public of the head of government; unite executive and legislative to assure department control by legislators (securing, in turn, iron-clad fiefdoms for local barons while eliminating national figures as rivals); and reorganize (purge) the bureaucracy, while allowing local business to sell out to foreign ownership. All of this under cover of the very thing the ruling coalition wants to eventually eliminate as a factor in our politics: national opinion, which confers (and takes away) public support on presidents.

The President’s dilemma — as the Plaza Miranda government rally last Sept. 21, and the barely – noticed gatherings at the Quirino Grandstand and Plaza Independencia in Cebu over the weekend showed — is that online fervor and high survey ratings still can’t be translated into warm bodies to publicly show support. At least, this hasn’t been the case since the campaign. Convinced that the best defense is a good offense, the President continues to present a moving target: when it became indisputable that public opinion had turned against the police, the President made a cosmetic announcement yesterday: The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, he said, will now do all the talking on the so-called war on drugs (a smokescreen he’s been belching since January, with statistics handed over last May and repeated trial balloons in August and in September).

He must govern by fear. Big business has been taught to toe the line by avoiding expressing anything other than praise, what with the fate of those businesses that have angered the President or his people. Media remains on the defensive as audiences shrink. The military, under sane and cautious leadership of Delfin Lorenzana and Eduardo Año, is holding the line against political adventurism by civilian leaders (even the recent appointment of Gen. Rolando Bautista as Army Chief does not change this). The bureaucracy is what it is. In the Supreme Court, yesterday’s decision on Senator Leila de Lima suggests the four appointments of the President so far (with at least two more by next year) are fortifying a comfortable majority in important decisions to come. The China card neutralizes all other foreign opinion. The Church is still practicing prudence. This leaves the political class, which has a breather in terms of barangay elections finally being postponed, while depriving the President of the opportunity to appoint OICs. While the Comelec (and one assumes, enterprising politicians) figure out what to do with the 59 million blank ballots already printed, the May 2018 polls presents a problem: All the machines will have to calibrate, not now, but in a year.

This is why Koko Pimentel announced PDP-Laban will stop accepting new members this December. Carpet-baggers from the executive branch can be kept out this way, fortifying those in politics before the current era — and ensuring their relevance even beyond the current dispensation. With dropping ratings comes the imperative to position for a post-administration future. After the budget passes next month, impeachment will eat up congressional time, but Charter change has to be concluded by May next year. Otherwise May 2019 will serve as the prelude to the 2022 presidential derby.


Manuel L. Quezon III.

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