July 15, 2005

Fearless forecast

It is becoming clearer by the day that the outcome of the political crisis swamping government and wracking the country today hinges on how it will finally be resolved.

The events of July 8, have been the most earthshaking for the Arroyo regime since the explosive revelation of her wiretapped calls to Commissioner Garcellano in what many believe constitutes a conspiracy to manipulate the results of the 2005 elections in Mrs. Arroyo’s favor.

In quick succession, ten key officials of the Arroyo administration resigned while calling for the resignation of their former boss followed by similar calls from the Makati Business Club, the Liberal Party and former President Corazon Aquino.

It is said that had the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued a stand that in any way hinted it favored Mrs. Arroyo’s stepping down, that would have been the end of her rule.

Thereafter, the anticipated withdrawal of support from the Commander-in-chief by sections of the military, if not the chain of command itself, would have been the coup d’ grace.

But the bishops took time in issuing their statement and eventually did so in ambiguous, some say self-contradictory terms. Malacañang immediately interpreted the bishops’ statement in its favor. Unfortunately, the public had been primed by mass media and political pundits that whatever the conclave of bishops would say would have cataclysmic implications for GMA. That is why anything short of a call for resignation tended to appear to be an endorsement of Mrs. Arroyo’s continued stay.

Meantime former President Ramos, stepped into the fray and saved the Queen but not without exacting his reward. Even if it may be farfetched to conclude that Mr. Ramos is now running the government, his influence in how Mrs. Arroyo will deal with the crisis and how juicy Cabinet positions will be apportioned has increased tremendously.

At this time Mrs. Arroyo appears emboldened to cling to power and is consolidating her remaining base of support. Malacañang has gone on a non-stop media offensive, including paid ads from various sectors professing loyalty to her and “constitutional processes”, as she seeks to project an image of being in firm control of the reins of government.

Will President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo last and if so, how much longer?

This column takes the view that Mrs. Arroyo’s days in Malacañang are numbered. Regime change will take place sooner than later; the key question now is how Mrs. Arroyo will eventually be removed from office.

The Arroyo camp insists that it can only be through an impeachment process. They claim that this is the only route that is constitutional and will not undermine the rule of law and so-called democratic institutions. Legal luminaries have disputed this notion but this government line is not surprising.

Malacañang thinks this is the safest route to redirect the demands for GMA resignation because the current balance of forces in Congress favors Mrs. Arroyo. Speaker de Venecia and the Lakas-NUCD think they will handily defeat any impeachment move despite the defection to the minority of most of the members of the Liberal Party.

The administration challenge to those calling for Mrs. Arroyo to go to Congress and try to have her impeached is actually a tactic to derail the growing movement calling for her resignation. But as recent history has proven in the case of former President Joseph Estrada, the impeachment process is not necessarily a way out for an embattled regime.

The necessary number of votes for impeachment no longer looks formidable as political alliances shift in a very fluid situation. Even now the Opposition has announced that it is close to getting one-third or the required number of Congressmen willing to impeach GMA.

As to the resignation scenario, Mrs. Arroyo’s remaining allies such as the Philippine Chamber of Commerce put it quite accurately when they assert that the call for resignation hinges on Mrs. Arroyo’s decision alone. And she has categorically and repeatedly said that she will not resign. Similarly the CBCP statement leaves it up to her conscience which unfortunately amounts to the same thing as Mrs. Arroyo by all indications will not resign on her own.

The problem with the open splits in the Arroyo regime and the institutions that backed her is that while these serve as major factors in helping to bring down her government, there is still the missing key ingredient.

And that is, the rejection by the majority of the people of Mrs. Arroyo, dramatically and unambiguously manifested no less, than by the flooding of the country’s major thoroughfares with the people’s warm bodies. In other words, what used to be hailed by the likes of Mrs. Arroyo, former presidents Corazon Aquino and General Fidel Ramos, the Catholic Church, mass media and the United States of America in glowing terms as “people power”.

Even sources in the military confirm that disgruntled groups and those who want to see an end to the Arroyo regime will not make any move to withdraw their support without masses of people demonstrating in the streets of Manila and elsewhere.

Thus it appears that all roads will eventually lead to the ouster scenario. Mrs. Arroyo will have to be forced out of office. She will have to hightail out of Malacañang the way her predecessor did, on the heels of an outraged throng gathered at the gates of the presidential palace.

If and when this happens, an extra constitutional change in government looms as the most likely outcome. In which case, the likelihood of Vice President Noli de Castro taking over is eclipsed. Some form of transitional arrangement will then come to the fore that is not necessarily confined to the legal framework prescribed in the 1987 Constitution.

Already there is a widespread and growing sentiment that it is not enough to change Mrs. Arroyo only to install a regime that will turn out to be as corrupt, undemocratic and subservient to foreign interests and the vested interests of the elite in this country; that is, a regime that will go through another cycle of instability and crisis that will necessitate its being booted out as well.

It indicates a widespread realization that “people power” must aim for more than it has achieved in the past. It bears close watching whether the overall situation and the moves of various political forces working for Mrs. Arroyo’s ouster will allow such an aspiration to come to pass.

July 15-16, 2005


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