July 29, 2005

The people's SONA

The feeling was nothing short of exhilarating as wave upon wave of protestors marched towards the House of Representatives closing off traffic on one side of Commonwealth Avenue, a twelve-lane major thoroughfare in Quezon City, in order to hold the people’s version of the real state-of-the-nation last July 25.

The head of the march could not see the tail end over the sea of people and the giant streamers calling for the resignation or ouster of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Organizers estimated the crowd at its peak to be 80,000 while media gave more modest estimates of 50,000-60,000. It was undoubtedly the biggest anti-GMA rally yet and the biggest protest demonstration on the occasion of a president’s State-of-the-Nation-Address or SONA, at least in the post-Marcos era.

Urban poor residents in communities just off Commonwealth Avenue cheered the marchers on as the latter called out “Pahirap sa masa, patalsikin si Gloria!” (Oust the Gloria regime, an intolerable burden on the people!) Many decided to join and stayed at the rally to listen to the fiery speeches and the enlightening yet intensely moving cultural numbers.

The utterly baseless conclusion by political commentators that the anti-GMA forces would never be able to muster more than 5,000 demonstrators at any one time has now been completely demolished. Major anti-GMA mass actions for which organizers have had relatively enough time to prepare have been getting progressively bigger and livelier.

The fact of the growing size of the demonstrations is undeniable thus detractors have taken another tack. A purported leader of the much, much smaller pro-GMA counter rally at the SONA was quoted by media as saying that “this is not a numbers game” and that what was important was their show of loyalty and support to the President.

Pseudo-political analysts for their part, display their ignorance and/or bias and disregard the fact that the previous people’s uprisings, EDSA 1 and 2, developed over some amount of time. Thus it is pointless to compare the size of the current early build-up in the size of anti-GMA rallies with that of the peak periods in the previous people power exercises that drew hundreds of thousands, if not more than a million people into the streets to topple the ruling regime. Their purpose -- to throw cold water on the political heat being generated against the Arroyo government – is thus fully exposed.

The success of the SONA mass protests was not only measurable in terms of the huge numbers mobilized. Several major alliances -- the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), the Gloria Step Down Movement (GSM), the various groups and personalities identified with former President Joseph Estrada and former presidential candidate, Fernando Poe Jr (FPJ), as well as members of the political opposition -- worked tirelessly to bridge their differences so that a broader unified front of forces committed to making Mrs. Arroyo step down from office could be forged.

It has not been easy. Aside from the fact that there are wide disparities between these forces in political viewpoint and practice, for the Left there are outstanding issues; for example, with regard to the sins of the Estrada regime on the progressive movement and the people as a whole, not to mention the unclosed chapter of the Marcos dictatorship that Representative Imee Marcos brings to the fore every time she conspicuously attends anti-GMA rallies.

But this is akin to the queasy feeling the national democrats (“natdem”) have had relating as tactical allies with former Marcos defense secretary then Senator Juan Ponce Enrile during the anti-US bases campaign as well as “Mr. Trapo” or traditional politician himself, Speaker Joe de Venecia, over the issue of peace talks with the communist led-National Democratic Front.

The feeling of unease was also marked when the militant activists had to march during the anti-Erap movement alongside the “socdems” or social democrats. The latter have always harbored rabidly anti-natdem views and elements such as one of Arroyo’s most trusted men Norberto Gonzales, who has unrelentingly attacked the progressive party list candidates in the 2004 elections, using the well-worn socdem dirty trick of redbaiting.

Then there was the awkward time when leaders of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) had to share the stage in protest rallies with Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) veteran leader Crispin Beltran. The unresolved issue there involves the murder of KMU and Bayan’s chairperson, Rolando Olalia Jr., in connection with the “God save the Queen” coup plot against the Aquino regime that is attributed to the RAM and for which there is an ongoing case in court.

Even now, people old enough to remember how Marcos spokesperson and Information Secretary Kit Tatad, intoned the declaration of martial law, have the heebie jeebies sitting in the same press conference with him as he expounds on why Mrs. Arroyo is a bane to the nation.

Arroyo apologists as well as well-meaning critics of the Left have pointed to the jarring spectacle of Bayan-led forces rubbing elbows, shouting the same slogans and sharing the same stage with loyal pro-Erap groups. Recent history had the former leading the movement to oust Estrada while many among the latter groups still pine for the restoration of Estrada to Malacañang.

But this is all par for the course. Time and again Bayan and its allied organizations have entered into specific, short-term and issue-based alliances even with groups and individuals that are part of the ruling elite and are programmatically and strategically opposed to its radical program of reform. The reason for this is no secret: the national democratic movement is committed to building the broadest unity possible against the narrowest target; that is, the faction of the ruling elite that wields state power and is currently causing the most damage to the lives and long-term interests of the Filipino people. In this stage of the struggle, that is none other the US-backed Arroyo regime.

Which is why, despite the initial adverse reactions to the Left’s current alliance with “trapos”, Erap loyalists, etc. the militants are persisting in the difficult and complicated process of trying to relate to all forces that are fighting to depose the Arroyo regime.

The motivation to momentarily set aside philosophical and political differences and even conflicts, is the overriding need to unite against the illegitimate, morally bankrupt, corrupt, murderous and puppet regime of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and replace it with a government that can begin to lift the country and its people from the morass of poverty, underdevelopment, violent conflicts and political turmoil.

In our book, those are damn good reasons and require no apologies.

July 29-30, 2005

July 22, 2005

People Power revisited

Much has been said in the past weeks about people power. The revival of the discourse about it is significant and critical because of the very real possibility that another one is in the offing – this time to oust the government of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

For the younger generation that has never experienced the Philippine version of people power, an unarmed people’s uprising toppling a ruling regime, the rhetoric can be confusing and discouraging.

Former presidents Corazon C. Aquino and Fidel V. Ramos, as well as the Catholic bishops who inherited the mantle of Jaime Cardinal Sin – the undisputed Triumvirate of People Power – have all recently distanced themselves, if not disparaged this awesome exercise of a people’s sovereignty, each for their own reasons.

One would think that its success in bringing down the Marcos fascist dictatorship as well as the venal Estrada regime, both of which were known to be corrupt and compliant to US policy dictates, would at least earn people power its rightful place in history.

In the past, the political phenomenon of people power was alternately hailed and reviled by those who mold public opinion – the mass media, political analysts, politicians – both here and abroad.

Once upon a time, even the US government cited people power as a beacon of democracy that should inspire other peoples suffering under the yoke of oppression. (President Ronald Reagan by this time had dropped Marcos like a hot potato.)

Subsequently it was ridiculed by the western political establishment and the western press as a recipe for instability, lawlessness and mob rule. (The Aquino government’s record then consisted of a floundering economy, a bogus land reform program, the massacre of peasants and workers demonstrating at the gates of Malacañang Palace, and a series of coup d’etats; that is, a combustible mix of factors that fueled mass protest actions on the streets once more.)

Mrs. Corazon Aquino’s take-over of power rode on the crest of the nationwide struggle to end the Marcos dictatorship. People power then was acclaimed as the most direct expression of the people’s longing for sweeping reforms both in government and in society. Not long after, it was being derided as the result of chronically weak institutions, like political parties and Parliament, in the Philippines’ copycat version of US republican democracy.

More recently, an odd mix of former government bureaucrats, newspaper columnists, so-called “civil society” (at least those associated with the erstwhile pro-GMA alliance called KOMPIL II) and big business representatives, many of whom enthusiastically embraced people power when it suited their purpose, have all taken to spouting Mrs. Arroyo’s line that people power is dangerous, violence-prone, anti-democratic, and a threat to economic progress and political stability.

More insidious is the propaganda that people power is passé, that the people have grown tired and cynical of mass actions and demonstrations that herald people power and that going out into the streets to protest does not achieve anything except tie up traffic.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The people are not tired of protesting in the streets and elsewhere. The fact is that mass protest actions are growing in size, becoming more frequent and gaining a broader constituency especially after the explosive exposes on corruption and electoral fraud surrounding Mrs. Arroyo. Opinionated columnists have been forced to eat their words and acknowledge that people power will likely be the decisive factor in overcoming the Arroyo regime’s intransigence.

Mrs. Arroyo’s adamant refusal to resign, her bid to buy time with legally spurious and politically bankrupt ploys such as the Truth Commission as well as the schemes and maneuverings of her Congressional allies to thwart the impeachment process—all these are bound to anger the people further and convince them that there is no other way but boot GMA out through another people power uprising.

The people are indeed fed up, not only with the cheating, lying, plundering, and murderous US-backed Arroyo regime, but also with the entire system of elite and reactionary rule in this country that has brought the nation to the pits economically, politically and even morally.

No one can dispute the fact that most people feel let down or even betrayed by the governments of Mrs. Aquino and Arroyo, both installed into Malacañang by people power. Neither had brought about any significant improvement in the lives of ordinary Filipinos. In fact, the quality of life has markedly deteriorated even for the miniscule middle class. No wonder Filipinos, including young people, are leaving the country in droves for jobs and better opportunities abroad.

Does this mean then that people are no longer willing to act to change their intolerable situation? Are we to believe the paid hacks in media, the ex-activists co-opted into and enjoying the perks of government office and the ivory tower political analysts who lecture the public about “people power fatigue”?

On the contrary, many people from all walks of life are saying that they do not believe merely replacing Mrs. Arroyo with another one like her, with the same vested interests, the same mindset and the same political track record will solve anything.

Many have slowly come to the conclusion that this nation is ripe for earthshaking, fundamental changes that will break the cycle of crisis that has plagued the country post independence.

Rather than indicate “people power fatigue,” such developing consciousness proves many Filipinos are indeed learning the lessons of history, albeit intuitively and common sensically.

They want the next people power uprising to bring about more substantial and meaningful changes in their lives and in the direction this country is taking compared to the earlier people power exercises.

They certainly do not want a Noli de Castro to simply take over from Mrs. Arroyo, in much the same way Mrs. Arroyo conveniently and effortlessly took over from Mr. Joseph Estrada. They do not want a transfer of power that sidelines not just people power but the interests, welfare and voice of the Filipino people, especially the majority of exploited and oppressed sectors.

What the people hanker for may be nothing short of revolutionary change.

July 22-23, 2005

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

July 08, 2005

Exit frame

Mene mene tekel upharsin…” ( You have been weighed and found wanting.) Daniel 5:25-28

The writing is on the wall and only the mighty that are blinded by their desperate desire to cling to power fail to see it. The question on most everyone’s mind, if not lips, nowadays is no longer whether President Gloria-Macapagal-Arroyo should stay or not but how she will go.

Less than two weeks ago, the debates centered on whether Mrs. Arroyo’s admission that she spoke with COMELEC Commissioner Virgilio “Garci” Garcellano was a mere lapse in judgement or constituted an impeachable offense. People were being asked whether or not Mrs. Arroyo deserves a second chance to stay in office after her public apology or whether she should resign.

The militant mass organizations of workers, peasants, urban poor, women and youth as well as the progressive organizations of church people, government employees, teachers and other professionals had long ago made up their minds.

They held the Arroyo government responsible for policies that further worsened the impoverishment of the common tao, devastated the economy and saddled it with a gargantuan debt burden, as well as fuelled armed conflicts and aggravated social unrest.

They denounced her for politically repressive policies and for kowtowing to foreign vested interests. Even before the damaging issues of jueteng and electoral fraud had surfaced and provided triggers for the reinvigorated protest movement, the nationalist and democratic forces allied under the banner of BAYAN were calling for an end to the “US backed-Arroyo regime”.

The anti-GMA groups and personalities identified with former President Estrada and diseased presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr, Mrs. Arroyo’s closest rival in the 2004 elections, as well as others in the Opposition revived their charges that Mrs. Arroyo had resorted to massive cheating and thereby, was illegally installed in office. They unequivocally demanded Mrs. Arroyo’s ouster or forced resignation.

But by and large the “middle forces” or those who constitute the middle classes and whose political stance has historically tended to be apolitical if not conservative, except when sufficiently offended or provoked, had not taken a categorical stand one way or the other.

However, in the last week and a half, an avalanche of organizations of students, faculty and even entire universities as well as the hierarchy of various churches and their faithful have called for Mrs. Arroyo to resign.

Lawyers’ groups have also spoken up pointing to the multiple crimes Mrs. Arroyo committed as revealed in the “Hello Garci” tapes. Influential voices such as the Jose W. Diokno Foundation has not minced words and declared that “the issue is grave wrongdoing of the occupant of the highest office in the land” and concluded that Mrs. Arroyo must step down.

Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales, after weeks of silence, issued a pastoral letter that said “forgiveness does not eliminate the search for justice, nor should it block the search for truth.” While falling short of asking Mrs. Arroyo to resign, the letter clearly showed that the Catholic Church leadership in Metro Manila did not buy the apology hook, line and sinker.

More indicative body language is the report that Bishop Rosales and Arroyo ally, Mrs. Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino, are set to meet with Vice President Noli de Castro -- to discuss post-Gloria scenarios perhaps?

These rumblings are especially ominous for her administration considering that EDSA II that catapulted her to power is perceived to have had strong middle class backing.

Worse, indications are rife that the military is restless. More and more retired officials are talking about reasons for and actual moves of several groups of officers to withdraw support from their Commander-in-chief. Military intelligence and counter-intelligence men are busy and jumpy despite repeated assurances from officialdom that the armed forces are “solidly behind” the chain of command.

Thus even an Arroyo apologist such as veteran journalist Amando Doronilla was forced to admit that “crisis options boil down to how GMA will go.”

Exit scenarios for Mrs. Arroyo include impeachment, resignation and ouster with different groups and influential personalities favoring one or the other depending on their ideological and political persuasions and/or vested interests.

Some people, notably Big Business and defenders of the status quo who abhor rocking the boat, are understandably concerned about how regime change can take place with the least disruption of government functions, the least political turmoil and the least uncertainty about the line of succession. Thus, despite the fact that at this point the continued rule of Mrs. Arroyo is proving to be the biggest destabilizing factor of Philippine society, these folks are still betting on “the devil they know”.

Fortunately for our country, there is also a growing sense of frustration and a serious questioning about what regime change can and will mean for the vast majority of our poor and oppressed people and for the future of this nation. Will it usher in meaningful and substantial reforms not just in governance but in the entire political, economic and social system that has been exposed to be rotten to the core? Or will a change in government again dash the hopes and dreams of our people the way they were betrayed by the political elite after EDSA I and II?

More on this in the next column.

July 8-9, 2005

July 01, 2005

Time to go

The name of the game these days is “Will she or won’t she get away with it?”

She of course refers to the woman with the unique voice and manner of speaking, caught redhanded via a wiretapped phone conversation, trying to manipulate the results of the 2004 presidential elections through a variety of criminal and illegal means.

She is none other than President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who finally owned up to being the woman everyone immediately recognized her to be -- calling, talking and effectively colluding with Commission on Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, aka “Garcy”, in committing electoral fraud on a grand scale in order to win by 1 million votes against Fernando Poe Jr, her closest rival.

GMA gave the performance of her life by publicly saying “I’m sorry” for making a supposed “lapse in judgement” in making “any such call” to an unnamed Comelec official. She then appealed for unity in order to forge ahead with all the extraordinary economic reforms and corruption-busting programs she had worked so hard on that would purportedly lead the country to the path of salvation.

Sadly, the admission and the apology just doesn’t wash.

Both are insincere. We know this because three weeks earlier the Arroyo administration had engaged in a clumsy cover-up that saw the Presidential Spokesperson admitting the voice was Mrs. Arroyo’s, accusing her political enemies of having illegally wiretapped her phone conversations, then trying to pass off two tampered tapes as proof of a grand destabilization plot against the President, only to be corrected two days later by the Executive Secretary who said that it wasn’t Mrs. Arroyo.

Meanwhile the DOJ Secretary, a presidential toady of the highest order, threatens everyone who is in possession of, reproducing, distributing or otherwise listening to the “Gloria-Garcy” tapes of illegal wiretapping, sedition and other possible crimes he alone can think of.

All throughout the swirling controversy, the President kept mum and hid behind the cloak of legality until her silence itself became the issue that not even her closest allies could defend. Only then did she decide to “confess”.

However, Mrs. Arroyo didn’t actually confess all, only what would pass as her “venial” sins. She resorted to half-truths, obfuscations and more lies.

One of these is her claim that the elections had ended by the time of the first wiretapped conversation on 26 May 2004 and that she could not have possibly influenced the outcome. It is known that the election canvassing was only concluded on the third week of June, plenty of time to manipulate the results through the wholesale and virtually undetectable scheme perfected by Commissioner Garcillano called “dagdag-bawas” (literally, add-and-subtract) which is executed at provincial and regional levels.

The people were also witness to the disturbing spectacle of how the pro-GMA majority in the Congressional Joint Canvassing Committee railroaded the process until its culmination in Mrs. Arroyo’s proclamation as winner during the wee hours of the morning, clearly as a way to preempt any mass protest. No wonder 55% of people surveyed believe, even before the disclosure of the “Gloria-Garcy” tapes, that Mrs. Arroyo had cheated her way to victory.

Mrs. Arroyo did not actually admit to talking specifically to Commissioner Garcillano. She did not specify which parts of the taped conversations she was validating. Her lawyers obviously made sure no part of her admission could be used against her in any impeachment trial thus the deliberate ambiguity of her statements.

Curiously Mrs. Arroyo is unperturbed that Commissioner Garcillano has mysteriously disappeared form the scene and is not at all anxious for him to be found to shed light on the presidential “lapse”.

After her dramatic apology, she refuses to answer any follow-up questions on her so-called admission. One would expect quite the opposite behavior on her part.

Logically, as proof of her innocence regarding alleged serious breaches of the law including her oath of office, Mrs. Arroyo should have ordered a full-dress investigation into the matter by an independent and credible body. If her sin is truly confined to a “lapse of judgement” or what some of her apologists dismiss as merely inappropriate behavior, Mrs. Arroyo would be the first to benefit from such an impartial investigation.

The Presidential apology is ineffective because it is contrived. It is a thinly disguised public relations ploy designed to appeal to the emotions by making Mrs. Arroyo appear to be humbling herself before the public, asking for a second chance to do better.

It is another desperate attempt at damage control whose main purpose is to further cover-up Mrs. Arroyo’s multiple criminal liabilities in conspiring to defraud the electorate; paper over her moral and political accountabilities as President and Commander-in-Chief; and fend off the growing clamor for her to step down from a position she has clearly usurped.

Will Mrs. Arroyo get away with it? We think not. The people could forgive a leader who has made a mistake, even a serious one, if he or she is perceived as earnestly serving their interests and looking after their welfare while maintaining a high standard of personal integrity, honesty and incorruptibility. Mrs Arroyo has long ceased to fit the description.

It’s time for her to go.

July 1-2, 2005