February 08, 2008

The breaking point

To many political observers, the ease and speed with which House of Representatives Speaker Joe de Venecia was ousted from power in the early morning of Tuesday, seems to indicate how formidable and invincible the Arroyo political machine has become.

Consider that Mr. de Venecia had been Speaker for an unprecedented five terms. He knew all the tricks of the trade, as it were, in the realm of transactional politics. He was the consummate traditional politician who knew how to stay in power by wheeling-and-dealing: appointing committee chairmen on the basis of loyalty to him; using the congressional pork barrel as a carrot-and-stick devise to keep legislators in line; handing out cash incentives and all kinds of perks to get the legislative mill grinding for Malacanang’s urgent bills. Mr. de Venecia appeared safe from being ousted until only a couple of weeks ago.

The perception that the GMA regime can get away with murder -- figuratively and in actuality -- is reinforced even more by the unabashedly criminal manner by which Mr. Jun Lozada, the would-be star witness on the ZTE broadband scam, was intercepted upon arrival from abroad (where he is suspected to have been forced to go in order to prevent him from testifying at the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee) and abducted reportedly by Presidential Security Group elements. No less than PNP chief Gen. Razon was covering up the crime, obviously upon "orders from the higher ups".

Doubtless, the masterminds and hatchet men for both operations, as well as a host of administration sycophants, supporters, dependents, hangers-on, etc. are beside themselves with glee and are congratulating each other for getting away once again with the most flagrant abuse and misuse of power, to the extent of engaging in patently criminal acts.

What escapes each and every one of them, including and especially the illegitimate occupants of Malacanang Palace, is that these "successful" operations -- which are in no small way intended additionally to serve as a stern warning to whoever would cross their path or challenge their supremacy -- are really signs of weakness and vulnerability, not of strength nor invincibility.

Why else was there need for the Arroyo boys to flaunt their kinship with the de facto President in pressuring fellow congressmen to toe the line. Why resort to dumping a long standing ally who had been instrumental in rescuing Mrs. Arroyo from being forced to step down. Indeed, why engage in criminal acts (abduction, illegal detention, grave threats and who knows what else), why dish out blatant lies to the victim’s relatives and the public (that Lozada and his family requested police protection), why frustrate the perfectly legitimate and legal move of the Senate to arrest Mr. Lozada, a vital witness in a Senate investigation, and risk being charged with obstruction of justice and worse?

There is some truth to the observation that these strong-arm measures are aimed at securing a pliant congress that would pave the way for Charter change and ensure Mrs. Arroyo’s hold on power beyond 2010.

At the same time, these are desperate measures to cover up the massive corruption and grave anomalies originating principally from Malacanang. Speaker JdV may no longer be cooperative in succeeding congressional investigations/hearings. Impeachment proceedings still loom large in the 2008 horizon. Malacanang's attempts to silence Mr. Lozada betray sheer panic, rather than a clear-headed plan, indicating the possible damage his testimony could bring on the regime.

The Arroyo regime has little choice now but to resort to these desperate and ultimately counterproductive measures because the crisis it is mired in is spinning out of control. Its main preoccupation today is survival even as it continues to plot in order to remain in power past 2010.

It may be argued that there is nothing new in these recent measures that could bring about the people's outrage. After all, GMA has gotten away with hundreds of extrajudicial killings, even congratulating in her SONA her most ruthless and unrepentant butcher, General Jovito Palparan. And Mr. Lozada is not the first potentially damaging witness to be coerced, bought or intimidated to recant their testimony.

The Arroyo regime/government has become like a dam trying to hold back tons and tons of water. It is a dam that is fundamentally flawed in design, made of substandard material and shaken and damaged by too many social tremors, causing cracks here and there. The cracks have not been enough to cause it to burst instantly, but as the pressure remains or slowly builds up, the cracks widen and a point is reached when the whole dam can just burst.

Mrs. Arroyo and her henchmen are correct in calculating that whistle blowers, investigations and mass protest can truly cause pressure build-up that could eventually break the GMA dam.
The highhandedness, the arrogance, the repeated episodes of flagrant abuse of power are all calculated to intimidate, coerce and deter would-be whistleblowers, investigations, and mass protest.

What they miscalculate is that strong-arm, illegal and criminal tactics cannot always deter whistleblowers and will even inevitably spur more damaging investigations. A point shall be reached when the people's resilience, patience and tolerance will likewise break -- "Sobra na! Tama na!"

We will collectively act to put a stop to all this madness. #

* Published in Business World
8 – 9 February 2008


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