Part 2: Gloria, in excelsis
MANILA (MindaNews / 24 March) — “And here awaits one astute politician who may have calculated these permutations and may now be positioned for any eventuality.” (“Game of thrones, Part 1, The Manila Times, March 15, 2018)
AFTER Ferdinand Marcos, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) is considered the most qualified to assume the presidency. An economist with impeccable academic credentials from elite schools here and abroad, married to old money, she was a daughter of a Philippine President who no doubt inculcated in her a passion for public service; and as in progenies of presidents and the entitled, she possesses the detached demeanor of an heir presumptive.
The country’s longest serving President, GMA started her ascent to power with the ouster of President Joseph Estrada in the so-called EDSA 2. Serving the unfinished portion of Erap’s term from 2001 to 2004, Arroyo was an interloper whose mandate was questioned culminating in the pathetic EDSA 3 “rebellion” aimed at removing her and reinstalling Erap, who remained popular with the masses. Her decisive declaration of a state of rebellion saved the day for her, perhaps giving her a taste of the exhilarating and addictive use of power that would demarcate her future acts.
Two years into her rule, junior officers and enlisted soldiers staged a mutiny in July 2003 to protest all sorts of corruption allegations, including those involving the AFP and Philippine National Police. GMA declared another “state of rebellion.” In less than 24 hours, the mutineers surrendered. But this incident, it is believed, prompted Arroyo to change her mind and go back on a public promise she made in December 30, 2002 that she would not seek the presidency. With this reversal, GMA’s word of honor was put under question, a sad precedent for her future declarations.
GMA was elected in 2004 with allegations of poll fraud, corroborated by recordings of inappropriate conversations between her and a Comelec henchman. The infamous “Hello Garci” tapes triggered massive protests, and the resignation of several of her cabinet secretaries and confidantes, almost toppling her, despite her public “mea culpa” admitting to a “lapse in judgment.” Those who threw her to the dogs were later recruited into the cabinet of the subsequent Noynoy Aquino presidency, the nucleus of the emerging “yellow army.”
Her resolve to stay in power no doubt was also bolstered by her discovery that her preferred and trusted law firm, the CVC Law, headed by her anointed Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, conspired to drive her out of power and install her vice president. (www.thinkingpinoy.net Supreme Court politics: “Sereno will lose, but Carpio will lose more”).
She survived these machinations but her second term from 2004 to 2010 was fraught with allegations of corruption that engulfed even her family, particularly her husband.
On the plus side, Arroyo presided over an economy that expanded comparably faster than the three previous administrations, avoiding even the 2008 global financial crisis. But the growth was not that inclusive making her realize then that the basic restructuring of Philippine society was imperative. Thus, her initiative to amend the 1987 Constitution and shift from a presidential-unitary to a parliamentary-federal system, with the underpinnings of a social-market economy, allowing for badly needed foreign direct investments. This was to be her legacy, despite the purported massive corruption in her government.
Upon leaving office, her many transgressions caught up with her. She was arrested and charged with electoral fraud and corruption but released on bail.
Rearrested by the Aquino government for the alleged misuse of $8.8 million in state lottery funds, Arroyo languished at the Veterans Memorial Hospital. Upon the assumption of power by the Deegong and with his backing, the Supreme Court acquitted her of all charges.
She has suffered for her indiscretions, pummeled and bludgeoned by friend and foe alike – “not enough, the yellows exclaim”. A polarizing leader put to roost. For a leader and a woman inured to the trappings of power, it could be hell exiled to the twilight zone of political irrelevance. In this surrealistic world imposed upon her, she maintained the arrogance of a high-born, welcoming and presiding over a coterie of sycophants, hard-nosed political disciples, her true believers and technocrats, perhaps plotting her comeback—her redemption!
The Philippine political condition today is in a flux. We have a federalism idea, whose time has come, but barely disseminated to the constituents; a Cabinet in disarray with DU30 confessing to being unhappy with its performance, threatening to revamp the cabinet and firing the underperformers. The disorder in the Office of the President may be traced to the absence of a chief of staff, who can help PRRD whip them in line and allocate his precious time. We have a president constantly harassed by an alliance of the “Yellows,” the oligarchy, and the moneyed few, whose tentacles have entangled rent-seeking bureaucrats; a president whose agenda may be derailed by early infighting among his own allies in Congress, impelled by the prospects of the coming elections and the expansion of their political turfs.
True, the Deegong is buoyed up by the 80 percent national approval rating but even these nebulous hordes are themselves torn by a cacophony of contradictory voices, reflected in the social media, the president’s most loyal constituency. One, following the path of pagbabago conservatively through the rule of law, and another through a call for revolutionary government – all taken in the name of the Deegong.
In the midst of all these, it is obvious that the Deegong needs a surrogate that stands out from among the dregs of the parties now populating his supermajority; one with a similar charisma possessing qualities acquired uniquely by those who have attained the pinnacle of power and grasped the parameters of its flaws and possibilities.
We have such a one. Today, Gloria stands at the cusp of a chaotic political tableau, poised on the side, awaiting the call. She is no doubt a quintessential traditional politician, steeped in the arcana of Philippine politics, knowledgeable about the flaws and strengths of the system.
It is perhaps also the height of irony that such a politician — who has sunk to the nadir of power but once enjoyed its zenith, and descended to the depths of despair — is exactly what is needed to play a crucial role as handmaiden to DU30 on effecting the restructuring of Philippine society no less. PRRD’s initiative today is a coherent sequence that GMA seriously started during her watch, but was aborted by the maneuverings of the oligarchy in alliance with the same “yellow army.” In this, both are eerily confronted by the same adversary; both share a common vision.
Having “been there, done that,” she has nothing to lose. She has already lost—almost everything, except perhaps the ability to reinvent herself. As the political consort of DU30, she will; hopefully for the good of the country and for both their legacies.
(This column first appeared in The Manila Times issue of 22 March 2018
http://www.manilatimes.net/game-of-thrones-2/387734/. Lito Monico C. Lorenzana, a Dabawenyo based in Manila, served under four Philippine Presidents as a member of the Cabinet and several Commissions. A Harvard Kennedy School of Government-educated political technocrat, he was one of the prime movers of the Citizens Movement for Federal Philippines, Secretary General of the 2005 Consultative Commission, and one of the founders of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines, Ang Partido ng Tunay na Demokrasya and the Centrist