Analysis: Desperate Times for GMA

Dec. 03, 2006

People simply do not buy repeated hectoring by the President and her allies that charter change will bring the country to paradise and news that she is sick generates further expectations for her to step down. The survival options for the besieged President have simply depreciated.

By the Policy Study, Publication and Advocacy Program
Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)

MANILA — To Gloria M. Arroyo, the objective is quite clear: Con-ass is not just simply amending the Constitution but is also about making sure that she completes her term as president in 2010, or even beyond. Con-ass along with other repressive decrees and the military is her survivalkit. She knows that if everything else fails, congressional elections will push through in May next year with the anti-Gloria traditional opposition subject to favorable conditions likely to gain more seats in Congress leading possibly to a third impeachment against the President. If that materializes, the chances of removing the President from power will be quite high.

In effect, the next polls will not just be an electoral exercise. It will essentially become a crucial political struggle for removing the president. The vote that will go to the opposition for that matter, to the anti-Gloria party-list groups will seal the fate of the presidency. Again, however, this under the condition that in the election the traditional opposition can act as one and is able to match government resources and the use of fraud that will be unleashed to pre-empt an administration debacle.

Mrs. Arroyo, since her constitutionally-infirmed election in 2004, has been fighting through thick and thin for political survival hanging for dear life for continued support by her allies in Congress, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the U.S. government. She has used the iron hand escalating the political persecution of the Left allegedly through extra-judicial executions and threatening to arrest and file rebellion charges against alleged coup plotters and opposition leaders. She had planned to declare martial law early this year but imposed an emergency rule instead.

She entered into a deal with former President Fidel V. Ramos and House Speaker Jose de Venecia to summon her power and resources toward a constitutional change. Under the pretext of shifting to a unicameral parliamentary government, charter change allow the pro-administration legislative majority to extend their term of office and control the new legislature thus ensuring her stay in office as chief of state all without going through the May 2007 elections. When the Supreme Court (SC) shot down the administration-concocted “people’s initiative” to amend the charter, she backed the option of turning Congress into a constituent assembly for the same self-serving political goal. The fast-track formula includes pressuring senators to collaborate with the administration-dominated House to vote as “one Congress” for the Con-ass and the appointment of Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, an Arroyo ally, as the new chief justice of the high court. But time is running out.

In her desperate effort to stay in power despite an overwhelming public sentiment for her to quit the presidency, Mrs. Arroyo has courted more enemies, lost valuable allies and created more dilemmas. She has also drawn international condemnation for the human rights violations committed by her security forces and, for the same reason, has risked losing the confidence of foreign investors.

Cabinet infighting

All these and the crisis of corruption, cabinet infighting, increased poverty and widespread hunger among the poor have caused her popularity rating to dip further, based on the latest surveys. People simply do not buy repeated hectoring by the President and her allies that charter change will bring the country to paradise and news that she is sick generates further expectations for her to step down. Even the influential Makati business community representing the country’s major corporations has spoken against the Con-ass warning of its being divisive. The survival options for the besieged President have simply depreciated.

It would take more than political clout and massive resources to ram through Con-ass. Most members of the Senate will reject it and besides most of them and the rest of the anti-Gloria opposition are geared for the election now that, if the surveys are credible, they appear to have better chances of winning. It would be an act of brazenness for Mrs. Arroyo to install Defensor-Santiago as the new SC chief justice by Dec. 7 to ensure another court vote this time in favor of Con-ass. That assuming majority of the justices will support this obviously politically-motivated trick – would incense the public even more, galvanize an alliance between the opposition and progressive groups and spark more political turmoil.

The President may then create an artificial scenario such as “terrorist bombings” that would justify the declaration of martial law. The blueprint of installing a civilian-military junta has been pre-determined with the presence of 29 former generals and senior military and police officials holding key cabinet positions. But a martial law option is a political suicide. It will only precipitate a massive political uprising and hasten the armed revolution.

Considering the odds, will Mrs. Arroyo’s senior political handlers Ramos and De Venecia – tell her to form instead a coalition government with the opposition and former allies? Will she strike a compromise that, granting an opposition victory in the 2007 elections, prevent her from being impeached? What other alternatives and trade-offs are left to save her neck?

Time is not on her side.

*The Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) is a public policy center established shortly before the May 2004 elections to help promote people empowerment in governance specially the democratic representation of the marginalized poor.

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