Bulatlat, ABS-CBN News
July 7, 2005
The next three weeks are expected to be crucial in determining whether embattled President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will stay in power longer or begin to lose her grip on the presidency. On July 25, the President will deliver her traditional state-of-the-nation address before Congress amid mounting calls for her to step down due to election fraud and alleged jueteng (numbers racket) connections during her vice presidency.
Whatever happens, the fact remains that many Filipinos already foresee a post-Arroyo scenario and the only thing that is preventing that from happening is who – or what – will replace her.
As things stand now, most of the conditions that would make a Macapagal-Arroyo stay untenable are fast building up. Aside from the public outrage generated by the recent events, there are signs of fissures within the government itself, grim economic forecasts, and grumblings in both the church and business sectors.
Tactical offensives by the Marxist New People’s Army (NPA) have reportedly stepped up as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is itself haunted by the emergence of certain groups disgruntled with their commander-in-chief and what could be a divisive change in command with the retirement of its current chief of staff in August.
If push comes to shove, the President may yet lose valuable support from the International Monetary Fund and the Bush government itself. In past regime changes, the withdrawal of support by these two powerful institutions became decisive in the final hours of the Marcos and Estrada presidencies.
Unlike in the case of the fallen president Joseph E. Estrada however any move to impeach Macapagal-Arroyo now will be likely derailed given the hegemony of pro-Arroyo legislators in both the House and the Senate. The ongoing Senate hearings on the jueteng pay-off involving the President’s husband and son and the House inquiry into the wiretapping scandal are only expected to further infuriate the minority opposition bloc as Macapagal-Arroyo’s minions try to stall and obstruct the investigations.
Thus more and more Filipinos, who have already made their verdict on Macapagal-Arroyo following her admission on the wiretapping conversation last week, see the constitutional process of removing the President futile and are now more convinced to bringing the issue to the streets. If it is any indication, the July 1 turnout at the rally in Makati City – estimated at 20,000 including spontaneous participants – signals the build up in the oust-Gloria campaign. Most of the groups taking part in the demonstration are pushing for a transition coalition council or a “caretaker government” in place of a constitutional succession upon the President’s ouster.
As far as we can see, however, there are differences that need to be resolved among the council proponents. One of these is whether the council should be headed by deposed President Joseph Estrada, the widow of the deceased presidential candidate Fernando Poe, Jr. – Susan Roces – or somebody else. Some opposition forces are working for Estrada who is presently detained for plunder charges to re-assume the presidency or quickly call for a new presidential election without going through the rudiments of drafting a new progressive constitution and a pro-people economic blueprint.
Just the same in the coming days and weeks, the oust-Gloria rallies in Metro Manila will increase by multitudes and become nationwide even as similar mass protests are also mounting in Canada, the United States, Hong Kong and other countries where there are big Filipino communities.
Incensed by E-VAT
The move to oust what is now widely believed to be an illegitimate president is expected to swell as more Filipinos are incensed by new increases in the prices of fuel, transport fare and other basic necessities with the controversial expanded value added tax (E-VAT) taking effect on July 1 (although it has been temporarily stopped by the Supreme Court) and the general decline of income, employment and other burdens. In fact public discontent over Macapagal-Arroyo – as shown in latest performance surveys where her ratings were lowest compared to her three predecessors – has accumulated in the four years of her presidency.
Macapagal-Arroyo’s rule is itself beginning to crumble with the anticipated resignation of more officials and close allies of Macapagal-Arroyo from government. Despite public pronouncements of support for the President, Vice President Noli de Castro is reportedly in secret talks with some opposition leaders some of whom, incidentally, are also calling for a snap election. The cabinet has also become fractious, with at least five members last week threatening to leave unless the President publicly admitted to the wiretapping that confirmed allegations of electoral fraud in the May 2004 polls. Of course, Macapagal-Arroyo refused to say she “cheated” and described the incident as a mere “lapse in judgment.”
Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap followed the resignation of Haydee Yorac, head of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), purportedly to concentrate on a tax evasion charge. Rep. Roilo Golez, Macapagal-Arroyo’s former national security adviser, also resigned from the ruling coalition, Kampi, and as chair of the House committee on defense. Golez is known to be close to the US government and his resignation is seen as a move to position himself in the new government that would replace the present regime.
The US embassy in Manila is also somewhat singing a different tune, from giving full support to the beleaguered Filipino President to support “for accountability and the rule of law,” with a veiled endorsement for the current congressional probes within the bounds of the “constitution and due process.” This is not to rule out however possible maneuvers to influence the outcome of any constitutional succession or, as some quarters predict, a tacit support for a military junta – if that is the only way to deter the increasing influence of the Left in the current political fray.
In late 2000-2001, the lack of confidence in the presidency on the part of the business community also helped accelerate the fall of Estrada. But influential business groups notably the Makati Business Club did so only after the IMF, multilateral credit organizations and risk analysis groups had cast doubts on the ability of the Estrada regime to put its house in order and only after the IMF itself threatened to suspend loan pledges.
Last week, the IMF said it is sending a survey mission to the Philippines this month. The announcement came as the Philippine peso further dipped and the continuing loss in investors’ confidence and bleak findings were revealed by a number of risk analysis agencies including more recently the ACNielsen.
Speaking for the MBC, Guillermo Luz said that while Macapagal-Arroyo’s admission to the wiretapping conversation is positive this should not halt the ongoing congressional hearings including plans about impeachment from continuing. Luz’s position may have shown an initial rift in the influential business community. Both the Employers Confederation of the Philippines and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry have urged that the President “should be given more space” and that the wiretapping and jueteng issues should be put in the backburner.
The Church, which was also partly instrumental in the ouster of Marcos in 1986 and Estrada in 2001, is also lending its oppositionist voice. Four more bishops have joined Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz in calling for Macapagal-Arroyo to step down. They were Bishops Julio Xavier Labayen, Antonio Tobias and Deogracia Y—Åiguez and Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales.
The Philippine Independent Church has also officially declared its support for the ouster move.
With the hearings in Congress and impeachment plans seen to be derailed, it now rests upon the parliament of the streets to take its course until the incumbent illegitimate president is finally ousted. Political allies of the president, including the influential business community and members of the economic elite are expected of course not to let this pass by just sitting down – particularly if the ouster is followed by a transition coalition council representing the militant Left and anti-Arroyo opposition forces. Instead, these forces may ask the President for a graceful exit to allow a constitutional succession – or even a snap election – while opposing by every means any transition that would disenfranchise them from power.
Whatever the outcome, any scenario that would preserve the present political institutions which have proven to be rotten and already past their age – or something that will put up a military junta – will only precipitate a more radical transformation. And the new political struggle may usher in a revolutionary situation.