Despite Malacanang’s pretense at business as usual, the political situation is as unstable as ever, and the Arroyo government as afraid of being ousted now as it was last July.
The crisis is first of all rooted in the dubious mandate of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. In trying to sidestep that issue and halt protests, the Palace is itself fanning the crisis it says is over.
National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, for instance, contributed as much as the persistent coup rumors during the last two weeks to the public sense that something is grievously amiss, and boosted the belief, already of epidemic proportions, that the Arroyo government must go.
Gonzales did it by just being himself. When pressed for details on the government contract with the US lobby firm Venable, he claimed that Venable wouldn’t be paid with government funds, and that Mrs. Arroyo knew all about it. Before the country’s senators, however, he denied knowing anything about its funding. He forthwith earned a contempt citation from the Senate his followers in a so-called “democratic socialist party” that’s neither socialist nor democratic claimed demeaned him.
This is the same Gonzales who practically sanctioned the killing of activists from the party-list groups Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Migrante, Anak Pawis, Suara and Anak Bayan during the election campaign last year by labeling these groups fronts of the New People’s Army. This was in furtherance of government efforts to prevent them from winning seats in Congress and to install its preferred party-list groups instead–which could implicate Gonzales in last year’s plot to manipulate the electoral process.
The message Gonzales’ tricks sent everyone this time is that the Arroyo administration has not learned any lesson from its near-ouster last July. It is as focused as ever, not on the business of governance, but on the business of staying in power at all costs including the nation’s.
If the Arroyo government wants funds from the US government in amending the Constitution, it is in the belief that this can help consolidate US support in its favor–in exchange, however, for favoring such US interests as allowing foreigners to own land, public utilities and mass media enterprises. Apparently the Arroyo government thinks the trade-off worth it, since Mrs. Arroyo, while announcing that she was canceling the contract, in the same breath also said the government would “go back to it” later.
Gonzales’ near-namesake, Raul Gonzalez of the so-called Department of Justice, has done an equally good job of telling the country, despite his habitual incoherence, what the government he serves stands for. This Gonzalez has several times displayed his and his boss Mrs. Arroyo’s authoritarian mindset. Last May he threatened to file sedition and related charges against any media organization that printed or aired the “Hello Garci” tapes. Later the NBI raided the printing press that allegedly printed posters depicting Mrs. Arroyo as a viper-haired Medusa.
Last week he announced his intent to sue the Hyatt 10–the former Arroyo officials who resigned their posts last July 8–supposedly because by revealing what transpired in the Arroyo government when they were still in it they would be in violation of some law Gonzalez could not identify.
Suing the Hyatt 10 would be the equivalent of picking up a rock so you can drop it on your foot, any trial of Arroyo’s former officials being likely to result in more revelations on the goings-on in the Arroyo government. Anticipating this possibility, however, is apparently beyond Gonzalez, whose incapacity to articulate the simplest concept is matched by the limits of his vocabulary.
As if this were not enough, Gonzalez is also the brains behind the plan to take over the oil industries. Hare-brained is the only apt description for this fantasy, given Mrs. Arroyo’s lack of support among the people and the certainty of massive oil company resistance.
While these officials demonstrate how incorrigible the Arroyo administration is, and how futile the hope that it can and will change, others–presumably with Mrs. Arroyo’s approval–have been busy convincing us that it’s also in a state of absolute panic.
There is the Department of Education order to school authorities not to allow their students to attend rallies, for one. For another, there’s also the lifting of the supposed “maximum tolerance” policy–which was never really in place anyway–in favor of outright police suppression of any mass action in violation of the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of assembly. The country has also learned, after Ermita made threatening noises about “assuring stability,” that the Arroyo government has a plan to impose emergency rule and carry out mass arrests.
Both decisions as well as the plan to impose emergency rule suggest that the Arroyo government is far less confident than it’s pretending to be, and that its fears of a coup d’etat–rumors of which have persisted for weeks–are forcing it to show its true authoritarian colors.
Imposing authoritarian rule whatever it’s called, however, needs the support of the military. And that is exactly what the Arroyo government doesn’t have, at least not at the middle and junior officers’ level. Emergency rule is in fact likely to become a real emergency only for the Arroyo government once it commits the stupid mistake of declaring it.
But the stupidity of an act, statement or even policy has never prevented the Arroyo government from committing, saying or adopting it. You need only review what its officials have been doing and saying in the last week or so to realize this truth. That means it could still place the country under emergency rule–even while, in its usual disdain for truth, it continues to claim that the crisis is over, and it’s business as usual.