Philippine Bastille

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Malacanang has run out of words to describe the Citizens’ Congress–or People’s Court, as some newspapers breathlessly labeled it–organized by the Bukluran Para sa Katotohanan (Unity for Truth).

Chaired by former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, the Citizens’ Congress for Truth and Accountability will look into allegations that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo cheated in the last elections, and committed acts of corruption as well as human rights violations.

Palace mouthpieces immediately described the Congress as a kangaroo court, its members having allegedly pre-judged Mrs. Arroyo.

Malacanang also made sure to suggest that it didn’t think the Congress worthy of Her Majesty’s attention. Charged with receiving the notice to Mrs. Arroyo that United Nations Judge Romeo Capulong served, a Palace nobody tore it up, complete with what he thought were dramatic gestures of disdain.

But Malacanang security had been beefed up for the occasion with additional troops and police personnel at Gate 7, plus rolls of concertina wire, container vans and other obstacles on the road. Apparently Malacanang expected Capulong and four companions to assault the Palace with the documents they were carrying.

But don’t laugh. Malacanang does fear senior citizens, as it proved when police attacked the October 14 prayer rally with water cannon. Like former Vice President Teofisto Guingona and Congressman Satur Ocampo, who were hosed down by gleeful firemen egged on by the police, Capulong too is a senior citizen, being in his early seventies.

But it’s perfectly understandable why the current Malacanang occupant fears not only senior citizens but practically everyone else from ice cream vendors to office clerks. After all, 80 percent of the Philippine population doesn’t think she was elected in 2004, and her approval rating has sunk to minus 74.7 percent from minus 64 percent.

Whether students and professors, clerks and retired generals, factory workers, bar girls or farmers, lawyers, doctors, businessmen, priests, nuns and bishops, those who want her out of Malacanang are multiplying so fast they already look like the entire population of the country of our afflictions.

Mrs. Arroyo has thus turned the Palace of the People into a Bastille, and is now the most inaccessible president the country never had. She is surrounded by barbed wire, tanks, machineguns, and several thousand troops, behind which she and her sycophants pretend to govern while snarling at the conspirators/ destabilizers/ subversives and putschists they say are plotting her overthrow/ouster/ removal, and even assassination.

That’s all well and good for them, though not for the country. But if I were they I would also pay attention to what’s going on within–figuratively speaking– the Palace walls.

Over the last two weeks or so we’ve been hearing strange suggestions from some of Mrs. Arroyo’s most important allies, among them the El Shaddai’s Mike Velarde, who, by urging the holding of a snap election, is beginning to sound like an oppositionist and an echo of Senator Aquilino Pimentel who’s been saying the same thing since June.

After all, given Mrs. Arroyo’s sub-zero popularity, a fair and honest election could only result in her being defeated. Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye immediately described the call for a snap election as merely another attempt to get Mrs. Arroyo out of Malacanang, in yet another statement he could end up denying again later, since it implies that Mrs. Arroyo would lose if a fair and honest snap election were held today.

Another Arroyo ally, former President Fidel Ramos, had earlier urged Mrs. Arroyo to cut her term short. Just before he left for one of those foreign trips he keeps taking, Ramos the other day also said a snap election could be a way out of the crisis, but that the resignations of Mrs. Arroyo and Vice President Noli de Castro would be even better.

Ramos also urged Mrs. Arroyo and de Castro to do a Marcos and Estrada, and “do something noble.” Ferdinand Marcos, he said, forbade the military from firing on the people massed at EDSA in 1986, while during EDSA 2 in 2001, Joseph Estrada voluntarily left Malacanang to prevent bloodshed.

Regardless of the inaccuracy of his version of these events, what’s outstanding is that Ramos has gone from asking Mrs. Arroyo to cut short her term to asking her and her vice president to resign their posts so that Senate President Franklin Drilon can serve as caretaker and call elections within 60 days.

The Velarde suggestion for a snap election, and Ramos’ suggestion that Mrs. Arroyo cut her term short amount to the same thing: Mrs. Arroyo’s leaving Malacanang before 2010. Velarde and Ramos might as well be oppositionists since they’re beginning to sound like them.

The bad news for Mrs. Arroyo is that these are—or were– among her most important allies. Velarde’s El Shaddai provides the thousands of warm bodies whose presence in Arroyo-attended prayer rallies supposedly contradicts the polls, while it was Ramos who saved the day for her last July 8, when former President Corazon Aquino, Senate President Franklin Drilon and ten of her senior officials including Cabinet secretaries asked her to resign.

There are sure signs that the country may be witnessing a reprise and a continuation of the events of July. But the results may not be the same this time, given Velarde and Ramos’ apparent disaffection with Mrs. Arroyo, who, Ramos has declared, needs to reform herself.

The next several days should tell whether Fortress Malacanang is now besieged from both within and without. The siege is likely to be prolonged, given the coming of the holidays, when Filipinos forego serious matters. But it’s after the holidays —both People Power 1 and 2 occurred after–when all this could finally come to a head.

(Business Mirror)

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