In an echo of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s statement that “the people are impatient,” House Speaker Jose de Venecia said the other day that “the people are tired.” De Venecia was reacting to the usual procedural and other questions from the opposition re the canvassing of the presidential and vice presidential ballots.
Perhaps Mrs. Arroyo and the Speaker both took a survey to gauge the people’s mood. But I don’t personally know anyone who’s tired in the sense that he or she just wants to get the congressional canvass over and done with—meaning he or she doesn’t want anyone asking such questions as why the padlock of this ballot box looks as if it’s been cut with a bolt-cutter, or where the Certificate of Canvas for Camarines Norte could be hiding.
They do object to the implication that telling a congressman to do so, or to tell him what they think in some other way, is some form of lese majeste. This country is not a monarchy—at least not yet. Although it may be news to the Representatives of the People, the country’s real sovereigns are in the gallery rather than on the Batasan floor.
Instead of tired, these same people are sick—sick first of all of the self-serving efforts on both sides of the aisle to advance their respective group’s interests, which on the part of the administration is to get Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Noli de Castro proclaimed post-haste—making the canvassing “pro-forma” as De Venecia’s slip of the tongue put it—and, on the part of some members of the opposition, to delay it and create a crisis. They’re also sick of how low elections have sunk, and sick over what the last exercise says about the hollowness of Philippine “democracy.”
The country’s so-called leaders and social betters in business and civil society after all make so much of elections. They have just about killed them this season.
During the campaign the former offered the electorate choices that weren’t choices, with the administration coalition fielding an incumbent who had earlier vowed she wouldn’t run, and whose three-year record of governance is as likely to pass muster as a grade-six pupil is to pass the High School Readiness Test. The same coalition stitched together a senatorial slate that would have done Dr. Frankenstein proud. And let’s not forget its fielding a news reader for vice president.
The mainstream opposition couldn’t have done worse, fielding an inarticulate high school drop-out behind whom some of its leading lights hoped to be the real power in case he’s elected, and a former police general whose main, proclaimed virtue was his indifference to the Bill of Rights.
Before these choices, the better informed among the electorate were biting their nails, hoping for a miracle that would give them choices better than the lesser evil and the worse. Some pinned their hopes on Raul Roco, and others on Eddie Villanueva. Several millions did vote for either, despite the distinct possibility that the contest would be between Arroyo and Poe (otherwise known as The Rock and The Hard Place). Both Roco and Villanueva—if not Arroyo and Poe, it now turns out—proved the surveys right. Their partisans now say that it was well worth it, and what mattered was the principle of the thing.
And yet the principle of the thing was not just to vote for either, but to vote for change. It’s a fact that now escapes those who defend those Roco decisions and failure of organization that on election day pushed him to number four from number one in January. Villanueva did make a credible showing, but credible isn’t enough. Being elected would have been—unless what he wanted to prove all along was that he had a sizeable enough constituency to make his Jesus Is Lord Movement another Iglesia Ni Cristo the next time around.
Enter “civil society,” or the non-profit sector between business and government, the most outstanding representative of which, in these elections, is the National Movement for Free Elections.
Although reputed to be non-partisan, Namfrel was founded with American (some say CIA) support during the 1953 elections for the partisan purpose of protecting the votes of Ramon Magsaysay against incumbent President Elpidio Quirino. Since then, proclaiming itself to be for the furtherance of good governance through fair elections, Namfrel has done poll monitors and quick counts to protect the votes of those candidates its leaders support.
Not that it hasn’t done some good. It did protect Magsaysay’s votes, and therefore the will of the people in 1953. Its mere presence has helped prevent fraud in several instances since then, and it exposed fraud during the 1986 elections that Ferdinand Marcos stole. In those cases—certainly in Maysaysay’s in 1953 and Corazon Aquino’s in 1986—Namfrel partisanship was on the side of the angels.
With Namfrel led by people from the business community supportive of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, its partisanship would not be as clearly on the same moral plane now.
Arroyo is the incumbent and in a far better position to cheat, for one thing. And while one can make a case for Fernando Poe Jr.’s unfitness for office, the will of the people may not be as Guillermo Luz and Jose Concepcion may wish it to be. All of which makes Namfrel’s non-partisanship suspect, especially after its hasty announcement, made as its quick-slow count showed Arroyo winning over Poe, that no large-scale fraud took place.
As for the rest of civil society, it’s not as enthusiastically opposed to fraud as it was to Estrada in 2001, chiefly because it doesn’t relish the thought of a Poe presidency, and would prefer an Arroyo win no matter how tainted. Although the Suzette Pido “shut up” note to Dilangalen might have been well within Pido’s rights to free expression, among others, it does betray precisely the impatience and tiredness with details in civil society circles Speaker de Venecia might have been referring to—and which he’s banking on for a speedy canvass that won’t be too concerned with those pesky details that should indicate whether anyone cheated, and on what scale.
To hurry the process along, meanwhile, the administration’s been trotting out one scare scenario after another, via National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales—the only one in that position anywhere on the planet with a motor-mouth—the Chief of the Philippine National Police, an assortment of military spokespersons, and Arroyo political spokesman Mike Defensor.
Their common mantra is that Congress had better hurry up and complete the count before June 30 because should they fail to do so there would be a “constitutional crisis,” and what’s worse, destabilization efforts by a “leftist-rightist” conspiracy straight out of Ferdinand Marcos’ 1972 bag of tricks.
“Constitutional crisis” does have a frightening sound to it, but is unlikely to happen because the Constitution provides for the Senate President’s assuming temporary stewardship of the government if no president or vice president is proclaimed by June 30. The doomsday scenario administration bully- boys are peddling, which would see the government paralyzed and military adventurists and NPA guerillas moving in concert with a mass uprising, is on the other hand as likely as snow in Manila this June.
But both are so obviously meant to rush the canvass it’s no wonder those people who’re not making the big bucks in either civil society or the government are sick to death. They’re sick of the real crisis, and that’s the crisis worse than any constitutional one Gonzales and company can think of, because it’s already here—the political and electoral system’s self-destructing before the entire country’s eyes.