Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has the support of the mayors of 77 cities, the governors of 52 provinces, the generals of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police (PNP) hierarchy, her Cabinet secretaries, and those fabled bishops of the Catholic Church whose influence caused the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines to issue its pathetic pastoral letter last February 26. As for the House of Representatives, no one should be under the illusion that the vast majority of its members are any different.
That at least is what the news report on these worthies’ “unity walks” and “statements of support” say, and that’s most probably indeed the case — for now. But it doesn’t mean that the members of Mrs. Arroyo’s current chorus of supporters (many of whom, if we’re to believe popular lore, are bought and paid for) won’t shift allegiances once it becomes clear that the days of her majesty’s rule are numbered.
Remember the generals of Marcos, prominently among them one Prospero Olivas, who called Corazon Aquino “my President” after years and years of service to the tyrant as commanding general of the Metropolitan Command (Metrocom) of the now defunct Philippine Constabulary?
Remember then AFP Chief of Staff General Angelo Reyes, who went over to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as Joseph Estrada was abandoning Malacanang?
Remember the Marcos bureaucrats and the local government officials who, down to the barangay level, became anti-dictatorship and pro-democracy activists overnight in 1986, with some of them ending up as officers-in-charge of their provinces and municipalities once the government changed?
Until that day of reckoning comes, however, what is certain is that these and other creatures will not only continue to toady to Mrs. Arroyo; they will also do all they can to prevent her ever being removed from office.
Thus did Mrs. Arroyo’s loyal local officials hold their own demonstrations and rallies in their jurisdictions, and thus did AFP and PNP units bar would-be participants in last Friday’s Makati demonstration from attending, in addition to seeing to it — by declaring Makati a no fly zone for three hours — that no media organization helicopter could take off to confirm how many demonstrators there were in the same event. And thus too did Raul Gonzalez, the so-called Secretary of Justice, order the surveillance of those former Cabinet secretaries who had called on Mrs. Arroyo to resign.
However, not the loyalty assured by perks and largesse was the official justification for these mostly illegal acts, but democracy. AFP Chief of Staff Hermogenes Esperon led off by proclaiming during the February 25 “unity walk” of police and military generals that the challenge to civil society is not to oust Mrs. Arroyo, but “to make democracy work” — just as, he implied, the military was doing. “Let us uphold our democratic ideals and not weaken them,” he intoned. “Help your AFP ensure that democratic institutions and processes could freely function, devoid of undue pressures from vested interest groups…”
Do those “vested interest groups” include the “greedy group” to whom ZTE had advanced US$41 million in “commissions”? Esperon wasn’t saying. Was the AFP upholding democracy when its intelligence agents tried to “protect” NBN witness Rodolfo Jun Lozada by abducting him last February 5? He wasn’t saying either. Meanwhile, PNP Chief Avelino Razon, echoing the 77 mayors who signed a statement of support for Mrs. Arroyo, belittled the demands of protestors for Mrs. Arroyo to resign. “Let’s put it in the right context. When you say people in the streets, how many are they? They are not representative of the entire Filipino people.”
I suppose that Razon meant that it’s the Arroyo Cabinet, the governors, the police and the military as well as certain bishops who represent the people. Anyone including Razon can make that claim — except, that, not only do the demonstrations say otherwise, the surveys do too.
Over the last three weeks or so, vast numbers of Filipinos from businessmen to students, professionals, nuns and priests, workers as well as farmers have joined not only demonstrations in Manila but all over the archipelago as well. To conclude that this indicates that most Filipinos are sick of the vast corruption that infests the Arroyo government would be unscientific — until one puts these mass actions in the context of the findings of the most recent public opinion surveys.
Some 53 percent of metro Manilans agree with the reasons behind mass actions, says Pulse Asia, and some 16 percent of them — or 650,000 people — would join demonstrations and mass actions demanding the resignation of Mrs. Arroyo and other officials involved in the NBN scandal.
Meanwhile, from Social Weather Stations, comes the finding that the public trust rating of Mrs. Arroyo’s husband — a figure prominently mentioned in the NBN scandal and who is alleged to be the major mover behind it — has dropped to its lowest level, negative 51 percent — since 2001 when Mrs. Arroyo came to power.
On the other hand, also from Pulse Asia, we have the finding that 71 percent of metro Manilans disapprove of Mrs. Arroyo’s performance, while 76 percent distrust her.
Administration apologists downplay the figures because they’re from metro Manila. But these figures are at least available, compared to the totally unsubstantiated claims of regime support across the entire country that the self-serving creatures of the regime make. What’s likely is that Mrs. Arroyo, her husband and her officials are all in the same boat across the country, given the information that, despite regime efforts at media suppression, is succeeding in reaching Filipinos through the media.
What all these suggests is a gross disconnect between the regime and its supporters in the Cabinet, the police, the military, and the local governments on the one hand, and the long-suffering populace on the other. The denizens of the former group claim to be speaking for the latter. But the latter are speaking for themselves not only through the surveys but also through the protest actions that are among the truest expressions of the democracy to which Esperon, Razon and company claim to be committed, while in behalf of a despised clique they savage the rights — to movement, to information and to free expression — that are in the heart of authentic democracy.