Things Fall Apart

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The Pulse Asia finding that 61 percent of Filipinos think they would be better off without Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in Malacanang was not surprising. Previous surveys had earlier indicated a vast erosion of public confidence in Ms. Arroyo.

Malacanang claims not to be surprised at the findings either. But however much Malacanang affects indifference to the gathering storm calling for Ms. Arroyo to resign that now includes ten former members of her own Cabinet and even her allies in the Liberal Party, Ms. Arroyo may soon be leaving Malacanang as her capacity to govern deteriorates.

The distinct possibility that Ms. Arroyo will end up as just another footnote in this country’s troubled history has triggered a scramble among various political forces to shape–or to at least be part of the shaping–of a post-Arroyo Philippines even as they intensify their efforts for her resignation or ouster.

The most visible of these forces actually constitutes a united front of many other forces. The broad anti-Arroyo movement is led by a de facto alliance of several groups, among them the various wings (the Estrada, Poe, Pimentel, Lacson etc.groups) of the traditional opposition; the legal Left groups that now include Bayan as well as its erstwhile rival Sanlakas; progressive Church people; the Jesus is Lord Movement of “Brother” Eddie Villanueva; as well as labor, women’s, artists’, actors’, movie directors’, academics’, and other sectoral groups.

At one point highly visible but nowadays back in the shadows are the junta advocates ostensibly led by former Defense Secretary Fortunato Abat and made up of retired generals, of which former president Fidel V. Ramos is alleged to be the real moving spirit. There are other anti-Arroyo formations in the military, however, among them those organized by officers who claim to be opposed to corruption and committed to reform within the military.

Although the second group is easily tagged as Rightist, the first is less easily labeled. While the legal Left is part of the anti-Arroyo coalition, it is not the dominant force in it. It is influential in academia, as well as among labor and women’s groups, the Church and the communities. It can mobilize the numbers needed for demonstrations and other mass actions. But it is only one group among many others.

Neither the legal Left nor the Communist Party of the Philippines and its New People’s Army seem to harbor any illusion that the present crisis can lead to their ascendancy. The CPP remains focused on the long-term struggle for power. It has always believed, after all, that political power cannot be won through parliamentary means or even People Power, but only through protracted people’s war.

On the other hand, learning from the lessons of the boycott error of 1986, the legal Left groups are involved in the current crisis to affirm that they are a relevant political force as well as to influence the thinking and actions of the groups they believe they can work with. The most the legal Left groups want is representation in a council of leaders–in which, incidentally, they can easily be marginalized. But they are also prepared to accept a “constitutional solution”—i.e., Vice President Noli de Castro’s assuming the presidency under the banner of a reformist government. This is far short of any intent to “take-over.”

As far as the underground Left is concerned, the elite has interpreted Jose Ma. Sison’s statement that the New People’s Army is intensifying its tactical offensives as an indication that the CPP is preparing to take power. This is an interpretation based on ignorance of CPP strategy and tactics, and of the vast amount of literature it has generated on the subject.

It also ignores the reality that the NPA does not have the numbers to defeat the Armed Forces of the Philippines through conventional war, and must rely on guerilla warfare until its forces and fighting capacity are on par with the AFP’s.

But among the most absurd views in current circulation is the paranoid conviction that the present crisis, unless the political “Center” aggressively prevents it, will be resolved either in favor of the Left or the Right– whereas the only probability is that it will be resolved with the Right still in power.

The Left does exist, but cannot take power. On the other hand, the Center cannot take power either–because it does not exist in a country where the divisions are so stark they are primarily between those who have everything and those who have nothing. The so-called political Center–by which is meant hacienda owners and landlords who had their chance to transform this country, but blew it; Church leaders at the forefront of opposition to meaningful change and even to artificial contraception; business men who resist every effort at raising the wages of workers barely subsisting from one meal to the next; and others–would like the rest of the country to believe that they are the alternative to the Left and Right, while actually comprising a category of the Right too embarrassed to admit its conservatism.

While it pretends to be reformist, where its heart truly lies is currently indicated by its denizens’ focus: not on the political, economic and social reforms that need to be undertaken by any post-Arroyo government, but on the fear of the Left and the vast legions of the poor.

In a post-Arroyo situation, it is likely that what happened in People Power I and II will be repeated. Another wing, or another clique of the same ruling elite, will take power to the exclusion–at least at this stage–of the Left and the Filipino masses.

In the long march of the Filipino people towards independence and social change, the current crisis is but a minor episode from which their only benefit will be their enhanced understanding of the corruption of the political and electoral systems–and perhaps a louder voice in this country’s affairs.

For its part, the “Center” should get back to its accustomed comforts in Hacienda Luisita and the Archbishop’s Palace. It need not worry– at least not yet. Things will continue to fall apart, as they have been falling apart for decades under a succession of governments–some of them as “Centrist” as Ms. Arroyo’s–dominated by the same ruling elite that has driven this country ever deeper into poverty and mass misery. But it should take care. In the long run the “Center” (read: the Right) cannot hold.

(Philippine Daily Inquirer, INQ7)

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