Time bomb

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An organization not known for the rigor of its police work, the Philippine National Police has been feeding the public with the usual theories on the who and why of the bombings that have recently plagued metro Manila.

That the bombings were meant to embarrass the police is only the latest in a string of speculations about motives as well as perpetrators we’ve heard from the PNP. Some of its spokesmen (of which it seems to have as much a surfeit of as generals) earlier said the bombings were “meant to sow terror.” These spokesmen later said the bombings were not terrorist acts because they didn’t hurt anyone. But they’ve been consistent in claiming that the purpose of the bombers, whoever they are, is—here’s that word again—“destabilization.”

In many countries the police would keep its mouth shut if it were as clueless as the PNP about who’s really doing the bombings more than a week after the first bomb exploded at the Grepalife building in Makati last June 6. The possible motives for the bombings it would keep to itself at this stage, among other reasons because announcing them can fan any number of speculations as well as the very fear the perpetrators may be attempting to create. But an even more compelling reason is that the PNP’s attributing the bombings to the usual “destabilization” motives even without the benefit of any evidence is that it keeps alive the perception that the regime is unstable.

This is the very truth the Arroyo regime has been wanting to bury for months. Such Palace sources such as Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye, Presidential Chief of Staff Michael Defensor, and Mrs. Arroyo herself, have taken the greatest pains to urge the nation to “move on” from the stress and anxieties of the “Hello Garci” scandal. Mrs. Arroyo in fact said the same thing last June 12, when, as usual, she fulminated against “too much politics”.

If it heard these statements, the police was apparently not listening. In pursuit of the far from original theory that the bombings were the work of destabilizers, it is in fact looking into the “Leftist-Rightist conspiracy” the Arroyo regime used last February to savage the Bill of Rights, as well as the possible involvement of its favorite “destabilizer,” former senator Gregorio Honasan. The only conclusion one can make from all this is that, despite Palace claims of closure and stability, the regime is as unstable as a high school chemistry experiment that could blow up at any time.

But the PNP may not be as wildly off the official line as it may seem to be. The bombings occurred as the Senate Defense Committee looking into the “Hello Garci” election cheating scandal was about to release its initial findings. Committee Chair Rodolfo Biazon in fact told a Manila broadsheet the other day, June 13, that his committee had found “massive cheating” during the 2004 elections, and that the cheating benefited Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Those into conspiracy theories should have no difficulty linking one with the other. The bombings could be a carefully orchestrated effort to hog the headlines and keep Biazon’s findings out of the media. What’s more, as some left-wing groups have warned, the bombings could be the pretext for another, even more ruthless declaration of a state of emergency to complete the nasty work of silencing regime critics and the media that Proclamation 1017 began last February.

Filipinos should know by now that the worst they can imagine about any regime, specially this one, is likely to pale compared to what it can or has actually done. Any regime that can ignore the killing of as many journalists and political activists as have been killed in its jurisdiction is capable of anything. The same regime may even be orchestrating the killing of activists while secretly cheering the killing of journalists, like a US Marine cheering on a rapist.

The bombings may have truly embarrassed the police, while at the same time provoking cynics into concluding that the regime itself is behind them in furtherance of its political purposes. Who’re doing them Filipinos may eventually find out, or they may not. But what is certain is that the bombings are likely to be only one episode in a series of crises of varying intensity the regime will continue to face until, hopefully, it ends in 2010.

This is what regime critics have been saying since it became clear that some 70 percent of Filipinos want Mrs. Arroyo out of Malacanang because they doubt her legitimacy. In such conditions anyone and any group from among that 70 percent could be responsible for the bombings. Meanwhile, the regime and its agencies continue to suffer from the crippling credibility problem most pronounced in the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

These coercive agencies constitute the last defenses of any regime. And yet, in addition to being severely divided, they are also trusted the least by the citizenry. Its problems with legitimacy are at the root of the regime’s basic inability to keep order and to govern effectively. Until real closure on the Hello Garci scandal is achieved, or Mrs. Arroyo leaves office, the prospect not only for the regime but for the entire country is continuing instability. This has been said before; the truth of it bears repeating.

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