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Will the Arroyo regime survive the NBN-ZTE scandal? Or to put it another way, will the Filipino people allow Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to realize her fondest wish of completing her term until 2010 and/or or running before or after that date for either president or prime minister in a parliamentary system of her and her allies’ devising?

Thanks to television, the NBN scandal has been a long-running and instructive look into how the faction of the political class now in power has been gouging the citizenry it claims to be serving.

From Jose de Venecia III’s testimony before the Senate last year and Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada’s ongoing one, practically the entire country has learned that the “acceptable” cost of corruption per project now runs into the millions of dollars. The country has also been told that Lozada had balked at the alleged focus by former Commission on Elections Chair Benjamin Abalos on “protecting” a “commission” of $130 million. (Lozada said $60 million or so would have been “possible”– “baka puwede.”)

The testimonies of such regime honchos as Philippine National Police Director General Avelino Razon Jr. have been, if not hilarious at the same time, as interesting and instructive as those of de Venecia and Lozada.

From the statements of one General Atutubo who kept mumbling about “airport procedures,” Filipinos also confirmed something they had long suspected: that the law, not to mention processes like going through immigration, can be suspended at the will of those in power. Under questioning by Senator Rodolfo Biazon, Atutubo said Lozada was “escorted” by the men who met him at the airport through a route reserved for presidents, and did not go through immigration.

On the other hand, from Deputy Chief of the Police Special Protection Office Paul Mascarinas, we learned that anyone in the Arroyo enchanted kingdom can be whisked off against his wishes for his own “protection” as Lozada was—even if the “protector” had absolutely no idea what he was protecting the protectee from.

But Filipinos should have noted as well why the regime has been so focused on attacking the media. Media attention was the lead factor in Lozada’s being returned alive to Manila from the wilds of Dasmarinas, Cavite where a lot of bodies are literally buried. “I owe my life to you, the media,” Lozada said, thus emphasizing the crucial, even life- and- death role the media can play in a country where an undeclared dictatorship disguised as a democracy and supported solely by military bayonets and police guns rules.

The other side of that tribute to the media was, alas, as interesting. Both Lito Atienza of the Department of Environment and the now unofficial presidential gofer Michael Defensor had occasion to repeatedly flaunt their supposed concern for Lozada’s safety. To prove it they proudly declared before the Senate and the entire nation that they could have called Mike Enriquez of GMA- 7 TV and Maritess Vitug of Newsbreak for a press conference in which Lozada would deny having been kidnapped as well as any insider knowledge of the NBN project. That suggested at least how cynically the regime viewed the media– but at the most implied something less flattering.

As intriguing and even as grimly amusing as the unfolding of the NBN scandal is and has been, the question of the hour nevertheless remains. Having been thus armed, thanks to de Venecia, Lozada and the media, especially television, with the base, sordid, despicable details of how the country is being ruined by quite possibly the most corrupt and most mendacious regime in Philippine post-World War II history, what will Filipinos do about it?

Some are already moving, again calling for the resignation/removal of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo from office. In a calibrated, step-by- step call for resignations that could culminate in a resign-Arroyo call, the Makati Business Club is asking for the resignation of the DENR’s Atienza and of Romulo Neri, who have been involved in one form or another in the Lozada chapter of the NBN scandal. Anti-corruption protest rallies have meanwhile been called for today, February 15, to demand Mrs. Arroyo’s resignation.

These initiatives, however, will lead nowhere without the involvement of vast numbers of ordinary Filipinos, whether worker or student, professional, religious, vendor, clerk, housewife or farmer. They are the X factor—the unknown quantity– in the current crisis.

The hope of those still concerned with the future of this country is that Filipinos in their millions will find the courage and the faith in their own power to put aside their concerns for themselves and their families’ survival in favor of the country’s own. Filipinos did do that in 1986 and again in 2001, and they can do it again.

But the regime expects Filipinos to remain cynical enough and focused solely on their own interests, as they seemed to have been in 2005 and 2006, to do anything even in the face of the regime’s contempt for the Constitution and the most basic decencies its corruption has generated since it came to power.

That assumption could yet be validated by citizen indifference and fear, as the regime escalates its threats and its actual use of violence against the media, its critics, and protesters. But it could prove mistaken if, as in 1986 and 2001, the true sovereigns of this country finally say, Enough!

(BusinessWorld)

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