No, this is not to confirm the silly tale that former President Corazon Aquino and Senate President Franklin Drilon are planning to assassinate Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. This is in reference to the Arroyo regime’s eventual departure, courtesy of its own fatal flaws.

Few think this still possible, given the regime’s tenacity and the middle-class’ seeming indifference. As predicted, the failure of anti-Arroyo forces last July-August to create the critical mass that brought down Joseph Estrada in 2001 has kept Arroyo in power. Lukewarm middle-class support was crucial to that failure.

Current middle-class apathy is not due to an imagined “People Power fatigue,” but to cynicism. Why aren’t they out on the streets demanding that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo resign the presidency she’s likely to have stolen? In reply, middle-class people and some sectors of the business community ask why they should, given the alternative. That alternative they see as no more than another Arroyo– though with a different name– replacing Arroyo.

The Arroyo regime has welcomed middle-class doubts that removing Arroyo could be meaningful. But the spread of this sentiment is bad news for the ruling system, and for the Arroyo regime itself.

The sentiment betrays the middle-class inability to explore alternatives bolder than that of Arroyo’s being succeeded by Noli de Castro, whom many dismiss as unprepared for the presidency and even condemn as a probable party to electoral fraud in 2004. But this limitation is as much the result of Arroyo government efforts as of middle-class habits of thought.

Early into the current political crisis, the Arroyo administration made it a point to convince the country that the only “solution” to the crisis would be a “constitutional” one. The regime defined “constitutionality” to the exclusion of another People Power exercise, and limited it to impeachment, secure in the knowledge that any complaint before the House of Representatives would fail..

Academics, church people, members of civil society organizations as well as the traditional opposition walked into the Arroyo trap by abandoning street protests at a critical juncture and concentrating their efforts on the impeachment process despite evidence that the effort would fail because of the dominance of Arroyo partisans in the House.

The result was as expected. But the killing of the impeachment complaints not only confirmed middle-class skepticism; it also stoked it further. That skepticism has since morphed into cynicism: the widespread belief that the custodians of the Executive branch, Congress, and even the Judiciary, are hopelessly mired in the sole pursuit of self-interest to the detriment of the nation’s.

Distrust of the Estrada, Marcos and Lacson groups that are part of the effort to force Mrs. Arroyo to resign had also been feeding middle-class cynicism since June.
While distrustful of and even despising Mrs. Arroyo and her crew of crooks and charlatans, the middle-class fears the re-emergence of another Marcos or of Joseph Estrada himself, or of Panfilo Lacson’s assuming the presidency or something equivalent. It looks at these prospects as even more disastrous than Arroyo’s staying in power. These fears have led to the dominance of the “lesser evil” view among the middle-class.

This view is debatable. Its uncontrolled corruption, gross ineffectiveness, obsession with power and escalating human rights violations make the Arroyo administration worse than the Estrada government ever was. Of all post-1986 governments it also comes closest to the Marcos regime in violence and depravity, and one wonders what could be worse.

While these undermine the “lesser evil” argument, the sections of the middle-class that believe that Arroyo cheated in 2004 nevertheless refuse to be involved in the efforts to oust her or force her to resign. Mrs. Arroyo is thus the beneficiary of her own grievous flaws. But she is profiting at the expense of the very political system over which she currently—and, quite probably fraudulently– presides.

The immense erosion of public trust and confidence in the system itself has to be stopped and even reversed, the price being anarchy and the system’s ruin. Sooner or later the Philippine elite and its foreign partners will conclude, as they did in the latter part of the Marcos period, that the restoration of public trust in the system cannot happen as long as the Arroyo regime remains in power.

After all, the regime is plainly incapable of using power for any meaningful purpose, only of abusing it. It only fans the crisis further through its systematic acts of repression and abuse of government institutions. Among other consequences, its corruption and savaging of Philippine laws and political institutions have divided the Philippine military to a degree unprecedented in the history of the Republic. Like the Marcos regime in 1986, so alienated is it from the people that it has become a liability to the very system it’s supposed to protect

All this explains the unrest in the military, in whose officers’ thoughts “breaking the chain of command”—a euphemism for a coup d’etat—has steadily become an acceptable option. It also explains the instability of the Arroyo regime’s hold on its own allies, most of whose loyalties are bought and paid for. Under these conditions of perpetual crisis the future of the Arroyo regime is bleak, and its eventual demise likely.

(Business Mirror)

Luis V. Teodoro

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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