Two messages have been consistently beamed by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her allies in the House of Representatives to the nation since the effort to impeach Mrs. Arroyo failed last September 2005.
They repeated the same messages in the final days of 2005 and as the country entered a new year. These messages are the need for the country to “move on” from the ordeal of the political crisis that broke last summer, and the urgency of reforming the flawed political system.
Mrs. Arroyo declared in her New Year message the need for Filipinos to “break from the past” and to “face a brave new future.” In an earlier statement, her press secretary had reiterated the alleged imperative to shift to a parliamentary form of government as a means of reforming the “flawed political system” so as to make the Philippines “more mature and more globally competitive.”
About the validity of these messages there is hardly room for debate, they being, by themselves, motherhood statements. But it is the assumptions on which these arguments are based, as well as the conclusions being drawn from them, which have proven contentious because they’re based on self-serving purposes.
Certainly it serves no nation to be unendingly focused on the past, its energies dissipated on going over and over the same hurts and reliving its pains, rather than concentrating on the urgent tasks at hand. But this is premised on a closure to that past based not only on knowing what happened, but why it happened. It is closure based on a clear understanding of events that continues to elude this country on a number of issues, the most recent being Mrs. Arroyo’s legitimacy.
Reduced to bare bones in this country, the task the country faces is no less crucial than that of rescuing the majority of its citizens from the poverty that has reduced them to hopelessness and despair, made Philippine society a boiling cauldron of conflict and instability, and forced millions of Filipinos into various forms of servitude under foreign skies while their families disintegrate at home.
There is no argument either about the need to reform the political system. It is that system’s fatal flaws that have been primarily responsible for this country’s fall from one of Asia’s potential economic success stories from the 1950s to the 1960s into one of the region’s most abject failures over the last 30 years.
As valid as these arguments by themselves are, no one can escape the context in which the demand to move on is being made, or accept wholeheartedly either the assumptions about, or the proffered solutions to the flaws of the political system.
By “the past”, Mrs. Arroyo did not mean the policy errors, the corruption, the servility to foreign interests, and the gross failures that have characterized Philippine governance since 1946.
Mrs. Arroyo meant the immediate past of no more than the last six months during which her legitimacy was in doubt. Malacanang contends that the failure of the impeachment campaign against her has closed that past; it is that past it wants the nation to break from. Mrs. Arroyo’s call was thus meant to serve her and her allies’ interests and no one else’s.
No matter how much Mrs. Arroyo may want it, however, no closure to that past—the political crisis that has haunted her regime since June 2005—has been reached.
There is widespread skepticism among the citizenry that the defeat of the effort to impeach her last year was legitimate proof that Mrs. Arroyo was not guilty of electoral fraud.
Like much of the population, the Senate is not convinced either that the end of the impeachment effort laid all doubts over Mrs. Arroyo’s legitimacy to rest. And even the House of Representatives, where most of Mrs. Arroyo’s political allies are resident, doubt it too. As the year ended, the House issued a statement putting its investigation into the “Hello Garci” tapes, together with charter change, on top of its agenda for 2006.
Beyond these realities, however, there are the proposed amendments to the Constitution that are supposedly meant to reform the political system. Proceeding from the equally flawed assumption that the reform of the political system can be achieved through a shift to a parliamentary system, but with the same people from the same political class in parliament, the amendments Malacanang, the House majority, and the Malacanang-created (and misnamed) Consultative Commission are proposing have themselves become the focus of controversy.
Primarily the controversy has arisen from the perception that Constitutional amendments — among other purposes, some of them being as sinister–are being used to cloak Mrs. Arroyo and her House cohorts’ efforts to continue in power until 2010, and beyond that year, for the same political class to tighten its monopoly over political power in this country.
Far from being a break from the past, the amendments—which contain a rider that would postpone the 2007 elections and make Mrs. Arroyo head of state and president once the parliamentary system is in place– would not only enable Mrs. Arroyo to remain in office until 2010. They would also link whatever future the country has with the same history of corruption and inefficiency dynastic rule has inflicted on the nation since 1946. This is not a break from the past, but a continuation of it.
The break from the past Mrs.Arroyo and company have been asking for is not only a mere break from a very recent part of it (the Hello Garci tapes controversy). It is also no more than a ploy to delude the citizenry into believing that real reforms—and the “brave new future” Mrs. Arroyo promised in her New Year message—are forthcoming.
What’s equally obvious is that the very same “politics” that Mrs. Arroyo and her allies attack at every opportunity– which they say is harming the country and driving it to perdition– is the very same force that drives their effort to make Filipinos accept that her legitimacy was established last September, and to make them believe that amending the Constitution by, among others, effecting a shift to the parliamentary system, will reform the political system and mark the country’s break from the past..
It wasn’t, and it won’t.