The next few days–or the next 72 hours, as administration sources themselves sa–may indeed decide the fate of the Macapagal Arroyo administration. Its ouster through another People Power uprising, however, seems unlikely at this point, and the political crisis may very well be resolved in its favor.
Both People Power 1 and 2 succeeded in removing presidents because of a confluence of several factors. While some of those factors already exist, some are noticeably missing. Chief among them is the absence of any consensus among the groups arrayed against Macapagal Arroyo as to how to remove her, and who or what should succeed her.
In 1986 there was no doubt as to who would replace Marcos. Corazon Aquino was not only Ninoy Aquino’s widow as well as the probable winner in the snap elections. She also had the moral ascendancy, the middle class constituency and the support of the king-making sectors of Philippine society including the United States, business, and the anti-Marcos wing of the military bureaucracy.
In 2001 Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was not only the constitutionally designated successor of Joseph Estrada. Although she did not enjoy the same levels of enthusiasm that Aquino did, she was also acceptable to the middle classes, business, and, eventually, the police and the military.
Vice President Noli de Castro, while not yet tainted by the widespread belief that Macapagal-Arroyo cheated in the last elections, is unacceptable to the middle class, the anti-Macapagal Arroyo wing of the military, and to much of civil society and business. The various groups arrayed against Macapagal- Arroyo thus have their own preferred successors, among them the civilian-military junta the retired generals favor, the council of leaders militant groups have proposed, and the various opposition schemes that now include returning Joseph Estrada to power and Senate President Franklyn Drilon’s assuming the role of a caretaker president.
The disagreement over the succession issue reflects the disparity of interests and agendas among the retired and active military officers, the various wings of the opposition, the left, and the bishops of the Catholic Church. But it is also the result of middle class disappointment with People Power 1 and 2, neither of which led to the social and political reforms both promised.
The irony is that Macapagal Arroyo, the beneficiary of People Power 2, is now also the unintended beneficiary of widespread disappointment with People Power. Not only the failure of the groups and forces now against her to agree on the succession question is to her benefit. So is their disgagreement over how to remove her. While the People Power option remains an option for the left and other militant groups, for example, the military favors a coup. Impeachment has been bruited about as the constitutional though far-fetched option, given the opposition’s lack of numbers in the House of Representatives. Impeachmeant is in any case a long process that may not necessarily lead to the series of events that eventually ousted Estrada in 2001.
While its removal seems unlikely at this point, however, the Macapagal Arroyo government’s surviving this crisis does not guarantee that it will serve out its term till 2010.
Disenchantment with the regime and its massive loss of credibility and popular support are realities the surveys on Macapagal-Arroyo’s negative approval ratings have confirmed. Equally telling are the cracks within its own ranks, as evidenced earlier by the resignations of several key officials during the summer, and lately, the possibility that its own intelligence agencies may have tapped Macapagal-Arroyo’s cell phone and recorded her alleged conversation with a Commission on Elections official.
There is also the US’ earlier refusal to express strong support for her government, and its previous reservations over her reliability as an ally, given her decision to withdraw the Philippine humanitarian contingent from Iraq last year, and her alleged, recent flirtation with China.
Although it is true that US support is not the only factor that decided the outcomes of the political crises of 1986 and 2001, it is nevertheless a crucial one. Various sectors including the military take their cue from the US embassy, as has been recently obvious. From the viewpoint of these sectors, the US embassy was, until Friday last week, at least neutral as far as the question of removing Macapagal-Arroyo is concerned.
The police and military support the regime supposedly has could be as illusory as that which Marcos and Estrada enjoyed in 1986 and 2001, respectively. Police and military support is among the most unreliable in Philippine politics, and likely to melt under the pressure of various forces, among them the police and military leadership’s perceptions of who can best guarantee their interests.
It is true that the present crisis is the worst that has ever afflicted the Macapagal-Arroyo government since 2001. It is in fact the worst crisis any government since Marcos’ has ever experienced. But it may not necessarily lead to the government’s removal.
However, given the current state of its credibility and support, its incorrigible incapacity to achieve much of anything, its increasingly oppressive character, and the runaway corruption metastasizing within it, its surmounting the present crisis will not mean stability until 2010.
The likelihood is that, as its failures accumulate and as its legitimacy remains doubtful at best, it will be besieged by crisis after crisis in the years to come. Any one of those crises can lead to its ouster, assuming that the points of differences among the groups opposed to it, among them the question of how to remove Macapagal Arroyo and who will succeed her, are resolved. This is a government so damaged and so despised its ouster can only be a matter of time.