The current (and seemingly worsening) power crisis and what it could mean to the May elections, among the possibilities being that of a nation wide shut-down of the machines being put in place for the first ever automated polls.

The possible granting of emergency powers to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to address the power shortage in Mindanao. Questions over Arroyo’s last-minute appointments in the military and the executive branch. Her literally hundreds of “midnight” appointments to various positions, from ambassadors to bureau underlings.

The debate on whether Arroyo can appoint the next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The Court’s ruling that she could, and its earlier declaration that appointed officials running in this year’s elections must resign.

The perversion of the party list system, including the extent to which the meaning of “marginalized” and “underrepresented” has been stretched to include such groups as sororities and personalities such as, among dozens of others, Congressman Mikey Arroyo and former Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes.

Fears over Arroyo’s remaining in power either through the failure of elections or her capturing the Speakership of the House of Representatives where she’s likely to be elected, together with an overwhelming majority of her allies and party list fifth columnists.

The worse possibility, in case of a failure of elections, that a military junta would take power, as was suggested by Juan Ponce Enrile and seconded by Arroyo deputy spokesperson Charito Planas. The supposed rift between the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines over supporting the extension of Arroyo’s term in case of a failure of elections.

These were among the most prominent subjects of media reporting on election-related matters as the campaign for the presidential, vice presidential, senatorial, and party list elections entered its sixth week, and the drive for local posts went into its second.

While, whether in print, broadcast or online, the press has also been in the usual “horse race” mode in these elections — it’s been reporting, almost to a fault, who’s leading in the surveys, who said what during this or that forum, what happened during a candidate’s sortie into the provinces, who’s spending the most in ads and whose campaign jingle is the most popular, etc., etc. — it’s also been focused on the many problems and uncertainties attending the forthcoming polls.

Although it can be a bad thing if purely reactive, the press does reflect public concerns, not only because relevance is a key element of conventional news values, but also because being in tune with what interests and occupies the public at any given time is crucial to the commercial viability of media enterprises. These media concerns apparently reflect public anxieties, in what’s emerging as the most problematic elections in the country’s post-martial law history.

In these elections as in 2004 and 2007, the source of public and media anxiety is the sense that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo could be planning something to stay in power. But this sense is far more pronounced, and is in fact the major subtext of election-related discourse.

It’s neither paranoia nor fixation. Mrs. Arroyo has after all displayed not only a blithe indifference to what the public may think, she’s also appeared to have methodically covered all the bases by making sure that all the odds are in her favor these elections, despite the expiration of her term in June.

Among the indicators of her total indifference to public opinion, for example, is her running for the second congressional district of Pampanga, which a few months ago was a rumor that tended to be dismissed even by some of her critics as too low an alternative even for her. Today the idea that she’s running for Congress so she could be Speaker of the House to spearhead a drive to amend the Constitution so she can be prime minister doesn’t sound so far-fetched.

Neither is the possibility that among her other options to stay in power no matter what, are (1) to be part of a civilian-military junta should there be a failure of elections in May; (2) to nullify the results of the elections on some pretext or the other should these not be to her liking; or — and some observers think this is even more probable — (3) that the much touted fraud proof system the Commission on Elections claims to be putting in place through the problem-plagued and scandal-ridden automated election system may actually make another miscount of the votes even easier.

If these are among the intentions, and the mother intention of staying in power and the means to achieve it seem plain enough, neither Mrs. Arroyo nor her henchmen seem to be taking any special care to conceal either their aims or methods.

Among the latter are her appointment of one of her most loyal generals to head the Armed Forces, and her determination to appoint the next Chief Justice.

The first is the key element in the elaborate structure of power Mrs. Arroyo has put together, since she apparently believes that whoever has the guns rules. It would assure continuing military support, whether for a term extension, a declaration of martial rule should that provoke mass civil unrest, the installation of a civil-military junta, a wholesale amendment of the Constitution not only to affect the shift to a parliamentary system but also to rid it of such provisions problematic to authoritarianism as the Bill of Rights, or whatever else Mrs. Arroyo may choose to do after May 10.

On the other hand, her appointment of the next Chief Justice would assure her of friendly rulings from a Supreme Court whose justices would all be her appointees, thus providing whatever she does that veneer of legality such of her initiatives as the 2006 declaration of a state of emergency and her declaration of martial law in Maguindanao have lacked.

Both the media and the public have every reason to be concerned. The country does have a problem, and has had a problem since 2001, and its name is Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. She may not be the mother of all its problems. But she’s certainly the mother of many of them.


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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