The 2003 military occupation of Oakwood Hotel was the only confirmed coup attempt against the Arroyo regime since it took power in 2001. Senators Ralph Recto and Joker Arroyo, however, alluded, not to that one coup attempt, but to coup “attempts” when they justified last Monday their decision to join the Arroyo senatorial slate, which suggested that there was more than one stab at a coup between 2001 and today.

It’s fairly certain, however, that there were no other attempts at a coup after Oakwood. There might have been a coup plot in 2006, but it never went far beyond the planning stage. It was limited to a lot of noise and little action–although it was pretext enough for the Arroyo regime to declare a state of emergency and to pretend that the Constitution did not exist.

But Recto and Arroyo were correct in their criticism of the opposition coalition’s silence on Oakwood. UNO has even included in its senatorial slate Navy lieutenant junior grade Antonio Trillanes, the principal accused in the Oakwood mutiny, which implies approval at least of Trillanes’ Oakwood “protest.”

There may be a thousand reasons to justify the dismantling of the Arroyo regime. Supporting a military coup that would do so may be a tempting option, given the regime’s high crimes and tenacious hold on power. But it’s doubtful if what will follow will be any better.

It could be worse, not the least because the Philippine military, by tradition, indoctrination and inclination, is hardly a democratizing and reformist force. It’s hardly surprising that no military putschist since the coup attempts of the 1980s has ever proposed a sensible, or even any, program of government beyond the usual motherhood statements.

Recto and Arroyo were also right in pointing out that in wanting to impeach Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the opposition hasn’t been clear about supporting her Constitutional successor. That would be Vice-President Noli de Castro, against whom, until she decided to run for the Senate again, former Senator Loren Legarda had an electoral protest alleging that de Castro cheated in the 2004 elections.

Recto and Arroyo also said that Mrs. Arroyo had never tried to undermine their independence despite their opposition to the regime’s “grave blunders.” That’s something between them and Mrs. Arroyo, of course, and we’ll have to take their word for it. But it’s when Recto and Arroyo declare that the economy’s looking up, and when they chastise the opposition for supposedly ignoring the Constitution, that they enter the realm of the controversial. Many economists will say that the economy’s not exactly booming, given the worsening poverty documented by various research groups, which have found the incidence of hunger increasing, and incomes falling. As for the Constitution, we all know who was the first to ignore and undermine it.

Recto and Arroyo agree, anyway, that “the rich are getting richer” and that whatever economic improvements are taking place “have yet to be felt by the vast majority of the poor.” But in the same breath they claim that “the people are getting better off,” although they describe the process as “little by little.” Their conclusion: the country is moving forward, and “the political choice in the coming election is to trip up the country or help it along.”

Apparently, in the new Recto-Arroyo cosmos, one can only help the country along by voting for regime candidates, whether for the Senate or for the local elections. After all, only by doing so can the regime “complete the work it is doing.”

But what exactly is “the work it is doing”? Nurturing the economy? Broadening participation? Enhancing democracy? Defending the Constitution? Protecting human rights? Governing efficiently and honestly? The Recto-Arroyo statement does mention the economy and even (gasp) the Constitution, but hardly goes beyond criticizing the opposition for not decrying coup “attempts” and for not supporting Noli de Castro’s succeeding Mrs. Arroyo should she be impeached.

Glaringly absent in the Recto-Arroyo statement is any reference to the key issue of the continuing crisis that’s being driven by questions over Mrs. Arroyo’s legitimacy and her consequent assault on the Bill of Rights (ergo, the Constitution) in order to survive politically. There is no mention either of the unabated killing of political activists–including killings while the UN Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial killings is in the country–that’s become national policy during her watch.

Why this failure to even mention the issues that have made the May elections one of the most crucial since 1986? Never mind Ralph Recto. Some grandsons just can’t be within spitting distance of the legacies of their grandfathers. But for human rights lawyer Joker Arroyo to ignore the most brutal and most systematic violations of human rights since Marcos as a factor in his decision on under what banner to run–that should count among the great mysteries of life in this, the country of our sorrows.

(Business Mirror)

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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