Unlike that other “victory” in 2004, Manny Pacquiao’s victory over Mexico’s Erik Morales has been correctly described as clean. He didn’t appoint the referee. He didn’t spend other people’s money to convince them he’s the better fighter. And he didn’t call the judges when they were tallying the scores either.

But Pacquiao’s victory is being tainted by the usual suspects: the politicians of the Arroyo administration who regularly cluck their forked tongues over “too much politics”. No politics and all unity has been these worthies’ mantra since the “Hello Garci” tapes broke into print and broadcast in mid-2005. They were at it again exactly a day after Pacquiao’s victory last week.

The second lowest point of that event—that part of it Filipinos booed and jeered up and down the archipelago– occurred when Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s husband jumped into the ring and pushed his cell phone into Pacquiao’s face to tell him Mrs. Arroyo was calling. Its lowest point took place when the same husband (whom some people insist on calling the First Gentleman) declared his alleged love for the alleged President of the Philippines on video—and in Spanish too.

A singular source of amusement, however, was Mrs. Arroyo’s “Hello Manny” greeting, which opposition congressmen—and about 30 million other Filipinos—said sounded suspiciously like the “Hello Garci” woman’s own on those infamous tapes.

Raul Gonzales, by the grace of Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo and nothing else Secretary of Justice, reacted to that suspicion by deploring the opposition’s “injecting politics” into Mrs. Arroyo and husband’s latest attempt to pander to the multitude. He also took the occasion to disparage Filipinos in general, whom he described as “cynical” and “prejudiced”.

Gonzalez went on to ask why Filipinos should not celebrate, whereas the point was that Filipinos do want to celebrate– but without the company of the Arroyos, please. The latter, after all, were obviously trying to make political capital out of Pacquiao’s win– while their subalterns proclaimed the need for a respite from politics, or for no politics, and latched on to Pacquiao’s wish for “understanding” among Filipinos as if it were the missing mandate of the Arroyo presidency.

But no one should underestimate the power of the “no politics” mantra. The Pacquiao episode is only the latest sign that it’s taking hold among a people exhausted by the daily struggle for survival and who can’t see the connection between bad and dishonest governance (i.e., politics) and the poverty, misery and even hunger that haunt them.

The demand for “no politics” from Mrs. Arroyo and her allies is shorthand for no-politics-from-the-opposition, meaning the opposition should stop opposing. On the other hand, the “unity” theme is Morse Code for everyone’s rallying to Mrs. Arroyo’s side as the de facto, though not necessarily the de jure, president.

But the Arroyo administration and its allies, including the so-called “First Gentleman”, are themselves exempt from the “no politics” and “unity” requirements– i.e., that they can indulge in the nastiest and narrowest politics and divide Filipino for their purposes and whenever it suits their interests.

The “no politics” and “unity” themes are thus only the façade of a complex construct of unspoken assumptions and demands. They’re something the traditional politicians (trapos) in Malacanang and Congress devised to weasel their way out of accountability for May 2004 and its aftermath, including their assassins’ role in the Arroyo impeachment complaint last September.

Thus did Mr. Arroyo jump into the ring with his cell-phone to bask in Pacquiao’s glory. Thus did his bitter half say “Hello Manny”, and thus did she describe him as her “inspiration.” And thus did Mr. Arroyo declare on video, Amor, te quiero mucho, as if to prove that not even love is safe from trapo exploitation.

Millions did jeer and nearly lost their lunch as both Pacquiao and love itself were being shamelessly and unknowingly used for the basest motives. But there are any number of Filipinos who’ve swallowed the “no politics” and “unity” line so desperately they now think it the talisman that will make reforms possible.

Among these Filipinos are many who should know better, the latest being retired Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. who described his acceptance of his recent appointment as Mrs. Arroyo’s “Adviser on Electoral Reforms” as “non-political.”

That appointment is as non-political as Mr. and Mrs. Arroyo’s attempt to cling to Pacquiao’s coat-tails to boost their basement-level popularity ratings. But Davide defines politics solely to mean “running for political positions”. Ergo, since he does not intend to run for a political position, the appointment “has nothing to do with politics.”

Unfortunately, it has everything to do with politics. Davide could very well be presiding over another pretense at reform for which he would provide the credibility not one of the dominant politicians in the administration from Arroyo downwards has.

The Arroyo administration is as committed to electoral or any other reform as a tiger would be to vegetarianism. But getting the services of people like Davide in such show case efforts like electoral reform and constitutional amendments gives them the ring of sincerity and trustworthiness Arroyo and company lack.

What’s more, Davide, like the so-called Consultative Commission, would be in an advisory capacity, which means that Mrs. Arroyo can take his advice or leave it— or choose what’s best for her and her allies’ interests while chucking the rest.

To the authors of these and other subterfuges we owe the dominance in this vale of tears of politics in its narrowest, most self-serving sense, and the elusiveness of the “unity” that falls from the lips of Arroyo and company at every opportunity– including boxing matches.

(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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