Because Francisco Tatad fancies himself a writer–as he is indeed fancied by others who think that all anyone needs to be one is the capacity to put words on paper–one must assume that he chooses his metaphors carefully.

If Tatad was quoted accurately last week, we may thus assume that his description of the Arroyo government as “ripe for the picking” was the result of some thought. Surely he must have considered its appropriateness and nuances, and its capacity to make an otherwise unfamiliar concept familiar through an implied comparison with something known.

The implied comparison was of course between the Arroyo government and a fruit. By making that comparison, Tatad, we can only presume, was trying to tell the public that the Arroyo government has reached the limit of its life span, though somewhat prematurely. But he was also saying that its end can be hurried along–it can now be plucked from the “tree”.

That raises the question of what the “tree” from which the Arroyo government is hanging represents. But the most immediate question is, Who’s going to do the picking? Why, Tatad and company, of course, particularly his Christian National Union (CNU), and the crowd of former presidents and presidential candidates they have arbitrarily decided should replace the Arroyo government.

Tatad arrived last week from “consultations” with “Filipino groups” and the “international community”—or, to put it more accurately, from talks with some Filipino groups and (maybe) a part of the international community. Based on those talks, his conclusion is that the Arroyo government’s days are numbered.

To complement Tatad’s statement, CNU chair Salvador Enriquez told the media that there is a proposal–he did not say by what or by whom: did he and Tatad kick around the notion over a whiskey by any chance?–for the creation of an interim government that will be composed of former Presidents Corazon Aquino, Fidel V. Ramos, and Joseph Estrada, together with former presidential candidates Eduardo “Brother Eddie” Villanueva and Fernando Poe, Jr.

The idea, said Enriquez, was acceptable to the “international community”–a phrase everyone should be rightfully skeptical about ever since George W. Bush used it to refer to the United States, Britain, Australia, Poland, the Philippines and Eritrea as the “international community” supporting the war on Iraq.

But Bush’s international community is likely to be more international than Tatad and Enriquez’ version–unless they can present a list showing that they consulted half, or even a fourth or a fifth, of the UN membership of over 120 countries. As it is, one is led to presume that the “international community” they’re referring to primarily means Transparency International and the Christian Democratic Unions in Europe, particularly in Germany, with which CNU is affiliated.

The point is that the claim that the “international community” is sanctioning the Arroyo government’s replacement is very likely to be a figment of Tatad and company’s wishful thinking–and their limited Bush-like definition of what constitutes “the international community.”

But their specifying which groups, governments, and political parties whether in or out of power they talked to would dispel the suspicion that the international consensus for the removal of the Arroyo government and its replacement by an interim government made up of Aquino, Ramos, Estrada, Villanueva and Poe they’re claiming is as fictive as the weapons of mass destruction the United States used as an excuse to attack Iraq in 2003.

But assuming the existence of such a consensus nevertheless–although I for one am eager to find out whether the United States or at least our partners in ASEAN are part of it–and assuming further that there’s no hope for the Arroyo government (as there is indeed less than none), the next bone of contention is whether an interim government of the likes proposed by Tatad and company is the answer.

While the idea of joint governance is not necessarily unworkable (like Christianity, it has never been tried in these parts), its composition as proposed invites skepticism. All three former presidents, by default or otherwise, after all contributed to the problems the country’s now facing, so how can they now undo the mess that’s at least partly their doing–or non-doing?

In 1986 Corazon Aquino promised to pay every last cent of the Philippine debt, rather than seek negotiations with its creditors, and despite the fact that huge chunks of the Philippine debt had gone into the pockets of Ferdinand Marcos and his allies and into the superprofits of such corporations as Westinghouse. Aquino also refused to heed the advice–from counter-insurgency expert Roy Prosterman of the USAID–to use her decree-making powers to abolish land tenancy or risk civil war in the future.

Fidel V. Ramos not only rushed the country into globalization, he was also responsible for those deals with so-called Independent Power Producers the country’s still paying despite the failure of many of them to generate the electricity for which the the government promised to pay anyway. And let’s not even mention the centennial and other scams.

As for Estrada, he would be about as credible a leader of reform as a drug dealer in charge of the anti-drug campaign (which the Philippine government has occasionally done), and as credible a symbol of honesty, efficiency and forthrightness (the absence of which qualities the Arroyo government is being indicted for) as Maj. Gen. Carlos F. Garcia.

Of Villanueva and Poe there can be grudging acceptance, because, not having been in government, they’re unknown qualities. But you can bet your last ill-gotten dollar that, if ever they take reform seriously, they’ll be in the minority of whatever membership the “interim government” finally decides on.

You can also bet your New York condo that any such government will have (naturally), Tatad and Enriquez somewhere calling at least some of the shots, together with all those opposition worthies who, when they were in power, were doing exactly the same thing that Mrs. Arroyo, her generals and her other company are currently accused of doing.

No wonder Tatad used the fruit metaphor. Government, in the mindset that that metaphor reveals, is a prize no matter how ripe–or rotten–for plucking. Far be it for the people now massing in the wings of the stage in the theater of the absurd we call Philippine politics (to mix our metaphors) to see the political system as part of the elite roots of the crooked tree called Philippine society.

It is those roots that have stunted the tree’s growth and made it into a perverted version of the vision of the tree of justice, abundance and liberty that the best and the brightest sons and daughters of the Filipino people still believe to be possible. No, it is not the same members of the same political elite that helped nurture it–who can aspire no further than to pick its poisoned fruits–who can uproot this offensive, corrupt and corrupting abomination. Only the emerging power of the people can.


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.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *