In 1966 the late US Senator J. William Fulbright used the term “the arrogance of power” to explain what he thought was driving the US war in Vietnam, and described it as a tendency “to equate power with virtue.”

In Vietnam then as in Iraq today, the United States was using its vast military power against the guerillas of the National Liberation Front (the Vietcong) in the name of defending freedom and establishing democracy in a country Fulbright said had no traditions in either. Fulbright doubted whether the US would succeed, and he turned out to be correct. The US lost the war in Vietnam in 1975.

Arrogance is the inevitable consequence of unaccountable power. The Philippines does not have the “major responsibilities” Fulbright believed a world power like the United States has. But Philippine officialdom nevertheless suffers from a terminal case of the same ailment.

The Arroyo regime is especially afflicted because it has survived one crisis after another, and in the process has come to believe that the key to survival and dominance is the willingness to use power whatever the cost to this country, its laws, and its people. It is the beneficiary of the very same culture of impunity it has allowed to flourish through its inability and/or unwillingness to stop the killing of political activists and journalists.

It does try to hide behind the cloak of virtue. It claims to be driven by “national interest” when suppressing dissent and violating the Constitution, or by the imperative to defend democracy when its soldiers beat, torture and kill children and other non-combatants.

The façade is beginning to crumble, however, and it is nowhere more evident than in the case of Raul Gonzalez, who, in this country of ironies, happens to be the regime’s Secretary of Justice.

Gonzalez told community leaders in Iloilo City last Sunday that he would give P10,000 to every one of them who managed to deliver a 12-0 vote in favor of administration (Team Unity) candidates for senator.

The promised P10,000 was “a prize” as well as an “incentive,” said lawyer Gonzalez when reminded that Article 261 of the Omnibus Election Code expressly prohibits vote-buying and selling.

It wasn’t vote- buying, said Gonzalez, because he made the offer not to voters, but to Iloilo barangay captains, community leaders Gonzalez claims to be among his constituencies. What’s more, he said, he wasn’t going to use government funds but his own. Besides, asked Gonzalez, what’s wrong with throwing an inducement like, say, a trip to Hong Kong, to a local leader if he delivers the votes?

What’s wrong with that is that it’s illegal, and Article 261 of the Omnibus Election Code says so. The Code lists among prohibited acts the giving, offering, or promise of “money or anything of value… in order to induce anyone or the public in general to vote for or against any candidate, to withhold his vote in the election, or to vote for or against any aspirant for the nomination or choice of a candidate in a convention or similar selection process of a political party.”

Any “incentive” or an “inducement” to his leaders in Iloilo is in short a form of vote-buying, period. But the wonder of it is why or how lawyer Gonzalez should have made the offer–which he does not deny–in the first place.

One possible conclusion is that he doesn’t know the law. But that surely cannot be the case, the Code as well as all laws passed by Congress being standard reading for lawyers via the Official Gazette. And isn’t he the regime’s lead lawyer, in the first place?

The more credible answer is not that Gonzalez doesn’t know the law, but that he’s become so used to getting away with taking it so lightly that he didn’t think his announcing his offer could lead to any accountability on his part. After all, Gonzalez has bent and twisted the law so often, and without any adverse consequences to his fortunes, he must be so used to it by now that he’s lost all respect for it.

But while Gonzalez is the regime’s most visible and loudest example of the arrogance of power, he isn’t the only one.

Include Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s generals in the same company. Reserve a special place for Secretary of Defense Hermogenes Ebdane, who shrugged off Chief Justice Reynato Puno’s warning about the mindlessness of the anti-terrorism campaign and its leading to human rights violations by declaring that it was only Puno’s opinion, and that he had his own, equally valid views.

Include as well former Marcos era general and now executive secretary Eduardo Ermita, who laughed off Gonzalez’ offer by saying that it was merely “smart politics”–and admitted that he too did the same thing when he was a congressman.

But remember to put at the very top of this sorry list Gonzalez himself. Responding to a report that some Malacanang denizens were appalled by his offer, he declared that he would cancel a planned TU rally in Iloilo City and save himself the P500,000 he proudly said he would have spent, while seeing to it that other TU rallies are not held in Iloilo because, he said, “no one there can hold a rally without my approval.”

Gonzalez is declaring for all the world to hear the one principle of survival and dominance the regime he serves has learned. One need not even pretend to be virtuous; power alone is enough.

(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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