Most Filipinos think that, as the expression from US political lore goes, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is so unpopular she couldn’t win an election as a dog-catcher. Her numbers validate that view, the most recent being a whopping 46 percent disapproval grade and a 48 percent mistrust rating, according to Pulse Asia. If her numbers were any lower she could shake hands with the devil. As ratings go these numbers favorably compare only with those of the late Idi Amin when he was president of Uganda; not even the much-despised George W. Bush was as mistrusted.

No matter. Apparently Mrs. Arroyo thinks she can win an election – but not as president, which in 2004 she amply demonstrated she couldn’t, but as a congresswoman in the Second District of Pampanga, of which the Macapagal hometown, Lubao, is a part.

In addition to crisscrossing the globe begging for jobs and dollars instead of doing something about the economy so Filipinos won’t have to leave their families to work in places whose names they can’t even pronounce, Mrs. Arroyo also loves to travel within the country. After 2004 she went off on a number of trips to the Visayas, where she was supposed to have won the presidential elections big-time, and where she thought she would get receptions friendlier than in, say, the campus of a Manila university.

Since 2005 she’s been very selective about the places she visits in the country where she claims to have won the Presidency, mostly because she tends to be heckled and jeered and demonstrated against, and to have her effigy burned in most of it, including the Visayas.

Since February this year Mrs. Arroyo has limited most of her domestic travels — 14 out of 15 — to Pampanga, or more specifically to the second district of that province known for the Pinatubo eruption and lahar flows, and a cuisine so adrip with fat the mere sight of it has been known to cause a heart attack. Pampanga is also the home of the Macabebe tribe, from which came the most loyal foot soldiers of the Spanish and US colonial regimes. In 1901 a Macabebe traitor embraced Emilio Aguinaldo in Palanan, Isabela to signal his arrest by the US soldiers the Macabebes pretended to be holding prisoner.

There in the land of her fathers, as in countries like Spain, Mrs. Arroyo apparently feels she is loved, in contrast with the rest of the country which can’t wait to see her out of Malacanang.

But it’s not for love alone that she’s been waving at the crowds, embracing old women, and kissing babies in laharland. If the trial balloons from the Palace by the Pasig are any indication, it’s also for votes in 2010, when, she has proclaimed again and again, there will be elections despite House Resolution 1109.

A palace subaltern — acting on her orders, of course — has in fact said that she could run for Congress, citing as precedent the US experience with two former presidents who did run for Congress, and arguing that there is no legal impediment for Mrs. Arroyo’s move to Congress when she — everyone hopes — leaves Malacanang in 2010.

So much for fears of no elections — and never mind the stupid comparison with the US experience. The vehemence with which Mrs. Arroyo and company have declared that there will be elections in 2010 suggests that holding the elections next year is among the regime’s major political options.

What the regime’s not saying is that if it manages to ram charter change through via the House of ill repute, the elections could be for parliament instead of the presidency, the House and the Senate. If that’s the case Mrs. Arroyo can, and probably will, run as a member of parliament (MP) representing the second district of Pampanga — and who, knows, could end up as the prime minister of our worst nightmares in a parliament controlled by the Lakas-Kampi coalition. But if the regime fails to effect a shift to the parliamentary system before May 2010, Mrs. Arroyo can still run for Congress under the present system, although that’s not as attractive an option as the first.

Which explains why the vehemence with which Mrs. Arroyo and spokespersons have declared that there will be elections is equaled only by their resounding silence over House Resolution 1109 — and their blithe indifference to the public’s resistance to charter change, and Mrs. Arroyo’s own studied snub of her falling approval ratings.

What distinguishes this regime from its predecessors is, among others, its infinite capacity for ignoring public opinion, to listen to which it has claimed would constitute pandering to what’s popular. It forgets — or has never quite understood — hat “popularity” in the sense of public approval is at the very core of democratic governance.

But what does it care, one way or another? What it knows is that money, manipulation, power and fear win elections — and that if elections were held today Mrs. Arroyo and her entire gang, no matter how unpopular and no matter how hated, would keep their seats in Malacanang and Congress.

It’s as if EDSA 1 and 2 never happened. It’s as if the Independence Day the country’s marking today, not to mention the Revolution of 1896 that made it possible, were mere figments of our collective imaginations.

The present descendants of the principalia — the progeny of the datus who collaborated with the Spaniards in the conquest of these islands, who later betrayed the Revolution and became the Americans’ lapdogs only to serve the Japanese during World War II — these traitors to national independence who’re holding forth in one of the most despised regimes in Philippine history are equally traitors to the democracy they perennially claim to be defending. It’s enough for anyone to wish for another revolution.


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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