The worst may be over — for Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her gang of marauders.

That at least is what regime consiglieri Norberto Gonzales — a man for others if there ever was one — believes. Otherwise known by his official title of National Security Adviser, Gonzales, having apparently pondered deeply on the current state of Mrs. Arroyo’s chances of hanging on to her office — i.e., on her security — claims that she’s likely to stay on, although attempts to unseat her will continue till the end of the year.

Gonzales says the threat against Mrs. Arroyo peaked during the Makati Interfaith rally on February 29, which, he said, failed to produce the numbers its organizers were hoping for.

He didn’t say that this was partly due to the efforts of the police and the military, which erected check points not only north and south of Manila to prevent people from getting to Makati, but even in metro Manila itself.

But if indeed only a paltry 15,000 showed up last February 29 rather than the 75,000 the organizers were claiming, it would also be due in no small measure to the continuing refusal of most metro Manila residents to join street protests despite their belief that the Arroyo regime is at one and the same time the most corrupt, the most voracious, and the most deceitful since the Marcos period. (That’s some sort of record, Marcos’ regime having been once thought to be the ultimate expression of bureaucrat capitalism.)

Only 16 percent of metro Manilans, says a recent Pulse Asia survey, are willing to join demonstrations condemning the regime, even as 53 percent agree with the reasons for mass actions. In terms of warm bodies, 16 percent means 650,000 people — not all of whom are likely to attend the same protest at the same time.

But that’s just one of the reasons for current regime glee. Gonzales says there’s also the “fact” that everything has been said: “the worst lies have been expressed.”

The NSA may have something there. The worst lies may indeed have been uttered — by his fellows in a regime that has made lying both a science as well as an art, although anything is still possible after the performance of such experts at prevarication as police colonels, airport officials, and Malacanang lackeys.

However, Gonzales was likely to be referring to witnesses like Rodolfo Jun Lozada and Dante Madriaga, who have been providing the Senate and the public the sordid billion-peso details of the National Broadband Network project. His certainty suggests that the regime has more or less “fixed” things by, among other devices, paying off whoever else may be thinking of squealing, and that no more surprises in the same category as Lozada’s and Madriaga’s testimonies are forthcoming.

But in further affirmation of Albay Governor and presidential economic adviser Jose Salceda’s observation that someone’s being extremely lucky, there’s also the fact that Holy Week has come early this year, and Congress will go into recess next week to resume sessions only in April.

Meanwhile, it’s either graduation time or final exam week in the country’s schools, from where a large portion of the warm bodies in the protests have come. Leave it to Filipinos to postpone matters of national urgency for graduation ceremonies and trips to the beach: after all, no one has ever lost money underestimating the Filipino public, and if you expect people in this part of planet Earth to forego their present pleasures for the sake of their future, you’ve been living in a fictional country.

In the meantime, Mrs. Arroyo and company haven’t been at rest, having succeeded in merging Lakas-CMD and KAMPI into the biggest political party in this country after throwing out Jose de Venecia and whatever else remains of his once formidable cohort. This augurs nothing but the best for the very same group that, among other epithets, has been called “greedy” even by the people it has worked with. They have A PLAN.

Add to this the fact that the police and the military are unlikely to seek Mrs. Arroyo’s ouster unless they see it as a possibility as distinct as that of Marcos’ in 1986 and Estrada’s in 2001, and you have the more than likely possibility that Mrs. Arroyo will remain in office.

But the question is until when. Despite Mrs. Arroyo’s protestations that she’ll step down in 2010, which everyone hopes she will, all bets should be off that she will indeed gracefully exit the political arena by that year. While she could, having assured through the Lakas-KAMPI merger as well as her expertise in “protecting” her votes in 2004 that she will be succeeded by a regime much like hers, she can also still change her tune as that year approaches. After all she’s changed her tune so often one more time won’t make much of a difference.

Emboldened by her run of good luck, and convinced that it’s God’s will to inflict her and hers on the Filipino people forever and ever, she and her minions can amend the constitution, put a parliamentary system in place, and end up either prime minister or president after 2010.

The awful truth is that unless she resigns or is ousted, the country of our despair is likely to have her and hers for overlords and bloodsuckers from now till the dim future. The worst may be over for the regime. But it could be only the beginning for the citizens of this sad republic.



Luis V. Teodoro

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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