The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has never been more wrong–or has never been as typically shortsighted–in attributing the developing crisis of the Arroyo administration to “nitpicking by the opposition and some sectors of the media.”

These sectors, as well as the civil-society groups and the Left, have “artificially created” the political crisis besetting the Arroyo administration, said CBCP president Archbishop Orlando Quevedo in a statement to the media issued on Sunday.

The way Quevedo sees it, it all began with the May-June power grab by the opposition at the Senate, which “compelled” the administration to make “political compromises.”

Quevedo is presumably referring to, among others, the administration offer to appoint Blas Ople secretary of foreign affairs. Ople’s acceptance of the post would have meant his resignation from the Senate, and therefore the resolution of the 12-12 deadlock in that chamber in favor of the administration.

The CBCP said that these issues–the Senate impasse and the administration’s response to it–were “petty issues” that have led to “a contrived and artificially created national crisis.”

Ergo, the CBCP will remain in “critical solidarity” with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, to whom it does not see “any realistic and nationally beneficial alternatives.”

“Why should we,” asked Quevedo, “raise petty issues about her personality, her ‘political mistakes,’ as if she were Superwoman?”

Quevedo blamed the Left and certain civil-society groups, specifically the Council on Philippine Affairs, for making it seem that there is a national crisis rather than just a petty political issue.

Someone break the news to Quevedo, quick. The Arroyo administration has been in crisis since late last year, when the military allowed the Abu Sayyaf to break through its Lamitan cordon. That event was followed by its invitation to US troops to do what the Philippine military couldn’t do, precipitating nationwide protests to which the government responded by calling the protesters names.

That demonstration of arrogance, among other equally stark displays of Arroyo’s incapacity to listen to views other than her own, fanned a crisis of confidence among the groups that in January 2001 were at least willing to give Arroyo the benefit of the doubt. In addition, despair over the failure of the country’s institutions to address its problems as the country tore itself apart and the spectacle of a weak leadership masking its weaknesses with presidential petulance, led some groups to entertain thoughts of extraconstitutional means to oust the Arroyo government, among them coup attempts, an equally hare-brained “collective leadership” proposal, and another People Power uprising.

If anything, the events of May, June and July have served to reinforce these and other groups’ despair and loss of confidence in Arroyo. The issues that have emerged in the wake of the Senate problem are thus far from petty. They are central to the question of the Arroyo government’s capacity to provide the kind of governance the country needs. Beyond that, but related to it, its attempts at “compromise” in resolving the Senate impasse also demonstrate an appalling lack of principle unprecedented even in the sordid history of Philippine traditional politics.

The CBCP forgets–or is incapable of appreciating–the differences in principle between Arroyo and Guingona on the Balikatan issue. The former apparently had none except that of self-interest, primarily in terms of how implicit US support would help her in 2004. The latter, consistent with his past positions on the US bases and the Visiting Forces Agreement, opposed Arroyo’s invitation to US troops because of the violence it would do to the Constitution as well as Philippine sovereignty.

As a Cabinet member serving at presidential pleasure, Guingona had to give way. Despite an agreement for him to resign by the end of July over policy differences, Arroyo apparently tried to force his earlier resignation so she could apply what she thought would be one brilliant solution to two problems. She would not only be rid of Guingona, but would also be free to recruit Ople, thus resolving the Senate deadlock in favor of the administration.

Not for any national purpose would Arroyo remove Guingona, and resolve the Senate impasse. An opposition-controlled Senate would mean a rash of Senate committee investigations and hearings on such issues as peace and order, corruption, the performance of the economy and anything else that could undermine Arroyo’s 2004 candidacy. As things now stand, that candidacy is becoming more and more problematic, and a hostile Senate is the last thing it needs.

On the heels of the offer to Ople–made not because the administration regards Ople as especially suited for the post of secretary of foreign affairs, but because it correctly saw Ople’s lifelong aspiration to that position as a major weakness in opposition rank–came news of Mike Arroyo’s having solicited the help of the Puno brothers and of former Estrada media operator Jimmy Policarpio for the Arroyo campaign in 2004. This was in addition to the announcement that among the individuals being considered to replace Guingona at the DFA were Francisco Tatad and Ernesto Maceda.

The furor these initiatives provoked were not created by the opposition or the media, but by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. They provoked disbelief and eventually outrage because they demonstrated how like a traditional politician and worse Arroyo is, and how loudly these actions were conveying a singular message: that EDSA 2, despite Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s totally baseless claim that she is “the President of EDSA 1 and 2,” might as well not have happened at all.

Are the differences between Arroyo and Guingona over the fundamental policy question of how far the country will go for US support and what total commitment to US strategic interests will mean to the future of this country petty issues? That the CBCP should think so–or regards the question as of no consequence–says more about the CBCP than about the groups the CBCP excoriates.

On the other hand, how important to governance, and therefore to the country’s future, is Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s being so obviously a traditional politician, and her apparent disdain for all that EDSA 2 stood for, among them new politics and efficient and honest government?

Not much, suggests the CBCP statement. It in fact practically affirms that it is of no moment by one-sidedly attributing to the Left and to civil-society groups the fanning of the crisis because these groups “have different agendas.”

In saying this the CBCP is not saying anything new. The vast range of groups that provided the warm bodies that made EDSA 2 possible had different agendas from the very beginning–as did the Church, though it won’t admit it. But they shared one thing in common: the desire to put an end to a corrupt and inefficient government, and to install in its place a government that would be its opposite.

That was exactly what Arroyo promised in January 2001: a government the opposite of what she was replacing. Despite their differences, the groups that made EDSA 2 possible pledged to hold Arroyo to that promise. That–again despite their differences–many of these groups are fast agreeing that that promise has not been kept is significant, and a point the most thoughtful commentators in the media have noted.

The crisis the Arroyo government is facing is thus real enough, and not the creation of the mass media. On the other hand, while the Senate opposition shares some of the responsibility for it, its share is much less than the CBCP thinks.

The lion’s share of responsibility for it goes to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and not just because of her arrogance and termagant personality. It is even more fundamentally due to her being first and last a politician cast in the traditional mold, and therefore unequal to the task of good governance and reform history thrust upon her during EDSA 2.

Only the CBCP cannot see this, which is why it can only resort to the historically bankrupt stance of “critical solidarity” with an administration that has never been committed, it is now painfully clear, to anything EDSA 1 and 2 stood for.

“Critical solidarity” the Church once called “critical collaboration” during the Marcos tyranny, from which it broke only in its final days. History has since shown how shortsighted and uninformed that policy was. Though the Church could be in for another rude awakening, not everyone learns from past mistakes.


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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