The corruption in and of the Arroyo government is by now fairly well-established, and so is its ineptness. But it is also rapidly outranking the Estrada administration in stupidity.

The most recent signs of that distinction were supposed to have been exercises in a cunning attempt to defuse the developing crisis of confidence in her administration.

The Arroyo government is buffeted by the political instability fueled by social unrest, galloping poverty, and mass despair. Its major institutions–specially the government -owned and controlled corporations and the military–have been exposed as centers of corruption and gross national betrayal.

What’s worse, Mrs. Arroyo, once so confident of the affection of George W. Bush, is in danger of losing the support of her US patron, for which she had paid the high price of compromising Philippine sovereignty and endangering the lives of 1.5 million OFWs in the Middle East.

Together with the financial crisis that the government’s borrowing spree since 2001 and its profligacy created, the corruption scandals surrounding the two Garcias–Winston of the Government Service Insurance System, but specially Carlos F. of the Armed Forces of the Philippines–are at the center of unprecedented mass disaffection. Although now threatening to spin out of control, the disaffection actually began during the last elections, about which the general perception is that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo cheated her way to a full-six-year term.

That belief is understandable. It is obvious to anyone except the willfully blind that to win that term Mrs. Arroyo did everything including the impossible, in a display of contempt for principle and common decency rarely seen in Philippine traditional politics.

Her domestic policies–whether political, economic, or social–were thus premised on her winning another term. Those policies, for example, included a population policy firmly based on the Catholic Church preference for “natural” family planning–and a flip-flopping policy on the death penalty dependent on whether the Church (which opposes it) was speaking for the majority, or whether most Filipinos, despite the Church, were for it.

In foreign policy she was focused on one thing and one thing alone, and it wasn’t on the welfare and safety of the millions of Filipino workers overseas. To win the approval of the Bush government Mrs. Arroyo declared unconditional support for the so-called “war on terror” including the illegal and immoral attack on Iraq, while she allowed the return of US troops into the country, using the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Mutual Support and Logistics Agreement as fig-leaves for their continuing presence.

In the aftermath of the May elections, however, Mrs. Arroyo found herself last July confronting the unpleasant possibility of another EDSA uprising should truck driver Angelo de la Cruz be executed in Iraq. Concerned for her own political survival, Mrs. Arroyo–although she hemmed and hawed for several crucial days–eventually withdrew the last of the Philippine military contingent from the country in whose destruction she had collaborated.

Completely clueless about how violently anti-China the Bush administration is, only last month Mrs. Arroyo entered into a joint gas and oil exploration agreement with the Beijing government in the contested Spratlys island group.

Both offenses–two rare instances in which she actually acted in behalf of Philippine national interest–have earned her the contempt of the Heritage Foundation, the policy research group that crafted during the presidency of Ronald Reagan (1980-84; 1984-88) most of the policies the Bush administration is pursuing, and whose policy recommendations reach not only the White House, but the US Congress as well.

For “capitulating to terrorists” in Iraq, and for supposedly breaching the ASEAN common front against “China’s expansion into the South China Sea,” the Foundation has described Mrs. Arroyo as “the (Southeast Asian region’s) weakest leader.”

That assessment was accompanied by a recommendation for the US government to withhold aid unless Mrs. Arroyo shows the proper regard for US interests. (“How about making funding contingent on a little common sense on the part of the Arroyo government? If the US is going to be generous with an ally, why not insist that the government at least not act against American interests and those of the US’s other friends in the region? How about a mutual agreement: no negotiations with terrorists, no deals with bullies?”)

The same assessment also heavily implied the possibility that she may have to go the way of her predecessor–a threat for her to shape up, or else. (“The longer her administration makes foreign policy for the Philippines, the more it seems that threats from terrorists and regional bullies influence her more than diplomatic and financial aid from Manila’s friends and allies.”)

Obviously in response to the “weak leader” charge–and along the way to divert public attention from the ongoing whitewash of the cases of the two Garcias, particularly that of Maj. General Carlos F.–Mrs. Arroyo issued a statement last October 19 that sounded as if it had come straight out of Camp Aguinaldo.

In that statement, Mrs. Arroyo announced that she had supposedly ordered a “comprehensive reassessment” of the government strategy towards the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front, including a review of the peace negotiations with the NDF.

Among other claims, Mrs. Arroyo’s statement alleged “growing links between the armed left and international terrorist organizations” the use of “political institutions” as “platforms for dissent bordering on sedition and civil disobedience,” and “day-to-day agitation” in the “labor and transport sectors.”

Outstandingly absent from the statement–a rehash of similarly short-sighted allegations from the unprofessional and corrupt military and security establishments–is any proof of CPP-NDF links with international terrorist groups.

On the other hand, the reference to “political institutions” that are “being used for dissent bordering on sedition and civil disobedience” can only mean the House of Representatives, where a number of left-wing party list groups are represented. Of course no one reminded Mrs. Arroyo that even “dissent bordering on sedition” is protected by parliamentary immunity–and for the extremely valid reason of protecting dissenters from intellectually-challenged PMA graduates.

“Civil disobedience” is of course well within the rights of anyone, even in this rumored democracy. The concept presumes non-violence, as well as the readiness to accept the consequences including arrest and prison terms–or hasn’t anyone in the Philippine government heard of Mahatma Gandhi, or, for that matter, of EDSAs 1 and 2?

Alas, the statement’s implication that the government and the military will now concentrate on the armed Left and abandon peace negotiations could not have come at a worst time. (True, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye later said the government was still committed to the negotiations–but since when has this government been consistent about anything?)

The Arroyo statement may somehow appease the warmongers and the intellectual shock troops of empire in Washington, but Mrs. Arroyo’s “get tough” stance is hardly anything she can put teeth into.

No doubt it was egged on by a military establishment eager to deflect attention from the humungous corruption in the military from headquarters to “company-commander level” (former AFP Chief of Staff Narciso Abaya’s words) as well as unable to think beyond its purely military viewpoint in addressing armed movements. But it is unlikely to go beyond talk, and likely to go the way of such claims as “nurturing new politics” and that rapidly evaporating notion, “the Strong Republic.”

Its own highest officers have in the first place damaged the capacity of the military to fight. There are no funds to speak of to feed not only the actual needs of fighting an all-out war against the New People’s Army, but also the gross appetites of colonels and generals for Greenhills mansions, BMWs, and dollar accounts abroad. What’s worse is that any such war, as experience teaches, is likely to fuel further mass resentment, as troops surviving on instant noodles forage for chickens, make off with peasant harvests, and abuse civilians in the tens of thousands of NPA-influenced barangay all over the country.

The incipient tragedy of the Arroyo administration is the same as that of other US clients: its being required to act in behalf of US interests even at the expense of its own–with the likelihood that in the end, it will only be discarded when it has served its purpose. That awareness, however, escapes it. The client-state, like the wife who discovers lipstick stains on her husband’s collar, is usually the last to know.


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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