Thursday, July 21, 2005

De Quiros Column

There's The Rub : How long can she last?

Conrado de Quiros
Inquirer News Service

THE WAY President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's people have been advertising it, the longer this crisis lasts, the better it will be for her. The better she will be able to ride the crest, the better she will be able to consolidate her forces, the better she will be able to recover the trust she has lost. The longer this lasts, they say, the more the forces arrayed against her will dissipate and the more the forces rising to her defense will grow. It's just a question of time.

Well, yes, it is a question of time. But time is not on Ms Arroyo's side. What we are looking at today is the twilight years of the Ferdinand Marcos regime in a much-abbreviated form. Marcos lasted several years in these circumstances even while being ravaged by lupus on the side. But he was Marcos, this is Gloria. While they may share the same scale of ambition and ruthlessness, they differ in one fundamental respect, which is that Marcos had the (overstaying) generals in his pocket. Ms Arroyo does not, and that's what's going to make her twilight years twilight weeks. But like Marcos during his twilight years, Ms Arroyo faces the same insoluble problem, which is: How do you continue ruling a country that doesn't like you?

Ms Arroyo's tack has been to talk about the economy to divert talk from politics. That was the same thing Marcos did, but Marcos had more credibility. Marcos at least could point to the 1970s when the economy was fairly stable. Ms Arroyo cannot point to any time in her term when the economy did well. Despite borrowing more than Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada combined, which have condemned us and our children and their children to a life of indebtedness, all she has to show for it is an economy about to tumble like Argentina.

Marcos did launch a massive livelihood program during his twilight years called KKK, named after Bonifacio's revolutionary group. It did recall its illustrious precedent in an ironic sense. A joke went around that three people borrowed money from the KKK to put up small businesses. The first one went into piggery and became bankrupt; a pestilence swept over his brood and he lost everything. The second went into planting coconut and he too became bankrupt, and what little he had left after paying for farm inputs Danding Cojuangco stole with his coconut levy. The third however became a millionaire, and he didn't have to spend much. He had a bust of Marcos made in his backyard and he charged different fees for different things: P10 for slapping the bust, P20 for pounding it with a fist, and P50 for pissing on it. He never lacked for a queue in front of his house.

Ms Arroyo launches a livelihood program, she will create many millionaires.

Like Marcos, Ms Arroyo's problem isn't just that she can't be trusted, it's that she can't be believed. Marcos lied about everything, from his medals to his lupus, Ms Arroyo has lied about everything from her plan to run for president to her plot to cheat for president. Marcos lied about everything from the state of his kidneys to the state of his nation, Ms Arroyo has lied about everything from the state of her soul to the state of her nation.

Marcos himself tried a makeover, making his "smiling martial law" smile some more by presumably lifting it in 1981. No one believed him. And in any case, nothing changed, except the, well, not inconsiderable lifting of curfew (which, if I recall right, was at 1 a.m. then, a concept today's kids have trouble grasping), which was a direct boon to San Miguel-it allowed us to drink more beer up to the wee hours of morning.

Ms Arroyo has tried to put on a smiling face in lieu of a dour one. No one believes her, and nothing has changed, except, well, the not inconsiderable entertainment of watching the local version of Michael Jackson transform into a mask. Her problem isn't just that she isn't a good actress with a horrible script: Look at how she did with her apology and with that follow-up of sending her husband into exile, which got plastered with rotten tomatoes by the public. It's also that there is a really good actress around, who is Susan Roces. The contrast is, well, dramatic.

But what's really making the clock tick, and tick faster each day, for Ms Arroyo is that like Marcos she is sitting on a seat that doesn't belong to her. What makes today a throwback to the twilight days of Marcos and not of Estrada's is the issue of legitimacy. It won't go away. Estrada at least could claim to have been voted into office, and by the biggest margin of all. Marcos couldn't (after martial law) and neither can Ms Arroyo. Marcos ruled by decree, Ms Arroyo rules by deceit. Marcos ruled by force, Ms Arroyo rules by farce.

By 1985, you knew Marcos' time was up. It was just a question of when the weight of his internal baggage would collapse in on him or when the horde massed at the gates would break them, or both. By now, 2005, you know Ms Arroyo's time is up. It's just a question of when the remaining Cabinet members and local officials will see the writing on the wall and heed it or when her opponents will start employing civil disobedience to force her out, or both.

Marcos did contemplate one last-ditch effort, which was to round up his enemies, just as he did at the beginning of martial law. And failing that he sent tanks to raze down the military mutineers. But he balked at the last minute when faced with a resolute populace and an angry world. Ms Arroyo's people at least have been making noises in that respect, Raul Gonzalez chief among them. I do hope he holds on to his position, he is the most effective secretary right now-for the other side. Will she balk as well when faced with a resolute populace and an angry world? Or will she go past even Marcos there?

Paul Laxalt did have one very good advice for Marcos at that point: Cut, and cut cleanly.

I've never thought that was an advice, I've always thought that was a threat.


Maya T. said...

Conrado de Quiros has always been anti-Arroyo. What worries me is that he begins his treatise on the wrong premise that, like him, a majority of Filipinos do not like Arroyo as president or that she cheated in the last elections. All those popularity surveys were conducted only in metro manila. And as everybody already knows, Manila is not the Philippines.

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