Seven years

Mong Palatino, Mongster’s Nest
January 17, 2008

Many people wanted President Cory Aquino to stand for re-election but she has chosen to step down after six years in power. President Fidel Ramos wanted to extend his term but failed to amend the Constitution on time. President Joseph Estrada “dropped out” after three years of partying in Malacanang. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo can boast to her predecessors that she has managed to stay in power for seven years already.

The framers of the 1987 Constitution wanted to prevent overstaying presidents of the republic. They hoped that an authoritarian leader like President Ferdinand Marcos will be the last in the country’s history. They decided that a president should only rule for six years and he/she is barred from seeking re-election.

But the framers of the Constitution did not anticipate People Power II and Gloria Arroyo. And so we have a president who has ruled the country for more than six years already. Arroyo is even poised to remain in power until 2010.

Arroyo’s presidency may be described as the “golden decade” or “lost decade” for the Philippines. It depends whether you are a diehard Arroyo fan or a consistent Arroyo critic. History and the people will be the judge in the end.

Seven virtues
Many people often forget that one reason why Arroyo is acceptable to the ruling establishment is because she is one of them. She was the daughter of a former president, educated in the United States, and she married a scion of a landed gentry. Arroyo belongs to one of the two hundred families which control Philippine society.

Arroyo is often looked down (literally) because of her diminutive stature. But this is her source of strength. If Estrada’s carabao English endeared him to the masa, Arroyo was often comparing herself with superstar Nora Aunor. During the 1995 senate elections, Arroyo topped the contest by flaunting her similar physical traits with the movie star.

Arroyo is one tough politician. She proved her resilience by surviving numerous embarrassing scandals involving her administration. She survived despite the resignation of 10 of her 41 Cabinet members in 2005. Disgruntled soldiers tried to launch several coups but Arroyo is still the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Opposition groups attempted to impeach Arroyo but they failed. Arroyo is always ahead of her enemies like Miranda Priestly of the movie “The Devil Wears Prada.”

Arroyo employs the most skilful and cunning political operators that money can buy. Arroyo’s political advisers have shielded her from one crisis after another. They have outmanoeuvred the opposition several times.

Arroyo’s work ethics and micromanagement type of leadership are often praised. During Cabinet meetings, Arroyo is always prepared. She does her homework well by scrutinizing reports and target goals submitted by government agencies. She loses her temper every time a subordinate is unable to answer her query. But sometimes micromanaging is not good for the country. Remember the 13 calls received by a certain “Garci” during the 2004 polls?

Arroyo admits she is a bad politician. But Arroyo also claims that she is focused on her job. She wants to be known for her economic projects. She is in love with her work. She once said she is married to the country. Arroyo’s intense preoccupation with her work may be the reason why she seemed impervious to low public trust ratings. Arroyo is able to ignore the negative public opinion since her work demands her complete attention.

Arroyo is a unique public servant. She will be remembered as the most unpopular Philippine president, worst violator of human rights, and most corrupt leader yet she will still insist that she is the only one qualified to lead the country.

Arroyo’s political shrewdness is often talked about. Perhaps she inherited it from her father. But her father lost in his re-election bid. Arroyo’s political instincts are better than her father. Arroyo supports the winning candidates in the local polls. She knows where to get the most number of votes in the provinces. She will visit a child rapist, grant pardon to her main political foe, negotiate with foreign terrorists and violate the Constitution as long as these decisions will contribute to her political fortunes. Arroyo, not Jose De Venecia, is the quintessential trapo in modern Philippine history.

Often overlooked but very crucial in her political career is Arroyo’s proficiency in different languages. Arroyo speaks Filipino, Tagalog, and English when addressing the press. Recently, she revealed her knowledge of the Spanish language. Arroyo knows how to speak Kapampapangan since her father hails from Pampanga. But she grew up in Iligan which explains her ability to speak in Bisaya. Arroyo has the gift to converse with ordinary folks from different regions of the country. This skill is useful for politicians who want to cultivate an image of being a leader for the common tao.

Seven sins
Activist youth groups have accused Arroyo of committing seven sins against the Filipino people. The seven sins are the following: plunder, state terrorism, corruption and bribery, poverty and hunger, puppetry, electoral fraud and bleak future of the youth.

After Estrada was convicted for plunder last year, the opposition warned that Arroyo will suffer the same fate in the future. Arroyo has a lot of explaining to do once she becomes a plain citizen again in 2010. Arroyo’s successor can probe her family’s unexplained wealth and secret bank accounts. Jose Pidal will haunt the Arroyos in the future.

Arroyo made the Reserve Officer Training Corps an optional subject for college students. This is commendable. But Arroyo pampered the military too much that there are many people who believe that there is a de facto martial law in the country. Arroyo protected and promoted military officers accused of committing human rights violations. Arroyo used the strong arm of the state to quell legitimate dissent. Rallies were

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banned in Mendiola and other historic freedom parks. Activists and communists are labelled destabilizers, terrorists, and enemies of the state. Filipinos are once again familiar with extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, military checkpoints and troop deployment in urban areas.

The opposition blames Arroyo for corrupting almost all democratic institutions in the country. Nearly all agencies were politicized or were made to serve the partisan interests of the Arroyo clique. Public welfare was replaced by Arroyo’s need to survive in Malacanang.

There is no shortage of corruption and bribery scandals in the Arroyo administration. Rigged bidding procedures, anomalous contracts, overpriced projects, bribery cases, and illegal pork barrel distribution are rampant today. The Philippines ranks high among countries with high incidences of petty and grand briberies.

Arroyo is a proud economist. Like Ramos, she believes a strong economy is her lasting gift to the Filipino people. Indeed, macroeconomic fundamentals are strong. The peso is surging, revenues are high, fiscal situation is stable. But the key words here are trickle-down effect and sustainability. How long can the strong economy manage to sustain its momentum? Is economic progress really achievable in the near future? Most importantly, do people actually believe, feel, and enjoy the supposed gains of the economy? If the economy is maturing, why do people still leave the country?

Government statistics reveal that income gap of the rich and poor is widening. Poverty reduction measures are in place but hunger is still a problem in the country. Child malnourishment in the countryside is alarming. Cash crops are prioritized over food requirements of the people.

Arroyo is a major ally (read: puppet) of foreign powers who have special interests in the country. Temporary US military facilities are established in different parts of the archipelago. Multinational companies have strong lobby presence inside Congress. Arroyo is enticing foreigners to exploit the country’s finite natural resources. The government signed a deal which could lead to the dumping of Japan’s toxic waste in the country’s shores.

Arroyo is accused of manipulating the 2004 and 2007 election results. Dagdag-bawas is already a science today. Numerous “clerical errors” took place in the last elections. During Arroyo’s term, the credibility of the Commission on Elections has sunk to the lowest levels.

Young people are leaving the country in droves. Children are committing suicide. Students have bleak prospects. New graduates have no jobs. An alarming level of cynicism and hopelessness afflict the youth. Arroyo’s “morally-bankrupt” leadership has discouraged many young people to disengage from political action.

Arroyo said she wants to leave a good legacy before ending her term. The president should act fast. Time is not on her side.

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