Already, the main ingredient for a botched election is in place: the Commission on Elections, packed with Arroyo appointees and a shadow of its former self, has insisted on a controversial as yet untested election automated system (to be used in combination with a ballot more than two feet in length). The scheme's implementation is so rushed, one expert thinks it will very likely fail. A field test -- conducted a scant four months before elections -- shows the system prone to errors. It's as if the setup is designed to embrace and achieve failure.
Very likely there are several schemes ongoing to keep Arroyo in place: this administration's style has always been multi-track, sending a bunch of plots simultaneously chugging along to achieve a single aim. Schemes are discarded or refined depending on changing circumstances and strength of public reaction.
This spin-on-a-coin-flexibility, with the executive operating as it were on a permanent crisis mode, has been one of the secrets to President Arroyo's durability. What's tragic is that durability has not been accompanied by any benefits to the country.
When she assumed the presidency, Arroyo promised to be the "Mother of the Country", leading a "Strong Republic." Reality has turned out to be a bit different. Poverty, corruption, warlords and private armies are up, faith and confidence in public institutions down.
The few people who still vocally defend Gloria Arroyo assert she's not responsible for the country's problems -- she inherited many of them. This is true. What is equally true is that while she might not be responsible for the problems, in the nine years she's held office she's done close to nothing to tackle them.
Traditional politics -- the graft-based, personalitic, opportunistic use of public office and wealth to build dynasties for the specific purpose of enriching a politician's clan, cronies and province -- has been the bane of the Philippines. Under Arroyo, traditional politics has been turned into a meta tag, a fundamental all-embracing description of politics in operation..
The pillars of Arroyo's governing style can be briefly summarized: Reward the faithful, punish enemies; fantasize and embellish achievements; ignore the Constitution, public institutions and the system of checks and balances. In fact, erode them.
Possibly nothing better symbolizes the administration's concept of politics than the story of paper bags filled with wads of cash being handed out to local officials. Of course, there's also the sight of Arroyo pardoning criminals convicted of capital crimes because they happen to be rich and powerful.
And this government's notion of "public service" is best summed up by the actions of Arroyo's appointee to the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), a rich man whose first act was to award himself a P12 million housing and car loan.
Although Arroyo's officials like to brag about the country's economic improvement under her watch, the Asian Development Bank says that poverty is rising. The main reason could be that, rather than attack poverty, her government has attacked the dictionary, changing the definition of "poverty" to make it easier to "solve." This semantic shell game, the building of Potemkin villages, characterizes this government's record.
Two years ago, when murders and human rights abuses started drawing international attention, the government's response was to send a high powered delegation to a human rights conference in Geneva to haggle the number of cadavers down (Filthy Commie Alert: the link is from Bayan).
Late last year, when no less than the Philippine Human Rights Commission chair herself said this government's human rights violations are on the verge of making the country a failed state, what was Arroyo's reaction? She created another human rights body under her direct control.
Under this administration, the Philippines has become a hell on earth for journalists. A year ago Unesco called the Philippine government's attention to the murder of journalists, prompting one Philippine ambassador to warn Manila that the country was acquiring the reputation of becoming the world's second-most dangerous country to media. That was before the Maguindanao Massacre propelled the Philippines to the number one position. Arroyo's reaction has been to say her government supports press freedom (no mention of the fact that nearly none of the journalist murders past or recent has been solved)
Perhaps Arroyo has little time to worry about the fate of journalists,because she's too occupied shooting holes into the Constitution, subverting the various branches of government and cocking a snoot at her foes and critics. When the President forbade government officials from testifying in the Senate, she blatantly disregarded the constitutional provision on checks and balances. When the Supreme court ordered her to lift the ban, she simply ignored the Supreme Court. Her cavalier attitude to the Constitution extends to sending ambassadors abroad without bothering to have them confirmed by the senate.
Just about the only institution Arroyo has strengthened is corruption. The Philippines has maintained its high corruption rating, some saying graft is almost as bad as in the Marcos days. The sleaze is pervasive and large-scale. When Switzerland returned part of the loot the Marcoses had stolen from the Philippines, the money promptly vanished -- it was supposed to finance land reform but is now believed to have been illegally spent paying for the re-election campaign of Arroyo in 2004
"I just want to watch noontime shows"
Two things have allowed Gloria Arroyo to act with such impunity. One is the general indifference of a public that's become soured to the idea of taking to the streets. After all, the last time citizens did that and turfed out Estrada, they ended up with Arroyo.
Unfortunately, the attitude has metastasized into a general skepticism about anything political, a belief that it's pointless to stand up and express outrage over the way the President and her cronies are running roughshod over the country's Constitution and public institutions because "all politicians are alike."