Certainly, the country's own politicians have done little to disabuse the public. The second factor accounting for President Arroyo's impunity is that her foes have been weak,indecisive and disunited. They have repeatedly paid her the compliment of underestimating her. Just before he invaded Poland, Hitler supposedly reassured his generals: "I have seen our enemies. They are worms." Arroyo would understand the attitude.
What's tragic is that the qualities she's displayed the last nine years -- the thickfaced determination, the flouting of the constitution, the insidious employment of executive powers -- all these could have been used to institute change, reform institutions, fight corruption, level the elite-dominated economy. But there has been no performance legitimacy, no trade-off. The truth is, with overseas remittances now accounting for 12 per cent of GDP, it is Filipinos themselves who are keeping their economy afloat
Instead, Arroyo's governance has set a unique standard of leadership by example -- if by "example" you mean congressmen from one of the Philippines' poorest district splurging on expensive dinners in New York.
The President has turned patronage politics and the distribution of largesse into a policy. Arguably, this client-patron relationship is the foundation of most politics, but it's also a step backwards when it comes to building a nation, whatever that means at this point.
In 1987, the people who drew up the Constitution, with the memory of the despot Marcos still fresh in their minds, went out of their way to draw up a charter that would limit the Presiden'ts powers. Instead, 23 years later, the country has one of the most abusive chief executives ever.
Here is a President who's blocked off the normal processes of this alleged democracy: paid off local government officials, suborned the Congress, packed the judiciary and the civil service, kept the armed forces at her beck and call.
According to one supporter, President Arroyo will be better appreciated out of power. But nobody should rule out the possibility that at the end of this year Arroyo will still be on top.
It wouldn't be the first time Filipinos have seen it: a leader who suffers the delusion that, having stayed in power for so long, the position is his or her private property.
Nobody should envision Gloria Arroyo leaving Malacañang Palace until a moving crew comes in and forcibly carries her out, possibly along with a Palace table leg to which her teeth are firmly clamped on.
Will she reign, in Handel's words and as Marcos tried to do, forever and ever? Clearly, Arroyo has set the bar high.
She owes her invulnerability to a public that's indifferent to being governed by an administration for whom travesty is the best policy.
The only thing she might pay attention to is hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets in protest. Your move, Filipino people.