If it limps like a duck...

Wed, 07/27/2005 - 00:00
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Facing a catastrophic political crisis, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is searching for the proper leadership image. Should she be a resolute lame duck, an aloof lame duck, or a kinder, gentler lame duck?

Over the last five weeks, bemused Filipinos have seen their President's personality change like a chameleon's skin: from distant to defiant to contrite and then back to defiant. Underlying all the changes, though, is a tenacity in clinging to office that would do justice to a shellfish hugging a tidal rock. This is one President who doesn't intend to go quietly into the night.

This is unfortunate, because from where almost everybody else is standing now, things can only get worse. An impeachment complaint has been filed; political allies are trickling away; an increasing number of people - including members of her Cabinet who walked out on her - are calling for her to quit. All the surveys show the public has very severe misgivings about their President and how she won last year's election.

Yet going by the signals the administration is giving, it is not conducting a fighting retreat leading to Mrs. Arroyo's resignation. Instead, it is digging in and battling to the last ditch. Not only are Palace officials circling the wagons, they're drinking the Kool-Aid, or some stuff that induces very powerful hallucinations. The main delusion is that the crisis can be outlasted.

As a result of this siege mentality, Mrs. Arroyo's economic programs are now derailed. Even if they're put back on track, they aren't likely to move far, not in the face of a divided Congress, a hostile Senate and a suspicious public. And not when President Arroyo's urgent priority is clearly President Arroyo.

What could she possibly be hoping for? Is she going to wait until her unpopularity rating reaches 100 per cent? Does she seriously think she is going to recover? If she does, she hasn't been tracking the direction her image has been travelling the past four years.

So far, the administration's responses to the scandal have been purely tactical. It almost seems as if Mrs. Arroyo's managers are gaming the crisis, seeing it in terms of PR scenarios that can be handled. During the President's State of the nation Address, her strategists turned Congress into an Arroyo echo chamber by packing it with hundreds of supporters who cheered and applauded the President at every conceivable opportunity.

The resulting irony has escaped them. Nothing symbolized the state of the nation more than Mrs. Arroyo lapping up the applause of a few hundred frenzied loyalists while ignoring the jeers of 40,000 demonstrators being held back by police outside the building.

An Arroyo hired hand like Alex Magno -- ostensibly a "political analyst" but in reality a presidential appointee to a lucrative sinecure at the Development Bank of the Philippines -- claims that the administration has weathered the crisis and has the moral high ground. If the President actually believes that kind of balderdash she's headed for a world of grief.

black knight
"It's just a flesh wound. I still have the moral high ground!"

In the comic movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail there's a gruesome sketch of King Arthur battling the obstinate black knight. As the king methodically lops off his opponent's limbs, the knight stubbornly keeps fighting, dismissing his condition as "just a flesh wound." Even when he's reduced to a limbless, helpless stump he resorts to ranting and insults as the King walks past him. Politically, the Arroyo administration is dead but refuses to acknowledge it, or (even worse), doesn't know it.

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