Pick your poison

Sun, 07/03/2005 - 00:00
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Faced with the hair-raising prospect of a Fernando Poe victory, the middle class was a passive accomplice. It turned its face to the wall and refused to see how the Arroyo administration packed the graft-ridden Comelec with allies, and profligately spent public funds on the campaign. Mrs. Arroyo didn't shrink from enlisting the same dirty tricks advisers, the notorious Puno brothers, Joseph Estrada used.

Mrs. Arroyo's middle class supporters could barely wait to rush in with The middle class, business leaders, and conservative politicians fear that throwing Mrs. Arroyo out of office could cause turmoil and economic devastation. They're not looking at the other side of the coin: an Arroyo who hangs on to office could also cause turmoil and economic devastationfulsome congratulations when the President made a public confession and promised to "punish" herself by working twice as hard. Some of those supporters, writing on newsgroups, have put a class tone to the dispute: they've dismissed the anti-Arroyo protesters as "motley" because they're either poor or leftist. Presumably, rich and rightwing street demonstrators who support Mrs. Arroyo are not motley.
Civil society has been so misled by the perfumed rallies it used to overthrow Estrada that it's in danger of thinking it has an exclusive franchise on People Power.

The administration has tried to keep People Power off the agenda by insisting on a "constitutional" process. This means going through Congress, where a richly comic drama is being played out. Four years ago, Estrada's enemies were demanding that an envelope proving his corruption be opened, and his supporters blocked the move. Now, Mrs. Arroyo's allies are blocking a motion to play a recording of the wiretap.

Mrs. Arroyo herself has tarred all her current critics "destabilizers", while her propagandists have succeeded in defining "opposition" as consisting solely of Joseph Estrada and his Gangrene Gang. The president's supporters have also put down Susan Roces as a mere actress, forgetting how in 1985 a certain Cory Aquino was denigrated as a "mere housewife." Mrs. Aquino's subsequent career shows that it isn't necessarily what a leader can do that's important, it's what she symbolizes.

And right now Mrs. Arroyo symbolizes divisiveness. If this is just the first year of her term, it's hard to see her surviving until 2010. Her credibility has taken such a terrific battering that the only way she can recover is by doing something breathtaking and spectacular: repudiating the colossal debt on the useless Bataan reactor; jailing a couple of Marcoses and their cronies and recovering their ill-gotten wealth.

Assuming she survives this year, her administration will lurch along, trailing blood. She'll be hard put pushing her "terror n' taxes" agenda: codifying a national ID scheme, increasing revenues through regressive taxes, and ultimately perpetuating the administration by transitioning to a parliamentary system. And the Supreme Court just dealt her another blow by ordering an injunction against the extended VAT, a centerpiece of the government's economic program.

Weakened by massive graft and corruption, an unjust justice system and poverty, the country does not need a leadership crisis like this. The middle class, business leaders, and conservative politicians fear that throwing Mrs. Arroyo out of office could cause turmoil and economic devastation. They're not looking at the other side of the coin: an Arroyo who hangs on to office could also cause turmoil and economic devastation.

Painful as it seems, the time could soon come when the public will have to make some choices about a new leader. If the middle class refuses to involve itself in this process it might see the landscape dominated by the Estrada clique. Its own fear of bloodshed and violence could turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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