Weathering the Political Storm: Will It Last?

Macapagal-Arroyo may have limped over the hump of thorns to her presidency but this institution that she represents has been badly battered too. The issue of electoral fraud and the worms of corruption and worst-ever unethical practices that it unearthed gave birth to a political dynamics providing valuable lessons to many people.

By Bobby Tuazon

The top newsmaker for 2005 was, hands down, the “Hello, Garci” tapes that linked President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to electoral fraud in the May 2004 elections. The controversy plunged the country into a political crisis threatening to force Macapagal-Arroyo out of the presidency. And even if Macapagal-Arroyo may have weathered temporarily the impeachment charges, her presidency hangs under a cloud of doubt. The economic crisis that aggravated the year’s political turmoil has persisted with its effects influencing recent public surveys on the President: a -30 percent performance rating, one of the lowest in 20 years.

The electoral issue capped a series of flashpoints and setbacks for the President that began in early 2005. These included the fiscal crisis that further exposed the depths of corruption and mispriorities leaving government’s financial foundation a shambles. Then there was the series of oil price hikes, the imposition of the onerous mining act as well as the E-Vat. Despite rosy reports, Macapagal-Arroyo couldn’t hide the fact that it is under her presidency that the country suffered the lowest-ever unemployment rate in 50 years.

The presidency began to reveal further cracks with the jueteng (illegal numbers game) scandals that linked Macapagal-Arroyo and her family. This in turn forced the President’s husband and son to leave the country in a bid to stem off the heat that fueled early calls for the her resignation. Their departure brought no peace to the President, however, as by late June the controversial “Hello, Garci” tapes that recorded discreet but damaging conversations between Macapagal-Arroyo with a senior poll official and other figures came out.

The tapes confirmed early allegations of electoral fraud that surfaced in the aftermath of the May 2004 presidential race. The controversy polarized the country’s major political players, with anti-Gloria opposition forces gravitating toward a coalition with both militant and moderate forces in a move to force the President to resign or be ousted. At least nine Cabinet officials also resigned in protest. The prospects of a third people’s uprising against a seating president loomed large as political protests calling for her removal gained momentum nationwide and abroad.

The almost daily protests complemented moves in the House to impeach the President based not only on electoral fraud but other constitutional violations and widespread human rights abuses as well.

Highlighting the political protests and legislative moves was the holding in August of the unprecedented International People’s Tribunal in Quezon City that found Macapagal-Arroyo guilty of gross violations of human rights, among others.


Quite unexpectedly, the President was able to ride through this political storm courtesy of the intercession of former President Fidel V. Ramos in late July as well as through reported secret trade-offs and bribery leading to the junking of the impeachment proceedings in September. The self-serving Ramos formula called for Macapagal-Arroyo staying in office until 2006 within which the 1987 Constitution would be amended to make way for a parliamentary government. The impeachment charges with proofs and testimonies would later be taken up by the Citizens Council for Truth and Accountability that convened in November with no less than former Vice President Teofisto Guingona as one of leading convenors.

Macapagal-Arroyo may have limped over the hump of thorns to her presidency but this institution that she represents has been badly battered too. The issue of electoral fraud and the worms of corruption and worst-ever unethical practices that it unearthed gave birth to a political dynamics providing valuable lessons to many people. The crisis ripened the condition under which the people would be initiated to the struggle for exploring options in place of a political system proven not only for its systemic corruption and for its inability to govern but also for serving as the institution that supports foreign domination, neo-colonialism and an oppressive class system.

Some of the political lessons ensuing from the crisis have included: a) the widespread dissatisfaction in the presidency and Congress itself; b) the growing perception that the political system itself is in crisis with more and more people keeping their options open for immediate reform; c) it also introduced the concept of a caretaker government or a transition council that would initiate much-needed political, social and economic reforms.

Taking over the reins of government following Macapagal-Arroyo’s removal from office, the ad hoc council’s immediate tasks include major electoral reform, a genuine constitutional change and the holding of new elections where the democratic vote would be protected. The council is supposed to brighten the prospects for the representation of all progressive, patriotic and democratic forces in a new government.

Today, the call for political reform has gained greater urgency in the light of Macapagal-Arroyo’s iron-fist policy which she has unleashed in order to remain in power. The policy has included continued politically-motivated killings and similar repressive measures like the anti-terrorism bill, the so-called calibrated preemptive response and gag orders that are meant to stop further street protests as well as investigations on the presidency in Congress.

The call for immediate political reform through a transition council and the state’s repressive measure will take the center stage in 2006 with the President expected to tighten her hold to power that in turn will likely generate more coup plots and other extra-constitutional actions. Ramos has threatened to withdraw his support to Macapagal-Arroyo unless the latter agrees to shorten her presidency and to the holding of elections in 2007.

Meanwhile, there have been no signs of ease in the fiscal crisis and the hype about “economic growth” in the last quarter of this year has failed to conceal the undercurrents of an irreversible economic downturn. In due time, the impact of E-Vat and threats of yet another energy consumption crisis and other concerns will be felt in the first quarter of the coming year.

In short, what’s in store for the country will likely be more of the same that surfaced in 2005 and all these will make 2006 a most crucial year not only for Macapagal-Arroyo but for the rest of the Filipino people as well.

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