Benjie Oliveros | The Cha-Cha See-Saw Battle: A Test of Political Will

How strong is the political will of the Filipino people to act against the Arroyo government’s self-serving designs? Who is more determined?


MANILA — The Filipino people’s vote against the convening of a constituent assembly has been cast. Between 10,000 to 15,000 people joined the rally in Makati on June 10 to show their indignation over the railroading of House Resolution 1109, which provides for the convening of Congress into a constituent assembly with the Senate and House voting as one. Thousands more joined rallies in Baguio, Camarines Sur, Albay, Sorsogon, Laguna, Dumaguete, Cebu, Bacolod, Iloilo, Davao, Cagayan de Oro and General Santos. The protests against cha-cha centered on suspicions that these maneuvers are designed to pave the way for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to run for a seat in parliament in 2010, as well as the intended sell-out of the country’s patrimony through the removal of the remaining protectionist provisions in the 1987 Constitution.

The number of people who joined the rallies against the cha-cha maneuvers of the Arroyo government might not yet be as large as the people power uprisings in 1986 and 2001, but it was already significant considering that rally organizers had only one week to prepare and classes in most, if not all, tertiary schools had not started yet. It would be remembered that the youth formed a large contingent in Edsa 2. Furthermore, for a first launch, the turnout of people at the rally was already good.

Unlike in the past, President Arroyo and her spokespersons in Malacañang did not issue a statement the next day — there was no belittling of the rally nor was there any pretension of nonchalance. The Arroyo government must have been alarmed by the rally that it took its time contemplating on what to say.

Bayan’s Renato Reyes and UNO president Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay said the June 10 rally in Makati was just the first in a series of protest actions that they would be holding, leading to the opening of Congress and the president’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) on the third week of July. On the other side, Arroyo’s minions in the Lower House said that they are contemplating on convening the constituent assembly before or on the day of the Sona. Thus, the Arroyo administration and its minions are on a collision course with the broad array of sectors opposed to cha-cha, which includes progressive organizations, the opposition, the Senate, and, gauging by the surveys, 66 percent of the Filipino people.

Both camps have shown their determination. Arroyo is desperate to protect her interests beyond 2010, and her staunch defender, former justice secretary Raul Gonzalez, who has the proclivity to talk without thinking, practically confirmed suspicions that the president would seek a seat in parliament to protect herself from suits when her term expires in 2010. On the other side, Bayan and its member organizations including the Kilusang Mayo Uno, Gabriela, among others have been persistent in opposing cha-cha and the Arroyo government; the Catholic and Protestant churches have been consistent in their position against cha-cha; likewise the Senate, which stands to lose its integrity if and when the Lower House pushes through with its plan. The overwhelming majority of people opposed to cha-cha to extend the term of Arroyo may have not yet joined rallies in droves, but they have consistently opposed and acted against self-serving cha-cha maneuvers in the past.

It now boils down to a question of political will. How strong is the political will of the Filipino people to act against the Arroyo government’s self-serving designs? Who is more determined? For the Filipino people, what is at stake is the country’s future because if the Arroyo government gets away with this, there is nothing to prevent it from further debasing the country’s laws and processes for its self-serving ends. For the Arroyo government, it is a matter of preserving the wealth it took from the nation’s coffers and evading accountability and the calls for justice for its crimes against the Filipino people.

Among the presidents this country had, President Arroyo is the most obstinate. She has ignored public opinion so many times in the past. Former president Joseph Estrada yielded power with much less political pressure. Even the former dictator president Ferdinand Marcos responded to political pressures. He made former prime minister Cesar Virata and public information minister Francisco Tatad take the flak by having them announce and explain his unpopular policies, then rescind it or at least make a show of acting on the people’s complaints when confronted by strong political pressure. The Arroyo government is wont to just lie, dismiss criticisms by branding it as mere “politicking,” and go on with what it was doing as if nothing happened. That is why the impunity in corruption and bribery, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and other human-rights violations persists despite the strong international and national condemnation the Arroyo government has been receiving.

However, there is a limit to the efficacy of the Arroyo government’s obstinate attitude. The Filipino people have demonstrated their capacity for political action in the past when hundreds of thousands or up to more than a million poured out into the streets to express their disgust over the blatant corruption, the rampant human-rights violations, and the widespread hardships and poverty. In the process, the people were able to oust two presidents. (

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