Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Will GMA forget herself for once?

How the nation is to be governed between now and 2010 is something we deserve to know, given the results of the midterm elections, certain statements from President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, certain moves within “Genuine Opposition” (GO) and the need to prepare for the next presidential elections.

But who can tell us responsibly, intelligently?

Where it enjoys the people’s full trust and confidence, the government should be able to speak to this question with authority. But where it does not, a higher power must do so. The prejudicial question is, does the Arroyo government enjoy such trust and confidence?

The victory of seven GO senatorial candidates out of the twelve slots is clearly not a vote of confidence for Mrs. Arroyo. Even less is the election of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, the former navy lieutenant senior grade who remains under military custody for his alleged role in the 2003 Oakwood mutiny that had threatened to oust Mrs. Arroyo.

Trillanes ran just to make a political statement. Winning was apparently the farthest from his mind. He may still be trying to convince himself that he had really won. His election is clearly a repudiation of his jailers.

Yet, the reported move of GO Senators Manuel Villar, Francis Escudero, and Alan Peter Cayetano, who now belong to the Senate majority, to work with administration senators, who belong to the minority, just to elect Villar as Senate President calls to serious question some previous assumptions about GO.

In a normally functioning system, the majority chooses its leader without involving the minority. In this case, however, the three GO senators went over to the minority to cobble a new majority in support of Villar’s candidacy, thereby reducing the original majority to the new minority.

This move perverts the fact that most of the 20 million voters (out of the 45 million registered voters) who had voted for senators, actually voted for GO, and against Team Unity (TU). It also reveals that the senators concerned were nothing less than Malacanang’s fifth column in GO.

This unseemly move cannot be dignified as a vote of confidence for Mrs. Arroyo. There is another word for it, which we hope we will not have to use another day, but it does provide badly needed political help to Mrs. Arroyo.

It is not clear whether the members of Congress have any clear idea of a national agenda, but Mrs. Arroyo does have a personal one, and one could count on her to pursue it with fervor. Survival is the name of this agenda, but she will be free to confuse it with governance, which is quite another matter, and with the idea of creating or leaving behind a legacy, which is still quite another matter.

This is understandable, given the challenge Mrs. Arroyo has had to face from the time she took over the Presidency from Joseph Ejercito Estrada in 2001. Despite her initial success, however, the furies have not been stilled, and where her known enemies have failed so far, her friends could yet succeed, should she let her guard down.

But there may be some ways of surviving the furies while trying to insert oneself in the nation’s effort to define and develop its agenda. Not all the questions about political legitimacy have been resolved; they will probably never be resolved even after Mrs. Arroyo shall have long passed on. We leave it all to history.

But Mrs. Arroyo could help stabilize the presidency at this time, and even do some governing on the side, which she has not done much of, till now, if she could but lead or join the effort to prepare the nation for her unconditional departure in 2010. Only when everyone begins to see that she is looking forward to riding into the sunset by 2010 will she able to calm the furies and discourage any and all efforts, even from the most unlikely sources, to get her out of the way before then.

This will require a real change of heart, a real conversion of the soul. For starters, she will have to think less of what she wants, and more of what the nation needs. She will have to make the nation’s ambitions and dreams her own, rather than the other way round. She will have to forget herself for once, and think of the nation and the nation alone.

In particular, she will have to stop talking to the jobless, the homeless and the hungry about a booming economy that has produced so many billionaires but not enough money for food, water, health and education in the poor communities.

She will have to stop talking, within hearing distance of our dollar-earning overseas workers and exporters, that she has built up a huge international dollar reserve at the Central Bank, and that the peso continues to gain against the dollar. She will have to explain that the reserves commingle all proceeds from foreign grants and loans and the remittances of our overseas workers, and that since most imports are smuggled in, there is no big commercial demand for the dollar, so it has to lose value against the peso, just as it has been losing against all currencies around the world. But she must be brave enough to say it is the overseas workers and the exporters who lose money every time the peso gains a fraction of a point against the dollar.

She will also have to stop talking of the bulls in the stock market, which the overwhelming majority of the population knows nothing about, unless she is prepared to tell them that 80 percent of the $6 billion or so that circulates around the world every day is speculative or hot money, whose owners quickly pull out at the first sign of trouble, or as soon as they shall have made enough profit.

And she will have to stop saying she will now concentrate on the economy, as though we had a centrally planned economy. Most of us non-economists have always had the impression that in a free market economy, which is what ours is supposed to be, the government has no active role to play except to make sure that there is a stable environment, and a level playing field.

A President who blames all economic problems on externalities, but claims credit for every little good thing that happens to the economy reminds us of the story of the whale behind a World War II submarine which came ashore to distribute cigars every time the submarine fired a torpedo.

If there is anything Mrs. Arroyo can and should now concentrate on, it should be on how to regenerate and renew the self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth of every Filipino. Her government has done so much to shame us and to destroy our most basic values. All the decencies are gone; nothing is sacred anymore. The most unprincipled and amoral men and women occupy the highest positions of responsibility; public office has become a mere excuse for grand scam and grand larceny; corruption is now the most lucrative industry; the most outrageous offenses against human rights and human dignity are perpetrated and condoned in the name of justice and the rule of law.

It was a corrupt government Mrs. Arroyo took over in 2001. It will be a corrupt government she will vacate in 2010. But if, on account of what she finally does from today, more Filipinos, especially the young, should rediscover their sense of country and the common good, and decide to do battle, regardless of the consequences, against the multi-headed hydra of corruption, immorality, indecency, and political opportunism, then there could still be a chance that she will not have to worry too much about creating or leaving behind a legacy.

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