Saturday, July 16, 2005

Arroyo must decide whether to run or stand and fight

By Thang D. Nguyen, Jakarta

Had Cardinal Jaime Sin been still alive and well, perhaps he would play a leading role in the current political crisis in the Philippines.

Indeed, politics was for Cardinal Sin, who died last month at age 76, a second calling after the church. First, he mobilized "people power" to end former president Ferdinand Marcos's lengthy dictatorship in 1986.

Next, Cardinal Sin pushed Madam Corazon Aquino, the widow of Marcos rival Benigno Aquino who had been assassinated in 1983, to run for president.

And she became the first woman president of the Philippines.

Once again, in 2001, Cardinal Sin put his influence to work, this time to oust former President Joseph Estrada and support the then Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to take over the Philippine presidency.

Unfortunately, President Arroyo is facing calls for her resignation. Among other things, she is charged with rigging last year's election to win her second term.

In early June when thousands of Filipinos protested in Manila against President Arroyo, most analysts considered a chance of her being ousted -- as her predecessor was -- slim.

Recent events in the Philippine capitol, however, suggest otherwise. For one thing, Aquino herself last week called on President Arroyo to step down.

What is more, the 85-member Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines met last weekend and issued a statement calling for the creation of an independent "truth commission" to investigate the allegations against the president.

"We ask the president to discern deeply to what extent she might have contributed to the erosion of effective governance and whether the erosion is so severe that it's irreversible," the statement also said.

The bishops stopped short, however, of calling for her resignation.

But the question remains: What will happen?

Three scenarios seem possible: First, President Arroyo may resign; second, if found guilty, she may be impeached; and third, a clash between the military and anti-Arroyo Filipinos may happen.

At the moment, President Arroyo is doing everything she can to avoid resignation, including sending her corruption-tainted husband, Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo, into exile in the U.S. and asking her cabinet to resign.

While stepping down may be the last thing she wants to do, it is the best and only way that she can leave in grace, if she is in fact guilty as charged.

In other words, if she has indeed committed the sin of stealing last year's election, she might as well come clean and end her presidency in grace rather than being impeached.

As for impeachment, President Arroyo is willing to go on trial. She has also admitted talking to an election official during the counting of last year's election and apologized to the nation for her "lapse of judgment."

The president's advisors and she probably think that agreeing to go for impeachment hearings may buy them some more time to come up with new defensive strategies -- given the usually long process that it takes to bring a president to impeachment in the Philippines, or any other country, for that matter.

President Arroyo should only agree to go for impeachment hearings if she can prove that she is not guilty at all.

Otherwise, she should not, simply because if she does not fare well in the hearings, she will be found guilty and, thereafter, impeached.

But, what if she is found not guilty? If that is the case, she may stay in office, but most Filipinos will have lost their confidence in her by then. Worse yet, a bloody clash between anti-Arroyo Filipinos and the military may occur.

Thus far, the Philippine military has pledged its neutrality. And it is hoped that there will be no bloodshed this time, given the history of violent politics in the Philippines.

Should the Arroyo presidency come to an end, Vice President Noli de Castro is in line to succeed her.

Among most ordinary Filipinos, de Castro is popular, having hosted the country's evening news programs for 17 years.

The concern that the Philippine elites and business community have, however, is that de Castro does not have the political experience and skills that the presidency requires.

For the Philippines, a country that is best described with political instability, corruption, and poverty, the concern about de Castro's ability to steer the helm is not without legitimacy.

Unlike Arroyo who openly campaigned against her former boss, Estrada, while he was still president, de Castro has thus far appeared calm, not too eager to take over the presidency.

"Let's give President Arroyo a chance to think and decide for the nation," de Castro said last Friday.

The president does, indeed, need some time to think and decide whether to quit or continue her battle.

Whichever course President Arroyo may choose, it may serve her well to remember what Abraham Lincoln once reportedly said: "You can fool all the people some of the time and some people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time."

The writer is a Jakarta-based columnist. His columns can be read at


Anonymous Supashoppa said...

"For the Philippines, a country that is best described with political instability, corruption, and poverty ... "

Stop right there. Racist! Racist! Racist!

The President is subject to the laws of the Philippines the same as anyone else. Why even write an article about her? Why don't you write an article expressing concern for somebody else in trouble overseas, say somebody you have never heard of? If you haven't, that alone proves you're prejudiced.

"the history of violent politics in the Philippines."

It's not your country. Therefore you should not comment. Respect their system and shut up.

Just kidding; I read your "ugly ocker" article on Australian reaction to Schapelle Corby, and was a little offended. Mind you I've read many, many similar articles and opinion pieces saying the same thing. It may surprise you to hear that the authors are Caucasian and Australian.

ALL Australians who are a little concerned about the Corby case are merely colour~blind, and think that "a white or Aussie life is more valuable than a brown or Asian one"? Rubbish.

As you may or may not be willing to acknowledge, all of us, yourself included, are largely at the mercy of what a commercial media chooses to publicize. We write, think and talk about current affairs mainly when they are visible to us.

The cases of Nguyen Tuong Van and Tran Van Thanh are absolutely tragic; guilty or not guilty, I do not believe in the death penalty.

But if anyone is "racist" for not turning these cases into causé celebre's, I suppose it's a contingent of people running the media ~ not "the Australian public" who can't really help never having heard of Tuong Van and Van Thanh.

By the way, thousands if not millions of Australians, myself included, protested against the deplorable and racist policies of Hanson's idiotic "One Nation" party, back in the late 1990s.
We aren't all that bad, for petes~sake.

10:14 AM  
Anonymous said...

I read your article about the "Aussie racist" in "The Australian" this morning.

First some of my CV, hopefully to add credibility to the comment. I spent 5 years in a senior position at the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs, and subsequently became the inaugural Superintendent (Multiculturalism in Education) in the South Australian Education Department. Though both of these positions are well in the past, I think they establish me as someone not likely to be an apologist for racists.

Some Australians, and by no means only white ones, continue to have racist views and some behaved very badly during the Corby saga. But many Australians had legitimate doubts about her guilt (why take $100,000 of Australian marijuana to turn it into much less money in Indonesia?)and many made the judgement that the Indonesian justice system required a lower level of proof of guilt than is required in Australia (eg not taking fingerprints). Both views seem to me quite rational, as is the view that the Indonesian justice system is much more corrupt than the Australian, though this was not a factor in Corby's case.

Being pretty is an advantage - good media shots mean good media revenue. Once her case was well publicised, nationalist than rather than racist sentiment became the emotional driver. I have no doubt that a pretty Vietnamese-Australian face would also have done very well in the Australian media, and therefore with the Australian public.

I think we need to be weary of underestmating just how much Australian attitudes to race have changed in the last 30 years. One of my daughters' partner is a Phillippino migrant, and I know his daily experience of living in Australia is just not consistent with a view of Australia as a deeply racist country.

Painting Australia in overly pessimistic social hues gives unnecessary succour to extremists, such as Jemma Islamiah, who need a sea of deep antipathy to things Western to keep swimming.

5:51 PM  
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7:36 PM  

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