Gloria’s game

“Foul whisperings are abroad. Unnatural deeds
Do breed unnatural troubles.”

—William Shakespeare, Macbeth

At around the time that the hardworking and prayerful Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was due to deliver her ninth—and presumably last—State of the Nation Address, as well as for several days after, the phrase “lame duck” was predictably bandied about to refer to her. It would probably be more accurate, however, to say that, in the face of the overwhelming nationwide antipathy that has dogged her through nearly a decade in power, the President has consistently comported herself like a lame duck. That is, she has acted in ways that show a flagrant disregard for the consequences other than her own political survival—and, of course, the occasional “simple dinner“.

It is for this reason that all the perfumes of Arabia—or the boisterous bleats of her bovine boosters, anyway—will not sweeten either her rule or her legacy. It is also for this reason that she and her allies have been doing their utmost to damn the mandate of Sen. Benigno S. Aquino III, her apparent successor, with spots—ones that are calculated to be difficult to wash off or rub out, ensuring that the next administration will be so completely preoccupied with and weakened by setting the house of the state in order, it will be unable to live up to even the simplest and most basic expectations of an electorate that has invested so much in the hope that a new leader with a clear, legitimate mandate can and will usher in positive, meaningful change.

Dashing such a hope, as Macapagal-Arroyo surely knows from experience, can only be advantageous to her. After all, it seems to me that her betrayal of the spirit of EDSA by reneging on her promise not to run once she had sat through the term of her ousted predecessor, and then rigging the polls in her favor to boot (allegedly, because, per her lackeys, the evidence has yet to presented at the proper forum), did not so much spark a massive uprising as it did drain the public of the vigor for vigilance and cause widespread resignation—a situation to which the perceived weaknesses of those who could have conceivably replaced her (action star Fernando Poe, Jr. during the 2004 elections, and Vice President Noli de Castro in 2005 following the explosion of the Hello Garci scandal) also contributed. Once the people were sufficiently alienated from and cynical about the political realm, Macapagal-Arroyo gained a far freer hand to do as she pleased, and the results have been appalling beyond belief, as the annus horribilis that was 2009 alone shows: the deeds of her regime ranged from the imposition of duties on imported books—a blatant violation of the Constitution and the Florence Agreement that, per anecdotal reports, is still being implemented—to the torture and execution of 57 people in the Ampatuan Massacre—a crime that represents the very nadir of impunity, and which the hour of justice would seem to be approaching at roughly the pace of a paralyzed snail.

Considering her victorious campaign to represent the second district of Pampanga in the Lower House, and the number of land mines that she has laid to maim and mutilate the mandate of Aquino—the appointment of the publicity hound Renato Corona to the position of Chief Justice by way of a convoluted Supreme Court interpretation of the Constitution is but the most prominent—it would appear entirely plausible to posit that the name of Macapagal-Arroyo’s game is to ensure that, once Aquino takes the helm, the ship of state flounders so badly that she can credibly bring impeachment to bear against him (perhaps on the basis of betrayal of public trust, an offense that she is particularly adept at committing). Her recent smarm offensive regarding the dubious accomplishments of her administration dovetails with this goal: should the nation succumb to disillusionment and despair-induced docility, as is doubtless her wish, “Buti pa noong panahon ni Gloria” might wind up resounding in the public consciousness sooner than one might care to think. Worse, as many a political observer has warned, she could somehow pull together a large enough coalition to instigate the process of charter change, which she has consistently pushed for, paving the way for her return to power, this time as Prime Minister—or, for all we know, as queen regnant.

The recently concluded national and local elections, therefore, are only the end of the beginning—the hurlyburly is not yet done. We, the people, have scorched the snake, not killed it, and we remain in danger of her fangs. In truth, I hope that this assessment will turn out to be an ultimately alarmist one, but for the moment it seems a touch of paranoia is warranted. As Peter Wallace has remarked, the Philippines, especially under the present dispensation, is a magical place, one that has been bent and warped ad majorem Gloria gloriam.

To vanquish a hydra

On December 1, when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo formalized her 2010 bid to represent the second district of Pampanga in the Lower House, Fr. Roland Moraleja, who delivered the homily at a special concelebrated mass, made the now-(in)famous comment likening Macapagal-Arroyo to Jesus. Although Pampanga Auxiliary Bishop Pablo Virgilio David called the comparison blasphemous, it was again invoked, albeit in a more subdued fashion, by Press Secretary Cerge Remonde in a Malacañang press conference last Sunday, nearly two days after the hardworking and prayerful President issued Proclamation No. 1959, which declared a state of martial law and suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in most of Maguindanao.

Asked for a reaction regarding the outcry against the proclamation, Remonde said that Macapagal-Arroyo was “ready to be crucified” by public opinion on the matter, and would let nothing stop her from doing what she needs to do, as she has the best interests of Maguindanao at heart. (Due to a clerical error that Raissa Robles has already discussed, it seemed for a while that the best interests of Maguindanao were mysteriously linked to the establishment of a village school in Zamboanga del Sur.)

The vacuity and spuriousness of the comparison of the President to Christ notwithstanding, I am willing to concede that it can be upheld on one point. Consider this excerpt from the speech she delivered on December 30, 2002, the 106th anniversary of the martyrdom of Jose Rizal:

However, we also know that we will soon enter the political period leading up to the elections in 2004. My reading on the political winds tells me that the 2004 election may well go down in history as among our most bitterly contested elections ever. This is because of the deep social and political division that we now have.

If this is true, then sincere efforts to launch programs will run the risk of being derailed by political fighting leading up to the elections.

The government in place after 2004 may merely end up inheriting a country as deeply divided as ever. Consequently, we may end up stalling national growth for a few years more as a result of lost momentum.

In view of all these factors, I have decided not to run for President during the election of 2004.

When she reneged on this last statement by entering the race, and emerged victorious, she reinforced, even exacerbated, the very divisions that she had initially claimed to be wary of, especially after she was beset by allegations of having cheated her way into power, sparking a controversy that still smolders, unresolved. This brings to mind what Jesus said in Luke 12:51-53:

“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

As a holiday bonus to Macapagal-Arroyo, I am further willing to concede that, just like Christ in his time, she is widely distrusted, if not downright reviled.

Where the analogy ultimately fails is the idea of resurrection. Macapagal-Arroyo, despite being the “luckiest bitch around“, despite the performance of self-serving “miracles”, has yet to prove that she is capable of rising from the dead, although her ability to avoid (political) death is certainly nothing to scoff at. Anyway, in the name of authenticity, she would first have to be willing to be whipped, crowned with thorns, nailed to a cross, force-fed vinegar, jabbed with spears, and generally jeered at until she expires.

What I find to be the most useful image with which to make sense of the present dispensation comes out of Greek mythology: the Lernaean Hydra. A fearsome, serpent-like beast that dwelt in the swamp of Lerna, the hydra was known for preying upon cattle and terrorizing nearby villages, and was extremely difficult to kill. It possessed nine heads, eight mortal and one immortal, and once a mortal head was cut off, two more would grow in its place.

Apollodorus tells us that Herakles himself, though blessed with superhuman strength, would not have been able to slay the hydra without assistance from his young nephew: “…[Herakles] called for help on Iolaus who, by setting fire to a piece of the neighboring wood and burning the roots of the heads with the brands, prevented them from sprouting. Having thus got the better of the sprouting heads, he chopped off the immortal head, and buried it, and put a heavy rock on it, beside the road that leads through Lerna to Elaeus.”

My point here is that the administration of Macapagal-Arroyo has displayed a talent—if talent it can indeed be called—not for solving problems but for multiplying them. By consistently framing national affairs in the language of war, by cultivating an environment of apparently ceaseless chaos, the regime renders the formation of a broad, durable opposition almost impossible—worse, it induces in the majority a sense of utter helplessness, which lends itself so easily, as seen in the wake of the Hello Garci scandal, to willful myopia, to cynicism, to the belief that it is more enlightened to forgive and forget. Never mind that all moral responsibility is relinquished, that the grievous wounds to the body politic continue to fester and putrefy beneath the Band-Aid of “moving on”, that the hydra is allowed to grow in strength and impunity.

With Proclamation No. 1959, the ridiculous, error-riddled report that purports to justify it, and the pathetic performance of Macapagal-Arroyo’s cabinet officials at the joint session of Congress, the price of moving on should be crystal-clear: moving on allows evil to become ordinary. Every time the public fails to muster the strength to be outraged, it becomes complicit in the commission of ever more outrageous deeds. Every time the public agrees with the Palace mouthpieces—experts at victimage and little else—that the President is attacked no matter what she does, it gives her license to do whatever she wants—and this is a President who seems determined to try everything, including the creation of the very same monster that she now claims to want to destroy: her erstwhile allies and still-good friends, the mass-murdering members of the Ampatuan clan.

Last July, in her State of the Nation Address, Macapagal-Arroyo challenged her detractors, saying, “Do not tell us what we all know, that democracy can be threatened. Tell us what you will do when it is attacked.” In the face of this state-sponsored attack on democracy, how shall we, the people, act?