COLUMN: ELECTIONS, THE GREATEST FOLLY / AND SO WE MUDDLE ON

MANILA, January 12, 2004 (STAR) HERE'S THE SCORE By Teodoro C. Benigno - The sign of the times are downright alarming. You sense it. When you see President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Miriam Defensor-Santiago smooch each other with hoochie-coochie ardor, thatís it. You know a political whorehouse when you see it. Time there was when La Miriam, until now a staunch defender of Erap Estrada, lashed GMA to the post and called her every vile and dirty name in the book. On a smaller scale, that was also the public perception when Loren Legarda joined Da King Fernando Poe Jr. as his vice presidential teammate.

When you see faces of Ernie Maceda, Juan Ponce Enrile, Francisco Tatad, Jinggoy Estrada, Imee Marcos on FPJís senatorial ticket, you shudder mightily. You know the Marcos and Estrada past has returned to haunt the Philippines again, and may God have mercy. When FPJ announces he will restore national unity "and the confidence of the people in the government", you also know heís fibbing. You know his candidacy is a big, cruel joke. When GMA virtually says the same thing and welcomes John OsmeŮa, the quintessential balimbing and balato bimbo, into her K-4 Senate slate, you just know the old political order has crumbled.

A bordello indeed. All discretion and delicadeza have flown out of the window. Combien? Cuanto? How much? Magkano?

When full-page ads appear in the broadsheets signed by what looks like a covey of retired military generals led by Fortunato Abat, the stir hits you in the face like a poisoned blow-dart. The signatories virtually demand the scrapping of the 2004 elections "now". Whoís behind them? Who paid for the ads? What force do they possess? General Abat, obviously a moving spirit of ANTS (Alliance for National Transformation and Solidarity), simply grins. "Watch us," he says subliminally. Discontent in the military establishment below GMAís command staff? Obviously.

When 3,000 Filipinos, more or less, flee their country daily and leave for abroad because "there is no future here", you know the cracks in the system are beginning to yawn. When Erap Estrada is allowed by the GMA government to leave for abroad to have his knees operated on, you know thatís just an excuse. Estrada, on trial for serious plunder charges with a death verdict hovering, is deliberately being freed for political reasons. When GMA pleads for reconciliation with the republicís biggest crooks and criminals, she is, morally, no better than they are.

When the May 10 elections hang in the balance, and may even be postponed because the Supreme Court may decree so very shortly, again you know the hole is getting deeper.

The hiss from the bowels of the earth portend the possibility of a massive political earthquake if electoral computerization doesnít work or is set aside. When the national deficit has soared to anywhere from more than P3 trillion (government figure) to P5 trillion (Jose Isidro Camachoís figure), then you know the Philippines is nearing the verge of a national bankruptcy. When Filipinos per capita live only on 30 to 35 cents a day, and Chinaís minimum daily wage can soon hit three US dollars, where do you think we are going next year? And the year after? Didnít we use to holler at the Chinese: "Intsek beho tulo laway"?"

When we spawn a population of 83 million, and we can humanly feed only one half or less, whither?

When the New Peopleís Army, the Communist Partyís guerrilla arm, relaunches its provincial raids and just lately overran a military detachment in Calaca, Batangas, do you see any light at the end of the tunnel? When NPA spokesman Gregorio "Ka Roger" Rosal threatens a blizzard of such raids to "bring down" the GMA regime, does the citizenry have any cause for optimism? How about Muslim Mindanao? When our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) can only progress 4.5 percent annually, when what is direly needed is a minimum 7 percent per year for a period of 20-25 years so we can survive and progress, shall we say move over, Sri Lanka?

And so? And so we Filipinos shall muddle through the majority probably voting for FPJ and hoping he will tide the nation to much better times. This is folly.

The coming elections, will they really take place? To my knowledge they will simply validate George Santayanaís dictum that those "who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat history". Civil society, the enlightened citizenry, knows ahead of time, these elections will be futile. It is the "cultural ignorance" of the masses topped by the consummate greed and avidity for power of the KNP (Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino) leadership backing FPJ. And the K-4.

Again, folly.

Folly, as the historian Barbara Tuchman says, is a "child of power". And the "power to command frequently causes failure to think". And the impulse to power comes "from the compelling lure of dominion, from pretensions of grandeur, from greed". And so, in this grand and supreme folly, the witless electorate shall call on Fernando Poe Jr. to grab the presidential helm. And await the miracle that will never come.

Spare me the retort that previous Philippine presidents were highly educated but were big busts just the same. So itís time FPJ took over, he just could make the difference. Really?

Oh no, he wonít. While previous presidents did blunder and fail, civil society is not looking for their kind anymore. We are in search of a Nelson Mandela this time, a Jawaharlal Nehru, maybe a Lee Kuan Yew, certainly a Mahathir Mohamad, an Anwar Sadat why not, a flare-haired David Ben Gurion who could blow the trumpet of Zion to summon all the Jews from everywhere to create Israel. Such a man or leader is nowhere on our horizon today. FPJ doesnít measure at all. Theyíre selling us a snake-oil vendor.

And thatís where our folly for the 2004 elections could smash into a brick wall.

Let me explain. The system isnít working anymore. Thatís where the real crisis lies. The major role players are the following: (1) the elite and the traditional politicians now scrambling avidly for power; (2) the Church or churches, but mainly the Roman Catholic Church whose power is waning but still remains the primus inter pares in our spiritual world; (3) the Left, generally called the mainstream Left but more particularly the Communist Party and the NPA; (4) the Military Establishment still highly formidable though now shuddering with factionalism; (5) Civil Society, essentially the middle class, which powered the First and Second EDSAs, and theoretically remains the balancing, at times the triggering, power.

The dilemma is this:

GMA looks like she will blow her stack, going down, down, down in the surveys. Noli de Castro wonít be of much help. FPJ is just not acceptable to civil society, the central role player. The latterís People Power investments in the two EDSAs may be the pin of the next grenade that could stop FPJ from entering MalacaŮang. GMA and her condotierre likewise would seek to bar FPJ for vast fortunes and vaster egos are at stake. And yet the presidential race has seemingly narrowed down to FPJ and GMA. And this only because GMA is perceived as possessing tremendous residual, coercive, shock and awe powers, capable of two things. What are they?

Primo, cheat FPJ of victory during the counting. Segundo, if cheating should prove impossible because the gap is too big, then spread three layers of gunpowder, light it. Cancel the elections through the mechanisms of martial rule or a state of national emergency. Let Mindanao blow up again. Or get the ghost of JI (Jemaah Islamiyah) to bring a passel of terrorist bombs and explode them in strategic areas. Who would know the difference, anyway?

This is what I call the revolving-door scenario.

If there should be no elections in 2004, this could result in Pandoraís Box blowing its top. The heat will be on La Gloria. Rightly or wrongly, she will be blamed for the snafu. In outrage, tens of thousands will pound the streets in a huge human upheaval. If GMA can stand the heat and her generals and the US support her, she will remain in power. If not, the whole shebang will not be under EDSAís umbrella anymore. The generals will move to take over power since there could be a vacuum. The CPP-NPA could stoke the beginnings of revolution or civil war. Or BANGON! can play a mediating role.

Still, supreme folly. The 2004 elections are a pretentious, hypocritical stab at saving the system and democracy, when their only result could or would be popular pandemonium. Or the eruption of a social volcano. Am I being morbid? Am I too pessimistic? Do I always see the glass as half-empty and not half-full?

No, I donít think I am. Hear that ticking? Itís a time-bomb.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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