TEODORO BENIGNO: CAMPAIGN HEATS UP: AN ANALYSIS

MANILA, February 2, 2004 (STAR) HERE'S THE SCORE By Teodoro C. Benigno - If the latest survey of Social Weather Stations is to be believed, the presidential campaign is no longer a shoo-in for Fernando Poe Jr. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has suddenly bolted like a meteor to second place. God willing, Raul Roco willing, the little lady can march to MalacaŮang with banners blazing. Just a month or two ago, La Gloria was given up for dead, her presidential bid exploding in a smoking maze of busted GMA balloons, busted hopes she could ever recover, busted dreams of Arcadia.

Methinks this scenario of GMA shooting to the top of the presidential totem pole is a little bit overblown.

First, the majority masses will surely stick with FPJ. What is happening is that civil society is closing ranks and when it does, a critical mass could form to torpedo FPJ. That explains why in a business community poll, FPJ got zero when it come to his qualifications for the presidency. That also explains why the military command staff of GMA Ė her generals Ė still remain loyal to her. They fear an FPJ victory will tear the country apart. That explains why the middle forces now cringe at what they perceive as FPJís "abysmal ignorance" of the substance and principle of presidential leadership.

FPJís clumsy remarks at Loren Legardaís birthday soiree did it.

Whatever decent cover he had was blown to smithereens. When he said "Nang dahil doon?" (Because of that?) to reports the peso plunge was due to presidential candidates like him who had no economic program, the boom fell. Then the whole thing dropped at his feet like chicken leavings when he added: "Bago yan, ah. Dahil wala pa kaming nilalatag na economic program nagkaroon na ng ano dun diperensya . . . Okay yan, bago yan ah."

There it was. Da King, the Emperor, as in the proverbial royal tale, was shorn of his clothes and stood stark naked before his followers. To make matters worse for FPJ, the bulk of civil society is now recoiling against the crop of corrupt and discredited politicians hanging from his neck like a garland of empty and worthless shells from a forgotten battlefield.

But this does not of course absolve GMA. She has her own share of rascals, rogues and rapscallions in her senatorial ticket. Besides, her three-year track record in MalacaŮang limps like a Broadway play that has bombed. Now sheís lucky, thatís it. Educated Filipinos abhor and detest her less than they do FPJ. So, there you are. The moral of the story is there are no longer any good men and women around. You choose the lesser evil. Ugh!

As for Raul Roco, poor he. He is admittedly the best of the lot. He could twirl FPJ round his littler finger, GMA round his middle finger, the rest around his big toe. The Roco campaign however suffered from too much misplaced idealism, too much self-confidence, too much disregard for a intensive mass media campaign. There his image suffered. This was a dirty war. This war needed oodles of money, political tanks and helicopters, a huge well-oiled machine. He didnít have them. His image waned. And so his campaign began to slide. But Roco withdrawing in favor of GMA? No way, I know the man. He will die with his boots on, will not sully his honor.

Now, let me draw the larger picture.

Whether FPJ is a natural-born Filipino or not remains the core issue. Sooner or later the Supreme Court will have to rule. If the High Court decides FPJ is natural-born, the nation buys time. If the High Court decides in a matter of weeks he is not, then goodbye. Overnight we could have the dreaded maelstrom. The ground under our feet could crack wide open. Civil war? Revolution? I donít think so.

But you can bet your last pesillo, there will be no elections May 10. Social turbulence will rule the roost. The nation will suffer a severe heart attack. It may not be fatal but it will send 83 million Filipinos to the Intensive Care Unit, stirring in the dark, lashing out at the Furies. Under the circumstances, no elections can be held as the military and police Ė without resort to martial law Ė seek to restore order.

GMA remains in power, of course, but that is another story.

How long can she remain in power? Cut the cards any way you want. They spell trouble. They spell a nation in gridlock. They spell a democracy lurching drunkenly. They spell a military sniffing avidly at the bowels of political power. They spell a civil society looking for a substitute, better still a replacement for EDSA. EDSA never really settled scores, and it enabled the political elite to remain in power.

I think the big issue staring the nation today is what kind of government, what kind of system can replace the present without too much resort to bloodshed. Today we see the Thaksins, Mahathirs, the Lee Kuan Yews, the Park Chung-hees, and earlier the Deng Xiaopengs, the Chiang Ching-kuos, the great reformers of Asia as our models.

Whenever I am asked whether we can achieve real nationwood without a bloodbath, my invariable reply is: Maybe and again maybe not. And yet I feel deeply in my bones that some blood may have to be shed, for that is the nature of rapid and meaningful historic change. Spasms. Blood, the French revolutionaries said, was a catharsis that cleansed the nation of shame and purified its soul. Thus it has been since the dawn of history as an old order ends in great scandal and a new one begins. * * * Le me draw again another wide canvas.

This old journalist finds it absolutely bizarre that, despite the deeply disturbing signs of the times, virtually the whole of media deliberately ignore or worse, are not aware of, the vital life and death issues now piercing the thin skin of our existence.

The print and broadcast media continue to focus on personalities and trifles even when these personalities and trifles are no longer relevant to the changing times. Who will make a good senator? Who will make the better president? Will X or Y or Z add to the strength of GMA, FPJ, Roco? Who is better, Noli de Castro or Loren Legarda? Pia Cayetano? Jamby Madrigal?

I find all this political drivel of the most excruciating kind.

It is trivia, a morass of wriggling worms struggling out of an old tin can. Most of ANCís talk show hosts engage in this sort of chinoiserie (as the French say) warts and pimples and blemishes made to look like great journalism. And university political science professors, invited as guests, stoop and simper so they can fit into the picture.

I would have wanted media to brandish an analytical scalpel, or plunge the surgeonsí knife where it is needed. Then maybe we can be a more enlightened nation, not a masa electorate of certified ignoramuses and imbeciles. And so we had Erap Estrada, and now FPJ. We heap folly upon folly, pitch discredited politicians and discredited ideas over to the TV screen, again and again. And we as a nation remains as ignorant as ever, as poor, as oppressed as ever.

In the realm of Information Technology, we are still in the horse-and-buggy stage.

Why have we gone wrong? Where have we gone wrong? Why have we as a republic sank so low while other countries in Asias are now scaling the mountain? Whatís wrong with our economy? Our political system? Our culture? Our democracy? Why has even war-battered Vietnam surpassed us? What do the Chinese have that Filipinos do not have? The South Koreans? The Malaysians? The Singaporeans? The Taiwanese? The Thais? Why has Bangalore in India awakened that once torpid nation of "half-naked fakirs" (in the words of Winston Churchill)?

Why is poverty lashed to the masts of our archipelago? Why are we Filipinos so inept, so bumbling, so erratic so easy-going, so lacking in patriotism? Why is graft and corruption a hideous, revolting tattoo on the face of our politicians? Why is our elite so uncaring, so indifferent, so grab-bag oriented? Why canít we produce a new crop of leaders? What can we do to change and transform our culture? What can be done to stop the hemorrhage, the flight of more than 3000 Filipinos every day to foreign shores?

These are the questions I want to hear from our talk-show hosts, the issues I want to read in our broadsheets, the torches I want to blaze in public debate.

In the end, it will be the streets that will decide where the nation will be headed for. He who commands the streets commands the future. The streets are the prize political arena of two forces, civil society or the middle forces and the conglomerates of the Left. Even if the military takes over, I doubt the generals can last and they too will have to cope with the streets. The FPJ forces are formidable. They have the support of Erap Estrada, very possibly of Eduardo (Danding) Cojuangco, the janissaries of Ferdinand Marcos. They also have street power, but not the kind that comes in like the sweep of an angry sea. Here, they are at a distinct disadvantage.

Anyway, letís see.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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