by Perry Diaz
Being one of the most unpopular presidents, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) would have been easily deposed considering the fact that her approval rating was less than 30% below zero. Any president with that kind of rating would freeze instantly, politically speaking. But GMA demonstrated resiliency and staying power against the well-coordinated attempt to force her to resign.
Political pundits are scratching their heads right now and the odds-maker Jimmy the Greek would have failed miserably in predicting the outcome of the failed EDSA III people power revolution. He would have declared: “There is just no way GMA could have survived!” The last-minute and timely rescue from former President Fidel Ramos saved her from the mob. It was a great scenario that almost looked like a American western movie, where the Cavalry arrived just in time to repel the attacking Indians.
Actually, the critical moment was at the time when President Arroyo admitted on television that it was she who made the “Dear Garci…” call. It would have been the moment when a spontaneous outcry would create a momentum leading to a “people power” revolution. But something went wrong. The scripts of EDSA I and EDSA II were not followed… or simply put, the elements of a “people power” mass action were not present.
EDSA II, the “people power” revolution that toppled President Joseph Estrada was a novel kind of power — the power of “texting.” Within a few hours, millions of text messages were sent out urging people to rise against Estrada. It was an unscripted plan of action. It just happened… and it worked.
If it worked in EDSA II, why didn’t it work for EDSA III? When Sam Ong — the person who exposed the wiretapped “Hello Garci…” conversation — tried to rally the people to a mass action, hardly anyone heeded his call. The spontaneous reaction that he dreamed to happen did not occur. In fact, he got so scared that he went into hiding fearing for his dear life. Well, he should have taken some classes in “How to Start a Revolution.” Revolution is not for novices.
Most, if not all, revolutions do not happen by accident. It takes a “plan” to make it happen. The “Arroyo Must Resign” battle cry of the anti-GMA opposition groups lacked one very important element — they didn’t have anybody in mind for GMA’s successor. Or if they did, there was no consensus on who was that one leader that they can support. It just seemed that all they wanted was for GMA to resign and then… “bahala na” (come what may).
During the upheaval, I was asked who do I think should be the best replacement for President Arroyo. My reply was: “GMA is the best person to replace GMA.” In the end, I was right — GMA is irreplaceable. Is it because of her political prowess and charisma? I don’t think so. Her political prowess is: the lack of political prowess of her opponents. And she doesn’t have a charisma. Remember, there are two things that most Filipinos respect — a macho image of a man and a motherly, or grandmotherly, stature of a woman. GMA has neither. In other words, GMA was lucky simply because there was nobody in the opposition that has the stature of a “national leader,” someone who could coalesce the people under his or her leadership. That was the case in EDSA I and EDSA II, and not in EDSA III.
Sad to say, the absence of politicians with the stature of “national leader” was not accidental. It was the result of the elections that followed EDSA I — the original “people power” revolution that deposed the Marcos dictatorship. Since then, the quality of candidates running for political office diminished. The candidates for the Senate — the stepping stone for presidential aspirants — came from sectors unaccustomed in governance. Actors, radio and television commentators, basketball players, comedians, and political neophytes dominated the senatorial slates. In the 2004 elections, Noli De Castro, a media braodcaster, won the Vice Presidency against Loren Legarda, another media personality. Both have no experience in governance.
During the anti-GMA revolt, De Castro would have been a shoe-in for the presidency in the event GMA resigned. However, people questioned his qualifications and ability to govern. The center stage of the anti-GMA forces was taken over by movie queen Susan Roces, the widow of the movie king Fernando Poe, Jr., GMA’s presidential opponent who passed away a few months after his defeat. Jailed former President Joseph Estrada — resigned to his fate that he could not regain the presidency — endorsed Roces to take over the presidency from Arroyo. But Roces was unable to roust the people. Only 40,000 people — a fraction of the turnouts in EDSA I and EDSA II — heeded her call and showed up at her rally. Was it because the people were finally cognizant of the “caveat” that comes with a candidate from the movie industry?
In my opinion, the Philippines has brought itself to a dismal situation where there are no more qualified candidates for President. Gone were the days of the commonwealth and post-commonwealth eras where most of the politicians that dominated the national scene were educated — mostly lawyers — and trained to govern. They rose from the bottom rung to the top rung of the political ladder. Now, we have candidates from the entertainment industry running for national office.
But the bright side of it all is that people are beginning to become wary of the prospect of being governed by inept leaders. They are now looking for capable leaders because they realize that EDSA III failed because they didn’t have a leader that they could all rally behind.
Meanwhile, a few senators are talking about the next “people revolution” — EDSA IV. they probably realized what went wrong with EDSA III and came up with a grandiose plan that would make EDSA IV successful. Oh, really? Is there anyone in the Senate who has the stature of a national leader? It remains to be seen.