ON DISTANT SHORE
By Val G. Abelgas
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is not done yet. Contrary to what she told the military during her farewell address, Arroyo is not just ready to fade away. After nine long years of near tyrannical power in Malacanang, this lady wants more. It became obvious a few years before she was to bow out of the presidency when she did everything possible to amend the constitution to enable her to circumvent the presidential term limit and hopefully become prime minister under a new parliamentary form of government.
She had been senator for three years and vice president for another three years before she secretly plotted with her husband and some generals to overthrow a legitimately elected president, Joseph Estrada, and by some stroke of luck, found she did not have to enforce the plot because the people themselves gathered on EDSA to oust Estrada.
Arroyo could have just faded away as she had promised, just as the famous General Douglas MacArthur did after that famous farewell, but no, the urge to become at the top again was just too strong to resist. After all, politicians in the Philippines never fade away; they hold on to power until they die and pass on the power to wives and sons when they do.
And so, she settled for a much lower political post, that of a congresswoman representing a tiny congressional district, to achieve a much higher goal, perhaps better than being president with its term limit and constitutional restrictions, such as having to deal with a recalcitrant Senate. As prime minister, she could be head of government for as long as she could consolidate her hold on her loyal allies and she wouldn’t have to worry about stubborn senators.
She couldn’t push charter change (cha-cha) as the highest official of the land wielding powers unprecedented since the dictatorial rule of the late President Ferdinand Marcos. And now she thinks as a congresswoman from the first district of Pampanga, she can rally her allies in the House to force that parliamentary shift.
It was the least of surprises then that she filed a House resolution on her very first day as Congresswoman Arroyo. And she did it with flair. She filed the resolution together with her son, Rep. Dato Arroyo, and would have included her other and more high profile son, Mikey, if he had been proclaimed representative of the party-list group of security guards. After all, Mikey was her biggest lackey and prime mover of her cha-cha moves when the former actor was still holding mama’s post in Congress. Of course, to conceal her hideous intentions, Arroyo filed eight other bills.
The Arroyo resolution calls for a constitutional convention to amend the 1987 Constitution. Although she and Mikey had always insisted that the cha-cha was necessary because certain economic provisions had to be amended to lure in more foreign investments and put back the country to economic recovery, we all know that the primary objective is to shift to a parliamentary form of government, where there will be no Senate in a unicameral legislature and where there are no term limits for the prime minister.
The problem with a parliamentary system in the Philippines, as I have pointed out in many previous articles, is that the country has no strong two-party system, which is the ideal set-up for a parliamentary form of government. Instead, the country has a multi-party system that depends on the ability of parties to go into coalition with other political parties to win elections and to wrest leadership in Congress.
Such a situation would create a constantly unstable government. Any parliamentary member who has an ambition to become prime minister, and has the cunning ability to wheel-and-deal and dispense favors can plot anytime to become the prime minister and hold on to the post for as long as he or she is able to form coalitions and continue to dispense favors.
Since Marcos effectively abolished the two-party system with the declaration of martial law in 1972, Philippine elections and even the election for the Senate president and the House Speaker have been based on the parties’ ability to form coalitions. Thus, since the restoration of democracy with the People Power Revolt on EDSA in 1986, the country has had no majority president, meaning he was elected by at least 51 percent of the voters.
Even President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, who rode on the popularity of both her parents, the late Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and the late President Croazon “Cory” Aquino, is a minority president, having garnered only about 40 percent of the votes.
With our present Congress composed of politicians from a multitude of political parties and political persuasions, not to mention the representatives of dozens of party-list groups that have their own political platforms and agendas, I can imagine those who wish to be prime minister to be constantly wheeling-and-dealing with as many groups as they can to achieve the majority to oust the sitting prime minister.
We all know what happens when a professional wheeler-dealer becomes the head of government. Arroyo was one cunning, scheming politician who was able to use her ability to dispense favors to form the coalition she needed to achieve her agenda and wield strong powers.
But with the power of the pork barrel no longer at her disposal, I wonder if Arroyo would still be able to gather enough votes in Congress to push her cha-cha resolution. Knowing how astute this woman is, I don’t think she is that naïve not to know she does not have the numbers to push her cha-cha resolution. If she were that naïve, she would have pursued the speakership. But she knows she does not have the number, but that doesn’t mean she has abandoned her plans of becoming speaker and eventually the prime minister.
With at least four Arroyos in the House and several loyalists, I expect Arroyo to start plotting again to eventually wrest control of the House and push her cha-cha agenda. If Aquino’s allies in the Senate and the House are unable to match Arroyo’s ability to form coalitions, they will soon find themselves the minority in both chambers.
Aquino must not make the mistake of underestimating Arroyo’s political abilities. She may be just the lowly congresswoman from Pampanga, but if he and his allies do not watch out, she could be back to wreak havoc on our people again.