Never Underestimate Arroyo

Greg MacabentaBy Greg Macabenta
DALY CITY
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, president of the Republic of the Philippines, has decided to run for the congressional seat in her home province currently occupied by her son.
Because political positions in the Philippines are literally owned by ruling families, pretty much the way members of a royal family own a throne, no one doubts that the congressional post will be passed on from son to mom with the greatest of ease.
But why the colossal downgrade?
Why would a person who has occupied the highest position in the land, want to stay in office so badly, she would have settled for town mayor, if no other position was available?
Nearly every pundit in town has something to say against the Arroyo move. Former President Fidel V. Ramos can’t understand it and he has made no effort to display his disgust. But Arroyo has simply brazened it. One wonders if all the harsh criticism that she has been showered with since assuming office hasn’t made her impervious to even the most stinging of insults.
Expectedly, she had a well phrased spin ready for the media. “After much contemplation, I realized I am not ready to step down completely from public service,” she explained. She said that her province mates have pleaded with her to continue serving them.
Translation: “After much scheming, I have come to realize that I can’t stay on as president long enough to get the Constitution amended and a parliamentary system put in place. But since completely losing political power is unthinkable, I have decided to settle for Plan B.”
Plan B is to remain in power and wait for the MacArthur Moment, as in, “I shall return.”
Plan B may also be the reason why Lito Atienza, secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, has decided to run for mayor of Manila. He could have vied for the vice-presidency or even the presidency – or, at the very least, a seat in the Senate. Instead, he wants to win back his Manila city hall seat, now occupied by former presidential candidate Alfredo Lim.
At least, Atienza’s move is understandable. The Manila mayorship is a juicy post, rich in perks and high in prestige. Besides, Atienza has to settle the trashing his son got from Lim when the younger Atienza contested the post.
And speaking of reasons, why is Prospero Nograles, Speaker of the House of Representatives, the third highest official in the land, running for mayor of Davao City?
Why the “downgrading” trend? Isn’t there something funny here?
Like Arroyo, Atienza and Nograles may simply be ensuring that they remain in the political arena and in a post where they can still enjoy leverage. The harsh reality is that the Philippines is an archipelago of fiefdoms masquerading as a democracy. Power rests with local overlords who have enough leverage to negotiate a quid pro quo with national officials, including the president, even if the latter belongs to the opposition.
In the Philippines, there is no such thing as a real opposition – only politicians who are in power and politicians who are out of power. The latter simply change their political colors and join the ranks of the new masters of the realm.
Isn’t it odd that the administration party does not have a complete slate of senatorial candidates? In the past, hangers-on, bootlickers, social climbers, actors, athletes and assorted kitchen cabinet members would give their right arm to be included in the administration’s senatorial slate, not to mention congressmen, cabinet secretaries and retired military brass.
One explanation is that the Arroyos are not keen on providing the funding that would have made a senatorial candidacy profitable, even if one were to lose. But the more believable reason is that the administration senatorial slate expects to get another bad beating, just like in the last elections.
In this context, the moves of Arroyo, Atienza and Nograles – and others who are running for lesser posts in relatively easy or uncontested jurisdictions – make a lot of sense. Note that they are running for seats in bailiwicks where they are either virtual slam-dunk winners or have a better than even chance of winning.
The obvious reason is that they want to make sure they wield some measure of political power, in the face of what could be a landslide victory for the opposition and a complete route of administration candidates.
The obvious reason is that they have decided to hunker down, batten the hatches, weather the impending political storm and then come back with a vengeance when the time is ripe.
In the case of Arroyo, as a member of Congress, she can still scheme to become prime minister if – and when – charter change finally makes it past the hurdles and a parliamentary system is adopted.
This, of course, is based on the premise that politicians are capable of unwavering loyalty and that, even when she is no longer president, Arroyo will still be able to lead her former lapdogs in Congress by the nose.
This is also based on the naïve assumption that a newly-installed president, even if he comes from the administration party (assuming a repeat of Garcification), will not want to consolidate his own hold on power – and former presidents be damned.
Of course, political longevity is a skill that that survivors like Arroyo has long mastered. In fact, Ronnie Puno, Master Political Survivor, can learn a few lessons from her.
Anyone who thinks that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo can be counted out when she becomes “just a member of Congress,” should study the life cycle of the cockroach and the Energizer Bunny. They just keep going and going and going.
(gregmacabenta@hotmail.com mc/compose?to=gregmacabenta@hotmail.com)

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