Francisco Gudani

Not out of the woods yet

Not out of the woods yet
By Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer

There are five reasons to worry about the elections.

One is president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assuming emergency powers to deal with emergencies of her making. The first time she did that was when the Ampatuans showed signs of restiveness after one of their own was hauled in for the massacre of their enemies. Zaldy Ampatuan’s lawyer articulated their thinking by expostulating against the way Arroyo repaid the Ampatuans “after all they’ve done for her.” Now she has assumed emergency powers to deal with the power crisis in Mindanao. That is not something she can lay at the door of her predecessors. She’s had nine years to deal with it, but after borrowing more money than the last two (real) presidents, she has just brought back the power blackouts.

How exactly Mindanao’s need for electrical power can be met by giving someone additional political power only Arroyo can say. Maybe she figures pare-pareho lang ’yan, it’s all about power. But the people who are fretting about it have every reason to fret. Once is an accident, twice is a pattern. What now if under the exceedingly hot sun of summer (exceptionally so this year) the rest of the country dries up, and what now if under the exceedingly slimy hands of those with political power the rest of the country loses electrical power? Won’t it be easy for Arroyo to declare a state of emergency to solve the emergency of threatened automation? Same logic: The disease is the cure.

Two are Norberto Gonzales and Delfin Bangit, the defense secretary and new AFP chief of staff. Gonzales dismisses the talk of a plot by him and other Arroyo loyalists to rig the elections in this wise: “I have been receiving this message and you know it has been a long campaign in our society today to malign the [Armed Forces] that it will and did participate in some cheating in the elections.”

Read our lips, Mr. Defense Secretary, we are not maligning the AFP, we are maligning you. Why someone who tried to sell this country’s sovereignty down the drain—as Joker Arroyo showed when he was still not a joker, specifically after you were caught paying a fortune to an American lobby group to lobby the US Congress to lobby the Philippines into changing its Charter—ever became national security chief, not to speak of defense secretary, only Arroyo can say. Same logic: The disease is the cure.

Bangit says he has not gotten an illegal order from Arroyo nor will he obey an illegal order from Arroyo. That does not assure us about his resolve to resist an illegal order, that worries us about his capacity to recognize an illegal order. The AFP has been slaughtering hundreds of political activists over the last few years, and he and Jovito Palparan and Gonzales see nothing illegal about it. He has been serving someone who plotted with Garci to win by one million votes over her nearest rival, and who imprisoned Brig. Gen. Francisco Gudani and Col. Alexander Balutan for trying to expose the AFP’s part in the cheating that Gonzales says did not happen, and he finds nothing illegal about it. Arroyo orders martial law to keep the elections free and clean and he will see only the inflexible logic that the disease has every right to be the cure.

Three, two months before the first automated elections in the country, an undertaking of such magnitude it ought to have been prepared for for years, many of the tested machines have been malfunctioning; the problem of distributing the right forms to the right precincts remains daunting; there has been little voter education in the use of the machines; the watchers will have nothing to watch as everything will happen inside the machines whose yields will be taken on faith; the automation will coexist with manual counting; and now they have to contend with blackouts too.

The Comelec will be in charge of everything. The same Comelec that harbored Virgilio Garcillano and Benjamin Abalos, the same Comelec that has ousted Ed Panlilio and Grace Padaca and has been trying to oust Jesse Robredo after they were voted into office (all three of whom quite incidentally are Ramon Magsaysay Awardees for governance), the same Comelec that in Arroyo’s time as in Marcos’ has yet to show 1 plus 1 does not equal 11. The logic is the same: The disease is the cure.

Four is People Power being nowhere to be found. Early this year, the SWS reported that if there is cheating in the elections, the people are bound to vehemently protest it. That is all very well except for two things. First is: How will people know cheating has happened? Noynoy Aquino’s gap over Manny Villar has narrowed down, that gap no longer defined by the rate Aquino goes up but by the rate Villar comes down. That gap doesn’t widen, we might very well have another 2004 scenario. Until the “Hello, Garci” tape surfaced, Arroyo almost had the country believing she won the elections.

Second, and more worrisome, Edsa has not become the theme of the Aquino campaign, the voluntaristic spirit that arose with it has not been unleashed, and no demonstrations of People Power accompanied the Edsa celebration (or lack of it) in January and February. Cheating happens, what will be there to oppose it? Where will the throng that will gather in the streets to protest it come from? As far as I know, People Power is not a genie you summon by rubbing the magic lamp, it is something you keep in readiness only by the repeated exercise of it. As far as I know, People Power is not a power that materializes like divine intervention in times of need, it is a power that is gained like earthly confidence by the constant strengthening of it. You do not harness that power now, you will not harness it later on.

Five, we have the surest sign of all we won’t see a smooth transition to a new government:

GMA swears by everything she holds sacred that we will.