September 12th, 2005
What happened to the impeachment complaint in the House of Representatives–aptly labeled a “killing” by the pro-impeachment alliance and the media–was inevitable, among other reasons because of the presence and dominance of political dynasties in that chamber.
The House reeks with the names of the wives, children, sons and daughters, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law, cousins, nephews and nieces of congressmen and senators long dead, but who live on in their kin and progeny. The Senate is no different, and neither is Malacanang, whose current resident is herself the daughter of a past president.
Over the last six decades since the country’s independence was formally restored, only a handful of new players in Philippine politics have in fact emerged to take their place in Congress. For the most Philippine political institutions remain in the control and management of practically the same names Filipinos have been familiar with for over half a century–if not others who, if they go by different names, are nevertheless related by blood or marriage to the same political families.
We know them all. They go by the such old names as Marcos and Macapagal, Osmena, Roxas, Magsaysay, and Aquino, as well as by the more recent Defensor, Angara, Remulla, and even Dilangalen.
The persistence of political dynasties reveals how seriously flawed Philippine democracy is, and validates the view that the state is no more than the executive committee of the ruling class. It is also testimony to a damaged electoral system run by money and patronage, which prevents the middle classes and even more certainly the poor from breaking the monopoly on power of the landlords and big businessmen who also control the economy.
Though they do not say so, and may not even be conscious of it, the dynasties are united by certain common goals and interests, the most basic being their commitment to the preservation of the political, economic and social systems that have assured their dominance, wealth and power in this country.
This commonality of interests was initially subdued, a mere undercurrent, in the House deliberations over the Arroyo impeachment complaint. After all it did seem that the members of Congress were divided along party lines rather than united by their common elite interests.
But that hope turned out to be futile, like the hope that integrity and national interest would compel more than a handful of members of the majority to cross party lines. Instead it was the critical numbers of pro-impeachment members of Congress who crossed over into the Arroyo camp because of Malacanang inducements.
On the day of the vote on whether the House membership would accept the Justice Committee report which dismissed the impeachment complaints, the commonality of elite interests thus assumed obvious dominance in the way the members of Congress voted–or did not vote.
An impeachment trial could have given Gloria Macapagal Arroyo her “day in court”. But even more critically, it would have given those in control of the political system a chance to dispel the widespread belief that the country’s political institutions are easily manipulated through bribery and backroom deals. They did not seize the opportunity, but the chance to further fatten their personal bank accounts.
By making sure no trial took place, the majority allies of Mrs. Arroyo in the House of Representatives, and their new-found collaborators, as well as Mrs. Arroyo herself, instead succeeded in doing two things: they prolonged the agony of the nation; and, as the Senate did in 2001, they brought the issue to the streets for the sovereign people to decide.
To these two signal achievements we must add a third. Once more, as in 2001, except that this time it is the aptly named Lower House that did it, Congress has demonstrated not only its own total bankruptcy, but also the utter futility of anyone’s relying on the so-called mechanisms for redress enshrined in the laws. The supposed implementers of these laws are to blame, not only because their own interests take precedence over public interests, but also because those interests are personal as well as dynastic.
Consider the case of Imee Marcos, who recently did an Arroyo by apologizing for her failure to even show up for the crucial September 6 vote.
Of the possibility that at least some of those who voted to throw the impeachment complaint out did so for money or favors there is ample indication. The Tuesday, September 6 vote screamed it to the rooftops.
Malacanang shouted the loudest when it boasted that it had released pork barrel funds to “selected” members of Congress the better for them to remember how to cast their votes. But it was silent on what other deals it made to assure that Mrs. Arroyo would not be impeached. Among those possible deals was almost certainly one with the Marcos family.
That those who had been loudly defending Mrs. Arroyo would kill the complaint was expected. What was not was the absence and abstention of the allegedly pro-impeachment members of the House.
These worthies–among them the six alleged allies of former President Joseph Estrada, but most outstandingly Imee Marcos–seem to have found some compelling cause to be absent, thus assuring the defeat of the pro-impeachment bloc. The rumor is that they were induced by millions of reasons from Malacanang–as well as by a probable deal between Mrs. Arroyo and Joseph Estrada, which could include the latter’s release from his Tanay, Rizal confinement– to betray the nation as well as the bloc to which for months they had loudly proclaimed they belonged.
In the case of Ms. Marcos who has so many billions a hundred million is small change, the rumor is that some arrangement allowing the burial of her father Ferdinand in the Libingan ng Mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery) is already in the works.
Ms. Marcos alleges that she flew to Singapore on the day of the vote because her vote would not have made any difference. What she doesn’t say is that if her vote would not have made any difference she could have voted anyway. But it seems that her not voting was the condition for the grant of some Malacanang reward.
Whatever largesse Ms. Marcos and company will be getting from Malacanang the country will soon know. Whatever it is, however, Ms. Marcos missed a chance to redeem her family’s bad name, which now not even a hundred Marcoses buried in the Libingan ng Mga Bayani can salvage.
It doesn’t help the Marcos name any either that Ms. Marcos not only failed to vote, but is now regarded as being all along part of a conspiracy to help assure Mrs. Arroyo’s victory, even as she was able to sit in the meetings and discussions of the pro-impeachment groups as Malacanang’s fifth column.
It now seems that Oliver Lozano, a Marcos lawyer, deliberately filed–on the instructions of his clients, of course–the flawed impeachment complaint first to assure that it would be shot down and no other complaint addressed, because of the constitutional prohibition against Congress’ entertaining more than one impeachment complaint each year.
Rumor their reasons may be, but the behavior of Marcos and company by itself has once more demonstrated the bankruptcy of the process that, under the law, should have afforded the nation some sense of what really happened to its votes in 2004. As things now stand the crisis and the agony continue, the unresolved issue being Mrs. Arroyo’s legitimacy and right to govern a country where 80 percent of the population would prefer to be governed by someone else.
Who that someone else should be has been a major point of debate for months and has helped keep Mrs. Arroyo in Malacanang. The Constitution of course says that if Mrs. Arroyo resigned or was incapable of discharging the duties of the Presidency, her vice president would assume the post.
But it is not the clarity of the Constitution at issue, but Noli de Castro’s fitness for the post. It is not only his fabled incoherence as far as governance is concerned that has fueled those doubts, nor the suspicions alone that he himself might have been involved in electoral fraud. There is the even more crucial concern over whether replacing Mrs. Arroyo with de Castro would really be a solution to the perennial crisis of the flawed political system.
As Vice President in 2001 Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was the supposed solution to the crisis of 2000-2001, but turned out to be nothing of the sort. Mrs. Arroyo has in fact turned out to be part of the same Philippine problem that has haunted this country for decades: its fatally flawed elite leadership whose vices of corruption, incompetence and dishonesty far outweigh its virtues .
Filipinos had hoped then that despite their doubts over Mrs. Arroyo’s capacities and principles, she would govern not only competently and transparently, but also with the country’s interests rather than the usual familial, class and foreign interests in mind. Mrs. Arroyo, it was also hoped, would abandon traditional politics and nurture the new.
Her failure to address the most pressing Philippine problems, the runaway corruption that has characterized her watch, as well as her singular focus on the elections of 2004, were the key and interconnected issues that created a situation of constant crisis, and which have led to the present one. The twin allegations that her husband and son have been taking jueteng pay-offs in the manner of former President Joseph Estrada, and that Mrs. Arroyo cheated in the last elections as supposedly proven by the infamous “Garci tapes” are in truth merely the most recent expressions of the same crisis.
The present crisis is thus only a continuation, although the lowest point, of a crisis that Mrs. Arroyo’s brand of governance and politics has made inevitable. What is obvious is that the crisis, though created and fed by the corruption and incompetence of the Arroyo government and the fraudulent elections over which it presided in 2004, is the result of a system as bankrupt and as flawed as its beneficiaries and protectors.
The corruption of the political and electoral system, due principally to the dominance of the political dynasties that have monopolized power in this country for six decades, has made Philippine elections no more than a farce, even as the centers of power in this country, Malacanang and Congress, have been exposed as nothing more than centers of dynastic greed and incompetence.
The consequence is paralysis and despair among the vast majority Filipinos who know that the only thing that can ease their suffering and halt the decay of their country and society is radical, meaningful change. But they see little or no chance of that in a political system ruled by the same handful of families that has been steadily driving the country into perdition for over six decades.