Rage for truth

THE PEOPLE’S confidence in the Arroyo government is deteriorating daily as the corruption scandals hounding it escalate in number and gravity. As President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s credibility continues to plunge, even well-meaning citizens who several months ago wanted to give her a last chance at good governance are now getting pessimistic about her redemption.

Unlikely possibilities. What are the ways of confronting or solving this fast deteriorating scenario? The “least disruptive” is voluntary resignation as demanded by Cory Aquino. But Arroyo has rejected this option outright. “I am the President and no one else,” she bellowed after hearing mass in Malacañang last Feb. 25.

A second way is a snap election, which Ferdinand Marcos chose in 1986. But there is no vacancy in the presidency. Furthermore, a law is needed to authorize a special election. Besides, under the Constitution, “in case of death, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignation of the President, the Vice-President shall become President to serve the unexpired term.” In 1986, there was no incumbent vice president.

A third option is impeachment a la Joseph Ejercito Estrada. But an impeachment should be initiated in the House of Representatives. After witnessing how easily the Kampi Party had defrocked Jose de Venecia, there seems no hope of an impeachment ever passing the bigger house. A fourth possibility is a coup d’etat. A military coup that will install a Burma-type junta would be far worse than Arroyo. It will obliterate the Constitution, our democracy, our economy and everything our heroes and martyrs have fought for over the last 100 years.

Martial law under the present Constitution is toothless. But a fifth option of setting aside the Constitution and declaring emergency rule would make Arroyo a dictator, something our people will fight tooth and nail. Arroyo I think is smart enough not to want to be remembered in the company of Marcos, Suharto or, worse, Idi Amin.

How about people power? Our country may not be ripe for an Edsa-type peaceful revolution. The economy is still holding up, unlike in 1986 and 2001 when the peso was sinking, prices escalating, business deteriorating and investments migrating. Too, Jaime Cardinal Sin is no longer around to summon a critical mass of half a million throng. Moreover, the military is very loyal to Arroyo. People power would “weaken our democratic institutions,” said Archbishop Leonardo Legaspi. Neither did the bishops call for resignation, only for an end to corruption.

Arroyo’s best option. Arroyo is an astute politician who carefully weighs all her options. She must be aware that all the above scenarios are unpalatable. She must also know she has two very important aces: (1) the economy is still looking up and the middle forces will not just endanger it unnecessarily; and (2) she has only two more years in her regular term. There are many people of goodwill, who are still willing to wait provided there is credible assurance she would really step down in two years, and provided she abates the corruption engulfing her.

I think that, from Arroyo’s perspective, the best way she can honorably survive this grave crisis of confidence is by convincing the middle forces that she would really relinquish power in June 2010 and stop graft immediately. How? First, halt all moves to amend the basic law. Any proposal to alter the Constitution, regardless of purpose and method, always reeks with suspicion that it is intended to prolong her stay.

Second, strengthen the credibility of the Commission on Elections by filling up the two existing vacancies with independent and competent non-politicians. In the same way, name a no-nonsense chair of the Commission on Audit who will not allow hanky-panky in the disbursements of the people’s money. Also, appoint trustworthy justices to the Supreme Court, starting with the seat of just retired Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez.

Third, prosecute immediately and send to jail some big names involved in the NBN-ZTE mess and other corrupt-ridden transactions. Be transparent. Allow the Senate an untrammeled inquiry into these transactions. Cooperate with independent efforts to ferret out the truth.

Fourth, take preventive measures to minimize the impact of the receding US economy on our country. (Relevantly, may I just quickly remind her about the laments of our overseas Filipino workers, the backbone of our economy, who are still awaiting her definitive action on their five recommendations reported in my column last Feb. 10.)

Undertaking in good faith all these steps would result in a win-win solution for her and our people. She might yet save her presidency while satisfying the clamor to abate corruption and reform governance.

Continue the blitz. In the meantime, what should the citizens do? I say, rage on! Rage for truth! Press on with the demos. Make them more massive. Intensify the media blitz. Sharpen the Senate investigations. Hasten the Supreme Court decision that, I believe, would unshackle Romulo Neri. Fill our churches during masses for truth and justice. Pray with our bishops, priests and nuns until “communal action” shall lead us to a new type of people power that would liberate us from corruption and restore integrity.

Surely, when the people started protesting the Marcos dictatorship, few could have anticipated that those heady days would eventually lead to a peaceful change in the presidency, a triumph of truth and a victory for democracy. Umabot tayo noon, aabot din tayo ngayon! (We got there then, we’ll get there now!).

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