Published on February 26, 2008
What do we know for certain? If we were to take a page from Descartes and doubt everything about the continuing political crisis, perhaps we can draw up a short list of incontestable facts that reasonable people, from whatever side, can readily agree on. It is hard to take anyone seriously, for example, who disputes the following:
Ben Abalos, when he was the chairman of the Commission on Elections, was personally involved in a government project — the national broadband network — that had nothing to do with elections.
The NBN contract awarded to the Chinese state firm ZTE Corp. was problematic, as even President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has belatedly acknowledged.
The Arroyo administration cooperated — or conspired — to prevent Jun Lozada from testifying about the ZTE-NBN deal before the Senate.
Romy Neri, the socioeconomic planning secretary at the time of the signing of the ZTE contract and a key witness in the Senate investigation, has touched base with members of the political opposition.
An over-assertive Executive has narrowed the public’s options for holding the Arroyo administration accountable for any anomalies arising from the ZTE-NBN controversy. (Perhaps the President’s men will quibble with “over-assertive,” but there is no question that the administration’s hard-line stance, in place since at least the “Hello, Garci” scandal broke in 2005, assumes greater scope for Executive discretion.)
Unfortunately for Malacañang’s many spokesmen, these undisputed facts justify the growing public disgust that can be seen even from behind the wrought-iron walls of Malacañang.
We are not even talking about other facts which the administration and its allies will dispute, but from which we can draw reasonable inferences. When we add these to the mix — the all-but-apparent cover-up after the administration failed to prevent Lozada from testifying before the Senate, the obvious vendetta against ex-Speaker Jose de Venecia on account of his son Joey’s role in exposing the ZTE-NBN deal, the continuing effort to rationalize constitutional revision as a mode of political survival — the stench becomes unbearable The only question becomes: If we ask for truth and do not get it, if we demand accountability and do not get relief, how do we show our outrage?
I get the sense that, for many members of the Arroyo opposition and even for some who did not support the calls for resignation in 2005 but now believe the President too politically damaged to be worth the trouble of saving, “outrage” necessarily translates to People Power.
This is a serious misunderstanding. Let me explain.
When we say that Lozada is the Clarissa Ocampo or Chavit Singson of the ZTE-NBN controversy, we are speaking either loosely or analogically. Either all we mean is that Lozada is a crucial witness or credible-because-self-implicated whistleblower, or we specifically mean that he will play the exact same role Ocampo or Singson did in the impeachment and eventual ouster of Joseph Estrada.
I think it is fair to say that, for many who are now outraged by the abuse of power and immoderate greed revealed by the ZTE-NBN scandal, the analogy for today’s crisis is that turbulent 100-day period between October 2000 and January 2001. If true, then taking to the streets should quickly lead to a decisive People Power moment.
But it is also possible that the real analogy goes farther back in time. The highly esteemed Torn and Frayed blog, for instance, posits the idea that Lozada is today’s Perfecto Yasay — the Securities and Exchange Commission chairman who dueled with Estrada a year before Singson saw the light (the headlight, that is, of an unfriendly police vehicle). We should remember that the road to EDSA People Power II wound through Ayala Avenue too; in August 1999, over 100,000 people thronged the famous intersection to denounce Estrada’s attacks on press freedom.
I think the real analogy may be to that even more turbulent 1,000-day period between the Ninoy Aquino assassination and EDSA People Power I. We took to the streets almost every week then, driven by the need to confront the evil in the system, but acutely aware that the dictator’s fake hero persona would not allow him to cede control peacefully. People Power as we know it now was not even a dream then.
So, yes, we should take to the streets; we should repair to our churches; we should fill the public square. But we should let People Power take care of itself.
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It has since become clear, at least to me, that Super Tuesday was not a draw for Hillary Clinton, as most analysts read it, but an actual loss. Because the primary calendar that stretched out after Feb. 5 favored Barack Obama, Clinton should have won the Super Tuesday delegate contest outright. It doesn’t look likely that Obama will gain the majority of delegates he needs to close the nomination before the Democrats convene in Denver in late August; it is still within the realm of possibility for Clinton to roar back to life with emphatic wins in Texas and Ohio next week (possible, but unlikely). But Clinton’s strategy at this point rests on winning enough “superdelegates,” who will be daft to choose her over the more popular candidate. Perhaps it is time she considered an Obama-Clinton ticket.
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Advertising’s Creative Guild (under Merlee Jayme, the current president) will host its annual conference this week. I will speak tomorrow on the national situation. The conference, unfortunately, will be held on Boracay — I know, I know, it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.