Isang tulog na lang, Senator Aquilino Pimentel predicted. “Just one night more”. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s regime would crumble after the tape scandal broke and former President Corazon Aquino asked her to resign.
As senate president, Franklin Drilon would leapfrog into a vacated Palace. Numero Tres would become Number Uno. Drilon and Liberal Party senators thought: isang tulog na lang. So, they abandoned ship.
After the State of the Nation message, isang tulog na lang, predicted Joseph Estrada’s camp and communist allies. They’d mass a million for People Power Four.
Isang tulog na lang, thought National Democratic Front leaders in the Netherlands. So, they unilaterally stalked out of the peace talks.
“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” Mark Twain cabled, from Europe, in May 1897. So were Pimentel and Company’s predictions. From its initial shell-shocked paralysis, the Arroyo regime today is fighting back tooth and nail.
The Catholic bishops spoke, “and the winds of political storm that swirled round the presidency were for a time stilled,” wrote the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture’s Melba Padilla Maggay.
Only 40,000 turned up for Sona rallies, reported Inquirer and New York Times. The middle class scorned an opposition as corrupt as the administration.
And the military stayed in their barracks, said outgoing U.S. charge d’ affairs, Joseph Mussomeli. “The worst appears to be over”—for now.
What remains is five months of “slaughter-house politics”, Senator Miriam Santiago forecasts.
“Nothing personal,” Drilon mumbles as his senate presidency shakes. To avoid losing immunities of it’s negotiators, the NDF deny pulling out of peace talks. Immunities gave them elbowroom to destroy the democratic system.
Why did Estrada, Pimentel & Co. stumbled into “exaggerated” predictions?
Because wish became father to the thought. Regime ouster, in their minds, became fact. Individual agendas blurred thought and blinded them to patent facts, like considerable provincial support for Arroyo.
This warns those who assume they can manipulate people at will, Dr. Maggay writes in a new paper: “Ambiguities and the search for a moral center in governance, many refuse to be moved by the murky plots of the ruling elite.
“The whole lot lack credibility, not so much for want of competence, but of morals…Our leaders have so alienated themselves from the people by their utter lack of integrity.”
There is much ambiguity to the political drama being played out today. The President has badly eroded her credibility. But the opposition evokes equal distrust.
However, people are wary about extra-constitutional means of transferring power. There is growing consensus that it is time to work within the disciplines of our Constitutional framework.
“These ambiguities preclude clear-cut responses.” Shifting alliances among Left, Right and religious elements, like Bro. Eddie Villanueva, compound the confusion. They have nothing in common except seeking to topple the incumbents.
Our responses, however, remain “relics from failed social experiments:” threats of coups, martial law, juntas or badly contrived imitations of ‘people power’.
Yet, today’s impasse could open a new way out of the usual boxes of obsolete political responses, Maggay thinks. We must link to “that spiritual center out of which our people make most of their decisions, including politics”.
“Our indigenous culture is such that people get roused only where the battle between good and evil rages. We resonate best with issues that connect with the depths of our spiritual moorings as a people. Politics must touch that core of values…and rises, now and again, in surprising displays of momentary solidarity”.
The calming effect of the Catholic Bishops Conference statement is an example. The opposition was reduced to mumbling in corners, even as they whip up yet another wave of protests. The middle forces were quietly nudged into deeper reflection.
“Not even in Latin America, where countries are also predominantly Catholic, has the Church such authority and power to influence a nation’s political temper”, she adds.
Analysts say this is due to many factors: from “residues of the late Cardinal Sin’s forceful moral leadership at critical times” to the Church’s almost medieval hold on centers of power.
Maggay disagrees. “This influence is rooted in the very character of our people, at its core deeply and unabashedly spiritual,” she writes. “This is why our prayer rallies also morph into political meetings”.
This culture produces folk heroes and heroines like “Hermano Pule in the mid-1800s or Cory Aquino in 1986, figures that fuse within themselves the political and the spiritual”.
They have power when they give voice to what the people sense to be the Santong Boses. “Our millenarian movements call that the Spirit.”
Priests or politicians lose that potency the moment they are seen to lack malinis na loob, or service of something other than the national interest. Religious leaders lose their following when they shift from prophecy to politicking.
“Today, as in previous crises, there is such a deep longing among our people for a moral center in governance,” Maggay thinks. The Arroyo government’s future hangs to “the extent to which it regains credibility by fulfilling this expectation”—exaggerated predictions of its demise notwithstanding.