No Way Out 2
One sure way to put out a fire at sea is to sink the ship. The Philippine public's reluctance to take to the streets to oust President Gloria Arroyo, internationally famous for paying ransom to Iraqi terrorists, and domestically notorious for having conspired to electorally defraud her rival, Fernando Poe Jr., has been been based on the desire to preserve what remains of the constitutional process. Having discovered that none of the current crop of leaders can uphold the substantive aims of democracy, the weary Filipinos have decided to preserve its mere form. That was the fire on board. Gloria Arroyo's magnificent solution was to file charges against the National Bureau of Investigation (the equivalent of the FBI) agent who recorded her in the act of plotting with electoral officials to steal the elections. The charge? Sedition. The Philippine newspaper ABS-CBN reports:
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Wednesday filed inciting to sedition charges against Samuel Ong at the Department of Justice (DOJ). The case against the former NBI deputy director stemmed from his call for the overthrow of the Arroyo administration after he claimed last Friday to have the master copy of wiretapped conversations between the President and an election officer. State Prosecutor Emmanuel Velasco said the NBI submitted news clippings that contained Ong's seditious remarks as evidence. ... Earlier NBI Director Reynaldo Wycoco said the agency had information on Ong's whereabouts, but would not pursue him until an arrest warrant is issued.
Ong is actually in the keeping of the Catholic Church hierarchy, surrounded by crowds of reporters and camera men. But in the Alice-in-Wonderland world of the Pearl of the Orient seas, officials pretend to a secret knowledge of his location, seeking to demonstrate their competence in their customary and farcical way: "the agency had information on Ong's whereabouts"; their motto, 'always outwitted, but never fooled'.
The cycle is complete. Because Philippine institutions cannot remove venal officials, people take to the streets to oust them directly thereby weakening the institutions still further. And because every replacement is just as corrupt and incompetent as the last, the weakened institutions are even less able to oust their successors and in response to institutional failure another round of street unrest follows. Before jet fighters acquired engines with a thrust greater than their weight, air combat was characterized by a steady loss of energy as dogfighters turned in circles at ever lower altitudes. The same is now true of the Philippines. The dogfighting circles of corrupt presidents alternating with "People's Power" movements that kick them out has taken its institutional energy right down to the deck. But if anyone thinks there's no more room to drop he would be mistaken. By prosecuting the man who blew the whistle on her theft of the Presidency and charging him with sedition, Arroyo is demonstrating the falsity of what she would be advised to affirm: that her retention somehow preserves the institutions which she is even now destroying. Shipboard fire? Sink the ship.
The opposition to Macapagal has been kept back -- so far -- by fear of what might follow another extraconstitutional eviction of a President. But at some point they will realize that Arroyo is manufacturing chaos just efficiently as any mob; and then they will troop, with heavy heart, back into the streets to effect a change that isn't; to promise a hope that no one believes in; to invoke a future that doesn't exist; in the name of a country that has long ago been forgotten.
Presidents can usually survive being hated. It's being laughed at that's fatal. One of the aftermarket cellphone ringtones now being sold in Manila is a reproduction of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's edifying conversation with election officials, as she prepared to rig the elections.
"Hello! Hello! Hello! Garci (the name of the election official)
So, will I still lead by more than one million?"
The response to this tide of ridicule has been the typical official bluster admixed with a confession of helplessness. Here's the Philippine equivalent of the attorney general trying his hand at standup comedy without being quite aware of it.
"They are liable under the law," Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said of mobile phone users keeping or spreading the ring tone. Gonzalez earlier warned people that the possession and dissemination of CDs showing that Ms Arroyo had pressed for the rigging of the presidential election violated the Anti-Wire Tapping Act of 1965. ...I told you already that nobody can control somebody from doing something that he wants to do whether it is against the law or not," Gonzalez said when asked repeatedly whether the DoJ (Department of Justice) was going after those spreading the ring tone.
"One school of thought, and I think many of you will agree with that, is that the more you entertain these things, the more it would whet the appetite," he said. On the other hand, if you do not enforce the law, you are also accused of being inutile, that the government is weak. We have to balance this. We are studying the balance," he added. Gonzalez said the DoJ would not go after mobile phone firms for the spread of the ring tone.
Asked whether he believed it was Ms Arroyo who was speaking on the tape, Gonzalez said: "I am not a voice expert. Yes. Yes. To some extent. But I will never admit that that is the President (speaking)."
These are the very same Filipino officials who can be relied on to unswervingly fight the Abu Sayyaf "to some extent" after "studying the balance". The staunch allies in the War on Terror. God help us all.