Thursday, July 31, 2008

GMA lost her luster but is she a spent force?

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) might have been swept to power by radical means but she has proven since day one to be a dyed-in-the-wool incrementalist unwilling to be a transformation agent. And quite unmistakably, if her last State of the Nation Address (SONA) is any indication, she has clung to her brand through the difficult endgame of her political career.

There were, of course, moments of Marcosian delusions as in the SONA 2005 when she painted a picture of a Philippine economy "poised for take off" or delivered the royal punch line of SONA 2007: "From where I sit, I can tell you, a President is always as strong as she wants to be." Today, imagine a diminutive Arroyo brandishing VAT in SONA 2008 as her giant accomplishment, or badge of victory, and still got 104 times of applause while a great mass of the Filipino people is either going hungry or raring to jump the ship of state at the slightest prospect.

But, the true state of the nation based on official government data, according to Dr. Ceilito Habito, former Socio-Economic Planning secretary, shows "declining school enrollment rates, more school dropouts, rising hunger, worsening health, declining peace and order, diminishing hope for the future, and more."

Backtracking momentarily will remind us that within days of the triumphant EDSA II rebellion, GMA did not equivocate to temper the mode of the time by putting everyone on notice that her "administration will resist the temptation to take adventurist initiatives and directions for the sake of appearing to be innovative."

During the formative period of the Arroyo presidency, then still ardently contested by Joseph "Erap" Estrada, the rogue kingpin ousted from MalacaƱang by EDSA II, she's stuck to her billing quite openly although rather coyly: "I have no grandiose ambition of being great," she pleaded. "I just want to do my work well. I don't want magic. I just want to be 100 percent right - morally right."

The convent-bred reluctant rebel has however lost her La Aunor luster and the "progressives" of the EDSA II coalition, whom she co-opted, when they realized she could neither have, indeed, the audacity to aspire as a charismatic political magician (who could bring about a sea change and make the big and tough decisions to whisk away the long-standing malaise facing the Filipino people) nor the plain moral ascendancy to govern. She naively mislaid the first one by intentional default; the other, by some buried character flaw she preferred to characterize as "lapse in judgment."

If we draw a boxing analogy, the Filipino people, while seemingly magnanimous, if not simply oblivious, of the no-magic rope-a-dope of GMA, have seen for the most part the "Hello, Garci" scandal as a mortal blow sending her flat to the canvas up to the eighth count and, because only of a biased referee obdurately adhering to sheer technicality, she was saved by the bell. Since then, she's been on the survival mode in the remaining few rounds. And as the dramatics of SONA 2008 indicates, she seems tiring but comfortably backpedaling and dancing around although no one is really actively pursuing her in the ring.

The probing questions then are:
Why has Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo gone the distance delivering her eighth SONA and not her defense (while in the dock for various misconducts in office and breaches of public trust that make Erap, her convicted predecessor, look like a petty plunderer)?

Is Arroyo really a spent force or in fact the force to be reckoned with, the sought-after "golden girl" in yet another mega bout?

She may not be a magician, but what is the secret formula of her staying power?