Friday, December 2, 2011

The Loneliest Woman in Asia?

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo only has herself to blame

After a nine-year reign as the most powerful woman in the Philippines, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo could well be the loneliest person on this side of the planet.

The once iron lady of Asia has been reduced to being perceived as faking illness in order to escape prosecution that could land her in jail for the rest of her life – a fate suffered – sort of -- by her immediate predecessor. The man from whom she inherited the presidency was as disgraced as she, convicted by a graft court and sent to prison under her presidency. She is now staring at the same ignominious fate.

There have been two previous presidents who were ousted by popular revolts, Joseph Estrada and Ferdinand Marcos. However, the depth of Arroyo’s estrangement from the electorate is all the more striking. Despite the disgrace of their departure from office, Estrada and Marcos were able to sustain a mass support base for quite a long time. For both, their mass support remains formidable in a way Arroyo’s doesn’t,

The Ilocanos of the north still revere Marcos. His son and namesake Ferdinand Jr won a seat in the Philippine Senate last year, most likely because of the strong support from Ilocanos scattered all over the archipelago. Ferdinand Jr’s sister is the governor of Ilocos Norte while their mother Imelda, she of the 3,000 pairs of shoes, is a member of the House of Representatives representing the district of her late husband’s hometown in the Ilocos region.

Marcos’ erstwhile well-oiled but now defunct political party, the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, was still able to field a full slate in the 1992 elections with Imelda as its presidential candidate. Some loyalists in the military even joined several coup attempts against the late President Corazon Aquino. Twenty-five years after the late strongman was booted out of the country, he continues to be in the conversation as the Aquino government recently rejected his burial at the Libingan ng Bayani (Heroes Cemetery).

Estrada, who managed to alienate the elite of Philippine society by surrounding himself with shady characters and embroiling himself in a series of steamy and shady deals, engineered his wife’s election as a senator and a son who is an incumbent, one who would probably run for the presidency at some other time if not in 2016. Another son is a member of the House of Representatives while a nephew is a mayor of a town in south of Manila. Months after Estrada’s ouster, a throng of fanatical supporters tried to launch their own version of people’s power. It failed miserably but a handful died while expressing support for Estrada. Estrada would again run for president in 2010. Despite being dismissed as a non-entity in the presidential race, he came in a strong second to President Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III, with 26.25 percent of the presidential vote against Aquino’s 41 percent.

Both Marcos and Estrada were accused of plunder – a charge that will soon be slapped on Arroyo.

Of all the presidents of the republic, Arroyo served in the presidency longer than anyone except Marcos himself, who reigned for over 20 years, more than 14 of them under effective martial rule. Like Marcos, Arroyo was also accused of cheating in the elections for which she is now detained on charges of electoral sabotage. Like Estrada, she would likely be charged for plundering the country and amassing illegal wealth.

Of all previous presidents of the republic, at 9 percent, she reportedly has the lowest approval rating and base support in the wake of her departure from office, according to a former cabinet official of the Ramos government.

When Marcos went into exile, he still had the loyalty of 20 percent of the population – almost the same figure Estrada was able to rally immediately after he was ousted in Part 2 of the EDSA revolt. Despite pouring millions of dollars into House of Representative races in a failed bid to control the body and make herself speaker, Arroyo has now lost most of her allies in the house who protected her from all impeachment attempts against her during her presidency. The cadre of midnight appointments she made prior to leaving office have either been ousted or begun to fade.

She appears to retain the loyalty of the Supreme Court, whose members not only voted to allow her to leave the country on a pretext of seeking medical attention but also ruled that the family of President Aquino must give up the 4,916 hectare Hacienda Luisita, which has been in the family for well over a century, in a land reform dispute. Nonetheless, the court was outflanked by President Aquino’s forces, who laid new charges against Aquino to keep her in the country at least temporarily.

Blame it on the changing times but Arroyo, despite her long tenure in office, was never a popular president. She finished her time in office with 61 percent of the voters saying she had done a bad job. Her popularity rating, according to Social Weather Stations polling organization, had fallen to 23 percent. This apparent lack of enthusiasm to rally behind her could lead to her eventual conviction as she won’t be viewed as a persecuted former president.

Unlike her two predecessors, there will likely be no crowd to protest her being sent to prison. Unlike Estrada, whom she pardoned just months after a conviction from a graft court, Arroyo may serve jail time a little longer. There appears to be little or no chance that Aquino, her avowed enemy, has any intention of pardoning her. It is sad and ironic but she has been her own undoing.

(y dwin Espejo for Asian Correspondent under the title Chronicles from Mindanao.)

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