Noisy Republic

By Ricky Carandang
rogue Magazine

This fearless forecast predicts more of the sameóterm-extension schemes, shifting political alliances, and continued combat in Mindanao with the dubious consolation that other Southeast Asian nations will share some of our indignity next year.

Politics in this country is like the stock market . . . volatile and difficult to predict.

The only thing anyone these days is willing to say about the market is that it will be volatile and unpredictable. It’s probably safe to say the same thing about politics in 2009. Chances are, it will be another noisy year.
Where will the noise come from?

I believe that attempts by the Arroyo administration to amend the Constitution to extend the president’s term beyond 2010 will come to a head early next year. With the Senate now in the more openly friendly hands of Juan Ponce Enrile, the Palace probably sees an opening to dance the ChaCha.

Far-fetched? Remember this: every president after Cory Aquino has tried to extend his term. Fidel Ramos’s 1997 signature campaign, aptly named “Pirma,” was well underway until it hit a tide of widespread public opposition. It was only the people’s presence in the streets at demonstrations that stopped it in its tracks. Joseph Estrada put together a study group to draft a new constitution, but he was ousted before the effort could even take off.

The desire to remain in office beyond one’s original term has been a constant factor with all politicians. Power is like a drug habit that is difficult to kick. And it’s hard to believe that Arroyo, who is probably more ambitious than Estrada and Ramos, would not even consider it, especially when the conditions look favorable.

And they do look favorable.

After all, every single attempt to remove Arroyo from office, whether legally through impeachment or illegally through a coup, has failed. Scandal after scandal has numbed the public, and many are genuinely tired of going to the streets. With most of the bishops, the military, the courts, the House, and now the Senate behind her, who’s going to stop her? Certainly not the media.

The desire to remain in office beyond one’s original term has been a constant factor with all politicians. Power is like a drug habit that is difficult to kick.
Looking at it from that perspective, it would certainly be worth a shot, wouldn’t it? After all, the worst that could happen would be that the public or the military pushes back. Either way she doesn’t lose anything by trying.
Of course, it wouldn’t be that easy. There are many people out there who won’t go quietly into the proverbial night, and they will try to stand up against it, and so we can expect a lot of noise to come out of the whole process.

Assuming though that Arroyo doesn’t succeed in staying on, campaigning for 2010 would begin in earnest by the middle of the year. Yes, it already has sort of begun, but all that jockeying by the candidates will grow in intensity next year as they try to build alliances for themselves and undermine those of their rivals.

When this happens, expect a further blurring of the lines between opposition and administration. No candidate wants the vast powers of the presidency bearing down on them to undermine their candidacy, so they will be less hostile to the Arroyo administration in the coming months until Arroyo anoints someone—then everyone who is not chosen will capitalize on public anger towards her by claiming the mantle of opposition leader.

And the lower life forms of politics—congressmen, mayors, governors—will all start aligning themselves with one candidate or another hoping to get in early on their next gravy train. You’ll need a scorecard to keep up with the shifting alliances.

And, of course, there’s the global recession, which is likely to make itself felt here early next year. More people will be laid off, consumer spending will come down, and people will get angrier. The angrier they are the more noise they’ll make. Not that it will amount to anything in the long run.

Politicians will start aligning themselves with one candidate or another, hoping to get in early on their next gravy train. You’ll need a scorecard to keep up with the shifting alliances.
And then there’s the Muslim insurgency in Mindanao. With the peace talks with the Moro Islamic LIberation Front as good as dead, fighting will likely continue. Our soldiers don’t have the resources to deal a decisive blow to the M.I.L.F., and the M.I.L.F. can’t launch more than the occasional offensive, so no one will have a clear advantage in terms of force. The M.I.L.F. could see itself waging an internal war between the hard-liners who insist on a separate state and the moderates who can live with autonomy. That should keep them from becoming a serious threat to national security unless they start playing footsies with the Jemaah Islamiya again, but if they do that they run the risk of President Obama stepping into the picture more forcefully and tipping the military balance decisively in the government’s favor. Of course, any intervention by Uncle Sam would be done without American troops engaging in combat and violating our constitution. Ha Ha.

If it’s any consolation, we’re no longer the only country in the region that will see an exciting year, politically.

In Thailand, the rich urban middle class will probably keep ousting their prime ministers, and the poor rural classes will probably keep voting them back into office. Whoever says a parliamentary form of government is more stable can go to Bangkok where they’re likely to play out the cycle of ousting and installing a few more governments next year.

In Malaysia, former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is getting closer to ousting the long-ruling UMNO party. He’s already won a seat in parliament though a landslide and is now enticing members of UMNO to defect. Of course, future prime minster Najib Razak isn’t going to simply allow Anwar to do that. And so, expect a lot of Philippine-style political maneuvering and counter-maneuvering in Malaysia next year. The outcome? Who knows, but Malaysia will be a lot noisier in the year ahead.

Despite all this, we Filipinos will soldier on in our noisy disorganized way and somehow survive it all as we look forward to the next noisy year.

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