Deconstructing Gloria

Deconstruction is a form of destabilization, but I assure the Department of Justice that the only things it destabilizes are the meanings of statements, scripts, texts, and documents.  A method popularized by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, “deconstruction accounts for how a text’s explicit formulations undermine its implicit or non-explicit aspects.  It brings out what the text excludes by showing what it includes.”

I cannot think of a better way to understand the tensions inherent in President Arroyo’s statement before the nation last Monday than by deconstructing it.  That statement is a classic example of how a text destabilizes itself over and over, so that it remains till the end undecidable in its meanings.

Ms. Arroyo’s script begins by a straightforward reference to “the issue of the tape recordings.”  She says, “Tonight, I want to set the record straight.”  That is the last time she mentions anything about the tapes.

What follows instead is an account of how the anxiety she felt over the “unnecessarily slow” canvassing process in the 2004 election prompted her to call “many people, including a Comelec official” for the sole purpose of protecting her votes.  “My intent was not to influence the outcome of the election, and it did not. As I mentioned, the election had already been decided and the votes counted.”  If the election had already been decided, from what or from whom did she need to protect her votes?

The reason, as everyone knows, is that the canvassing of the results from several provinces in Mindanao was taking so long.  The election was far from over when she was making those calls.  She admits she had conversations with many people in the last election but she does not say if these are the same ones that were caught on tape.  The “Comelec official” she talked to remains unnamed throughout, leaving open the possibility that he/she may not be Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, who is heard in the tapes as making all kinds of deals with political crooks and operators.  The statement reveals something and then immediately shrouds it.

It is obvious from the president’s demeanor that she wanted or needed to admit something and to apologize for it.  She did this twice, first in English and then in Filipino.  This is the statement’s most difficult part, and saying it seemed, maybe for the president, penance enough.  She was vague about the “lapse in judgment” for which she was apologizing.  Was she referring merely to the act of calling a Comelec official?  Or was it something more serious than this?  Is her admission of a lapse in judgment just a clever way of glossing over a graver offense?

Having accomplished the essential gesture of contrition, which appears to be the sole purpose of the performance, Ms. Arroyo quickly recovered herself by saying, “I want to close this chapter and move on with the business of governing.”  The public response has not been as generous as might have been expected.  The statement achieved no such closure in the minds of many.  Because of its ambivalences, it undermined its own explicit intentions.

No record was set straight on the issue of the taped conversations.

Ms. Arroyo was silent about the June 6 press conference at Malacanang in which the recordings were passed off by Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesman, Ignacio Bunye, as “privileged communication” between the president and one of her political leaders. Was this an innocent mistake by Sec. Bunye, or could it be that this was an initial attempt at a cover-up?

Well-meaning supporters of the president who want to see her finish her term may have impressed upon her the need to face the nation and confess to a mistake.  But her legal advisers quickly saw this as a risky political gambit that could win her some public sympathy but also expose her legally.  The lawyers’ marks are all over the document.  They show the meticulous crafting of an admission without accountability, a confession free from liability.

Nothing could have been more difficult to carry out in a judgmental culture like ours where people are measured as much by what they say as how they say it.  Filipinos are quick to forgive and to forget if they sense sincerity in one’s admission, if they see genuine atonement, and if they hear an honest readiness to repair the damage done and to reform oneself.  I doubt very much if they saw this in the president last Monday?

Gloria’s script ends by re-stating the policy reforms she has initiated as president.  No mention is made of what she intends to do to make up for whatever wrong she committed.  The only reason one can think of is that in fact there is no real admission of accountability in the statement.  It was as if all she wanted to say was: “OK, I’m sorry. Now can we move on?”

Nothing perhaps insults the Filipino more than a pro-forma apology from the high and mighty who think it is beneath them to admit a mistake.  Gloria had the rare opportunity to show humility and nobility by speaking from the heart, by admitting her weaknesses and lapses, and by offering to leave the presidency if that is what the nation wants.  She wasted this by undermining her own act of contrition with self-serving words.

The other side of admission without accountability is penance by proxy.  People who think they are obliged to show regret even if they are convinced they have committed nothing wrong also tend to take their penance lightly.  They expect other people to do it for them. That is why Mike Arroyo has been sent on exile, while the queen remains in Malacanang.

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