Many truths about our lives and the world largely pass unnoticed. But, in our country, the one truth that agitates almost everyone, except maybe Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her allies, is whether she conspired with former Commission on Elections Commissioner
Virgilio Garcillano to manipulate the results of the last presidential election. This is the truth insinuated by the “Hello Garci Tapes.” The events suggested by the tapes seem to be confirmed by hundreds of manifestly fabricated precinct election returns from areas in which Ms Arroyo won heavily. This is the same truth now coming out in the statements of political operators who worked for Ms Arroyo in the last election.
On June 27 this year, the beleaguered president went on national television to “set the record straight” about these wiretapped conversations. She admitted calling “a Comelec official” during the canvassing period, but only to “protect” her votes, and not to cheat. She said that she has realized that doing so is improper, and she is apologizing to the nation for this “lapse in judgment.” Ms Arroyo did not identify the Comelec official, nor did she give an account of the nature of these conversations.
In subsequent media interviews, Ms Arroyo refused to answer any question about Garcillano or about the tapes, invoking her “right as an accused” to remain silent on matters that could incriminate her. Instead of putting all doubts about the 2004 election to rest, such behavior has only heightened skepticism over her claim to the presidency. It has, as the surveys have shown, definitely eroded her credibility as the nation’s highest public official.
Aware that she is waging a battle for survival on two fronts – the political and the legal — she has gone on a media blitz to sidestep the truth claims of the Garci tapes, and has mobilized all her connections to prevent the impeachment complaint against her from progressing.
This double maneuver is quite interesting, and is worth analyzing for the contradictions it tries to manage.
To kill the impeachment case at the committee level, it became necessary for her allies in the House to resort to absurd interpretations of the law in order to bar the amended complaint filed by the impeachment group. Using the force of numbers, Gloria’s allies slammed the door to any attempt to bring in the truth. When the committee reports its action to the entire House next week, that door will be permanently sealed for one year, unless 79 members physically present can be herded into the chamber to keep it open.
Gloria’s problem is this: The more her allies succeed in preventing the amended complaint from being heard, the more she appears to be scared of the truth. It gets her off the hook legally, but it only further disgraces her politically. What good does it do that she avoids being impeached, but loses her moral right to govern? That is the question.
The real battle is the political one in the last analysis. Gloria knows this, and she is determined to prevail in it too. But here the terrain is less easy to manage. The weapon of choice is rhetoric, not money; one has to speak in a credible, consistent, and convincing voice.
The objective is straightforward: To persuade the public that talking about fraud in the 2004 election is meaningless and unproductive. We may call it Gloria’s “truth.” She has articulated it in so many ways on various occasions that one is tempted to formulate it as her credo.
Talking about fraud, she says, is meaningless for two reasons. First, because in the kind of political culture we have, every politician is bound to be tainted by accusations of cheating that are never proven. Every politician also knows that cheating at different levels and in varying degrees happens in every election. It is part of the political environment and every candidate is expected to factor it into his own campaign. What matters is that one wins “fair and square” in a manner confirmed by international observers and independent surveys. Second, because there is a proper venue for resolving electoral disputes. For the positions of president and vice president, that is the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, and the PET has already ruled unanimously to dismiss the protest of the late Fernando Poe Jr. In short, we are now past that point.
Gloria’s truth says that revisiting the 2004 election is not only moot but also unproductive. It resolves nothing and yields nothing positive. It only distracts and divides the nation at a time when we need most to come together to respond to the challenge of poverty, spiralling oil prices, and the perennial debt problem. She suggests that we focus on reforming our political system in order to remove the gridlocks and obstacles that hamper our economic growth. Charter change is the answer to our problems, not impeachment.
Inertia is no doubt on Gloria’s side. Those who have given up the aspiration to remove the stain of corruption and dishonesty from our national life will find it easy to accept Gloria’s “truth.” For the rest of us who refuse to give up, it would be necessary — if we are to sustain our hopes — to keep hammering on the truths that allow us to dismantle the old culture and build a new nation. Gloria and her kind of truth exemplify the most durable components of that old culture.
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