Stopping GMA

In June this year, I responded to an interview request from the

Inquirer about an item that appeared in the column of fellow writer Bel Cunanan.  Ms Cunanan reported that if President Macapagal Arroyo ran for a congressional seat in the 2010 election, she heard that I might challenge her.  The Inquirer’s Juliet Javellana wanted to know if there was any truth to this.

As reported in the June 26th Inquirer issue, this is what I said:  “If she runs, I will think about it very seriously.  Yes, I think so.  She will not go unchallenged.  She will not go unopposed; we will oppose her every step of the way.”

Very few gave Ms Arroyo’s rumored run in Pampanga any serious thought at the time.  I did.  Many political observers and analysts were dismissive of this unthinkable scenario.  I wasn’t.  I spoke with people in my province who knew the ground well to find out what was going on.  I learned that the idea was being floated by trusted political lieutenants of the president.  I sensed that this was a serious move and that something was afoot, but I could not at the time figure out what game plan had been set in motion.

The challenge I posed to Ms Arroyo’s running in the 2010 election was a political one, not at all confined to the electoral arena. I do not equate politics with elections.  Having resolutely turned down invitations to vie for a national office in past elections, I could hardly imagine myself as a candidate, especially not in a local election, which is more complex.  And yet, because of what I was seeing in my district – a president cynically exploiting the needs of local residents and their tribal instincts by serving them a weekly largesse of cash, scholarships, medical cards, and various public works projects – I found myself engulfed by anger.  And I was increasingly expressing this in the form of an electoral challenge.

I was subsequently attacked by Ms Arroyo’s allies for wanting to run for public office for the “wrong” reason — out of an intense dislike, they said, for the president rather than from a desire to serve the people.  I know what to do if I won a congressional seat, but it is true this was not uppermost in my mind. My concern was, and still is, how to stop GMA from skirting the constitutional ban against any presidential re-election through the devious maneuver of seeking a lower office.

As GMA’s unthinkable run in Pampanga’s second district became a reality with every visit she made (more than 50 times at last count), I began to prepare myself psychologically for an election campaign.  I imagined the campaign as a series of debates aimed at raising the level of public discourse, a platform from which to project a larger vision of social transformation.  I persuaded myself that winning or losing was only secondary, and that the important thing was to be able to articulate a vision for modern politics and to register my protest.

This view did not convince my more pragmatic supporters who were aware of the realities of local politics.  To them, local elections in our society are decided solely by what the voters think you have done for them.  After the elections, they warned, no one will remember what you stood for. I said we would launch a teaching campaign. Out of respect, they kept their misgivings to themselves, and vowed to stand by me.  All they asked was for me to think if there was another mode of fighting, or another arena, in which the odds were not so unjust. It occurred to me that I had been looking at a local election from the outside rather than from the inside.

This led me to ask if, precisely by offering myself as a serious opponent, I was not being drawn into an electoral contest that would ironically legitimize GMA’s candidacy.  Wouldn’t entering the local electoral arena mean that I was accepting the terms of the battle and that therefore I was willing to have my advocacy measured by the number of votes I could gather?  I knew I was ready to fight in a lopsided contest. But, going into a battle that everyone knows had been rigged didn’t make much sense.

I have spent the last five months writing notes to myself, weighing the pros and cons of becoming a candidate, analyzing my own motives, and searching for a clear standard on which to base my decision.  I have spent days talking to my wife, my children, my siblings, and colleagues in the university.  I am aware that everywhere in the country, many Filipinos want somebody to fight the most distrusted president in the nation’s history. Well-meaning citizens from here and abroad have offered help. Students and first-time voters have volunteered to wage an Internet campaign on my behalf.  Most of them are not even voters in Pampanga’s second district.  I thank them all. This column is for them.

What GMA’s minions have prepared for her in my district is not an election but a coronation. I cannot participate in this electoral travesty. She will surely take the second district, but the fight is far from over.  Since it is now clear that Ms Arroyo’s goal is not just a congressional seat, but ultimately her continuing control of the national government itself, the arena has to be broadened.  To stop her, the 2010 electoral campaign must be waged against all known GMA allies at all levels, in favor of leaders who can inspire us to move forward. The nation’s collective voice must now be heard above the fictitious clamor concocted by her mayors and congressmen.

I am committing myself to speak everywhere to bring the message of modern politics to our young voters so they may campaign and vote with conviction.  President Macapagal Arroyo and her people have done enough damage to our values and institutions.  It’s time to rebuild.