Sunday, February 24, 2008

Mocking Democracy

It's the anniversary of People Power 1 tomorrow and a huge rally will be held in reaction to the sordid ZTE NBN mess. As much as I share some of the sentiments of those who are demanding Gloria's ouster, I do not agree that forcing her to step down at this point in time is the best option for our country. If Gloria will be forced to resign, it's going to be a really sad day for all of us. It only means that after so many People Power revolts, the established democratic institutions our heroes have fought and died for are really inutile against the forces of corruption; that the only way to get rid of erring officials is not through the courts but through the streets; and that despite repeated street marches, we have never really learned our lesson.

We're making a mockery of democracy.

Successive People Power Revolts haven't made a lot of difference in improving the lives of ordinary folks. Forty percent of Filipinos still live below the poverty line. That's a lot of Filipinos, mind you. That's not an accomplishment I can truly be proud of.

It breaks my heart every time I pass by a slum area, or when I see a beggar on the street, or when I see idle job-seekers passing the time inside air-conditioned malls because they have nowhere else to go. It is a scenario I do not wish to encounter every day of my life.

I'm tired of all these rallies that produce no concrete changes, anyway. I'm very pessimistic of their chances of producing real reforms in government. What we need right now is to demonstrate that our democratic system works, that the institutions tasked with delivering basic government services can be counted on. We need to show to the rest of the world that honesty, transparency and fair play are valued here as well.

You can't really blame me if I wish no part in the oust-Gloria activities tomorrow if you find out that some just-as-evil-politicians are already jockeying for plum positions should Gloria be thrown out of office. "Hakot" crowds associated with the previous administration coming from slums and poor areas were again bribed and hired to beef up the numbers during last week's rally in Makati. I mean, you bring down a corrupt government and you replace it, quite possibly, with another corrupt government? We'll simply have more of the same. We're only going to end up screwed, this time by a different bunch of corrupt officials, anyway. So what's the difference? When will we ever learn?

We have a really bad image abroad. Have you ever wondered why, despite our stellar 7.3% GDP growth, foreign direct investments remain paltry? Just read the foreign embassies' trade advisories on doing business in the country and most of them advise their prospective investors that "grease," or facilitation money is an accepted standard operating procedure when dealing with government agencies here. It's enough for foreign investors to set their sights somewhere else.

For all her faults, I believe Gloria can turn this economy around. She has, in fact, made significant strides in that direction. A trained economist, she understands the complexities of an economy forced to compete in a more globalized setting. She needs no advisers when critical matters such as managing the budget and expanding revenues are concerned. She knows the country's economic strengths and weaknesses, and she's qualified to carry out solutions because she understands their ramifications.

When the country's run-away foreign debt almost followed Argentina towards bankruptcy, she heeded the call of her colleagues at the UP School of Economics to implement drastic financial reforms. She instituted tax reforms to raise revenues and cut the budget deficit, easing pressure on interest rates. She took advantage of the dollar's weakness by pre-paying outstanding dollar loans, consequently reducing the burden on interest payments as well as improving our credit standing abroad. Her monetary policies tamed inflation despite sky-rocketing global oil prices and cut the cost of borrowing. She actively promoted tourism and IT services, and with government's all-out support BPO and call centers provided a lot of jobs to otherwise unemployed job-seekers. Let's give credit where credit is due, Yah?

She miscalculated, however, when she replaced Dante Canlas as NEDA Chief with the over-rated AIM Professor Romulo Neri, who consequently made the NEDA a rubber-stamp agency.

Her achievements in the economic front notwithstanding, her handling of her political affairs leaves much to be desired, it makes you want to head to the nearest bathroom and throw up. The Makati Business Club has already called for her to resign, citing issues of accountability and transparency. The National Council of Churches, the umbrella organization of Protestant Churches in the country, has done the same. Catholic bishops remain divided, however. And clearly, the military is again on red alert.

She has to act now, before it's too late. Her political fortunes are threatened, but she can still salvage it.

She has to stop invoking her "executive privilege" when members of her Cabinet, the police, her husband and close business associates are summoned to the Senate to shed light on the ZTE issue. She can't keep on dismissing the allegations as mere "politicking" when she admitted that the said contract was indeed, anomalous. Let them face the music and be subjected to the glare of public scrutiny.

In addition, people are demanding concrete actions resulting from the mess as most have already made up their minds whether or not corruption in high places has, in fact, taken place. Failure to act will only make many people angrier, and those actively seeking her ouster, bolder in their actions.

If I were her, I'd take Abalos as the sacrificial lamb and not give him a graceful exit, although Abalos may have ensured her victory during the last Presidential elections. All these investigations have to result in somebody "taking a direct hit," perhaps throwing somebody behind bars.

She's the President alright, but obviously she kowtows to her husband, the First Gentleman. Why else would she appoint Cabinet men closely associated with FG? Why would his sons orchestrate the ouster of de Venecia as House Speaker and replace him with Congressman Nograles, a "buddy" of his? And why does Enrique Razon, another "buddy" from his Ateneo days, get juicy Chinese contracts for himself?

In other words, she has to rein in her husband and their spoiled sons who act as if they own Congress. Put them on a leash, for crying out loud. "Conflict of Interest" is something that she should keep in mind. It has brought her a lot of trouble. It's making her term in office more tenuous.

To restore public trust she has to distance herself away from her husband's men, colleagues and associates. That means she stop appointing people associated with FG. As I have mentioned before, FG is the evil one, not Gloria. She should also instruct her undistinguished, spoiled sons in Congress to keep a low profile and desist from fanning the flames of anger.

Gloria, listen to my advice (kapal!) and you'll survive the current political storm.

I'll stick my neck out and predict that the rally tomorrow and subsequent ones will not likely topple her government. (You can get back at me if events hereon will not bear this out). The people are divided on the issue: the Church, business groups and the academe. This is so unlike the previous events that led to the ouster of Erap.

Divided or not, however, if the military withdraws its support for Gloria, then it will be the end of her political career.