That was the terse commentary of former President Fidel V. Ramos given to a TV reporter when he was asked last week whether martial law would be imposed by a beleaguered President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. This man knows whereof he speaks because in a very real sense, he is one of only THREE forces in the current turbulent tableau, whose negative word and withdrawal of support could be instantly lethal to this Presidency.
So when F.V.R. starts using two-letter acronyms as in the above, there is significance beyond the brevity of his remark.
For although his support is not sufficient by itself to save her from the sea of self-imposed political troubles, FVR's support is necessary for her continued survival. This means that FVR, and the forces and interests behind him hold a VETO POWER over anything President Arroyo and the Palace boys might be inclined to do.
Out of pure vindictiveness and the need to send up trial balloons, the President has indeed engaged in what MLQ3 called in his PDI column this morning "scorched earth governance". (By the way, I must salute Manuel L. Quezon III for so masterfully advancing the art of explanation in the matter of Gloriagate and the complex issues that beset the nation. Read him! You will feel proud to be a Filipino and a thinking human being.)
But there are actually certain bridges the President is not allowed to burn down--certain limits she is not allowed by the veto-holders to breach.
Consider the recent events. A trial balloon was sent up in the form of Justice Sec. Raul Gonzalez's shiny face on TV talk shows, pronouncing words like emergency rule and blithely reporting studies of an academic nature of course, on the taking over of public utilities and critical businesses by the Palace. This was met by a fusillade of arrows from all kinds of directions, even though that is all he actually did, was read the Consitution and other laws, to discover (and bandy about for effect) the awesome powers that potentially could be his, err, hers, in some putative emergency. PCIJ reports out the detailed enumeration of those powers here, courtesy of the Free Legal Assistance Group.
How could the Palace foresee what happened next after all their talk of authoritarian rule? All this and the foolhardy Calibrated Pre-emptive Response policy did was produce that water cannonading and roughing up of septuagenarian former Vice President Teofisto Guingona during a violent dispersal of a march led by not one, not two, but three Catholic bishops. Even neophyte administration Senator Jamby Madrigal got her Guccis drenched in the confrontation, and who will ever forget now, that picture of Fr. Robert Reyes' hydrodynamic head being targeted by a stream of water, and truncheon wielding cops, without their nameplates on, shoving people around and hauling them off to jail.
The images from these events will become graphic icons of the tragicomedy that is Gloriagate, just as the Garci tapes are a lasting audio rendition of a criminal act in motion.
But the Catholic Bishops are, like FVR, necessary to the regime's continued survival. They too, hold a kind of VETO POWER over how far the President can go in pursuing "scorched earth governance".
Real danger to the administration from this quarter will arise when her allies in the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), such as its present head, Archbishop Fernando Capalla, are replaced early in December with some new Archbishops (who might also be bloggers by then! (Hat Tip: The J-Spot)). And of course look at the headline of the PDI: Bishop--Fight Between Arroyo and the Church Looms.
Well, now that there is no doubt strong-arm tactics would reap a whirlwind of public fury resulting in certain vetoes being cast, the only thing left for the Palace is to figure out a gracious way to blink, to exit from the game of chicken it has been playing with the political opposition. It knows it cannot now afford an outright collision with the forces ranged against it.
The Palace may decide to reduce the political temperature and go on a charm offensive just ahead of the long vacation and school holiday period coming up associated with the Day of the Dead on November 1.
The ground is well-prepared for such a charm offensive, a kind of Gloria spring in our discontented winter, what with everyone prepared for a "night of the long knives".
Now I did say there were THREE forces holding a veto card over the President, didn't I? But I shall leave for a further posting, the analysis of the role of America and the Philippine military in all of this. I did post the following essay recently you might want to read: Where Will America Stand As The Iron Fist Falls. (I suppose "AS" is more alarmistic than "IF" but I'm a blogger, what can I say?)
Authoritarian rule is the brain cancer that always plagues, and terminates, a failed regime. Is the President ready to burn the house down with everyone in it?
I think not. There may be time for one last self-deluded bit of procrastination, one last grinning, rage-against-the-dying-of-the-MIGHT charm offensive.
I feel a kind of strange pity for this Presidency. It has all the charm of a beached whale that foolishly blundered in immoral waters and has beached itself in what one reporter has characterized as an iceberg of distrust.