Thursday, July 2, 2009

Honduras May Embolden GMA

While the ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya last Sunday could serve as a stern warning to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) - and perhaps an encouragement to the military - that tinkering with the Constitution to extend her tenancy in Malacañang is a risky move, it could on the contrary embolden GMA in pursuing her nefarious political agenda.

The parallels between the Philippines and Honduras are uncanny. As we all know very well GMA's allies in Congress have been assiduously pushing for charter change by resolving to convene a con-ass. Zelaya's ouster was precipitated by his insistence on having a constitutional convention (con-con). Both moves are seen as attempts to extend the president's term of office. GMA's allies want to proceed with a con-ass even without the Senate (clearly unconstitutional), while Zelaya wants a referendum on the convening of a con-con without congressional authorization as required by Honduras's constitution.

While GMA's supporters may argue that she has nothing to do with the cha-cha efforts in Congress, there is convincing evidence to the contrary. The prime movers of cha-cha in Congress belong to GMA's party and it is safe to say that as president GMA has a strong involvement on this issue. Also, the recent admission by former DOJ Secretary Raul Gonzalez, one of GMA's most trusted advisers, that GMA has every reason to remain in power either as president or prime minister to immunize herself from suits, is a very persuasive argument for GMA's involvement.

Going back to Honduras, it is disappointing to know that the international community - including the UN, Organization of American States, and the US - was quick to condemn the removal of Zelaya and announce its disapproval of the existing government, given the background of Zelaya and what prompted his removal. A review of what happened in Honduras shows that it was Zelaya who first committed constitutional shortcuts by disregarding the Honduran Congress in calling for a referendum to amend the constitution. The Honduran Supreme Court, backed by the attorney general, ruled that Zelaya's call for a referendum was unconstitutional. Zelaya defied the Supreme Court ruling by firing the army chief who refused to support Zelaya's self-initiated referendum. This prompted the military, in support of the Supreme Court's ruling, to arrest Zelaya. As a result of this the Honduran Congress installed Roberto Micheletti, the constitutional successor to the president.

Now there is much debate whether the removal of Zelaya could be considered as a coup. While there was a seeming disconnect at first between the US State Department and White House's characterization of the event, President Obama finally stopped equivocating by calling the removal as a coup and an illegal one at that. I am not sure what the Honduras Constitution says about the removal of the president (whether it could only be done through impeachment), but there is argument to the effect that Zelaya was arrested for flagrant violation of the constitution and it was not the military that took power but rather his constitutional successor, Micheletti, and the Honduran Congress approved this.

But coup or not, there is no debate that Zelaya violated the Honduran Constitution when he tried to pursue a referendum on cha-cha without congressional authorization. None of those who disapprove of Zelaya's ouster dispute this. Despite Zelaya's brazen disregard of Honduras's Constitution and defiance of the Supreme Court, however, the international community remained mum on this issue and instead chose to look only at his ouster by the military. The outrage against constitutional violation is one-sided. By the way there is strong public support among Hondurans for Zelaya's removal; like GMA he is not a popular president.

This lopsided view from the international community could embolden GMA in acting á la Zelaya. It tells us that no matter how brazenly the president may commit constitutional shortcuts it would now be at the risk of being internationally condemned and isolated to overthrow her; that a people power backed by the military may no longer be acceptable as EDSA I or EDSA II was. The administration might just capitalize on this development in discouraging the people and the military from resorting to another people power to unseat an extended GMA presidency or, perhaps, a GMA prime ministership.


anna said...

From a technical viewpoint the ouster/toppling of Selaya was a coup d'état -- no question about it. The Hondurans may not feel that his ouster from office is illegal but his physical ouster from office is nonetheless a coup d'état.

Now, with regard to Gloria, i.e., whether ousting her from Malacanang will be deemed a coup d'état, I would like to think that such an act is justified. To begin with, she usurped the presidency in 2001, a very illegal act, hence, ousting her before 2010 is what she deserves.

I do think that physically ousting her from Malacanang, particularly if there's a military element involved, will also be deemed a coup d'état for the simple reason that her occupation of Malacanang had been "plebiscited" in the 2004 election even if the so-called plebiscite was utterly anomalous or highly irregular.

Jun Bautista said...


Do you think another people power - a genuine people power - to remove GMA from office, which
is extra-constitutional, merits the same condemnation from the international community like Honduras?

anna said...

Hi Jun,

This is a very emotive question but there's no other way to tackle that question except to express what I "feel" about Gloria which inevitably has some negative bearing on my logic; personally I believe removing GMA office through a genuine people power should not merit condemnation.

I am of the belief that the shenanigans Gloria and her administration have committed are not lost on Western media and they would be able to help shape international community opinion "in favour" of people power.

There certainly will be some condemnation, most likely from the US but I guess not so much from some major European powers. There is a little more awareness here of the extent of corruption under her administration.

anna said...

I believe the Honduran coup d'état provoked the ire of the international community because the "new" Honduran govt violated the Vienna Convention when they arreste and forcibly expelled a number of diplomats following the toppling of Zelaya.

So in my view, the Hondurans committed a monumental blunder in terms of public relations.

Jun Bautista said...


What i'm trying to point out is that a people power revolt, while being extra-constitutional (as distinguished from "unconstitutional"), should nevertheless be a legitimate exercise of power - indeed the ultimate political power from which government power emanates. This is probably what would distinguish an ouster of the president through coup d'etat from a people power revolt. The former would merely be considered as a naked power grab or military adventurism while the latter a legitimate exercise of sovereign power.

By the way, do you happen to be in Europe?

anna said...


I agree with you that there is a difference, i.e., a genuine "People Power" is a legitimate expression of the will of the people whereas a coup d'état can be construed as a power grab by a handpicked few best illustrated by what happened in 2001.

A genuine "People Power" can be justified as being the ultimate democratic exercise of nation. That said, recent stories of people power showed that it is rare that "People Power" can succeed without the backing and almosst full cooperation of the military or para-military (as was the case at the beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution).

PS: Yes, I live in Europe.

anna said...

The Philippines is one of those countries where the armed forces are put on a pedestal as the be all of militant power. I am actually amazed by how highly Filipinos regard the nation's military as some kind of lever in a power struggle. They don't seem to realise that senior officers of the AFP, with very rare exceptions (Boy Abadia being one of them), represent all that is morally coward in the military organisation.

Evidently, this happens in most countries inasmuch as a nation's armed forces are deemed to be the ultimate bastion of a nation's physical sanity when things go wrong.

But that is not the point -- what our fellow Filipinos don't realise is that I've never seen an armed forces organisation as fractionned as ours, that's simply holding on to its last remaining shred of discipline to avoid collapse.

Effectively, we are to blame for the acrued power that members of the AFP believe they have. The senior officers of the AFP are nothing more than a band glorified privates with stars. Truth is they are incapable of leading their men in battle (it's junior and mid-level officers who do that); they are absolutely incapable of independent thoughts (inasmuch as they rely a great deal on their political patrons think and do); when they reach the star level, all they think about is how to fatten themselves up for retirement... etc etc

Lastly, this penchant of Filipinos for giving retired generals so much importance is a complete annery. A Philippine AFP officer, i.e., senior, is as good as dead when he is retired. His opinion doesn't matter an iota to those in active service. If it were the case, things would have changed dramatically in the legislature given that there are 3 former generals in the senate. Media should take their cue from that -- opinions of retired senior officers don't matter at all.

I do believe that if our media or our political analysts can only stop themselves yielding to the cock and bull belief that Gloria needs generals to prop herself up, we stand a chance of ousting her through a genuine people power.

The AFP can operate without its senior officers but it cannot operate and least of all successfully, without its low rank and file. Your master sergeants can run a full scale military organisation if need be. Filipinos should instead take their cue from younger or junior officers if they want this country to move forward, i.e., dispose of Gloria.

(OK, that's all just a rant but you get the gist...)

anna said...

Ooops, delete "what our fellow Filipinos don't realise is that"

Jun Bautista said...


Well you need to let out some steam
sometimes :)

Anyway, while I have stated that GMA may see the Honduran affair as an encouragement to do as she pleases, secure she may be with the thought that the international community might not approve any extraconstitutional move to oust her, a genuine people power that can topple her may not be perceived as negatively as Honduras not really because GMA's shenanigans are known (Zelaya's were also not exactly secret), but because a people power is less likely to be perceived as a naked power grab as a military-led revolt is. That is why I believe while the military may play a decisive role in any revolt, as it did in EDSA I or even II, it is ultimately the people who will spell its success.

anna said...

Right, Jun!

Again, the Honduran coup d'état was perceived in a negative light because of the PR blunder the country's replacement govt did, i.e., when they arrested and/or forcibly expelled many foreign diplomats.

This is not likely to happen in RP because by nature, Filipinos are more respectuous of foreign dignitaries.