If I may misquote Karl Marx: The first time around it’s a farce, the second time it’s a tragedy, and the third time it’s a political bargaining chip. I am referring, of course, to the great Garci tapes controversy.
When Secretary Bunye graciously indulged the public’s unknown curiosity by his “right-hand fake, left hand genuine” (or was it the other way around?) performance, the Garcillano tapes were treated as a farce. It turned out to be a huge tsunami that nearly brought down the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo government. A mass Cabinet resignation, impeachment attempts in Congress, Supreme Court rebukes, and threatened military withdrawal of support for the GMA administration showed what a few megabytes of digitized voices can do in today’s world. A real political crisis of presidential legitimacy still roils the Philippine political landscape because of these darned tapes.
It turned into a tragedy of sorts when nothing came out of the Garci tapes controversy–not a political tour de force, not a political solution to the crisis, and not even a presidential apology. Definitely, the dramatic “I am sorry” performance by the president later was nowhere here nor there. She admitted her voice and that of the Commission on Election official, but not the (in)famous Commissioner, nor the purported subject matter of the tapes. Later she would deny the whole thing and her loyalists would try to discredit both the tapes and the advisers who gave the “bad” advise to admit the Voice.
Now, the Garci tapes resurfaced with a Doble face. Former T/Sgt. Vidal Doble, Jr. is well-known to Philippine political aficionados as the main culprit in leaking out the tapes from the files of the Intelligence Service of the Armed forces of the Philippines. Claiming that he is part of a deep black operation to bug the electoral opposition’s conversations, he wants to testify on the provenance of the tapes and of the voices therein.
By now, everybody knows the story of the Garci tapes, and Malacañanang claims people are already bored with the story. However, knowing is far different from confirming and admitting. Much as the GMA administration would wish to the contrary, the tale of the tapes is not yet over–a full political closure still has to happen.
The timing of the Doble resurfacing seems to indicate that post-2007 election political negotiations among the administration, opposition, and–interestingly–the presidentiables–are coming to a head without an agreement in sight. We are now confronting a scenario of hard-ball negotiations amidst heightened political tensions, including the resurrected Garci tapes, the Erap decision, a brewing war in the South, talks of coups and emergency situations, and what not.
The importance of the Garci tapes lies in their coercive message to the administration–to make clear its intention not to plot a post-2010 GMA-still-in-power scenario. It is not a surprise that the Senate–the heart of presidential ambitions–has become the arena this time.
Given her narrow window of opportunity before the lameduck syndrome kicks in, the president will have to make many vital decisions affecting her political future in the coming few weeks or months. This should make everyone tensely waiting for the decision on the political compromise with the political opposition, her choice of a presidentiable to support, or to wage the lonely battle to maintain the power.
To misquote Clausewitz: The Garci tapes is an example of the saying “Philippine politics is politics by all means possible and available.”