Senator Trillanes and Gen. Danny Lim declared a “withdrawal of support” from the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration and has called on the armed forces and the people to do likewise. An Oakwood-type drama was conducted in the Manila Peninsula Hotel in Makati. It failed after six hours when the government forces assaulted the hotel and those inside surrendered. The rest are on the run and the government is running after them. The situation has returned to “normal” and the president is off to Europe. All’s well that ends well?
Oakwood has now come a full circle. However, the political context of the present Manila Pen is different than the one in 2003. Then, GMA was at the height of her power, with a comfortable positive public opinion, the support of the majority of the middle class, and with considerable international goodwill. Now, she is facing an increasingly lameduck presidency, a deep distrust of her government among significant sectors, including the middle class, and buffeted by accusations of human rights violations abroad.
The country has entered the period of the transition to the post-GMA political situation. The immediate struggle revolves around the question of who will manage this transition. Logically in our democracy, the president–holding the reins of power–presides over this transition. However, in GMA’s case, this is forfeit because of her political weaknesses.
The Manila Pen incident follows closely on the heels of dramatic and violent events such as the Batasan bombing. A case can be made that incidents such as these fit into the present context of the political transition. Including nonviolent political events such as the LP and NP mediamatic non-proclamation of presidential candidacies, these collectively affirm that relevant political forces in the Philippines are on the march and are staking out their various positions.
I do not think the Manila Pen incident itself meant the end of the military rebels’ own plans; it may be the beginning. However, a much more interesting possibility is the use of their movement for political maneuvering vis-a-vis the contest for the role of transition manager.
On hindsight, what Senator Trillanes and company did in Manila Pen was either a stupid and unrealistic bid for a people-powered downfall of the GMA administration or a brilliant probing attack in a much more complicated strategy. There were simply many disconnects in the event that prevented the achievement of the announced objective to topple the current power in Malacañang. Firstly, there was no evident pre-synchronization of various potential or actual sympathetic forces. Secondly, there was no provision–either in warm bodies or logistics–for a long-drawn siege. It seems, they want to end the drama as it actually did–when the government forces started its counterattack in earnest. Thirdly, there were no observable mobilization of sympathetic military forces beyond the small group that accompanied Senator Trillanes to the Manila Pen. AFP chief of staff Hermogenes Esperon’s assertion of having prevented this from happening cannot simply be be taken at face value given the extent of discontent and ferment in the camps (as shown in the Trillanes protest vote in the last elections).
What the Manila Pen incident accomplished is to underscore the vulnerability of Malacañang and its unavoidable dependence on the support of the armed forces. Its initial reaction to the incident had been an ostensibly panicky one with a wide-ranging set of tactics that included the arrest of aging vice-president Guingona and retired bishop Labayen, as well as the arrest of covering press people, a dramatic and violent–if uncalled for–assault on Manila Pen, and a blanket curfew. These latter tactics immediately drew condemnations from the middle class, business and tourist community, the Catholic church and the mass media. They can only exacerbate the isolation of the GMA administration.
Its very political survival is now held hostage by the military sector. If a “God save the Queen” scenario is the one in the works, Manila Pen put the last pieces in position for a decisive move.