As the tide ebbs, so does the sea builds the force for the coming high tide.
This is an apt description of the current state of the popular movement for the ouster of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The high point of the past weeks had been the February 29 Makati mobilization. Since then, only sustaining action like campus tours, small rallies, cultural events, and church masses are observed. The arena of the movement is shifting to the community, to the grassroots. In due time, new and more numerous forces will man the frontlines.
National Security Adviser Gonzales was quoted in the aftermath of the February 29 rally as having said that “the worst is over.” I’m afraid he’s talking through his hat. At the least, his wish is the father to his thoughts.
What we see is a presidency in the midst of fighting for its very survival. The pressure won’t let up–the awakening of the middle class will not permit it. The timidity and the self-interest of power institutions may prolong its life but certainly things will not go back to normal governance anymore. The next two years of the GMA presidency–if it reached that far–will be a constant crisis presidency.
The lines have been drawn on the streets of Makati and elsewhere. This situation leads inexorably to a political polarization. Either GMA gives way or she has to assert the power. Every democratic institution will become a battleground or will have to give way. At the end, she is confronted with the constitutional end to her term.
Will she abide by it? There is a great doubt about it. Since holding on to the power has become the sine qua non of her survival, the logical path for her is to continue beyond 2010.
Only a constitutional change process can give even a modicum of legitimacy to this decision. Thus, even if the obstacles are almost insurmountable, she may opt for it in desperation. From this perspective, the 2006 failed charter change initiatives are lessons towards another try, not lessons to stop.
Of course, this time she had more obstacles–an awakened and hostile citizenry and the political forces gearing up for the 2010 elections. Only a martial law regime–as in the case of Marcos–will have the remote chance of carrying it off.
GMA may still opt to negotiate her way out of the crisis. Those who want to manage the transition from her regime are avidly waiting and working for it. For them, the popular movement is useful as an instrument of pressure but not as the decisive instrument for her ouster. She will, of course, as a minimum condition ask for immunity or protection from the suits that are certain to be filed against her once she is out of power.
The presidentiables are also a target in this negotiation scenario. However, they run the risk of being identified with an unpopular president and thus the probability of losing in the presidential race. On the other hand, it is no secret that the presidential access to government resources and the prospect of a ready-made campaign machinery in the ruling coalition are tempting to these presidentiables.
The option to resign is now basically only a function of the popular pressure to oust her. It has been a logical–if unspoken–end to the search for truth being pursued by many in the church sector and others in the middle class. However, the actuations of Malacañang do not support the scenario of a voluntary resignation.
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo faces the hard choices in the days ahead. The worst, certainly, is yet to come.