The GMA tumble/ The Schiavo fumble

HERE'S THE SCORE - Teodoro C. Benigno -
This was the moment I was scared of. But even when it came, the shivers crawled on my skin. The future, already bleak, dark and dismal, looked even more so as the Pulse Asia presidential survey came out toting an all-time low of 38 percent for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. That was not just low. It was staggeringly low. No presidential rating, for a sitting president that is, ever dipped to the proportions of a flatworm. And I can well remember the lowest for Ferdinand Edralin Marcos, 44, towards the tail-end of his martial law regime.

The professional Marcos watchers then knew the end was near.

Even 44 was understated. Fear still prevailed at the time. And very few, even supposedly anonymous survey respondents, had the guts to come out and breathe the N-word in a private survey. It was the signal for the left to roam the streets even more pungently. More certainly, it was the signal the moderate center harkened and eventually led to the Convenors’ Group, which lustily beat the drums for a snap presidential elections.

Still, the dictator held on. For him, Washington had the first and last word on his presidency, and Uncle Sam still had the dictator propped on his laps, for there was no alternative. Ninoy Aquino had been done in, a lone soldier’s bullet ripping his brains from behind. But Ninoy’s assassination, already pealing thunder in 1983, in time roiled even more the political, social and economic institutions of the Philippines.

It was the economy, stupid.

The national wealth, whatever was left, had been drained by billions of dollars salted away in Swiss, American and other overseas banks by an exceedingly rapacious dictator, his wife, and their cronies. Hey and hel-l-l-o-o. Isn’t the same thing happening today? And so Malacañang and our politicians, would hold on to VAT, a sickening piece of legislation shaking down the poor more than it does the rich. Batten the hatches! Hold on to your pork barrel.

And so, with this latest Pulse Asia Survey further trimming GMA’s already precarious minus five or minus six hold on presidential power, where to? I suppose GMA, in the middle of the night, stirs the cauldron to find out the answers. And the likelihood is that political ballroom had substantially shrank – and fewer and fewer are willing to dance the tango, much less the tinikling with her.

She will get more and more isolated.

But, in the end, methinks, Washington, President George W. Bush and his neo-conservative consiglieri will issue the tell-tale signals. The appointment of Paul Wolfowitz, main architect of the Iraqi War, to head the World Bank was ominous. His hand will be on the purse-strings that will decide the fate of many Third World nations, including the Philippines. When he says, Papa no quiero, that’s it. Papa no quiero. in the twinkling of an eye, if GMA does not play ball, she can be cut off from the mainstream of America’s financial resources.

So watch from ringside. When power began to drain from Joseph Estrada, his inner circle of so-called political and economic geniuses began to twitter, then to twitch, then to writhe, then to hand in their resignations. The same, I believe, will happen to GMA. How far she will be backed against the wall, I still don’t know. But she will. And she will because GMA is close to being Humpty-Dumpty, who had a great fall. And besides, this is the bidding of history.

Then maybe, just maybe, civil society will come alive again.

It has been scandalously asleep these past two or three years, or battered with ataxia and dementia, first of the body, then of the brain, and those that were not, were bought and corrupted by Malacañang. And those that were not corrupted played high-stakes political dice by backing the presidential candidacies of Fernando Poe Jr., Brother Eddie Villanueva, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, and the earlier high-flying Raul Roco.

GMA outlasted them all. She outfoxed them all, outspent them all, and broke their bones and maimed them all. Money, money, money. Power, power, power. In the end that was all that mattered. GMA was no slouch in this game, to the shock, awe and even grudging admiration of her political foes. Even the Church was in her sack, not to mention the police and military generals. Oh yes, from the shadows beamed Uncle Sam, his top hat tipping complicitly in the wind.

Ah, but the times have changed since then! And how fast they have changed!

First, and most importantly, the economic nails have been driven deep into the frail, cardboard , coffin structure of the Philippine economy. Soaring gasoline and energy costs played hob with the masses’ very meager earnings, and the anguished screams have yet to reach their crescendo. Crime and violence reached scandalous, thoroughly outrageous proportions as two generals, Carlos Garcia, and Jacinto Ligot, were caught stealing millions of dollars, salting them abroad, purchasing prime real estate property in New York, some from Donald Trump himself. And nothing, really nothing, has been vented in expiation by the GMA regime on their favored persons. The insurgency, terrorist front came alive as the Muslim terrorists struck and the government counter-struck slaying 23 Abu Sayyaf terrorists who were buried by their supporters as "martyrs".

In all this, it seemed, GMA hardly mattered. The leadership expected of her fluttered like falling leaves.

With her presidential rating falling to appalling proportions, the leadership factor if rejiggered upward is the only factor that can bring hope to this dismally miserable country. If not, it goes to a corner of the room. When it does, more dominoes will start falling. When they do, we Filipinos will probably be kicked to the next phase as prices of prime commodities continue to rise – the streets. I say probably because one can never be sure. Filipinos, even educated and so-called enlightened Filipinos, have no stomach for street action.

In the old days, we had Chino Roces, and Old Man Lorenzo Tañada. They braved the dictator’s bullets, tear gas, water cannon, eventually even artillery and tanks. Now we don’t see their kind anymore, men who loved their country, and risked their lives, their all to redeem their country from the evil that was the dictatorship.

And of course, there was Ninoy. Why don’t we see their kind anymore?
* * *
It’s ticking, we can hear it. It will only stop when the lovely but utterly doomed face of Terri Schiavo snaps shut one of these days because of irreversible brain damage. The parents of Terri, the Schindlers, have done everything humanly, politically, and legally possible to save her. The majority of mainstream America have been drawn in sympathy, drawn in by a beautiful face they feel is still wondrously alive, can still smile and respond, languid eyes that appear to struggle for some sanity, for the light of a life the experts say is already dead and gone.

Is it dead and gone?

Virtually all the medical experts are agreed her present existence dangles on the thinnest of threads and she could go any day, any hour. Her husband Michael Schiavo, her legal guardian, and the authorized family spokesman it seems, constantly dribbles the drum Terri, when still able to do so, wanted to die, and refused the entry into her person of life-lengthening devices that would have amounted to no good anyway.

But the most potent and powerful voices are the courts of America, its long revered judicial system, which over 13 years it seems, has respected Terri’s "right to die" and there the matter rests or should rest. But politics has entered the issue, when it shouldn’t given the hitherto indestructible moorings of democracy in America – the constitutional separation of its executive, judicial and legislative institutions. Thus did "law and order" originate in Mother England. Thus was it transferred to the New World by the Puritan settlers, and rendered sacrosanct until today by the Federalists.

To do otherwise would destroy the very fabric of America’s way of life.

That explains why the US Supreme Court, why many appellate courts have refused to touch the case. It is a case that has been discussed and debated over the years. It goes away only, or like a sword returns to its scabbard, when ultimately the laws are invoked at the highest levels and ring with the finality of churchbells.

As a writer and Christian, I uphold the principles and convictions of euthanasia.

This would allow a permanently afflicted person to die, or choose to die, if it is medically proved that his life can no longer be saved, and even his immediate family realizes or accepts that a life prolonged by medical interference is futile and evanescent anyway, and only inflicts the most unbearable pain on the patient and his family.











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