Special Issue
The Queen's Gambits

The will of the people

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Susan Roces battle for the hearts and minds of Filipinos.

TODAY the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo stands on the edge of the abyss. Will she fall or can she pull back from the brink?

This crisis is not only the most serious in her four-year presidency, it challenges the viability of Philippine democracy as well.

That democracy has been resilient. Since 1946, our elections have been marred by violence and fraud. And yet, the mystique of elections — as a democratic exercise where all are equal and all have a voice in choosing who will rule over us — remains untarnished. No matter how flawed and how dirty elections are, Filipinos, for the most part, believe and participate in them wholeheartedly.

So what is the fuss all about? All sides mess around with the count. And, in 2004, the opposition probably did, too. this is what Mrs. Arroyo’s supporters argue: if both sides cheated, then there was what we might call a “balance of fraud.” In the end, the results still reflected “the will of the people.”

On June 7, before he dropped out of sight, elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano was interviewed by reporters. I don’t think the opposition will touch me, he said. “I helped many of them, I have many friends among them.”

This belief — that since everyone is tainted with guilt, and therefore, everyone is safe from retribution — has held for the longest time. Now, all that may change. The public outrage over the revelations in the “Hello, Garci?” tapes shows that Filipinos can tolerate only so much.

It does not help that Mrs. Arroyo and her family have been implicated in scandal after scandal since she assumed the presidency in 2001. Gloriagate is only the latest in a long line of accusations that have tarnished the Office of the President. Mrs. Arroyo faces this crisis with a tarnished slate, not a clean one. The opposition — itself tarnished with the sins of its not-so-glorious past — is exploiting the situation so it can oust her. But Mrs. Arroyo is as much to blame for her woes. She is reeling from the damage she has wrought on key institutions, especially the Commission on Elections and also the military and the police, both of which were apparently used to ensure her victory in 2004.

Now she is being called to account.