A candidate cheated, some people sardonically aver, doesn't deserve to hold public office in the first place--for how can he be expected to safeguard the public interest when he was incompetent in guarding even his own interest at the polls? Reasonable enough, I think, but nonetheless does not make the cheater any more legitimate. And there lies the president's predicament.
But fortunately for the president, the present crisis is merely a predicament, not the kind of stuff that can unmake her. It is a predicament though of the highest degree, one that I imagine would require the sagacity of Machiavelli to successfully traverse (and Manolo Quezon has some relevant excerpts from Machiavelli for President Arroyo ).
President Arroyo is presently doing well managing this most significant challenge to her presidency. Her deafening silence, which most commentators criticize, is in fact the most astute thing she can possibly do right now. Like any guilty client advised by a competent lawyer, President Arroyo has wisely taken a vow of silence. She can only damage herself further by opening her mouth. Omerta is also highly advisable for the rest of the cabinet, save a few inane meaningless statements from her spokesperson just to keep journalists from rumbling.
What can Arroyo do to preserve her presidency?
1) Being a political leader means her vow of silence is unsustainable in the long run. She would have to speak sooner or later (although preferably later). But before she do so, it is wise to survey first the extent of dirt the opposition has on her, on her husband, on Iggy Arroyo and on her son. It is essential that her comments on the matter be the final say, that there would be no further reveation, no further transcripts and audio mp3s to be downloaded in the PCIJ blog. The public, once fatigued by all these revelations, would all be too glad to forget about the matter.
2) The picture that appeared on the Inquirer--President Arroyo flanked by politicians bearing the letters PEACE and UNITY on their shirts--while cute and heartwarming for the president is nonetheless in the grand scheme of public relations quite useless. Estrada had the same protestations of undying fealty from the governors and look where he is now--stinking and getting fat in Tanay. The picture that President Arroyo needs now is one with lots of white robes in the background; robes accented by red belts preferred but not required. The President may have a problem asking bishops to meet her and have a photo taken of them now, but she can still try. She can also pay the ailing Cardinal Sin a visit. A picture at Cardinal Sin's bedside would be fine. Or confess her sins to Archbishop Rosales and get the latter's support in exchange (remember Michael Corleone and his successful corporate takeover after his confession?) .
3) To fire or not to fire Mikey, that's the question. It is easier to see your husband executed than your son pilloried. Queen Elizabeth I was infinitely wise to boycott the delivery room. If Mikey Arroyo is to resign, President Arroyo will appear weak. Garcillano is now out, but Garcillano, no matter how influential a powerbroker during the elections, is merely a government bureaucrat. Mikey Arroyo is different. If he resigns, the opposition would only be emboldened to demand the head that they really want: President Arroyo's.
In the game of chess, in order to trap the Queen, her enemies need to first engage her in combat. How? By first removing the pawns and lower personalities that cover her. Put yourself in the place of the opposition for a while. With damning tapes that detail how the president cheated in the elections, why would there still be a need for you to air out revelations about jueteng which at best only obliquely point to the president? To take out the men that prop the Queen. With the Arroyo men immobilized by the jueteng allegations, the tapes and the transcript should take care of President Arroyo. That's the master plan.
It was wise for Mikey Arroyo to take a leave. Iggy Arroyo should also do the same. Take a leave, but not resign. To not resign is crucial in order for President Arroyo to maintain an image of strength for the presidency.
4) Now with regard to rumored coups: The reason why there are always these rumors is because the Philippine government has historically dealt with coup plotters too kindly. The proper thing to do with any soldier who has been involved in a coup is to throw him out of the military/police permanently, banished from public life forever, BUT not jailed, because that would be an injustice and Heaven may hear the soldier's cry. General Douglas MacArthur knew the importance of handling miscreant soldiers. In postwar Japan, the Japanese military that prosecuted the world war was heavily purged, almost decimated after MacArthur done all his firing of its personnel. Trying those soldiers as war criminals would have been divisive; simply defrocking them as soldiers neutralized them. (Akio Morita, the man who transformed Sony into a global company, was one of those soldiers jobless after the war, fired by the "heavy-handed" MacArthur.)
In the Philippines, soldiers who plot coups are reinstated and are allowed to get even higher positions. Look at Admiral Tirso Danga, the man suspected of wiretapping President Arroyo. Had Corazon Aquino dealt with him properly in 1989, he would not be here in 2005 using his public power as ISAFP chief satiating his voyeuristic inclinations with the phone.
4) President Arroyo can also deal the Luli trump card to remind the civil society, which may grow restive, how infinitetely more desirable her administration is compared to the pretenders to her throne. The soft-spoken, decent Luli Arroyo can do a lot of damage control, cleaning the mess left by her inept brother. More importantly, with Luli on her side, President Arroyo can spin the machismo culture in Filipino society on its head. For this is a crucial and politically useful prejudice in Philippine society: While we all too readily believe the evil ways of our men, we at the same vehemently preserve the myth of the virtue of our women.
Had President Arroyo only governed well, scandals like these she could have brushed aside easily. But her popularity was at its all-time low even before these scandals were injected. There was no stock popularity to draw from. Thaksin Shinawatra survived corruption scandals some years ago because the Supreme Court simply was not prepared to pit itself against the immense popularity of the prime minister for fear it may disintegrate in the clash. A calculating populist politician, loved by the masses, can deflect all kinds of criticism with the same ease a Jedi deflects gun blasts with his lightsaber (e.g. Erdogan of Turkey who made a stunning political comeback after being constitutionally banned to ever hold public office again).
Now that she has been shown to be a fraud, nothing more than a conspiring queen who usurped the power of an elected King, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo must look for another base on which to found the legitimacy of her reign: good governance. In the confused world of Third World democratic politics, it is not only election results that bestow legitimacy. Performance too; just ask General Pervez Musharaf of Pakistan.