Like the lotto—the super or the mega—the numbers game in the impeachment process is simply that: a numbers game, a political play with a dubious moral significance.
We are familiar with the numbers now: 79 legislators from the lower house are needed to endorse the complaint in order for the Senate to try it in an impeachment court the way that legislative body did with then President Joseph Estrada.
The original impeachment complaint had 28 signatories, 51 short of the needed number. Some reports have it that around 48 or 49 have signified their intent to endorse the complaint to the Upper House but we have yet to see the names of those who will sign to complete the required number.
Already, we see the two sides to the issue.
We have the pro-impeachment representatives releasing public relations-like statements saying that the numbers will be reached by the time the complaint will take final shape, minus the ridiculous items that were added to the original Lozano complaint.
We also have the Malacanang press releases-like ripostes to the PR campaigns of the opposition and the pro-impeachment lawmakers, the ripostes claiming, among others, that the signatories will not total 79.
With a triumphal tenor and tempo of a victor, Palace factotums speak of the pro-impeachment camp not having the required number.
Majority Leader Prospero Nograles has about the possibility of talked miracles happening—that the numbers game will be in the favor of the pro-impeachment lawmakers, they who have seen the mud and muck in the actuations of President Gloria Arroyo, her actions they call as “betrayal of public trust.”
In one account, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. has reported of backroom maneuvering by Arroyo to keep in check the lawmakers loyal to her or those who have not yet made up their mind in endorsing the impeachment complaint.
Pimentel tells us of “cash packages” and “juicy government positions” offered as carrots to those who will stand by Arroyo and assure her of her rule.
We do not know of the veracity of many of things happening at this time.
We do not know as well how long the Arroyo presidency will last.
In these uncertain and difficult times, we only know of the incapacity of our leaders—the present president included—to make heads or tails of our destiny as a people as if all that matters is the magic in the numbers.
There is no touch of the mystical here—only an uncalled for false pragmatics of political processes that does not mean anything to the ordinary Filipinos. Sila-sila pa rin.
We cannot fathom the capacity of the pretenders to pretend some more: pretend that they have the numbers, pretend that they know how to lead, pretend that the country is not in chaos, pretend that there is no hunger in the land, pretend that our people are not in search of the meaningful in life, pretend that all is well, pretend that life is easier—far easier than the any of the presidencies of the past.
This brings us to the issue of the Arroyo presidency.
It is a presidency that has been flawed at the start.
It began with a mistake—that declaration by then President Arroyo that she would not seek election come 2004.
In 2004, she did the opposite, running against Fernando Poe Jr. and some other dreamers. She was not true to her word—she did not honor her word.
Her first presidency was by virtue of a constitutional succession so that we can say she was not elected as president by the people.
She had People Power II to back her claims to the presidency—and with the terrors and surprises of history, she had that presidency on a silver platter.
She did not earn that—like all inheritors of power and privilege in the country.
She was just there at the right time being the vice president who, when certain that then President Joseph Estrada would not last, resigned from her post as a member of the Estrada Cabinet and thus declared herself available for the installation to the rule.
Even as Arroyo presides in the United Nations Security Council meeting in New York, the ghosts of her rule loom large like phantoms, unshakeable, unforgivably clinging on to her as if they were her alter egos.
Hers is an impossible presidency, to say the least. The Tagalogs have a name for this: Kapit sa patalim.
The knife is not for the weak and those who could be bluffed easily: there is the double blade on the ready to cut daring and boldness to pieces until all one can do is kneel down and pray for miracles in the way Nograles has hoped for miracles in order for the impeachment process to touch first base.
The problem of the Philippine presidency, before Arroyo and after her, if we diagnose it well, is that it has become an office that has bestowed perks and pelf to the privileged.
There has never been any instance in which it represented the aspirations of the suffering masses, those who like Mang Pandoy would be on the ready to offer himself to be shot at by any thrill-seeker.
For the thrill, the killer can shoot Mang Pandoy pointblank on one condition: he pays Mang Pandoy’s heirs P100,000.
Such is the unimaginable despair that the masses have grown accustomed to having each day.
We have enough stories like this Mang Pandoy story hounding the Philippine presidency.
We know that former President Fidel Ramos had promised that Mang Pandoy would be the last of the least privileged and disadvantaged.
The redemption of Mang Pandoy did not happen during the Ramos watch.
And so Mang Pandoy dutifully and predictably multiplied even if Arroyo, in inheriting the presidency from People Power II, had talked about children from the Payatas sending a message to her by sailing their paper boats on the murky river snaking through the palace, the same river where Estrada escaped the wrath of the angry mob.
The dignity of the presidency is to restore self-esteem among the citizens of the country, to give them back their dignity, to make them regain their self-respect.
She promised this to Jason and the other paper boat sailors whom she promised scholarship, a roof on their heads, some money to start some kind of buy-and-sell business for their parents.
But we know: Jason and company, like Mang Pandoy, were just exhibits.
Spin doctors for Arroyo are churning out news materials of her presiding as a “first woman president” and as a “first Asian leader” at the Security Council. She will have that duty for a month or so.
But here we go again. While we acknowledge the importance of her role in the council meeting where issues on terrorism will be tackled, there are issues that remain unattended at home such as the security of the homeland.
It is less of a security based guns and war materials and armaments.
It is less of a security of making us forget the misdeeds of leaders, the misdeeds rocking the foundations of our social institutions.
It is more of a security based on the capacity of the presidency to make things happen—to make the obligation to pursue social justice happen.
The possibilities—or the impossibilities—of the Philippine presidency rest on this basic parameter.
This is a yardstick that makes or breaks any Philippine president.
Arroyo as president has her options open.
Either that history will have mercy on her—or that history will dismiss her.
Published in the Inquirer, Sept. 14, 2005