As of this writing, thousands of anti-Arroyo rallyists have already converged along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City to listen to her ninth (and supposedly final) State of the Nation Address (S0NA) which will commence moments from now.
It was also reported that at least eight senators (all from the opposition) and other militant lawmakers are planning to boycott the said event. This could mark the first time in the history of Philippine politics that numerous lawmakers will skip the president’s SONA.
All this may no longer negatively affect Arroyo’s mindset. Since grabbing the presidency in 2001, she’s certainly become accustomed to collective ad hominems and massive rallies against her. With all types of allegations being hurled against her person and her government through the years, she’s been through hell and back (what with all those countless protest rallies and coup d’états she had experienced). But what could certainly be troubling her mind all this time is a scathing editorial from the influential US daily The Washington Times. And this editorial was released at a most inopportune time: yesterday (Manila time), on the eve of her SONA.
The editorial criticizes US President Barack Obama’s decision to welcome Arroyo to The White House this coming Friday (Thursday, Washington time). It will be his young presidency’s first visit by a Southeast Asian leader. But this doesn’t sit well with the newspaper’s team of opinion generators.
The newspaper did its homework quite well because it cited Arroyo’s current standing in public approval polls (a ghastly 26 percent), the growing discontent of the masses (“Street demonstrations against her are routine and growing in size.”), not to mention her questionable victory during the 2004 polls (which many believe should have been won by local film legend and Filipino idol Fernando Poe, Jr.) and the bribe and extortion scandals. Furthermore…
The Philippines has become less free during Mrs. Arroyo’s 10-year presidency. According to Freedom House, “Corruption is extensive throughout the Philippine state apparatus, from the lowest to the highest levels. Bribes and extortion seem to be a regular element of the complex connections among bureaucrats, politicians, businessmen, the press and the public.” In Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index, the Philippines ranked 141st out of 180 nations on a list in which No. 1 is the least corrupt. The level of Philippine corruption is tied with Iran and Yemen and worse than in dodgy places such as Libya and Nigeria.
The corruption problem is affecting Manila’s relationship with other allies. A senior Philippine official told The Washington Times that German Chancellor Angela Merkel sent Mrs. Arroyo an ultimatum last month that Berlin-Manila ties are at risk if the Philippines doesn’t pay $60 million owed to the German government for Manila’s new international airport. The Philippine government seized the airport and refused to pay a German company — which is partly owned by the German state — for its construction after revelations that the contract allegedly was laden with millions in bribes and kickbacks.
There are also serious human-rights abuses in the archipelago. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, “The Philippines ranks sixth worldwide among countries that fail to prosecute cases of journalists killed for their work.” Between 1992 and 2008, at least 34 journalists were murdered in the Philippines; there were convictions in only three of these cases. Four more members of the press were killed this June alone. Opposition voices regularly disappear as well.
Surprisingly, it is apparent that the editorial shares the sentiments of many Filipinos, and in much precise fashion. For some political pundits and analysts, it remains to be seen if Arroyo’s spin doctors and speechmakers did hasty overnight revisions to her SONA just to counter the editorial. Or perhaps Arroyo will simply ignore it.
Whether or not Arroyo ignores the editorial content of The Washington Times in her SONA, the fact of the matter is that it has already disturbed her enough. She nor her spokesperson doesn’t have to admit this. Any major leader of a nation who has been loyal to the most powerful country in the world must win not only the attention of the American president but the American press as well. For as in most countries, the media still guide the flow of a body politic’s opinion.
Obama is still young. And such political youthfulness carries the innate wisdom to listen to the wise discernment of the Fourth Estate.