What’s next after Mrs. Arroyo?

Action for Economic Reforms: Carlito Añonuevo, Manuel Buencamino, Jessica Reyes-Cantos, Jenina Joy Chavez, Sylvia Estrada-Claudio,  J. Prospero De Vera III, Margarita Gomez, Fides Lim, Jose Ernesto Ledesma, Tanja Lumba, Nepomuceno Malaluan, Hazel Jean Malapit, Rene Ofreneo, Rafael Paredes, Rene R. Raya, Temario Rivera, Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III

We condemn the illegal proclamation of a state of national emergency, which has led to the violent dispersal of peaceful assemblies, the arbitrary arrests, and the curtailment of press freedom.  We expect Gloria Arroyo’s unconstitutional responses to even intensify, but by doing so, she is accelerating the destruction of her unwelcome rule.

The people’s defiance expressed in the huge demonstration of February 24 crystallizes the imperative of facing head-on Arroyo’s repressive response.  As each day passes, many people are becoming more receptive to the idea that it is alright to use any means necessary to oust Mrs. Arroyo. More and more people now believe that extra-constitutional means is an acceptable way to remove an incorrigible, unrepentant Arroyo, who has increasingly relied on crypto-dictatorial rule to preserve her power.

The voice of the people is the supreme law.  And the precedents—EDSA I and EDSA II—show that what is extra-constitutional is recognized as legitimate and ultimately legally binding.

Mrs. Arroyo can no longer govern. Her tyrannical actions are acts of desperation, which only fuel the resistance.  Her isolation is irreversible; her fall inevitable.  And so the question is:  What happens after Mrs. Arroyo’s fall?

We expect a transition government, an eclectic grouping of all those who contributed to Arroyo’s ouster to supplant the rule of a few that has failed our majority.  A transition government is a passage from the rotten state of Arroyo’s illegitimate, thinly disguised dictatorial rule to a new state that is legitimate and democratic.

A government needs a direct mandate from the people if it is to call itself democratic. Only a direct vote will confer legitimacy on any government. Consequently, the top priority of a transition government is to prepare for an early election.

The reforms to ensure credible elections are not complicated at all.  The necessary and sufficient conditions are brief:  fire the current Comelec leadership and their subalterns; replace them with men and women of proven integrity; repair the voters’ lists; and modernize the technology for counting votes.

The transition government paves the way for the success of an elected government.  And the task in the transition boils down to providing the public goods—uphold the Bill of Rights; ensure macroeconomic stability; collect taxes efficiently; deliver health and education services;  build bridges, schools and ports; protect the environment; administer justice; maintain peace and order; etc.

The task of delivering the public goods is plain for a revolutionary transition government.  Yet, the provision of these public goods is necessary and more to the point, the key to ensuring the success of the forthcoming elected government.

The fact that Arroyo as well as past administrations failed to deliver the public goods makes a seemingly ordinary task a difficult and challenging one.

The decline in real spending for health, education, and infrastructure has to be reversed.  Efficient tax collection is crucial towards resolving the fiscal crisis.  Big-time smugglers and evaders have to be put behind bars.  Macroeconomic policy must respond to the crisis of employment and address the deleterious effects of an appreciating currency on the real economy. Peace negotiations with all armed political groups have to be earnestly pursued in the spirit of reform and national renewal.  Justice has to be administered to hold accountable those crooks, cheats and liars in the civilian and military leadership.  The prosecution of Arroyo and cabal has to proceed.

Thus, the routine of providing public goods actually becomes a gargantuan undertaking.  And the transition government has to muster all its energy and resources for this challenge.  It cannot afford to waste its effort on more ambitious but riskier projects such as system overhaul or Charter change in a short delicate period.

We believe that a lot more can and should be done to improve the whole system. But overhauling the system will take time, and time is not something for an incongruous transition government to enjoy. The overhaul of the whole system can best be done by a government that has a direct mandate from the voters.

We are nevertheless confident that the success of the transition government in carrying out a limited but essential agenda as described above will serve as catalyst for the future success of new democratic institutions for sustained growth, job creation, reduction of poverty and inequality, and rising living standards.

And let us not repeat the mistake we made in 2001. We should never again replace something we dislike with something that we will come to abhor. We can even stretch or step out of the Constitution’s limits to oust an unwanted leader, but we cannot exceed the bounds of democracy and expect to get to the kind of society we want.

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