Sta. Ana is Coordinator of Action for Economic Reforms. Published in two parts, Part I of this piece came out in the July 27, 2009 edition of BusinessWorld, pages S1/4 and S1/5. Part II was published in the July 28, 2009 edition, page  S1/5.

Randy David and his supporters just held a motorcade of motorbikes in Metro Manila, which they dubbed Road Rage, a demonstration against Gloria Arroyo’s Constituent Assembly (Con-ass).

Of course, fighting Con-ass is a good thing. But I have doubts about the marginal gain from the parade of motorbikes, notwithstanding the attraction of Randy’s striking Ducati. And my concern is not just about the motorcade’s effect on carbon emissions (a reason why I support the World Bank’s proposal to increase the excise tax on fuels).

My first question upon learning of Randy’s motorcade was:  Shouldn’t he be campaigning in Pampanga, mingling with kabalens, instead?  Many welcome Randy’s decision to fight GMA (Gloria) if she opts to run in her Pampanga congressional district.  And even though I am not a Kapampangan, I will find ways to help Randy’s campaign.  My sister-in-law, a Metro Manila resident but Kapampangan by blood and married to a Kapampangan, jestingly told Randy that she’d become a flying voter so she can vote for Randy.

Tit-for-tat is the best way to thwart GMA.  GMA has different options to retain power. And for each option, we have a response. She runs for Congress as stepping stone to becoming a prime minister; Randy contests the election, with the backing not only of the Kapampangans but of all Pinoys. She convenes Con-ass; the people march on the streets at the same time that the Senate resists the Lower House. She fields a proxy for President; the people reject her candidate, regardless of the name of the candidate.  She declares martial law or installs a revolutionary government; people power is resurrected, and the constitutionalist wing of Armed Forces defies her order.

Which leads me to a second question:  We are focused on stopping Con-Ass, the demonstration of motorbikes being just one example.  But have we prepared for a bigger danger—the real possibility of GMA doing a golpe?

Actually, a GMA coup, by way of having martial law or a revolutionary government, is the shortest, efficient but bloody way for GMA to retain power. Consider the route of Con-ass.  Securing Con-ass has to go through a long, unpredictable process.  Congress must muster the support of three-fourths of its membership. The Senate must concur.  The Supreme Court must uphold the Con-Ass’s constitutionality.  The Con-ass itself must get the people’s approval through a plebiscite.  Having a proxy for president and running for Congress and aspiring to become a prime minister is a far-out possibility for GMA.  In the first place, assuming that GMA’s proxy president wins through fair and foul means, why would he (unless he’s Mike or Mikey), now the most powerful person in the land, enslave himself to Gloria?

My friend Manuel Buencamino has offered a penetrating, provocative analysis of why declaring martial law is tempting for GMA.  I extensively quote his private email to me, for which he has given me permission to circulate.

“When you look all the way back to 1972, what stands out is the lack of popular resistance to the imposition of martial law when it was actually imposed. There was a lot of noise against it in the run-up but that petered out fast. It’s strange because I don’t think Marcos was popular then. He was in a popularity situation similar to the one GMA is in now.

“Marcos was able to count on a certain segment of the population to back him up. Loyalists in business both local and foreign, in politics, in the security forces, among the clergy, and in the general population.

“The loyalists were cohesive, they all saw that the country was descending into anarchy and/or communism, and they were determined to give Marcos a chance.

“The opposition, on the other hand, was a loose coalition of politicians, concerned citizens, some elements in the security services, and militants who were united by a general agreement opposing Marcos and preserving democracy, whatever meaning democracy held for their particular group.

“The rest of the population, although it was generally believed that they didn’t like Marcos, didn’t dislike him enough to resist his martial law. They went on with their lives until things became unbearable and they found a leader, 14 years later.

“I find that we are in a similar situation today. Although demos, bombings, strikes, and other forms of destabilization are not as rampant, the thing that I think will make martial law or a revolutionary government possible is the cohesiveness of GMA loyalists. They share her vision. That’s an edge she has over Marcos who had a smaller base as far as shared vision was concerned. Note that [Marcos] only started selling his vision after martial law was imposed.

“GMA’s foreign trips serve a purpose, they are meant to make fence sitters of the international community. She may not be likable personality wise but politically she is okay because politicians see a transactional politician in her and that’s a plus. She carries no ideological or moral hang-ups. That’s why the US won’t intervene unless there is a massive uprising, blood starts flowing in the streets, and US regional interests are seriously endangered.

“The elements in the security services, those whom the opposition are counting on to preserve and protect the Constitution as it were, will be neutralized once martial law or a revolutionary government is imposed because they will be perceived as political partisans. That’s what happened to those we were counting on in 1972.

“I believe if she pulls the trigger, she is going to get away with it. So I think the only thing that can prevent this thing from happening is GMA losing her guts. Prepare for the worst.”

Without saying so, Buencamino (that’s how pals call each other—by their surname), is presenting a prisoner’s dilemma that everyone faces.

The prisoner’s dilemma game is illustrated in this manner.  Assume a situation that happens in real life:  The police arrest two suspects—let’s name them Benjamin and Garci—for stealing.  The police have to get solid evidence to convict them.  The police investigators isolate Benjamin and Garci to grill them and pit them against each other. The investigators present the two a choice: If say Garci finks on Benjamin but Benjamin remains silent (the case of a one-sided defection), Garci is freed from prison and Benjamin becomes the sucker, as the information against him leads to a full punishment of ten years in prison. Of course it could also be only Benjamin who talks, so Garci would be the sucker. If they betray each other (both of them are meanies), they get punished for a term of five years, mitigated by their willingness to collaborate with the police. If neither one informs on each other, (that is Benjamin and Garci do not betray each other, they both get a punishment of one year in prison.

In this kind of dilemma, the rational choice for both Benjamin and Garci is to defect—to fink on the other.  It pays for Benjamin to defect whether his mate’s decision is to cooperate or defect.  If Benjamin defects and Garci protects Benjamin, Benjamin is freed from prison, but his mate has to suffer ten years in jail. On the other hand, if Benjamin does not defect, but Garci finks on him, Benjamin loses heavily.  Hence, in the event that Garci betrays him. it is still better for Benjamin to defect, getting a lighter prison term of five years and avoiding the sucker’s payoff of being jailed for 10 years.

The preference ranking in this game is thus, from best to worst: the temptation to defect (one-sided defection), mutual cooperation (remaining silent), being punished for mutual defection, and being a sucker.

The rational choice then is for Benjamin and Garci to defect or betray each other.  But in doing so the defection of both leads to a worse outcome for them.  They would have been better off if they cooperated with each other,

This kind of prisoner’s dilemma applies to GMA’s situation.  Let’s go back to GMA’s options.  The most tempting option for her is to declare martial law.  Swift and short. Nasty and brutish. But this course will likewise be risky for her in a tit-for-tat game. She can end up being guillotined.

By preparing for this eventuality or what Buencamino calls preparing for the worst and by showing that we can retaliate with greater fury, we can perhaps deter GMA from executing her first preference.

The democratic forces, those opposed to GMA, surely don’t want this situation, either.  Democracy will win in the long run, but the fight will be bloody.

So a better option is to explore “cooperation” with the enemy.  Cooperating with the enemy is not odd.  Both the National Democratic Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are engaged in peace negotiations with the government.  Negotiation is a form of cooperation.

At the same time, we give her room for an exit, a shifting of her preference from force to some form of cooperation.  For example, the opposition can send a message to GMA that it is to her interest to have clean elections in 2010 and for her to leave the country soon.  That means continuing the fight against GMA but de-escalating it.  It will however be a mistake for the opposition to give her immunity because that further damages institutions.

But GMA can wish that even if the opposition files cases upon cases against her, she could still live a comfortable life and evade imprisonment. Extradition is difficult, especially if GMA’s foreign host is friendly to her.  Moreover, Philippine history is kind to villains.  Just look at what happened to the cases against Marcos.  And besides, the Filipino people are a forgiving people.

But the problem is this: can cooperation with the enemy do good when we all know that GMA is a meanie—that she is a proven liar?