Short-term politics

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 12:00am

The politician who ousted Joseph Estrada two years ago after just 30 months in office may have inadvertently shortened the six-year shelf life of a Philippine president.

His replacement, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, had entered her 23rd month in office when widespread disaffection threatened to plunge her presidency into chaos and instability, just like Estrada's. She only arrested the fall by renouncing her ambition to run next year for another six years.

Those who had helped install her initially supported her plan to stay in office for nine years. They thought it would be a chance for a democratic leader to institute long-term, long-lasting structural reforms.

But Mrs Arroyo's presidency began to smell as bad as Estrada's after just 23 months. Consequently, the differences between both administrations began to blur in the public mind.

If Estrada's mistresses embroiled him in money scandals, Mrs Arroyo's husband did the same for her, whether or not the charges against him were true. Some aides got Estrada into trouble; the same applies to Mrs Arroyo.

Both presidents came under fire for large sums of money received by private foundations bearing their names. Yet Mrs Arroyo is the very opposite of Estrada when it comes to hard work, discipline, persistence and management style.

Despite this, the end result was the same. There was also the increasing temptation to use the constitution to force her to step down, just like in Estrada's case.

For this, congressmen blame the presidential form of government, with its strict term limits. The cure, they claim, is a parliamentary system where the head of state can be removed any time he or she loses public confidence.

The fault, perhaps, lies not in the form of government but in the kind of politics practised in the country.

The behaviour that Mrs Arroyo's husband and Estrada's mistresses are accused of are not confined to the highest office but remain rampant among elected lawmakers, governors and mayors.

In the Philippines, most politicians go into politics not for public service but to reap undue benefits for themselves and their families.

To this day, congressmen have refused to pass laws to make themselves more accountable and their actions more transparent to the public. Their political parties are ideologically bankrupt - parties rarely make a collective stand on important issues. Nor do members vote as a bloc.

The distinction between an administration senator and an opposition senator is increasingly becoming difficult to establish.

Perhaps the key to a longer presidential shelf life is to hold not only the president, but also all politicians, to a higher standard of politics, so that it becomes the norm.