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Surgical politics


  In a brightly lit room,   a future Cabinet member of a future president of the Philippines once likened a body politic to a human body. His analogy was his diagnosis of Philippine politics at the time.  “ You  think our problem is politics?”he prodded a small group of opposition leaders facing an unprecedented ,  improbable opportunity: a snap presidential election in the time of a dictator. 

      “Our problem actually is renal,” the future Cabinet member, a doctor, flatly declared, explaining how the grave illness was not only hurting the well-known patient but the country.  Subsequent findings following the sudden flight of the dictator from power seemed to validate the doctor’s observation. Renal problem was poisoning, one way or another, the political events in the country. 

        In much  later times, the use of a drug for mental illness was often talked about as  part of the medical menu  of a top official , even as  an insane war on drug that was estimated to have victimized, dead or alive,  officially more than 6,000 individuals to as high as 30,OOO people unofficially.

        Who’s behind the insanity? The question is at   the heart of a  pending investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC wants to look into it because the Philippine government is seen as unable and unwilling to do the tough task.   Two top officials, President Bongbong Marcos and former President and now Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal Arroyo lead those who oppose the probe.

          In recent days, the two figured in a new controversy involving surgical politics of some kind. Arroyo was suddenly removed as senior deputy speaker to deputy speaker. This unexpected transition was viewed as a clear demotion and a dimunition of power of  the next-in -line to the speakership held by Congressman Martin Romualdez.  Arroyo theorized that  she was misconstrued of planning a coup to take away the speakership from Romualdez.  She had met some congressmen in South Korea  prior to her demotion. A  rat in the group is suspected to have blown the convenient cover. 


        Whatever the reason was  for her “demotion” , Arroyo   was ,no doubt,  seen as a political threat to Speaker Romualdez.  She could not be treated lightly. Sun Tzu’s advice makes sense:  know  your enemy.  Draw lesson from a cautionary tale: Pantaleon Alvarez versus Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Besides, there will be a presidential race in 2028, and the first cousin will not be qualified to run.  Do the math, and surgical politics was necessary.

           In  medical parlance, surgery is a procedure to repair or remove a part of the body, sometimes a “growth’,  which usually involves cutting the  body. It is a form of treatment. It  entails some bleeding. It also involves pain. 

           PBMM has a more professional view of things, not of the scheme, which appears political as some saw it.   Arroyo’s case was not a demotion , or surgery, if you will, but the result of  a regular process in any organization. It’s a normal  movement in any organization  like the House of Representatives.   Par for the  course,  they say in golf.

           The Peter Principle of lateral arabesque is close to PBBM’s takeaway.  Politicians, like employees, rise to the level of incompetence or undesirability and have to be moved to positions where they  are useful or, better,  can do no harm.  Sometimes, the issue really is super-competence or super-incompetence.  It’s takes no rocket science to  correctly  guess of which one Arroyo is guilty. 

      Whatever the semantics used in  Arroyo’s case, it must have  been  a big blow to her stature and ego. Once upon a time , when she ruled in Malacanang,  she was told of a young,  cavalier  Pampanga businessman commenting unfavorably  on an appointee. “Who is he to question my decision?”, she was heard reacting.  

        Only few a days before , PBBM had called her his “secret weapon” in his  curated trips abroad, especially in his recent image-boosting state visit to the United States. She’s was instrumental in making Sara Duterte run as his vice president, probably ensuring his overwhelming victory in the presidential race.  “What is this  dagger I see before me?”,  Macbeth asked.  The vice president’s subsequent break up from Arroyo’s Lakas was predictable.   There is more honor, it seemed, among thieves than among the so-called honorables.  

         In reality, there’s such a thing as surgical politics, and it works  in a more favorable light. In  Britain or Ireland, for instance,  members of Parliament,  have a series or one-on-one meetings with their constituents to know what their needs or problems are. It’s similar to a doctor having a confidential discussion with his patient about his medical problem and what needs to be done about. The political surgery makes them accountable, responsible and vulnerable.

         In the Philippines, more surgical meetings are held by their lawmakers in their sweet time. This can be gleaned from their record attendance during sessions, not just the roll call.  It also  serves as the  secretary’  handy  excuse whenever a constituent calls or pay visit to the lawmaker’s office.  It’s either the boss has a meeting with his constituents in the province or is  attending a session.  It’s been proven effective and cheaper. 

          As the House adjourned sine die,  it was deemed both fitting and proper by everyone to see to it  that  the political hatchet is buried.  Romualdez and  Arroyo’s new replacement,  Pampanga  Congressman Aurelio Gonzales, Jr. ,  staged a kiss-and-make up  by both kissing Arroyo’s hands in full view of their comrades and of the general public. Someone whose name meant praise, it was written, kissed his Master before he gave Him away for 30 pieces of silver.

          All is fair, not necessarily forgotten or forgiven, in love ,war and politics.  At a glance,   all is well that ends, announced a TV newscaster after seeing the de rigueur.  Will Shylock demand for his pound of flesh?   

          It’s too early to tell. There will be elections in 2025 and 2028.    Political pundits say the spade work for both seasons  has already started. The new senior deputy speaker  may find his new title longer and more arduous, consistent with the  Peter Principle. Looking forward, he may  do a lot more spade work and deeper thinking. A big misstep  made not too long ago may haunt him later.  Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Or two.    Power is the ultimate  aphrodisiac, the now centenarian Henry Kissinger, once said.



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