Confusing the enemy … and themselves

By Greg B. Macabenta

CONFUSING THE enemy is an established tactic in warfare. Sun Tsu’s Art of War and Nicolo Machiavelli’s The Prince mentioned this as one effective means of making the enemy off-balance and vulnerable.

Going by recent public pronouncements and “slips of the tongue” coming out in the media, one wonders if the Liberal Party’s strategists are applying this tactic of deception in preparation for 2016. If so, they are certainly succeeding in confusing the public. The trouble is, they appear to be confusing their own allies as well.

Take the suggestion to amend the Constitution to allow a second term for Noynoy Aquino. Why did Mar Roxas, acknowledged by the LP as its presidential standard bearer, suddenly pull out this proverbial rabbit from his hat? Is it an admission that Roxas has no chance of winning in 2016? Or is this an intricate gambit?

Subsequent events indicate the latter. In an interview with TV5, Aquino played the classic prick-teasing game. Yes, he thought a constitutional amendment was necessary. But about a term extension, he would have to wait for the opinion of his “bosses,” meaning the Filipino public.

Obvious translation: If the “bosses” tell him that he should serve a second term, he will. Obvious tactic: Mount a massive propaganda campaign to simulate an overwhelming public demand for him to run again.

The problem is, like Aquino’s failed call for people to wear yellow ribbons to demonstrate support for him, the “overwhelming public demand” hasn’t gained any traction.

Is Aquino really waiting to hear from his “bosses” on the suggested second term? Well, he has certainly gotten an earful. A big fat no. Virtually all quarters have made it clear that an extended term is out of the question.

Like a dog with its tail between its legs, Malacañang’s mouthpieces have had to hurriedly “clarify” that it never crossed Aquino’s mind to serve another term.

And Senate attack dog Antonio Trillanes — never famous for prudence — admitted unblushingly that the talk of a term extension was just a “trial balloon.”

Trillanes, a former military man, would have been sent to the stockade if he had let out news about a planned military attack as a “trial balloon.” But then, Trillanes is now a trapo and has developed the politico’s foot-in-mouth disease.

Yet, Aquino has not clearly, unequivocally, emphatically disavowed entertaining the idea of a second term. Not surprisingly, this has caused members of Congress to salivate. After all, if Aquino wants a term extension, he would have to agree to extending the tenure of senators and congressmen, as well. Ano, palalamang?

It was President Cory who insisted on limiting the term of the President to only six years with no reelection, making sure to include that in the 1987 Constitution. Is Aquino defying his mother’s wishes? Is he backtracking on his emotional declaration in his last State of the Nation Address that he was determined to honor the legacy of his parents? Or, as in a chess game, is there a brilliant move afoot?

At any rate, what’s the end game? Surely, at the outset, the LP and Aquino were aware that his approval rating had taken a dive and no propaganda and media manipulation could portray a believable “insistent public demand” for a second term.

What’s more, this gambit has wreaked confusion even among LP allies. Speaker Sonny Belmonte, a loyal party member who has pushed economic amendments to the Constitution, has publicly rejected the idea of including a second presidential term.

Whatever the objectives of Aquino and the LP strategists, the gambit appears to have backfired. It hasn’t helped improve Aquino’s public opinion ratings — probably eroding it, in fact. It has also tended to confirm that Roxas’ presidential dreams are dashed. And it has succeeded in portraying the Liberal Party — along with its principals, Frank Drilon, Butch Abad, Mar Roxas — as being completely out of touch with the public pulse.

Now comes the “no election” gambit. In a recent pronouncement, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda injected the titillating “if” on the subject of holding the elections in 2016. Deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte subsequently pointed out that Lacierda had simply made a “slip of the tongue” and never intended to suggest that holding the 2016 polls was “iffy.”

Valte even blamed Lacierda’s inadequacy in speaking Tagalog for the slip. He speaks better English, she explained, prompting a social media pundit to declare in anguish, “Good grief, a presidential spokesman who can’t speak the national language!!!”

Having suffered so many of Lacierda’s foot-in-mouth gaffes, someone else quipped that Lacierda had made a “slip of the tanga.” But then, one can never tell what the strategists in Malacañang and the Liberal Party have in mind. Perhaps it was Lacierda’s way of floating a trial balloon. Or, maybe, it’s another confuse-the-enemy tactic in the LP’s playbook.

What these strategists may be overlooking is that neither the term extension nor the no-election tactic can be pulled off painlessly.

It will require mustering the wily brains of a Ferdinand Marcos and a Juan Ponce Enrile, simulating a violent crisis (like the fake ambush on Enrile’s vehicle), exploding a bomb at a political rally (like the August 21, 1971, bombing at Plaza Miranda) and creating such an atmosphere of anarchy that the only option is to declare martial law and, subsequently, to grant Aquino a second term without any election.

But going by their recent missteps, Roxas, Abad or Drilon doesn’t appear to have the brilliant brains of a Marcos. Abad may have had the financial creativity to conceive the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), but does he have Ponce Enrile’s gall to simulate an ambush?

And what about Drilon? As an avid listener to unguarded conversations in Manila’s coffee shops, I have gathered this much: In a crunch, Drilon will have no hesitancy abandoning Aquino and his allies and transferring his loyalty to whoever appears to be a sure winner in the next presidential elections.

Pundits describe Drilon as the quintessential survivor, having served under or survived the administrations of Cory Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and now Noynoy Aquino, and having flitted from Lakas-Laban to Erap’s Laban ng Makabayang Masang Pilipino to Arroyo’s campaign in the Garcified presidential elections.

As for Mar Roxas, maybe he is planning to play a bargaining chip by which the Filipino people will be given a choice, as in: Okay, you are against the idea of no elections and you don’t want a second term for PNoy, yet you want to continue his reforms, right? Therefore, your only logical option is to elect me President, get it?

Yeah, get it? But what makes Roxas think Aquino would be reelected if he ran again? And if Roxas were to run instead, what makes him think he will win?

Guess who’s confused.


  1. Interesting article, despite the obvious distaste you have for the President of the Philippines. I was castigated the other day for not understanding how complex (and sneaky) the Philippine thought process is. So you may actually have a good reading on what is going on, with trial balloons and smoke screens and dancing in the moonlight. Lacierda does struggle at times, doesn’t he? I agree. I rather think that President Aquino reads his mother differently than we do. He reads her heart, and desire for a good Philippines. He does not read her acts or statements, like opposing second terms. If he felt a second term would allow him to better pursue his mother’s “ideology”, he’d do it for her. For her heart, not her specific words. Mr. Aquino is a big picture thinker now and then. The rest of us think small most of the time.

    • GM’s analysis are just impressions and mere speculations. I dont buy his political prophecies. If Mar Roxas plays his end-games correctly, and P-noy endorses him, there is a fat chance to turn the table and win over Binay’s posturing even if he is prematurely backed by one-side of the Aquino clan.

    • Perhaps P-noy is too serious about the threat of judicial reach by our judicial institution which is over stepping the bounds of Constitutional discretionary preprogative to interpret even issues beyond what belongs to legislative and executive departments. We are loosing therefore the checks and balances system that our Constituitional system provides.