Philippine Commentaries

Read Malaya's daily commentaries on economic and political developments that shape Philippine society. Veteran Filipino journalist Joy C. de los Reyes is the paper's editor-in-chief of Malaya, an independent daily newspaper in the Philippines. To visit Malaya's website, just click the Malaya link below.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Gloria’s PR blitz

July 20, 2005

Say what you will about Gloria, but she’s one stubborn lady. After four years in Malacañang, she ought to know by now that she was absent when the Lord was handing out charisma. But she keeps on trying, ever in search of an image that would make her lovable to the "masa."

The press conference on Wednesday which was meant to launch the image of a "more caring, accessible and emphatetic" Gloria was a disastrous flop. Topics were screened; only sympathetic reporters were allowed to ask questions. The pesky members of the foreign press were shown the door.

One would have reasonably expected her handlers would have made an assessment and try to identify what went wrong. But no, Gloria was back the next day like a boxer desperately seeking to gain points after a mauling the round before.

She agreed to be interviewed during an early evening television news broadcast on Thursday. She droned on for over 10 minutes (an eternity in a medium like television) talking about her "programs" and "achievements." But when asked to talk about her phone pal Virgilio Garcillano, she invoked the Fifth, saying her rights as an accused should be respected.

Yesterday morning, she was again at a radio station devoted to public affairs. She was set to have an interview over another television station last night. More appearances are scheduled in the days ahead.

Some of her critics find her PR blitz disgusting. They compare her to Nero fiddling as Rome burns. Or to Hitler waxing poetic about the glory of the Thousand-Year Reich as Marshal Zhukov’s armies were steamrolling their way to Berlin.

We are, in contrast, absolutely delighted.

Here is a president who is out of touch with reality and making every effort to make the public know about it.

She spins fairy tales about how the country is doing great under her watch. She blames everybody but herself for the gravest political crisis this country has seen since 1986. She even offers herself as the messiah who can deliver the people from the powerlessness and hopelessness inflicted by a corrupt, degenerate and dysfunctional political system by amending the Constitution.

Two months ago, people were already fed up with Gloria because of runaway prices and gouge-the-poor increases in power rates and taxes. But only a few, mostly from the Left, were calling for her resignation. Now it’s three out of four who want her out by whatever means – resignation, impeachment or overthrow.

Her response? This brazen and more organized lying all over the mass media. If there are folks out there who continue to give Gloria the benefit of the doubt, all they have to do is listen to her.
They’ll reach the conclusion soon enough the country is without a future with Gloria.

Google

A double-cross in the making

July 29,2005

WE can debate on how and why the political system has become degenerate and dysfunctional till kingdom come, but it will get us nowhere in solving the current crisis in leadership.

And that precisely is the reason the most dysfunctional and degenerate politician of them all wants it that way. If she succeeds in fooling the people into running after the red herring of amending the Constitution, she’s half-way out the hole she had dug for herself by cheating her way to Malacañang.

Let’s not forget what the crisis is all about. The legitimacy of the Arroyo government is suspect because of the "Hello Garci" tapes. She tried to cover up – and is still trying to cover up – the truth behind the tapes. Most of the people have made up their minds. They want her to resign.
But she isn’t budging.

There appears to be a temporary stalemate. And Gloria considers this a victory. Survival is the game; every morning she wakes up in her bedroom by the Pasig is bonus enough for a terminal case of an administration.

In the meantime, the nation is edging closer to the precipice. The economy is headed nowhere, with all that this means in terms of joblessness and poverty. The government is paralyzed, leading to further deterioration in the delivery of public services. The moral rot is spreading following the examples of the cheats and the thieves at the highest level of government.

The social cancer can only spread every single day that Gloria continues in power.
So what is to be done? (OK, that’s a straightforward crib from Lenin although our friends from the Left would probably hoot in derision at our pretensions.)

We don’t know about building political alliances. Or simultaneously engaging in the dual tactic of pursuing the impeachment of Gloria while stepping up mass protests.

But we do know how to expose lies. And, oh boy, our plate is already overflowing as it is.

But let’s just chew on a tiny morsel. The Cha-cha proposed by Eddie Ramos is supposed to provide a "graceful exit" for Gloria. A year from now, a parliamentary system is supposed to be in place, with Gloria reduced to being a ceremonial president.

On July 8 when the Hyatt 10 and Cory Aquino called for Gloria’s resignation, Eddie was the hero of the hour as the savior. Gloria said in so many words a few days later that she was amenable to the Ramos formula of council of elders-charter change-elections- graceful exit.

The latest word from the Palace is that Gloria gave no such commitment. Fourteen million Filipinos (give or take a round million padded votes) cast their votes for her for a six-year term. She would not turn her back on them.

Fast Eddie, the consummate political operator, appears to have met his match in Gloria.
Is there no longer honor among…?

Google

Hopeless

July 28, 2005

MIGHT as well expect leopards to change their spots.

Gloria Arroyo was oozing with charm, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof, when we heard her over the radio during a press conference in Malacañang, her first since June 6 when the "Hello Garci" scandal broke out.

She was on first-name basis with Palace reporters as she walked them through her "achievements" and the follow up to them in Part 2 of her reform program. She took pains to explain that despite her call for charter change, the specifics – like whether she would agree to a graceful exit through the conversion of the presidency into a ceremonial post – would be up to Congress sitting as a constituent assembly.

Here we had the promised "new" Gloria, more open, more accessible and more empathetic. The Palace spinmasters almost fooled us.

The press conference, it turned out, was choreographed, with pre-screened reporters from "friendly" papers serving her soft and easy pitches. No wonder she was swatting the ball to the bleachers.

Foreign journalists were also barred from the press conference. And while we have no sympathy for parachute journalists, they were only doing their job and elementary courtesy required that they be accommodated. Let’s not even talk about Mai-Mai Jimenez’ communication plan calling for a more "accessible, open and empathetic" Gloria.

But why should we be surprised?

We have grown tired of calling Gloria a liar. She was just being true to form in yesterday’s press conference. The last thing she needed was somebody exclaiming the emperor had no clothes.

The Palace propaganda machine was spewing smoke and flashing mirrors. How else could it hide the truth?

And the truth is that calls are mounting for her resignation for cheating in the 2004 election, but she remains deaf to the people’s voice. She said she welcomes the impeachment process, but her lapdogs at the House have been told to scuttle the proceedings. She said she will be forming a truth commission. But instead of the commission focusing on the truth about the "Hello Garci" tapes, it has now been given the task of investigating alleged opposition attempts to "destabilize" her administration.

Black is white. Hell is above and heaven is below. And Gloria is the most honest and truthful president this country has ever had.

When will this madness stop?

Not upon her resignation because that has not entered her mind. Ever. So she should be given the shove. Hopefully very soon.

Google

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Great debate?

GLORIA Arroyo’s shameless pursuit of self-interest regardless of the people’s will is the most eloquent refutation of the proposal to shift to a parliamentary form of government.

During her State of the Nation Address the other day, Gloria said a parliamentary form of government is the cure to the "degenerate" political system that is holding back the country’s economic takeoff. How a degenerate political system could be improved by changing the outward form while retaining the same degenerate personalities at its core is not explained.

In fact, nothing was said in the SONA about the advantages of the parliamentary over the presidential form.
Since it is left to us to fill the gap, here we go. Under a parliamentary system, the powers of making laws lie with the legislature while the execution of the laws lie with the prime minister and the cabinet who will be chosen by the party that controls the legislature. Legislative and executive powers are, in effect, fused and exercised by the party in power.

Its main advantage is that there can be no gridlock between the executive and legislative which characterizes the set-up where there is separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.

If such then is the main advantage of a parliamentary system, can Gloria and the supporters of charter change give us a single example -- yes, just a single example -- in the last five years where an executive-legislative deadlock paralyzed government? Or going even further, since the restoration of democracy in 1986?

Gloria’s allies, in fact, have been in control of Congress all the time since she ascended to the presidency in 2001. She and her lap dogs in Congress are now blaming the system for their failure to exercise leadership?

Another advantage of the parliamentary form is that the government can be toppled by a vote of no-confidence by parliament. This makes it easier to kick out leaders who clearly can no longer lead.

Gloria is accused of cheating in the elections. People want her out. But she insists in staying in office.

So we now come to the reduction ad absurdum. Gloria wants to shift to a system where it would be easier to kick her out because she has lost the people’s trust and confidence. Why doesn’t she just resign and put an end to the current crisis? And why do her allies in the House not just promptly impeach her to mercifully put an end to her agony?

And that’s where the deceit comes in. Gloria, we suspect, doesn’t even care whatever form of government is in place. Charter change is a tactic meant to divert attention from mounting calls for her to resign or be kicked out.

It’s so patently obvious. No wonder nobody is taking up her challenge to a "great debate" or a "cheap debate" on charter change for that matter.

Google

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Taps for the Republic?

WE’LL eat our words. Gloria Arroyo did not pile lie upon lie during her State of the Nation Address. In fact, she was brutally frank in telling the truth.

She said our economic is on the verge of a take off. It’s the degenerate political system that is holding back the economy from realizing its potentials.

Not truer word could have been said. The political system is truly degenerate. We saw it clearly with our own eyes.

How else could one explain the elected representatives of the people wildly clapping their hands and almost bouncing on their seats like monkeys when she announced her support for the proposed shift to a parliamentary form?

And those local executives also jumping like chimpanzees at the prospects of a shift to a federal system?

If this is the way to reforming the degenerate political system and empowering the people, we might as well scrap the Constitution, do away with the Republic and return to tribalism. At least a tribal form of government is founded on real relations of blood and kinship, not on abstract contracts between the people and their leaders.

Could one imagine a parliamentary system where executive and legislative powers are consolidated in a body up made up of those characters we saw on the tube yesterday? Or a federal system granting more powers to those local executives who agreed to make themselves to be seen in yesterday’s event in exchange for promises of more Palace hand-outs.

In fact, the only section in the gallery which acted with the appropriate formality and dignity was –surprise – the military and the police leadership. No standing on their feet. No fawning applause. They just listened and whatever reactions they had, they kept them to themselves.

And that’s what gave us the shivers. The military and the police leaders gave the impression they were the only ones in the gallery who realized the tinder box situation outside the halls of Batasan.

Tens of thousands were camped outside. The anger was palpable. Only the lines of the policemen, backed by soldiers, prevented them from storming the place.

But what was the mood inside the hall? It was mockingly celebratory.

Nothing was said about Gloria’s cheating in the 2004 elections and about her kin’s and her listeners’ corruption. Degenerate is too mild a word for a political system represented by Gloria and her supporters from the party of thieves. The word is perverted, with all its connotations, including a total loss of moral mooring.

The people are against a power grab from either the Left or the Right. But at the rate Gloria and her supporters are acting as if they have a divine right to cheat the people and plunder the nation, the citizenry might just welcome that option.

Do we hear Taps playing? It’s not only for Gloria but also for the Republic.

And we have this deeply troubling suspicion we already know who will be revealed when Reveille is called at dawn.

Google

Monday, July 25, 2005

A ‘despedida’

IF Gloria Arroyo would announce today she would be resigning and going into exile, many would not believe her until CNN, BBC and Fox News show her plane landing in San Francisco where she would be joining husband Mike and eldest child Mikey. Some would even probably say upon her emergence from arrival terminal it was not she but Nora Aunor.

That’s the fate of a congenital liar. Gloria has no one to blame but herself.

When she announced the mass sacking of her Cabinet to preempt the Hyatt 10, she blamed the country’s history, economy, social structure, politics and culture for the graft and corruption under her administration and her utter incompetence in making government work.

But the system and the structures don’t steal or lie. People like the Pidals do.

Visiting firemen and local pundits say Gloria’s State of the Nation Address today will make or break her presidency. They say she has to make dramatic announcements to restore the trust of the people, 45 percent of whom say she should resign, 18 percent of whom want her impeached and 11 percent of whom want her to take a leave of absence.

That’s 80 percent of the people who wanted Gloria out of their lives. What sort of declaration could Gloria make during the SONA that would male these non-believers rush to the banner of "Gloria pa rin!"?

As we said, she could announce her resignation. But she should make sure a helicopter would be ready at the Batasan grounds to whisk her to the airport where a plane would be gassed up and waiting. That’s the only way to convince the people that this time around she is not lying.

On Rizal Day in 2002, she made a solemn vow not to run for president in 2004 to remove, according to her, the single biggest source of divisiveness in the nation. Gullible we believed her. While the Te Deum was not exactly sung at every church, there was a palpable surge of optimism that finally the nation could move on.

Well, we all know what happened after that. She not only broke her vow. She bought, courtesy of the Treasury, and stole, with the connivance of the Comelec, the military and the police, the May 2004 elections.

Verily, "ang sinungaling ay kapatid ng magnanakaw."

So back to the pundits. They are wrong, dead wrong in saying Gloria’s survival is at stake during today’s SONA. No amount of mea culpa and promises of atonement will save her.

She is already finished. Perhaps not today, tomorrow or next week. But go she inevitably must for this nation’s sake.

It is only Gloria who doesn’t realize yet that she has to go one way or the other. And that’s another characteristic peculiar to inveterate liars. She actually believes the lies she herself spun and woven into whole cloth of deceit.

For the first time in memory, the day when the Constitution directs the President to address Congress during the opening of its regular session has been declared a holiday.

Our children asked why.

We told them it’s a "despedida."

Goodbye, Gloria.

Google

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Every day a holiday?

GLORIA Arroyo has declared July 25 a special non-working holiday. We have no idea how much in goods and services the economy will lose because of the one-day forced furlough. But the workers who are paid on a daily basis clearly are the biggest losers.

And why was the coming Monday declared a holiday? Well, Arroyo is required by the Constitution to address Congress at the opening of its regular session. The charter doesn’t say what the President is supposed to talk about. But a tradition has evolved from that constitutional directive, with the President using the occasion to talk about the state of the nation.

Everybody knows the real state of the nation. More people are getting hungry every day. Jobs are scarce. Prices are ever rising. The thieves in government are getting greedier while services are getting poorer.

What else? Yes, the sitting President is widely believed to have cheated her way to Malacañang. Eight out of 10 people want her out before she wreaks further havoc. But she said she is staying come what may. And the time, it seems, for the coming of the what might is just around the corner.

But, of course, Gloria is not about to admit she is a cheat and an utter failure as chief executive.

So we could only expect a pack of lies from her on Monday. The nation is on track in its march to the promised land of prosperity, peace, and unity. The economy is bustling. The people are secure in their workplaces and in their homes. The public schools are turning out a generation of geniuses. The Filipino people, save for those minuscule malcontents and destabilizers, are united behind Gloria, Ina ng Bayan.

And power rates and gasoline prices are going down.

Given this discordance between delusion and reality, what kind of masochist is this Gloria for keeping the people at home so they could listen on the radio and watch her on television weaving an elaborate architecture of lies? Even Marcos, at his most delusionary, did not declare a holiday when he addressed the rubber stamp parliament.

But that would be missing the whole point of Gloria’s unprecedented decision to declare the day she addresses Congress as a holiday.

It has nothing to do with having captive listeners and viewers to her appearance before Congress. It is all about closing schools, factories and offices where people could gather for rallies and protest marches.

And that, more than the SONA, describes the real state of the nation.
Gloria stole the presidency. The people want her out. She won’t quit. She is not likely to be impeached by her lapdogs in Congress. But she is so scared she had to declare a holiday to prevent a people’s uprising.

But after she survives to live another day after July 25, which is very likely, what? Declare every day until June 30, 2010 a holiday?

Google

Friday, July 22, 2005

AFP bullies have found their match

THE bullies at the high command of the Armed Forces appeared to have met their match in Lt. Gen. Romeo Dominguez, former chief of the Northern Luzon Command.

Dominguez, who resigned from his post four months before his compulsory retirement at age 56 in October, said "politicized" generals should quit to rebuild professionalism in the AFP.

The AFP high command’s response? "That is his opinion. It’s wrong but we respect it."

So who says rank – especially three stars on the epaulets – does not have its privileges?

Contrast this circumspect reaction to how the AFP leadership cracked down on lesser mortals who spoke out their minds on the anomalies in the military.

Col. Ricardo Morales bewailed the construction of a 60-room resort in Boracay, saying the money would have been better spent on essential needs such as medical supplies for soldiers on the frontlines.

Morales’ complaint was posted in the e-group of PMA graduates and not meant for public consumption. But the AFP brass said it was not for him to talk out of school.

Army chief Lt. Gen. Generoso Senga told Morales, "As brigade commander, it is out of bounds for you to criticize decisions made by higher headquarters in just any forum; more so, speak ill of the AFP leadership."

For his "crime," Morales was stripped of the command of the Army’s 404th Brigade and will likely be bypassed when brigadier generals is selected.

Col. Arturo Ortiz is another case. Ortiz is the holder of the AFP’s highest award, the Medal for Valor, for leading an assault in 1990 on a communist rebel camp in Negros which resulted in the killing of 84 insurgents. He and another Medal for Valor awardee, Lt. Col. Custodio Parcon, resigned from the board which screens nominations for awards when other members reportedly "railroaded" its award to Col. Noel Buan and Sgt. Leopoldo Diokno.

Buan and his men apparently lured into an ambush a secessionist leader and his men who had offered to surrender.

Ortiz was shipped off to the navy ("floating status"). Now is threatened with court martial for publicly coming out with his gripe.

Back to Dominguez. When he relinquished his post last week, he declined to comment on any issue that might remotely be considered "political." He said he was only on leave and is still in active service.

We have no idea what made him change his mind, but perhaps he realized that the AFP would just sweep under the rug any criticisms he would make after he putting away his uniform.

The voices of a number of retired generals have turned hoarse decrying graft and favoritism in the AFP. The military’s response has always been that "outsiders," including retired officers, have no right to speak ill about the organization.

Now here’s a certified insider at the highest level talking.

The bullies at the AFP have backed off for the moment. But they’ll be back with a vengeance. Dominguez should watch out for the dagger in the dark.

Google

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Surveys are absolutely wonderful

FOOT-in-the mouth Raul Gonzalez did it again. And we’re not talking about his unsolicited advice to Cory to be a mother to Kris first before meddling in politics.

Yesterday, Raul weighed in on the overwhelming public sentiment that Gloria Arroyo should go (8 out of 10 respondents in a nationwide survey conducted by Pulse Asia). Raul scoffed at the finding, saying a barangay referendum is the more reliable way of determining the people’s stand on the issue.

Raul, of course, is right. So trivially right that a freshmen student of any social science course would find making that sort of statement downright embarrassing.

Surveys are precisely named as such because they involve asking the opinions or attitudes of a manageable sample of the population. If one wants to find the sentiments of each and every member of the population, one conducts a census. A referendum obviously is a special kind of census.

Let’s not go into the technicalities of doing a public opinion survey (how the questions are framed and how the sample is selected are among the critical factors in ensuring the reliability of the exercise). Let us just say surveys have time and again been proven to be fairly accurate snapshots of what people think at the time they were conducted.

We know for a fact that Pulse Asia officials regularly brief Palace officials about the results of its latest surveys a few days before the findings are publicly released. Would it be too much to ask Raul to attend one of these briefings and ask the pollsters how they go about doing their job?
In contrast to Gonzalez downright ignorance, it’s good to see that Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye has regained his senses.

A few weeks back, Bunye asked how the attitudes of 300 respondents in a Social Weather Stations survey conducted in Metro Manila could possibly be considered as reflective of the views of the 80 million plus souls living on these islands. Bunye, in an uncharacteristic attempt to be cute, even wondered why he has never been approached by an SWS interviewer (the answer should be fairly obvious: the chance of his getting interviewed in that particular SWS survey was 300 in 80 million).

Bunye this time said surveys are influenced by the tough economic reality and the allegations against Gloria. It’s an improvement over knocking down surveys. But not by much.

Of course, how people view Gloria is affected by accusations that she cheated in the last elections and that her husband, son and brother-in-law were receiving jueteng payola. Were Gloria honest and effective and her close kin clean, the surveys would now be showing that eight out of 10 respondents were supporting a move to change the Constitution, not to shift to the parliamentary form to give her a graceful exit but to lift the prohibition on her running for reelection in 2010.

The point is this. Gloria is the worst president this country has ever had. It’s absolutely wonderful the surveys confirm what the people only know too very well.

Google

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Reds are coming!

July 20, 2005

THE military and the police are hysterically raising the Red bogey in the run-up to the State of the Nation Address of President Arroyo on Monday. We hope it’s just the worn-out tactic of trying to scare the moderates from joining the anti-SONA protest actions. What we fear is that the AFP and the PNP might be cooking up something and already laying the ground so the communists would be blamed.

Brig. Gen. Jose Angel Honrado, AFP spokesman, was honest enough to say that the intelligence information talks only of a general threat to disrupt the SONA.

"Aside from that, there is no specific information, like targeting specific targets or establishments or facilities… On the specifics (of the plan), there are none," he said.
PNP chief Arturo Lomibao has at least something specific to point to. A purportedly breakaway communist group, Partido Marxista Leninista, has threatened to assassinate all those involved in the "Hello Garci" tapes, including President Arroyo.

Since the communist party has been splitting like an amoeba for years, we don’t discount the possibility there is indeed such as group. As to the group’s capability, its obscurity alone indicates it cannot mount any action more significant than holding press conferences.

So, again, what gives?

The purported "communist infiltration" probably would be used by the police and the military to justify harassment of protesters. Lomibao has warned that "out of line" jeepneys and buses ferrying protesters from the provinces would be barred from entering Metro Manila.

Well, the zealousness in enforcing franchising rules would be commendable had the police also barred those buses from the provinces which hauled the warm bodies to the pro-Gloria rally at the Luneta last Saturday. But that’s the way things work. The AFP and PNP are strictly neutral for Gloria.

"Communist infiltration" could also be used to justify a crackdown on protesters. Policemen, with the support of soldiers, could break up any attempt by protesters to mass. All in the name, of course, of protecting these protesters from the violence the communists are purportedly planning.

There are other possibilities, worse ones. Some hardliners in the Arroyo cabinet, most of them retired military men, are itching to crush the opposition with a mailed fist. It would take only a few teams of provocateurs to turn a peaceful demonstration into riot and mayhem.

And the communists would be conveniently blamed.

Google

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Gimmickry will not save GMA

July 19, 2005

A GENTLER, more caring Gloria? Have we not seen similar repackaging before? Gloria Labandera, Ina ng Bayan, Ate Glo, etc.?

Clearly she’s no Magsaysay. She’s no Macapagal, the only true peasant’s son to have risen to the presidency, either. She’s a Macaraeg as those who had intimately worked for her father say ruefully.

But with the refinements in the techniques of mass marketing a product, the latest "communication plan" crafted by the image polishers in Malacañang might conceivably do the trick. They work for shampoo and toothpaste. So they might just also work for Gloria.

We can already imagine the intellectuals decrying the "commoditization" of politics. Of trust, the fundamental basis of the relationship between the people and their leaders, being reduced to hype and imagery. But that’s the way it is in a mass society. Perceptions and sentiments are conditioned by mass media. Gloria is fighting for her survival. She will use every trick, however dirty, to stay in power.

We have already seen as sampling of that in that fabricated conversation between her and a purported political operator named "Gary" which Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye sought to foist on the people as the original "Hello Garci" tape. The latest is Chavit Singson’s "X tape" with its amateurish splicing of disparate conversations to show an alleged Estrada-Lacson plot to oust "Pandak" and poison her her supposed successor, "Tanda."

So what else is new? We are pragmatic enough to realize that nothing will stop Gloria – not the memory of Jose Rizal, the saintliness of John Paul II or the even the fear of God – from lying and deceiving the people at every turn.

It is useless to appeal to the better side of her nature. She appears to have none.

Thus we are no longer bothered morally by the Palace "complan" which seeks to pile another lie on top of the existing pyramid of lies.

What worries us is the practical consequences of the "complan," and by that we mean the price – in pesos and centavos – we have to pay for the Ricky Reyes job in a pharaonic scale.

Will the spineless Supreme Court, on the direction of Palace operators, now strike down with finality the expanded value added tax law? Will the National Power Corp. junk a proposed increase in its rate middle of this year? Will the hemorrhaging National Food Authority be expanded instead of being abolished? Will we see a repetition of the tsunami of doles similar to that during the 2004 elections? How much will each mayor get, P1 million? The governors? How about the loyal congressmen who are now the only block to her being impeached?

With Romulo Neri, Joe de Venecia’s gofer, having replaced the parsimonious Emy Boncodin, the vaults of the treasury are now wide open for looting.

We can feel the rumbling. And it’s not of the feet marching. It’s of an economy imploding.

Google

Monday, July 18, 2005

Go, liar

July 18

THAT’S’s all?

After all the hype, the pro-Gloria rally on Saturday was able to generate at most 200,000 warm bodies at the Luneta. This was supposed to be a show of force by local government officials in Metro Manila and neighboring provinces, a rally intended to dwarf the out-with-Gloria rally last Wednesday in Makati.

With all the resources available to the organizers, this is all the spectacle they could mount? We recall that when President Estrada was under the gun, the organizers who called a similar rally at the same venue in November 2000 were able to corral at least double the number of people.

Last Saturday, they bused in people from neighboring provinces, especially from President Arroyo’s home province of Pampanga. Metro mayors gave their barangay leaders quotas to fill. Public school students and their teachers were shanghaied to the gathering. Employees were directed to attend on pain of having their allowances withheld.

And all the organizers could come up with were 200,000 people?

We expected many more, say, in the neighborhood of half-a-million, purely on the basis of the "hakot" capability of the mayors and governors who loudly profess their undying support and loyalty for Arroyo.

Even had the organizers filled up the Luneta, the exercise would not have meant anything significant at all. The overwhelming sentiment is for Gloria to go, whether by resignation or impeachment. The sentiment is here to stay, whatever stunt pro-Gloria mayors may try.

It’s laughable of Arroyo’s propagandists to compare her plight now to President Corazon Aquino’s successful fending off of the series of coup attempts during her administration.

First, Cory, whatever her failure as a leader, did not steal the elections. It was Cory, in fact, who was the victim of massive cheating in 1986. Questions were raised over the legitimacy of her presidency, but these came primarily from Marcos loyalists.

Second, there were talks about the thievery of some of Cory’s kin, but not as credible and as widespread as the accusations raised against the Pidals.

And third, misplaced or not, the trust of the people in Cory as president was unwavering until her last day in the Palace.

We see that Gloria’s image polishers have come up with a plan to repackage her public persona. Hellooo. That Gloria is barely hanging on to power by her fingernails has nothing to do with image. It has to do with substance.

She came to power on the back of a lie that Estrada had "resigned." It has been an unremitting succession of lies since. She vowed to eliminate graft and corruption. Thievery in government is worse now than ever before. She promised effective governance. What we got is a breakdown in peace and order and in the delivery of basic services. She promised to uplift the poor. They are worse off now with her imposition of higher taxes and the raising of the prices of electricity and other utilities.

And for her most egregious lie of all, she promised honesty in government, but she proceeded to rob the people of their fundamental right to choose their leader via the ballot.
Let’s play around with the letters in the name "Gloria."

One combination says it all:

"Go, liar."

Google

Saturday, July 16, 2005

‘I’ll not resign. Ever’

July 16, 2005

IT was not exactly the storming of the Bastille, that brief takeover by protesting farmers and fishermen of the agriculture department building. But with the "seizure" of the DA building coming a day after the 216th anniversary of the "liberation": of that Paris fortress-prison, we can’t help draw a parallelism.

The people are rising. How long can the tottering rulers last?

Were polling techniques available in the 18th century, we have no doubt Louis the XIV would have posted a distrust rating better than the 76 percent of someone we know, and Marie Antoinette a distrust rating better than the 81 percent of another we know.

Gloria Arroyo was again spitting venom when she hosted some visiting Fil-Ams the other day in Malacañang. She was again at her "taray" best (worst?) lashing the opposition from pillar to post for seeking to divest her of the presidency which she had stolen fair and square in May 2004.

Today, her favorite mayor, Manila’s Lito Atienza, is sponsoring a "mammoth" rally at the Luneta in support of Arroyo. All city employes are required to attend on pain of having their P2,000 allowance withheld. Lito has many thousands more on call from Baseco. For a crisp Ninoy per, the body haulers would have no problem filling the space before the Quirino grandstand.

We can already see the multitude shouting themselves hoarse with cries of "Gloria! Gloria! Gloria!" Hizzoner would be mightily pleased. Nobody would be whispering the embarrassing fact that the thousands of families at the Baseco compound go 3 to 1 for Joseph Estrada over Gloria.

Going back to the storming of the Bastille, the backdrop was the proposed imposition of more taxes to save the nation from bankruptcy caused by the court’s mindless spending. Rising bread prices, in fact, triggered the Parisians’ uprising.

Louis XIV’s "economic team" intended to soak the filthy rich ascendant bourgeoisie. The taxes, needless to say, were naturally passed on to those below the social pyramid.

(We understand that since then the ways of picking the people’s pockets have grown sophisticated. In fact, Gloria assures us the value added tax will be shouldered by the rich and will have only a marginal impact on the poor.)

From the razing of the Bastille, it took two years before Louis XIV swore obedience to the Constitution. But he went on plotting against the Republic and was executed in 1793 using Dr. Guillotin’s contraption.

Gloria is still at her post slightly over a month since the "Hello Garci" scandal broke out. She said she will not resign. Ever.

Louis XIV must also have said 216 years ago that he would not abdicate. Ever.

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Friday, July 15, 2005

A no-brainer

July 15, 2005

GLORIA Arroyo conspired with Comelec and military officials to cheat in the 2004 elections. Her subalterns, clearly acting on her instructions, frantically tired to cover up the evidence of her wrongdoing.

So what has amending the Constitution got to do with holding her accountable for robbing the people of their fundamental right to elect the nation’s leader?

We can blame the system, we can blame history, we can blame human nature, we can blame the stars if we so wish for the all ills afflicting the nation. But abstractions do not commit crimes; people do. In this case it is Gloria. So again we ask: Why change the Constitution to correct a wrong patently committed by a person?

Under the Ramos-De Venecia proposed charter changes, there would be shift to the parliamentary form a year from now. A new set of leaders would be installed after the holding of the elections for parliament. A prime minister would exercise executive powers. Arroyo would continue to be president, a purely ceremonial position.

Arroyo said she is amenable to the Ramos-De Venecia proposal even if this means virtually cutting her term short by three years. In the meantime, she said she would install a new system where Cabinet members would be given utmost leeway in running their departments.
The Cabinet would be insulated from politics. More, they would be spared from her legendary micro-managing.

Gloria, for her part, would focus on changing the failed political system, principally through the adoption of a new Constitution.

We doubt the Ramos-De Venecia tandem could pull off their planned coup against the 1987 Constitution. But with the help of Arroyo, they just might.

Let’s look ahead. Say a set of proposed amendments would have been adopted six months from now by Congress sitting as a Constituent Assembly. A plebiscite would be scheduled. The people’s sentiment would, however, be running 2 to 1 against the proposed changes because of the opposition’s single rallying cry ("Does Lakas, the party of thieves, seriously believe we would agree to Eddie or Joe running government?")

Here is where Gloria would come in. By that time trust in her would be as good as zero. The government would be paralyzed because of never-ending marches in the streets and the occasional general strike.

Gloria would address the nation and say something along this line:

"My countrymen, the choice is yours. You will have new leaders with the adoption of a new Constitution. The alternative is three more years with me as President. The choice is a no-brainer."

Not surprisingly, the new Constitution would be ratified by a landslide.

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We miss the old Bunye

July 14, 2005

GLORIA Arroyo, in dismissing accusations she cheated in the 2004 elections, cited exit surveys which showed her winning over Fernando Poe Jr. even before the votes were counted or the returns were canvassed by Congress.

So what makes exit surveys reliable as a gauge of the choice of 30 million or so voters? The pollsters asked a few thousands who they voted for. The respondents were fairly representative of the whole universe of voters. So the pollsters were confident their findings could be successfully projected as a reasonable approximation of how the voting went.

So if Gloria believes in exit surveys, how come Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye is now questioning the results of the latest Pulse Asia survey which showed that 3 out of 5 (58 percent) Metro Manila residents want Gloria to resign? If we add the 8 percent who wanted Gloria to go on leave, that’s 66 percent or 3 out of 4 who prefer that somebody else should be at the helm.

Bunye, although a lawyer, surely has more than a passing acquaintance with public opinion surveys. His job as press secretary and presidential spokesman requires that he keep track of the public pulse. How else could he sell his principal unless he could read the people’s sentiments?
Bunye, in fact, was used to quickly releasing survey results when the findings favored his boss.

We miss the pre-Garci tapes Bunye. He was no thief’s sibling in his old incarnation. A spin here and there, perhaps, but at least he drew a line on dishing out outright lies.

How did the old Bunye deal with unfavorable survey results? He would acknowledge Gloria was not doing well. But then he would quickly add that erosion of support was the price Gloria had to pay for her unpopular but necessary decisions. He would then express optimism that when the reforms bore fruit, Gloria’s ratings would bounce back.

He was consistently wrong, of course. Every time he would say Gloria’s ratings had bottomed out, the next survey would show a further drop. But we respected his honesty if not the zeal with which he served his principal. And frankly we had expected him to be right at least once in a blue moon. The law of averages was on his side; he could not be wrong all the time.

What we did not take into account was Bunye’s principal’s seemingly boundless capacity for inflicting pain on the masses, destroying institutions, breaking the law, twisting morals and playing loose with facts to enrich her kin and to keep herself in power. What we did not take into account was the contagiousness of the exercise of power bereft of moral mooring.

That’s the tragedy of Bunye and the likes in the Cabinet who started out as fairly decent human beings.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Who will believe her?

July 13, 2005

GLORIA Arroyo was back on radio again yesterday, making a pitch for her purported "graceful exit" a year from now when a parliamentary system is in place. This was the second time she spoke about her plans for fundamental changes in the political system.

She wants to upend the 1987 Constitution which is as big an undertaking as any that a sitting president could launch. So why couldn’t she literally show her face before the nation?
Or in Filipino, "bakit walang mukhang iharap sa tao?"

We understand her address before the standing committee of the Political Parties Conference which was meeting at the Manila Hotel was broadcast remote from Malacañang. But given the advances in communications, an audio-video appearance would have been a cinch to arrange.
We suppose the Palace believes it’s the message that counts, more than how it is delivered, contrary to the McLuhan’s doctrine that the medium is the message.

We could not blame Lupita Kashiwahara, Gloria’s image polisher. Her principal comes up at best as a cold fish on television. When Gloria is piqued, that characteristic smirk shows through even when she tries to voice words of reasonableness. And when she’s lying, oh boy, do her eyes betray her!

But let’s not belabor Gloria’s personality traits. Let’s instead focus on the effects of the perception she talks from both sides of the mouth on governance.

Practically nobody now believes her. And it’s not as if this image came only with her "admission and apology" over the "Hello Garci" tapes. Trust and credibility are not lost overnight. Support is eroded over time. And that’s our experience with Gloria.

Remember that Rizal Day speech in 2002? She made a solemn vow not to run in 2004. "Ini-good time ang bayan," as Rene Saguisag put it.

That has been the pattern ever since. We have been bombarded with public avowals of effective governance and the highest standards of public accountability. What have been getting is departments and offices being run by the politically well-connected but hopelessly inept, and kin and friends lining their pockets thick.

This is the prophet of fundamental social reforms who would lead us to the promised land of national unity and economic prosperity?

Excuse us. Those who are marching in the streets have it right. Gloria is only stringing us along in the hope calls for her resignation would blow over.

Charter change? Parliamentary system? Federalism? There might be merits in such changes. But with Gloria leading the campaign to trash the 1987 Constitution, she is only giving the parliamentary form of government, federalism, strengthened party system, etc., a bad name.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

‘Hello, hello, si Eddie ito’

July 12, 2005

HELLO, hello, Balong? Si Eddie ito."

The last time we heard of the ever-loyal Maj. Alexander Arevalo, he had chucked off his military career to continue to be on the side of Eddie Ramos, whom he had served as executive assistant when the latter was in the Palace. We had no idea that Balong had joined customs as a deputy commissioner. So it came as a surprise when he was named by Gloria Arroyo as acting customs commissioner yesterday.

Our mistake. Sen. Panfilo Lacson has accused Ramos of virtually pulling off a coup and is now running the government. He has said Ramos would be tipping off his hand when replacements to the resigned Cabinet men and key officials would be named. We believed Lacson, but we had no idea Ramos would be that brazen.

What’s next? For Ramos to name his boys as replacements for Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla and Napocor president Cyril del Callar? There’s a looming power shortage. More independent power producers?

But these are just the opening moves of Crafty Eddie’s insider’s coup. The more insidious is the coup against the 1987 Charter itself through what he and his cabal claim to be a constitutionally sanctioned process of reforming the political system.

We refer to Ramos’ plan to set up a "high commission" which would exercise executive and legislative powers in the interim. Under the watchful eyes of the unelected "high commission," Congress, sitting as a constituent assembly, would adopt the parliamentary form of government. After the ratification of the proposed amendments, elections would be held. A year from now, a new set of leaders would take office

Guess who would be the prime minister under the new set-up? No unlighted cigar for the correct answer. And who would get the symbolic post of president? Of course, Gloria, who has already been shunted aside by Ramos and is only serving as figurehead.

It was not so long ago when someone invoked the Constitution to continue in power amid an admittedly grave political crisis. In the process, not only was the Constitution mangled but the very foundation of constitutional government – the rule of law – destroyed.

We refer to Ferdinand Marcos’ proclamation of martial law in 1972. Declaration of martial law, lest it be forgotten, was arguably constitutional. We all know what happened after that.

We are again going down that slippery slope. Ramos is plotting to subvert the 1987 Constitution to regain power. Gloria is willing to go along so she can stay in Malacañang a few months longer.

As Susan Roces said, "Ang sinungaling ay kapatid ng magnanakaw." Our only question is who is which.

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Monday, July 11, 2005

‘Ang tuso ay kuya ng sinungaling’

June 11, 2005

FIDEL Ramos sought to amend the Constitution when he was in power. People, in their collective wisdom, saw through his ploy and his scheme turned out to be a spectacular failure.

Now he’s at it again. He has the beleaguered Gloria Arroyo eating off his hand. He is bent on trashing the 1987 Constitution so he would end up as prime minister under a parliamentary system. Gloria is going along, at least for the moment, to buy her a breathing spell from the near-universal call for her resignation.

To put a spin on Susan Roces’s unforgettable gibe, truly "ang tuso ay kuya ng sinungaling."
We are hardly besotted with the Cory Constitution. Those "nationalist" provisions in the charter have to go to give the country a fighting chance to modernize the economy. We are for amending it, but not when changes are being rushed clearly in an attempt to stay in power in the case of Gloria and to grab it in the case of Ramos.

Both Gloria and Fidel are invoking the mantra of "constitutional processes."

Well, there’s one simple and clean constitutional solution to this crisis arising from Gloria’s cheating in the elections. And that’s for her to resign and let the constitutionally mandated succession take place.

She can no longer govern. Impeaching her would be drawn out and messy. In the meantime, sundry adventurers would be rushing to fill the power vacuum.

As for Ramos’ proposal that a new set of leaders be installed next year under a new Constitution, it’s putting the cart before the horse. Let’s have a new leadership now. With the return to normalcy, we can start talking about changing the Constitution. Or not changing it for that matter, precisely to prevent Lakas, that party of thieves and cheats, from perpetuating itself in power under an easily manipulated parliamentary system.

We’re probably guilty of dignifying Gloria’s hypocrisy and Fidel’s duplicity by taking seriously their professed adherence to "constitutional" processes. One is a certified liar. The other is an underground operator.

But their constitutional pretensions must be exposed for the liars that they are to make sense of what the two are clearly bent on pulling off: a Palace coup against the 1987 charter itself.
Gloria, to repeat, can no longer govern, but wants to stay regardless. Ramos, to repeat, wants to regain power. They cannot get their way under the 1987 Constitution, with its enshrinement of People Power.

And that’s what Gloria and Fidel have failed to take into account in their calculations. The people have had enough. Gloria and Fidel may think they have weathered the worst. They have not.
The storm is only now gathering

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The basic tasks

July 9, 2005

It’s all over. President Arroyo should resign now.

She has long lost the support of the masses. Yesterday, the acknowledged voices of the middle class and business - the two sectors conceded to be her natural constituency - abandoned her.
Tomorrow, Church leaders are also expected to join calls for her resignation. The AFP leadership is keeping itself out of the political fray, at least for the moment.

Arroyo clearly can no longer govern. Staying in Malacañang would only prolong the agony.

It appears, however, that reality has yet to sink in among Arroyo and her dwindling supporters. Her spokesmen continues to talk about constitutional processes. By this her spokesmen mean the impeachment process. They say allegations of electoral fraud have not been proven; she remains the legitimate president and she deserves her day in court.

And that’s what the nation should be on guard against. In desperation, Arroyo could yet go down fighting. We would not be surprised if her fair-haired boys in the AFP are at the moment concocting plots to keep her in power. We would like to believe the officers corps are, at the core, loyal to the Constitution and will let the current political drama unfold to its conclusion . But even only a few adventurers could cause mischief. This could complicate the transition to a new administration.

For this is the challenge now facing the nation: how to rebuild trust in the government. The people are prepared to support Vice President Noli de Castro, the constitutional successor. But there is a palpable sentiment that the prevailing socio-political system no longer works.

Edsa 1 and Edsa 2 are seen by many as just the restoration of the rule of the traditional elite. The emerging Ayala 1 could yet end up as more of the same, which would only usher in a revolving door of administrations divorced from the people and insensitive to their needs.

There are talks about adopting a new charter and changing the form of government. Of changing the political culture of influence and patronage. Of crafting an economic policy that would not sacrifice people’s welfare to the mindless and ruthless operations of the market.

But fundamental reforms are long-term challenges that could be put aside at the moment. The immediate task is to put in place a government enjoying the support and trust of the people. The incoming administration’s job is, oddly enough, easy, if such is the appropriate word.

First is to put an end to the cancer of corruption that has metastasized all over the body politic under Gloria.

Second is to make the government work by tapping the country’s best and the brightest.

If the incoming administration succeeds in performing these basic tasks, we’re half-way through to building the society we dream about.

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No ‘kapit-tuko’ he

July 8, 2005

LT. Gen. Romeo Dominguez has resigned as chief of the Northern Luzon area command but says his action was unrelated to the turmoil on the political front. He said he just wanted to use up his accumulated leave.

Dominguez has a reputation in the military as a straight shooter. So we will take his word for it. In fact, his early exit (four months before his mandatory retirement on reaching 56 in October) further bolsters our belief that Rodriguez is among the few decent senior officials in the AFP.

For who among senior officials facing imminent retirement goes out of his way to make room for the advancement of junior officers? Perhaps, Camp Aguinaldo could provide us one or just two examples?

The norm is for an officer – or an enlisted man, for that matter – to stay until the very last day. And for a good reason. Accumulated leaves are convertible to cash and those who are about to leave the service want to maximize the retirement benefits they can get. Makes sense, given the scarcity of second career opportunities for retired military personnel.

It may be only coincidental that Dominguez’ resignation as Nolcom chief takes effect on July 15, the same day his operations officer, Col. Gregorio Catapang, is also bowing out. Catapang has been tagged as a "destabilizer" for allegedly telling his men they should prepare for the assumption of the presidency by Vice President Noli de Castro, to whom the officer had been assigned as aide de camp.

Dominguez’ early exit, however, stands out in the light of Sen. Rodolfo Biazon’s revelation that some senior officers and many middle-rankers are contemplating mass resignation to protest the use of the military to help doctor the results of the 2004 elections as indicated in the "Hello Garci" tapes.

Worse, the alleged wrongdoers are even rewarded.

In the "Hello Garci" tapes, Garcillano told "Ma’am" that Maj. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, at the time AFP deputy for operations, and Southern Command chief Lt. Gen. (ret.) Roy Kyamko had taken care of Brig. Gen. Francisco Gudani, the commander of the 1st Marine Brigade then based in Lanao who was yanked out days before the election for being seen as sympathetic to the "other side."

Esperon has denied involvement in partisan politics during the 2004 elections. Esperon even boasts that the elections were aboveboard, and expects people to believe him because he was chief of the AFP’s Operation HOPE (Honest, Orderly and Peaceful Elections). It’s not unlike Dracula giving assurance of the integrity of the inventory in the blood bank.

President Arroyo has named Esperon as the incoming commanding general of the Philippine Army.

No wonder there is collective retching in military camps.

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The economy’s underbelly

July 7, 2005

WE doubt that Migrante’s call on overseas workers to stop sending their remittances through banks as their contribution to the unseat-Gloria movement will work or be sustained.

Sending money through underground channels is risky. The workers can only delay sending money to their families by only so much as the latter have daily bills to meet. More, dollars that come in by whichever route ultimately end up with the banks.

But as a symbolic gesture, Migrante’s campaign could not be topped for exposing the underbelly of the economy.

Bangko Sentral placed remittance last year from 900,000 overseas workers at $8.5 billion, representing 10 percent of the GNP. This year, deployment is picking up and earnings are projected to hit $10 billion. If the flow of this high-impact money is disrupted in any manner, more so by a distinctly political action, it might just tip the economy over the edge.

Migrante claims that at the height of the impeachment trial of President Joseph Estrada, there was a 19 percent drop in remittances. It said this was crucial in convincing the business community to abandon Estrada.

We have no way of validating Migrante’s claim, but it is true that the economy is much more vulnerable now than it was during Estrada’s time.

We have the gaping budget deficit. This is supposed to be addressed by the additional revenues to be generated by the universalized value added tax. Last Friday, the Supreme Court, however, ordered a freeze on the implementation of the new VAT law.

The foreign debt problem is not about to go away. In fact, the ability of the government to borrow is again under pressure because of the jueteng and "Hello Garci" tapes scandals. Foreign lenders are already worrying about this administration’s ability to survive. They may be willing to re-finance the country’s maturing debts, but certainly at a stiffer price.

Foreign investments? Let’s forget it. Foreigners are dumping local stocks — the Phisex index has lost 12 percent the last four weeks -- and they are not coming back soon given the turbulence on the political front.

The peso-dollar rate is the weather vane that reflects all these uncertainties. The local currency has again dropped below the psychological support level of 56 to the dollar.

The central bank is heroically defending the peso. It is, of course, the BSP’s mandate to maintain an orderly market on foreign currencies, but it can’t continue defending the peso at the price of depleting the international reserves.

So back to the remittance boycott. The economy is at the knife edge. It cannot afford even a week’s slowdown of overseas workers’ money.

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Bunye’s June 6 ‘bombshell’ recalled

July 6, 2005

WAS it really only a month ago?

On June 6, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye brandished two CD tapes which he said showed an opposition plot to make it appear that President Arroyo cheated her way to victory in the May 2004 elections.

One of the tapes (Tape A), Bunye said, recorded conversations between Arroyo and "a political leader." The opposition, he said, doctored the original tape to make it appear she was talking to somebody else and discussing schemes to pad her votes. Let’s call this "doctored" version Tape B.

Bunye turned over the two CDs to the NBI. A staffer of Rep. Iggy Arroyo later presented himself to the NBI to say the voice caught on Tape A with Arroyo’s appeared to be his.

Days later, Bunye somersaulted, saying he was no longer sure the voice on Tapes A and B was that of Arroyo’s. More, he said he could no longer affirm that Tape A was the original and that Tape B was the doctored version. His reason? Because the CDs were anonymously delivered at his house and not sourced from any credible person or agency as he had made it appear during his press conference at Malacañang.

Now it appears that, in fact, it is Tape B which is authentic. Tape A between Arroyo and the "political leader" clearly was the concoction.

As we said, that was exactly a month ago. Much water has passed under the bridge since. So why are we dredging up Bunye’s Tapes A and B?

Simple. To establish that from the very start the Palace was lying and was desperately seeking to cover-up Arroyo’s conversations with Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano. The Palace is still at it. Arroyo’s "admission and apology," for all the hype that accompanied it, was a lawyer’s brief that admits nothing and seeks forgiveness for everything.

The truth is still out there, waiting to be established although we have had enough glimpses of it to draw our personal conclusions. No thanks to the Arroyo’s continued stonewalling and obfuscation.

The election cheaters have not come forward to admit their crime. So what is there to forgive and forget? Does cheating in the presidential election now fall under the benign rubric of "lapse of judgment?"

The people, thanks to their innate collective wisdom, have seen through Arroyo’s lying and are of the belief, correctly if we may add, that Arroyo indeed cheated.

The question now is whether Arroyo would be allowed to stay.

Calls are mounting for her resignation. She is not budging. So where do the people go from here?

The Ateneo Law School dean said the people are correct in calling for her resignation. But in the end, he says, it’s Gloria’s call and if she says she is staying, then that’s it, the people have to
support her. That’s the constitutional way.

The Jesuits must be slipping in their instructions on logic or on political dynamics. It is not that Gloria should be given a deadline for her to categorically stay she is resigning or not. She can say she is not resigning every day of the week, and the response can only be stepped-up calls for her resignation.

The people can paralyze the nation and lay siege to Malacañang in furtherance of their call for resignation. They can force Arroyo out of Malacañang.

And it is perfectly constitutional. Who says so? Why no less than the Davide Supreme Court in upholding the legitimacy of the Arroyo administration despite the fact that Estrada did not resign and was not impeached.

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Gloria’s ‘loyalists’

July 5, 2005

THE Palace yesterday trotted out the notorious Nestorio Gualberto and leaders of his so-called Guardians International before the camera as they expressed their undying loyalty to President Arroyo.

Well, Gualberto earns his keep, and more besides, via a highly remunerative post at the Bureau of Customs. He would do cartwheels, eat fire and jump through hoops with deadly spikes at high noon in Plaza Miranda to stay in the good graces of the Palace.

Gualberto is a retired PNP officer. In the last major position he held, chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, he presided over the bungling of the Nida Blanca murder case. But wonder of wonders, he ended up after his retirement as chief of the Customs enforcement services.

The Arroyo administration has promised to make "dramatic" announcements related to governance in the coming days to recover from the battering from jueteng payola and "Hello Garci" tapes scandal.

Sacking Gualberto would have been a good start. Instead he was feted in Malacañang.
Gualberto concededly is not that big a fish. But as Customs chief of enforcement, he is in a position to open all the country’s ports to smugglers. It is probably for this reason that he, a proven incompetent, got appointed to this position in the first place.

And Gualberto’s Guardians International? Gringo Honasan must be having a good laugh. He remains the undisputed "Supremo" of the military-civilian group Guardians. Gualberto is a nobody.

But we have to give it to Gualberto. He succeeded in leveraging his "leadership" in a paper organization into a cushy job.

He reminds us of another "military rebel" who parlayed his credentials as a RAM "leader" into a similarly lucrative job in Customs. We’re talking about Col. (ret.) Billy Bibit who the other day was making noises about the military just biding its time to give the shove to Gloria.

This Bibit loaded a company of soldiers into a PAL flight at the height of the 1986 People Power Revolt. The plane taxied into the business end of a couple of cannons at the Manila airport. He and his band were promptly hauled off to the stockade by soldiers loyal to Marcos.

Post-1986, he became Customs collector at Subic, then Clark and then Cebu. Importers have nightmarish stories to tell everywhere he was posted. He was finally kicked out in May after Customs started strictly implementing the rule that presidential appointees may serve only for one year unless they have secured eligibility as career service officers in the interim.

But Bibit apparently has not been fully sated. He is again playing his "rebel" card either to re-ingratiate himself to Malacañang or to establish his credentials as a leader of the oust-Gloria drive in anticipation of some future payback.

Bibit should form a RAM International. He might yet get invited to Malacañang and be back in
business in no time.

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A ‘what-if’ exercise

July 4, 2005

THE Supreme Court is packed with Gloria Arroyo appointees and very likely it would in the end uphold the constitutionality of the Expanded Value Added Tax law. It has issued a temporary restraining order and set a hearing on July 26 on the opposition petition to have the EVAT law junked.

When push comes to shove and Gloria starts collecting markers, however, majority of the justices are expected to toe the Palace line.

But let’s play the what if game.

When Congress was rushing the EVAT bill, there were loud warnings about the constitutional flaw in the provision giving Arroyo standby authority to raise the VAT rates from 10 percent to 12 percent a year after its implementation.

The pertinent charter provision reads: "The Congress may, by law, authorize the President to fix within specified limits, and subject to such limitations and restrictions as it may impose, tariff rates, import and export quotas, tonnage and wharfage dues, and other duties and imposts within the framework of the national development program of the Government."

By no stretch of the imagination could value added tax rates be equated with "other duties and imposts" at the tail end of the enumeration.

We know the background of that standby authority. The senators feared a backlash in the 2007 elections if they agreed to raise rates from 10 percent to 12 percent. They lobbed the ball to the executive department’s court. And the Palace, in its characteristic hubris, was full of confidence it could take the fall on the increased VAT and ride out the following storm.

Remember that this was months before the jueteng and "Hello Garci" tapes scandals.

Now, what if the Supreme Court pulls a surprise and declares the EVAT law unconstitutional?
With an empty treasury, the Arroyo administration is well and truly history.

She can’t go back to Congress and ask for a new VAT bill that corrects the constitutional infirmity. Calls are mounting for either her resignation or her ouster. She is close to exhausting her political capital in fending off the jueteng payola and "Hello Garci" tapes scandals. In fact, the betting now is whether she can survive these attacks on the integrity and legitimacy of her administration.

Gloria needs a new battle over taxes like a hole in the head.

Without the expected additional revenues, a fiscal crisis is just around the corner. The scenario Gloria had drawn up to scare the legislators into passing the VAT law - drying up of investments and loans – will turn into reality.

She will be buried by a tsunami of economic and political crises. She can, of course, always resign.

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What’s an honest politician?

July 2, 2005

TRULY pathetic. The Palace is now scraping the bottom of the barrel by boasting of letters of support from mayors, a princess (?) from Mindanao and the so-called Guardians International.

The mayors are not inconsequential, and Gloria Arroyo ought to repay their loyalty with something tangible. Say a check of P1 million for each town for livelihood projects, the mayors’ livelihood, that is. That princess ought to have her royal title confirmed, except that the Constitutions prohibits the grant of titles of nobility. The Guardians International could be repaid with the promotion of this paper organization’s organizer, former PNP Director Nestorio Gualberto, from Customs chief of enforcement to deputy commissioner (his incompetence as PNP chief of criminal investigation – remember the Nida Blanca case? – did not bar his appointment to Customs, so there’s no reason he should not be promoted to a more lucrative position).

What’s an honest congressman? One who stays bought.

By this measure, the group Code-NGO should be in good company with members of Gloria’s original party Kampi (Kabalikat ng Magnanakaw na Pilipino; oops, that should be Kabalikat ng Mamamayang Pilipino) whose faces were fixtures in Malacañang during Erap’s time.

Code-NGO pocketed P1.4 billion from the P10 billion zero coupon Peace bonds. Now its leaders are loudly calling for the setting up of a Truth Commission. Is there no longer honor among thieves? But what could one expect? Even Bill Luz, the executive director of Namfrel (described by "Garci" to that woman on the tapes as "kakampi na natin) has joined the "Truth Commission now" call.

The suspicion, of course, is that Code-NGO and the Bill Luzes of the Makati Business Club are just stalking horses of Gloria. But not all members of the Civil Society that supported Gloria are opportunists. The proposed Truth Commission might yet turn into an Agrava.

But that’s neither here nor there.

We are talking of mounting calls for Arroyo’s resignation, and the apparent jumping ship by those who used to rabidly support her.

We know where the militants and the supporters of Fernando Poe Jr. stand. For them Gloria is an election cheat and she lacks legitimacy for stealing the presidency twice over.
It’s the middle forces’ abandonment of Gloria that surprises us.

President Corazon Aquino’ stand that political change should be within constitutional processes has been twisted by Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye to mean she is supporting Gloria. Susan Roces’ words could not be truer. "And sinungaling ay kapatid ng magnanakaw."

Cory’s words should be taken at their face value. She is against extra-constitutional means in the clear context of the calls to remove Gloria from power.

Well, impeachment is one of the ways. But she can always cut and cut clean as US Sen. Richard Lugar said in a similar context.

So resignation is constitutional.

And marching in the streets and staging strikes and other protest actions to call for her resignation is perfectly constitutional too. It’s enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

So the protesters are right. Pressure should be stepped up so Gloria would be forced to resign.

All in strict adherence to the Constitution.

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Constitutional way

July 1, 2005

IBAON sa limot?

Gloria Arroyo has sought the people’s forgive- ness for her "lapse in judgment" in talking to a "Comelec official" during the counting of the May 2004 votes. The people took this as a signal that finally the search for the truth about the wiretapped "Hello Garci" conversations would start.

So why is it that her allies in Congress appear determined to block the public playing of the tapes of whichever version?

The stonewalling continues. And we would not be surprised if Gloria one of these days comes before the nation anew to clarity that her "admission" and "apology" on Monday night do not refer to the wiretapped conversations at all.

"Ginu-good time ang bayan" as former senator Rene Saguisag.

Remember that Gloria did not mention Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano even once during this nationwide address? That Monday night "admission" and ":apology" was a lawyer’s document which admits nothing. Worse, it lays the ground for denying everything.

The lying and the obfuscation continue. Gloria should be told to shove her statement up to where it belongs. And that, to Gloria’s eventual grief, is what is the hardening public sentiment in the face of the determined efforts to block the playing of the tape by her toadies in the House.

President Corazon Aquino yesterday called up Susan Roces to congratulate her for the "sincerity of her convictions." Aquino, however, stressed she is standing by the Constitution. At first blush this appeared to be a left-handed compliment to Susan and a lightly disguised expression of support for Gloria.

Nothing could be more wrong. Aquino clearly is not satisfied with Gloria’s "admission" and "apology." She wants the truth. She wants genuine contrition.

Gloria should take no comfort from Aquino’s expression of adherence to the Constitution. For what the people now are demanding – Gloria’s resignation – is perfectly constitutional. People taking to the streets in calling for her ouster is also perfectly constitutional. They can even stay in their homes to paralyze all the nation’s business and that too is perfectly constitutional.

So there’s nothing unconstitutional in Roces’ call for Gloria to step down or her call on the people to press for her resignation. And Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez , should wipe out that smirk on his face and apologize for his boorish comment that no inciting to sedition charge is being contemplated against Roces because she is too beautiful to be placed behind bars.

Cory is calling for prayers. Let there be no mistake. She is not talking about joining contemplative nuns. If we’re Gloria, we would have good reason to be running scared.

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Too late

June 30, 2005

GLORIA Arroyo is throwing all excess baggage, including Mike Arroyo, overboard to keep her from being swamped by the mounting calls for her ouster or resignation.

But it’s too late in the day. Mike is a sideshow. Her cheating in the May 2004 election and the legitimacy of her administration is now the issue before the nation.

In a way, Mike represents the worst face of the administration. He is perceived as having packed all money-rich government agencies with his friends, with the aim of raiding these agencies’ treasury. He is seen as being behind all big-time corruption under this administration. It’s unfair perhaps to the First Gentleman. But he certainly will not be able to live down his reputation as "Jose Pidal."

That said, the people, however, have put up with Mike for five years and a half. It’s saddening, but the people, it appears, have been willing to condone corruption at the highest level. Even the outrage over the alleged corruption of President Joseph Estrada was limited to the middle class. At the height of his impeachment trial, Estrada continued to enjoy a relatively high popular support, at least compared to Arroyo’s current rating.

What else? Yes, Gloria is supposed to also dumped her "bayad utang" appointees. They are not only thieves; more damaging yet, they are utterly incompetent. But then again, people seemed to have been inured to this administration’s incompetence.

So on the issues of corruption and incompetence, the people clearly are forgiving. Thievery and government’s failure to deliver are, in a sense, a given in Philippine politics. Nothing much can be done about them.

Of course, Gloria’s survival probably would not be high on the public agenda right now had she been reasonably good in running government and had she made modest efforts at curbing corruption. The effects have been cumulative, to the point where her approval rating was a negative 33 in May and still falling.

But we are talking about the flashpoint. And as we said it is the cheating in the elections that is spurring calls for her to step down.

Feeding Mike to the sharks would not save Gloria. In fact, distancing herself from Mike would likely have the opposite effect. Gloria has admitted talking to a "Comelec official." But didn’t Mike also talk to the same official also on the same topic, fixing the results of the elections?

The reasonable conclusion is that Gloria and Mike are, in fact, partners, and not only in marriage. So if one partner is deserving of exile, the other ought also to be banished.

Do we say "goodbye" to Gloria soon?

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OK, let’s move forward

June 29, 2005

OK, it’s time for the nation to move forward. The people should step up calls for the felon in Malacañang to resign. If she doesn’t, they should stop paying their taxes, abandon their workplaces, march in the streets and paralyze government and business.

Gloria Arroyo in her nationwide address the other night apologized for her "lapse in judgment" in calling a Comelec official. Apology is "noted." Many are even prepared to forgive not only the lapse of judgment but even the clear crime of doctoring the 2004 election results.

But forgiveness does not mean absolution of a crime committed. Much less does it mean that one who stole the election should be allowed to enjoy the fruits of her thievery.

In her "apology," Gloria could not even dare say what offenses she has committed against the Filipino people. She talked to a Comelec official. That was improper. And that’s it. It’s time to move on, she said.

It reminds us of her Georgetown University classmate who denied he had sex with "that woman." Gloria had a conversation with "a Comelec official." Why couldn’t she say it was Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano?

Because Garcillano was a cheating artist she had appointed to the Comelec despite the reputation that had preceded him. Because Garcillano had no business poking his dirty fingers in the canvassing in Mindanao (he was supposed so supervise elections in Southern Luzon). Because Garcillano, in the wiretapped conversations, was talking about vote-padding with the clear assent and encouragement of Gloria.

There was a plot long hatched and systemically implemented to steal the elections. "Ibaon na lang sa limot?"

Past is past, we agree. We could not turn back the hands of time. It is no longer possible to count the votes in the 2004 honestly. It is no longer possible to stop Messieurs "Noted" – Rep. Raul Gonzalez, who has been rewarded the justice portfolio, and Francisco Pangilinan – from rejecting calls to compare certificates of canvass with statements of votes. We could no longer delete from the pages of history the June 30, 2004, inaugural of Arroyo in Cebu City.

So Gloria is right. The nation should move forward.

And what lies ahead for the nation? One is continued rule by the liars and the thieves. The other is governance by leaders honestly elected.

The choice should be obvious. Even before the "Hello Garci" tapes surfaced, the people, in their wisdom, had already lost trust in Gloria. Did the collective subconscious already know she is an illegitimate president long before the surfacing of the evidence?

For sure Gloria would not simply roll over and resign because she was caught red-handed stealing the presidency and committing a slew of criminal offenses in the process. Brazen after all is her middle name (remember how she usurped the presidency in 2001?).

But that should be a challenge, not a deterrent, to putting in place a government that truly reflects the will of the people.

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Who will believe her?

June 28, 2005

WOULD Gloria Arroyo own up to being the phone pal of Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano? Word from Palace sources was that it would be "yes" to the question when Gloria was scheduled to on nationwide TV last night.

The admission was to be followed by an apology and an appeal to put the scandal behind in the name of national survival. There would probably be offers for the opposition to join a government of conciliation. But the theme would be that the economy is about to turn the corner and the nation needs Gloria to lead us to the promised land by 2010.

As scripts go, it’s not that bad considering that Gloria has no viable options. She could not claim it was "Ate Glow" calling Garci on how to doctor 2004 election results in Mindanao. She could not also continue stonewalling calls for her to break her silence as this had already been interpreted as an admission of guilt.

But could Gloria stem the rising tide of outrage over what were clearly efforts to frustrate the electorate’s will?

Or more basic yet, would the people believe her?

Remember Dec. 30 2002, Rizal Day, when she solemnly declared that she would not be running for president? She said then she had realized her leadership was tearing the nation apart, that for the sake of the future she was waiving her right to run for a full term.

What were the challenges facing the nation then that made her realize she was the problem and her removing herself from politics was the solution. Frankly, we can only vaguely recall the strident opposition to her volunteering the country to the United States’ war against Saddam Hussein. Then there were the protests over rising rates of electricity and prices of basic commodities.

Now the nation is facing a far more dire peril. The legitimacy of her administration is in doubt. Corruption is worse than during the Estrada administration (Hello, M1? Hello, M2? Hello, JS? Are you all listening?). Her performance rating is at negative 33 points, the worst for any president since modern polling techniques were introduced to these shores.

Now more than ever Gloria is the problem. What new spin to the 2002 Rizal Day speech could she come up with that would let her regain the people’s trust? We already know she is all talk and no action on good governance. Even her much-touted economic reform program has not delivered the promised jobs and higher income. Above all she could not be trusted for lack of a word of honor.

Well, she can always resign, which is not a bad idea at all.

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Too smart for Gloria’s own good

June 27, 2005

WE thank Gloria’s propagandists for reminding us that beyond jueteng payola and cheating in the elections, this administration in bent on inflicting more suffering that strikes where it hurts most – the people’s already empty pocketbook.

They are calling for unity in the face of the rising prices of crude oil and the expected price spiral in most commodities with the implementation of the new value added tax next month. How unity will stop the price increases is not explained. But we can try making sense of this lapse of logic.

Gloria is at her wit’s end trying to fend off accusations that her husband, her son and her brother-in-law have centralized the collection of jueteng protection money. One witness at the ongoing Senate hearing has testified she personally handed jueteng payola to Representatives Mikey Arroyo and Iggy Arroyo.

On another front, Gloria cannot explain how her voice ended up on tapes of wiretapped conversations with Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano where doctoring of election results were discussed. A House inquiry has already taken cognizance of the tapes and it highly probable that under public pressure, the congressmen might allow the playing of the tapes in their full unexpurgated version (all 10 hours of them).

So to shove these scandals off the front pages, Gloria’s propagandists are now raising alarms over crude prices and the effects of the expanded VAT. They may yet succeed, but may just find themselves jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

For they are raising gut issues that could only further fan the outrage they want to dampen.
Let’s take oil prices. If crude prices break through $60 a barrel, that means at least a P3 increase in the retail prices of oil products. Add to that a P3 to P4 increase a liter because of the imposition of the 10 percent VAT, we’re talking of gasoline at P36-P37 a liter. Naturally increases in transport costs will follow.

At same time, power rates will increase by 10 percent (we’re simplifying here as we are not talking of that portion of the VAT on fuel that will be passed on by distributors). For a household that consumes an average of 500 kilowatt-hours a month, that means from P500 to P600 additional spending on electricity. The same 10 percent increase will hit manufacturers and retailers.

We are talking of price increases directly caused by removal of the VAT exemption of oil products and power. If we take into account the price increases in every link in the production and distribution chain, consumers are in for a gouging.

Some members of the opposition are calling for a civil disobedience campaign to force Gloria to resign. Students, drivers and workers may not know Thoreau from Gandhi. But they are quite familiar with marching in the streets, abandoning their routes and walking out of the workplace.

Gloria may yet rue the day when the ridicule of "Hello, Garci?" ends and a general strike begins.

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Scared?

June 25, 2005

LITO Atienza closes Roxas boulevard to accommodate thousands of couples kissing themselves silly before the cameras. Yet he would not allow a few thousand protesters to march from Welcome Rotonda to Liwasang Bonifacio. How much more distorted could hizzoner’s values get?

Well, Atienza is only running true to form. No Manila mayor save perhaps Ramon Bagatsing during martial law has been more shamelessly obsequious to Malacañang. We don’t know why. The city can stand on its own without the support of the national government. This is the reason the likes of Arsenio Lacson and Antonio Villegas, in their own distinct and inimitable ways, were seen in their own time as the second most important political personage in the country after the president.

Perhaps it’s because Atienza and Gloria Arroyo share the same values, for example, their opposition to family planning. Whether this springs from an equally shared contempt for the Bill of Rights is an open question. But at the rate they are trampling on the rights of dissenters, they may yet end up as the Mutt and Jeff of petty tyranny.

Petty tyranny, did we say? All despots started as petty tyrants. This is the reason the likes of Atienza should be exposed and condemned this early.

In our hierarchy of values, freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly occupies a higher place than mass kissing in the streets. So why deny yesterday’s protesters a permit to march from one end of the city to the center?

But perhaps we are being unkind to Atienza. He is not the one being asked to resign. There is no campaign to force him out of office. The target of the protesters is Gloria.

And how is Gloria responding to the protests? Ah, "basta," she is not dignifying the protesters with any comment, except that they are obviously part of efforts to destabilize her administration. The Palace is protected in depth by layers upon layers of policemen all the way to the gates of the Palace. In this week’s anniversary of the Presidential Security Group, Gloria called for stepped up efforts to secure herself, her family and the seat of presidency.

We haven’t seen a president since the days of Marcos who is as scared of protesters as the current one. It’s understandable. Her support among the people is near-zero. The legitimacy of her administration has been placed under a cloud of doubt by the "Hello Garci" tapes. Her very survival is at stake.

So we have the spectacle of the President of the Republic closeting herself inside a heavily fortified Malacañang in the face of a few thousands saying she is a cheat who ought to be driven
out of office.

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Gloria can always resign

June 24, 2005

A SMALL printing press in Quezon City was raided by the NBI a few days ago for filling a job order for posters depicting Gloria Arroyo as Valentina, the komiks villainess with snakes sprouting from her head. What, it may be reasonably asked, was the crime committed by the printer or his client who ordered the posters? Lese majeste?

Setting up Gloria, or any president for that matter, for ridicule is a perfectly legitimate exercise of the freedom of expression. But the violation, the NBI said, is in the posters not bearing the name of its sponsors.

In this land of lawyers, the NBI could probably make the accusation stick. Likewise, its inciting to sedition case against former NBI deputy director Samuel Ong and, most recently, against former defense secretary Fortunato Abat. The irony is the more the NBI and other law enforcement agencies invoke the "rule of law" to justify their actions, the more they also place the rule of law under ridicule.

And this is what is happening now. Even jeepneys have "Hello Garcia" blaring from their horns.
Teenaged geeks upload copies of the wiretapped tapes to websites beyond the reach of the bumbling NBI and PNP. Activists buy blank CDs by the barrel, copy the "Hello Garci" tapes and sell the reproductions at cost.

Warnings from the likes of Justice Secretary Raul "Noted!" Gonzalez, a techno-peasant, that those doing these might end up in jail makes the incongruity more ridiculous. King Canute has more control over the waves than government has over the content of the internet.

Let’s take a look at a decidedly antique technology, that of cassette recording. Shah Reza Pahlavi’s dreaded secret police, Savak, got exhausted running after those reproducing cassette tapes of Ayatollah Khomeini’s harangues against his government. Same thing will happen here in the case of the "Hello Garci" tapes.

We are not saying that Gloria, like the Shah, is about to be overthrown soon.

Gloria’s support among the people is near-zero, thanks to her soak-the-poor economic program. People are retching over allegations that her husband, son and brother-in-law have centralized jueteng payola collection. Her legitimacy as president is under a cloud because of the "doctoring" of election returns as indicated in the alleged wiretapped conversations between Arroyo and Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.

Sustained protests probably would leave her no alternative but to resign. So she is not exactly in a situation like the Shah or, nearer home, Ferdinand Marcos.

She can quit instead of being forcibly ejected from Malacañang.

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The Mad Monk

June 23, 2005

JOEY Salceda, reputedly Gloria Arroyo’s Rasputin, has warned that the heightened political risk brought about by the jueteng payola and the "Hello Garci" tapes scandals are threatening to wipe out the economic gains made in the last 12 months.

He said the weakening peso and the collapse of the stock market are clear danger signals. "This should serve as a wake call for all of us," he said.

He added that crude oil prices are also threatening to breach the $60 a barrel mark. The country needs to unite to ride out the threatening storm.

"Our best shot is a quick resolution of political issues to stave off further deterioration in economic fundamentals. The worst case is a protracted political volatility. We need to focus on gut issues. The political issues must be resolved, but we must have the collective political will to declare, ‘first things first.’ Otherwise, we will only be exchanging blows in a burning house," he said.

Every time Salceda talks about the economy, we usually stand up and listen. He made his pile in the stock market and we are, to be frank about it, absolutely awed by anybody who can make money from a market dominated by manipulators and sundry scam artists (Joey, that’s meant to be a joke, so take no offense).

Anyway, good as Salceda is in reading graphs and tea leaves, he is absolutely out of his depth when he talks about politics.

There is indeed heightened political risk for investors, both foreign and local. Therefore, the primary challenge is to bring down that risk. This basically means removing the cloud of doubt surrounding the legitimacy of Arroyo’s 2004 electoral victory and demonstrating that she is sincere in fighting corruption, starting with members of her family who allegedly collect millions from jueteng operators.

This cannot be done by calling for unity in the abstract. Or by dismissing the accusations of doctoring the results of the elections and centralizing collection of jueteng payola as "mere" efforts to "destabilize" the administration.

In fact, it is precisely the refusal of Arroyo to squarely address the issues that is fueling the instability that is scaring away investors.

There is too much obfuscation, lying and stonewalling. Investors rightly see that this could only lead to further instability.

Salceda said the "destabilization" could set back the country’s economic development by nine months. We have news for him. He is way off the mark. If Gloria fails to recover the trust of the people, economic development will be set back five more years and possibly well after she exits by the operation of the Constitution in 2010.

She can always resign, of course, but we doubt Salceda is the adviser who is brave enough to tell her what the politically and morally right course of action is.

Rasputin, by the way, was responsible for feeding the delusions of Tsar Nicolas and Tsarina Alexandra.

Rasputin was eventually assassinated (poison and bullets) by a group of conservative aristocrats in December 1916, but by then it was too late. The February Revolution would force the Tsar to abdicate. In October, the Bolsheviks would pull off their coup against the Mensheviks. In April of 1918, the Tsar and his family – the last of the Romanovs – were killed in Yekaterinburg in the Urals.

There must be a lesson here somewhere.

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Headed for the exit

June 22, 2005

PRESIDENT Arroyo said in Hong Kong the other day she will talk on the "Hello Garcia" tapes "in due time." That time, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye helpfully added, will come when the heat over the allegedly wiretapped conversations, where doctoring the results of the 2004 presidential election was the subject will have subsided.

That’s an improvement, we suppose, from the old Palace line that Arroyo would not dignify the wiretapped conversations with a comment, a product as they were of an illegal act.

There is a time and a season for everything, the Philosopher says. "I have been over King of Israel over Jerusalem… I have seen everything done in this world and I will tell you it is all useless. It is like chasing the wind," he says.

But we have yet to see any sign of world-weariness in "Ma’am." What we are seeing on the contrary is the opposite. We have a leader in the grip of a grand delusion, of overweening ambitions and an obsessive love, nay, lust, for power. The compilers of the Bible were apparently on to something when they placed Ecclesiastes before the Songs of Solomon.

"In due time," Simoun saw the errors of his ways. On his deathbed, he bared his soul to Padre Florentino and sought forgiveness for the wrongs he had committed on his friends, on his enemies and on the nascent Filipino nation.

So we are not holding our breath.

The Palace game plan is plain to see. It is waiting for the jueteng and "Hello Garci" tapes to blow over as everything must pass in the fullness of time. It believes that if it can survived the worst; the rest is pure technique in smothering the remaining pockets of outrage.

It’s not a bad strategy. Resignation is out of the question. Declaring martial law or state of emergency is chancy at best; it might even trigger the mass uprising which is sought to be avoided.

So stonewalling still appears to be the most viable option.

Will it work? Odd as it may seem, the answer is beyond how good or how effective are the maneuverings of the Palace. The fate of Gloria Arroyo now lies in the hands of the people and we are now talking here of democracy in the abstract case.

Can the resign/oust-Gloria call be sustained? There was a palpable sense of outrage following the revelations of the "Hello Garci" tapes. But people did not pour into the streets. It is premature, however, to say ":people power" is spent or dissipated. Mass actions have their own logic and it’s not the crest and trough of any particular wave or a short series of waves that determine whether the tide of history is in full flood or at the ebb.

Our reading is that Gloria has not seen the full fury of the people’s ire yet. And time is not on her side, contrary to what her strategists believe. Gloria’s survival is in doubt from day to day. It’s a long way to 2010. At any point from here until then, the curtains could unceremoniously drop on her administration.

She’s headed for the exit. It’s only a question of when.

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Secession?

June 21, 2005

THE Cebuanos, along with Mindanaoans and Ilocanos, are threatening to secede if Gloria Arroyo is ousted. But why wait for Gloria’s ouster? Let each resident of that Central Visayas island be issued a paddle. They can then row en masse and haul themselves into the middle of the Pacific.

Isn’t that what they have been saying anyway that Cebu is "an island in the Pacific?"
Fair’s fair. They disown us, their poor relations, living in the rest of the archipelago. We can also live without them.

And while they are at it, they can have Gloria who, as Rene Saguisag put it, stole the 2004 presidential election fair and square. Cebu boasted of giving her the votes that offset Fernando Poe Jr.’s lead in imperial Manila and Luzon. So do we hear any whisper of contrition for foisting "Ma’am" in the "Hello Garci" tapes on the rest of the nation?

More, they can also have favorite son Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. of the Estrada-constructively-resigned doctrine. Some groups are proposing that Davide take over as president. Well, we are sorry to disappoint them. The Chief Justice is no longer included in the line of succession under the 1987 Constitution. Next in line is Vice President Noli de Castro (a Tagalog from Mindoro), Senate President Franklin Drilon (an Ilongo from Iloilo) and Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. (a Pangasinense from Pangasinan).

The Cebuanos should eat their hearts out. There’s no way a Cebuano can become president of this country anytime soon.

Mayor Rudy Duterte of Davao City is also talking about secession. So is Ilocos Sur Gov. Chavit Singson.

It might yet come to pass. The Strong Republic has already become the Tottering Republic. And it’s not because of the Tagalogs, the Warays and the Ilocanos, folks. It is because of Gloria, her family, her lapdogs in Congress, the lowlifes she has named to the higher echelons of the bureaucracy (we wonder how many of them are Cebuanos) and the factionalized military.

First, Gloria grabbed the presidency from Joseph Estrada who was perfectly healthy and capable of dischargingthe duties of his office. Next she stole the election from Poe Jr. With such a provenance, we ought to not have been surprised that her administration is being rocked by the jueteng payola scandal which, after all, is only the tip of the iceberg of institutionalized graft and corruption, and the revelations of cheating in the "Hello Garci" tapes.

To our Cebuano kindred, we are sorry for being seemingly vicious. But let’s not bandy about such words as "secession" lightly. If the central government breaks down due to absolute loss of trust in the Arroyo administration, this nation will descend into chaos from which not even Cebu, however much its leadership pretends it is not part of this country, will be spared.

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