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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Impeachment route is out

00:00:01 of July 26, 2006: A sleepy janitor at the Batasang Pambansa building is scratching his head as a lawyer by the name of Oliver Lozano insists that somebody, anybody – including the poor janitor, if there’s nobody else around – officially receive a set of documents addressed to the secretary general of the House of Representatives.

The documents constitute an impeachment complaint against President Arroyo, properly endorsed by an obscure congressman allied with the administration. The offense is alleged betrayal of public trust when Gloria called up a Supreme Court justice to greet the latter "Happy Birthday."

On arrival at his office at 9 a.m., Speaker Jose de Venecia promptly transmits the complaint to the committee on justice (Congress is in session exactly two days after it opened on July 24).
Voila! Gloria is properly inoculated against impeachment for the rest of 2006 because of the constitutional provision that says an impeachable official can be subject to impeachment only once a year and because of House rules which say impeachment starts when a properly endorsed complaint is transmitted to the committee on justice.

Same thing happens on July 26 of 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Ridiculous? It is. But given what is currently happening at the House on the impeachment complaint, an annual inoculation of Gloria against impeachment is not far-fetched.

Former Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman revealed yesterday that Gloria had directed Gabby Claudio, presidential political adviser, to look for an endorser of Lozano’s complaint. That endorser was found in the person of Rep. Rodante Marcoleta, who confirmed that his endorsement was a party decision.

It also surfaced at yesterday’s hearing that the same Lozano filed an impeachment complaint against then Vice President Gloria Arroyo in November 2000 at the height of the impeachment trial of President Joseph Estrada. The Lozano complaint – surprise! – was endorsed by Rep. Prospero Pichay, Gloria’s self-proclaimed pitbull in the House.

This Lozano appears to be a regular Edward Jenning, the 18th century English doctor who discovered that when pus from cowpox was applied to an incision on a healthy human being, the latter acquired immunity to smallpox.

As this was being written, pro-impeachment congressmen decided to walk out. A few members of the pro-impeachment bloc earlier said they might try again next year. They should not bother. Lozano and Gloria’s lapdogs will beat them to the draw again.

The impeachment route is out. Gloria will have to be ejected from Malacañang.

Google

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

End of Act 2

GLORIA’S allies in the House were streaming yesterday to Malacañang like ants drawn to sugar, eve of the crucial vote on which impeachment complaint the justice committee will take up. The vote in the justice committee is a foregone conclusion. Gloria’s allies only need a simple majority to secure a ruling that the original Lozano complaint, described as "toilet paper" by pro-impeachment congressmen, is it.

In the meantime, the line had to be held so the amended, "fortified" Lozano complaint would not be able to gather the 79 endorsers needed to directly send the complaint to the Senate for trial.

The situation yesterday was described as "fluid." But with the 11th-hour Malacañang’s full-court press, it would a miracle for the opposition to gather the required signatures. Pro-impeachment congressmen said they would not abandon the fight at the justice committee level even if that meant sticking to the offenses listed in the original Lozano complaint. But deep in their hearts they knew that would be an exercise in futility.

The impeachment campaign would be as good as dead after today’s expected vote favoring the original Lozano vote. The rest of the justice committee proceedings would just be necrological and burial services for the Lozano complaint.

The Lozano complaint would be found sufficient in form as a sop to the opposition. But with the complaint limited to "betrayal of public trust" arising from Gloria’s calling Virgilio Garcillano and her apologizing for her "lapse in judgment," it would be declared insufficient in substance.

The next step is for the justice committee reporting out to the plenary that the Lozano complaint should be junked. Even if the impeachment bloc could muster the 79 votes needed to overturn the justice committee’s findings, the majority could still block a vote by simply not attending sessions.

So why are the pro-impeachment congressmen still not giving up the ghost? They give two answers. First, they can use the committee hearings to present compelling evidence of Gloria’s stealing of the 2004 elections. Second, the whole sordid tale of how Gloria and her allies used every trick in the book to kill the impeachment complaint needs to be exposed.

After that, Gloria and her allies could boast about the triumph of constitutional processes, but everybody else would see plain prostitution of the processes.

The battle would shift back to the streets. Perhaps the moro-moro of an impeachment is a necessary Act 2 in the unfolding drama. It has to be demonstrated for all to see that Gloria is beyond redemption.

Act 3 will further build up the tension. The drama will inexorably unfold. Gloria is a goner and, at the end, exit she will.

Google

Monday, August 29, 2005

No problem finding replacements?

FRANCISCO Licuanan has quit as chairman of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority because politicians were meddling in his job. People were being appointed to key positions without him being consulted. He was being told to put in place policies and programs which he believed would not work.

The meddlers were not named. But we can guess. There is only one politician whose every request is a command. This is the very same politician who said she would give Licuanan a free hand in running SBMA.
But no problem with Licuanan’s resignation, Cabinet secretary Ricardo Saludo said yesterday. A replacement will be found.

After repeatedly saying in this column that the cemetery is full of indispensable people and that the country would not only survive but probably be better off with President Arroyo’s resignation, impeachment or ouster, we are not about to controvert Saludo’s claim.

Sure, a replacement can be found. But it’s not everyday that the Ayala Group is putting to pasture an executive of Licuanan’s quality because of its inflexible out-at-60 rule and, more important, that that retiree agrees to take on a thankless government job.

And it was gratuitous of Saludo to say in relation to Licuanan’s resignation that the Palace did find replacements for the Hyatt 10. Licuanan was going quietly. We have not heard him saying that Arroyo was placing her self-preservation above the national interest in naming a nominee of Sen. Richard Gordon, a juror if and when the impeachment of Arroyo goes to the Senate for trial, as administrator of SBMA.

Also Saludo shot himself in the foot in his passing remark about the Hyatt 10 and their replacements. Was he deaf to the collective groaning when some of the new members of the Cabinet were announced?

Saludo is secretary to the Cabinet. He should enlighten us on the status of the newly named Cabinet members. Our understanding is only the appointments of Secretaries Margarito Teves of finance, Peter Favila of trade and Romulo Neri of budget are permanent. The rest are officers in charge.

No problem finding replacements, Mr. Saludo?

Even before the "Hello Garci" tapes became public, Palace head-hunters were already having problems convincing people with sterling credentials into joining the government. Now that Gloria has utterly lost credibility and is just a score of endorsers away from being impeached by the House and tried by the Senate, nobody with a reputation to stake would join a sinking ship.

No problem finding replacements, Mr. Saludo?

Google

No problem finding replacements?

FRANCISCO Licuanan has quit as chairman of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority because politicians were meddling in his job. People were being appointed to key positions without him being consulted. He was being told to put in place policies and programs which he believed would not work.

The meddlers were not named. But we can guess. There is only one politician whose every request is a command. This is the very same politician who said she would give Licuanan a free hand in running SBMA.
But no problem with Licuanan’s resignation, Cabinet secretary Ricardo Saludo said yesterday. A replacement will be found.

After repeatedly saying in this column that the cemetery is full of indispensable people and that the country would not only survive but probably be better off with President Arroyo’s resignation, impeachment or ouster, we are not about to controvert Saludo’s claim.

Sure, a replacement can be found. But it’s not everyday that the Ayala Group is putting to pasture an executive of Licuanan’s quality because of its inflexible out-at-60 rule and, more important, that that retiree agrees to take on a thankless government job.

And it was gratuitous of Saludo to say in relation to Licuanan’s resignation that the Palace did find replacements for the Hyatt 10. Licuanan was going quietly. We have not heard him saying that Arroyo was placing her self-preservation above the national interest in naming a nominee of Sen. Richard Gordon, a juror if and when the impeachment of Arroyo goes to the Senate for trial, as administrator of SBMA.

Also Saludo shot himself in the foot in his passing remark about the Hyatt 10 and their replacements. Was he deaf to the collective groaning when some of the new members of the Cabinet were announced?

Saludo is secretary to the Cabinet. He should enlighten us on the status of the newly named Cabinet members. Our understanding is only the appointments of Secretaries Margarito Teves of finance, Peter Favila of trade and Romulo Neri of budget are permanent. The rest are officers in charge.

No problem finding replacements, Mr. Saludo?

Even before the "Hello Garci" tapes became public, Palace head-hunters were already having problems convincing people with sterling credentials into joining the government. Now that Gloria has utterly lost credibility and is just a score of endorsers away from being impeached by the House and tried by the Senate, nobody with a reputation to stake would join a sinking ship.

No problem finding replacements, Mr. Saludo?

Google

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Safeguards for local producers

WHILE everybody’s attention is focused on the suspension by the Supreme Court of the expanded value added tax, the freeze on the implementation of another important piece of economic legislation has largely gone unnoticed.

Only Sen. Mar Roxas has been pushing for more aggressive efforts by the administration to have the Supreme Court lift its TRO on the Safeguard Measures Act whose constitutionality has been questioned.

Roxas’ concern is understandable. As a former trade industry, he has direct knowledge of the problems sought to be addressed by Safeguard Measures Act. And if we remember right, he was named respondent in one of the cases arising from the implementation of that law.

The Safeguard Measures Act empowers the government to impose additional tariffs on goods whose imports are surging. The intention is to protect local producers from the flood of cheap products from abroad, especially after the country’s accession to the World Trade Organization.

"…If the implementation of the Safeguard Measures Act is stopped, then the domestic industry and agriculture would be totally naked against importation," Roxas said.

Against wide-open competition from cheap foreign products, local producers would not have a chance. Factories would close. Farms would lie fallow. The result would be hundreds of thousands of people losing their jobs.

President Arroyo shepherded the country’s accession to the WTO when she was senator. We would like to believe she knows the issues on trade liberalization inside out. Accession to the WTO scraped through the Senate on the understanding that safeguards would be put in place so local producers would have time to adjust to foreign competition.

So why is she not cracking the whip on government lawyers on the Safeguard Measures Act case? The likely reason - and the benign one - is she is too preoccupied with her political survival to bother with the issue.
More suspicious minds would explain her indifference to the Jose Pidals of this world having been bought by lobbyists for importers.

And further talking about safety nets for local producers, what happened to the agriculture modernization fund? About P700 million for fertilizers and other agricultural inputs were showered on congressmen and local governments before the 2004 elections. Former Solicitor General Frank Chavez has filed a complaint before the Ombudsman against officials who pulled off the scam. Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. early this week delivered a privileged speech after he found out that his district was supposedly among the listed beneficiaries.

Planting camote in Makati? It just might happen when foreign competition completely ruins local producers.

Google

Safeguards for local producers

WHILE everybody’s attention is focused on the suspension by the Supreme Court of the expanded value added tax, the freeze on the implementation of another important piece of economic legislation has largely gone unnoticed.

Only Sen. Mar Roxas has been pushing for more aggressive efforts by the administration to have the Supreme Court lift its TRO on the Safeguard Measures Act whose constitutionality has been questioned.

Roxas’ concern is understandable. As a former trade industry, he has direct knowledge of the problems sought to be addressed by Safeguard Measures Act. And if we remember right, he was named respondent in one of the cases arising from the implementation of that law.

The Safeguard Measures Act empowers the government to impose additional tariffs on goods whose imports are surging. The intention is to protect local producers from the flood of cheap products from abroad, especially after the country’s accession to the World Trade Organization.

"…If the implementation of the Safeguard Measures Act is stopped, then the domestic industry and agriculture would be totally naked against importation," Roxas said.

Against wide-open competition from cheap foreign products, local producers would not have a chance. Factories would close. Farms would lie fallow. The result would be hundreds of thousands of people losing their jobs.

President Arroyo shepherded the country’s accession to the WTO when she was senator. We would like to believe she knows the issues on trade liberalization inside out. Accession to the WTO scraped through the Senate on the understanding that safeguards would be put in place so local producers would have time to adjust to foreign competition.

So why is she not cracking the whip on government lawyers on the Safeguard Measures Act case? The likely reason - and the benign one - is she is too preoccupied with her political survival to bother with the issue.
More suspicious minds would explain her indifference to the Jose Pidals of this world having been bought by lobbyists for importers.

And further talking about safety nets for local producers, what happened to the agriculture modernization fund? About P700 million for fertilizers and other agricultural inputs were showered on congressmen and local governments before the 2004 elections. Former Solicitor General Frank Chavez has filed a complaint before the Ombudsman against officials who pulled off the scam. Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. early this week delivered a privileged speech after he found out that his district was supposedly among the listed beneficiaries.

Planting camote in Makati? It just might happen when foreign competition completely ruins local producers.

Google

Friday, August 26, 2005

Cheaper oil from Saudi

GLORIA Arroyo wants to drop by Saudi Arabia on her way to New York for the 2005 World Summit and the opening of the UN 60th General Assembly in mid-September.

Some of her critics say she should cancel the visits to Saudi Arabia and the United States in keeping with the government’s austerity program. As a symbolic gesture, staying home makes sense. It might even win Gloria an uptick or two in her performance rating.

While we welcome Gloria’s setting an example by curbing her peripatetic ways, we see nothing objectionable about the President visiting foreign countries to firm up bilateral and multilateral relations.

There are three concerns that the Saudi visit are supposed to address. First is ensuring the country’s oil supply. Second is protection for overseas Filipino workers. Third is pushing the Philippine bid for observer status in the Organization of Islamic Conference.

Any one of these is good enough reason for the President to go. In fact, just meeting the new Saudi king, Abdul Aziz, more than compensates for the expenses involved in the side trip.

What we hate are efforts by the Palace spin masters to gild the lily. They said Arroyo will present an initiative to King Abdullah for "special consideration" on the price of oil supplied by the kingdom to the Philippines and other "poor economies."

What are these officials talking about? The Saudi oil minister, during a recent visit, shot down the idea, saying prices are market-determined. Do the Palace apple polishers want us to believe Arroyo would pop the request for discounted oil in her one-on-one with the King when the Saudis have already said it’s out of the question?

The current global oil problem is at the moment a matter of pricing. The country has to make sure it has enough money to buy crude. That basically involves allowing the local oil companies to raise prices as they see fit so they are able to replace their inventory. The dollars needed to pay for the imports may be a problem. But again there is no choice. If that means allowing the peso to weaken to P60 to the dollar, then so be it.

There is the likelihood, of course, that the world could face an honest-to-goodness crude shortage, precipitated, for example, by instabilities in Saudi Arabia. Petron, the country’s biggest oil company, is 40 percent owned by Saudi Aramco. Disruption of supply from the kingdom could threaten up to 60 percent of the country’s crude requirement.

Given such a scenario, the logical thing to do is start diversifying the country’s sources of crude. Perversely, the announced purpose of Arroyo’s Saudi trip has the opposite effect. It will further tie the country to the fate of the House of Saud.

But we are going off the mark. Gloria wants to make people believe she is indispensable. And she will exploit every opportunity, including the oil crisis, to foist the lie only she can save the country from an economic meltdown.

That’s all there is to this cheaper oil from Saudi Arabia hype – another PR gimmick.

Google

Thursday, August 25, 2005

We’re not holding our breath

IT’S plain to see that Gloria Arroyo wants not only the impeachment complaint killed, but also the overriding issue of her cheating in the 2004 election swept under the rug.

Let’s now forget about the search for truth. Let the people who continue to give Gloria the benefit of the doubt start realizing they are being had. And by these we mean principally the bishops and the businessmen who believe Gloria when she says she welcomes a trial the better to clear her name.

The game plan of the administration is becoming clear. Its allies in the House are bent on limiting the proceedings to the original complaint filed by Oliver Lozano. The complaint alleges breach of public trust when Gloria repeatedly talked with former Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano and later apologizing for her "lapse in judgment."

The Lozano complaint, standing alone without the supplemental complaint prepared by the opposition impeachment team, is not worth the paper it is written on.

Garcillano, the man who could identify Gloria as his caller and tag her as the principal by inducement in the doctoring of election results, has flown the coop. Sgt. Vidal Doble, who could authenticate the tapes as a member of the team of Intelligence Service of the AFP which conducted the wiretapping, is under the "protection" of the military.

And since cover-up and obstruction of justice is not alleged in the complaint of Lozano, the House judiciary committee could not take up the sordid schemes of Malacañang, starting with Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye’s disclosure of the "Hello Garci" tapes and the "Hello Gari" concoction, to pull the wool over the people’s eyes.

The opposition could still conceivably short-cut the House proceeding, through the gathering of 79 endorsers, and send the articles of impeachment to the Senate for trial. But we are not holding our breath.

Money is being dispensed as if it is going out of style to keep Gloria allies in line. The latest was the P2.2 billion in releases from the road users tax fund. More is in the pipeline, contingent on the success of the majority in delivering the carcass of the impeachment complaint to Malacañang.

The majority keeps taunting the minority for not going through the impeachment route early enough. Gloria allies say it is now too late for the opposition to ride on the impeachment train after the "Gloria, quit!" campaign appeared to have sputtered out.

The opposition is being pushed into abandoning the impeachment process and going back to the street. In the end, the opposition probably would have no alternative.

But in the meantime the opposition should fight it out in the House. The impeach bloc might not be able to win the support of 79 members. But it will have performed its task of exposing this administration as not worthy of the people’s trust.

Google

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Short-lived prophet

DURING Mike Velarde’s birthday celebration last Saturday, Gloria Arroyo said the El Shaddai leader was sent by God as a "prophet of reconciliation." We do not have the ability to discern what the Divine plan is for this benighted country, so we took Gloria’s word for it.

So what specific plan does the prophet of reconciliation have to end the current political crisis arising from charges that Arroyo stole the 2004 election?

Well, Velarde said he has come up with a formula where opposition groups would be brought in as partners of the administration. He said his proposal is for the opposition parties to get 60 percent of Cabinet positions.

Velarde said Gloria is "receptive" to the idea of a coalition government. More, she is open to having her term cut short to 2007 when elections would be held.

Velarde said he and Gloria have discussed the transition formula at least three times. He added he has taken up the idea with President Joseph Estrada and other opposition leaders.

That’s as specific a proposal as one could get. So what does the Palace say about Velarde’s initiative?

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye yesterday said there is no need for a coalition government. What Gloria wants, he said, is "principled working relation."

Poor Velarde, if poor is the word to describe this entrepreneur who a few months back was gifted by Gloria and her housing czar, Vice President Noli de Castro, with a P500 million loan for a real estate development project.

Hailed as a prophet last weekend, he is now obliquely being called a liar.

We don’t know who is fooling who. Between Gloria and Bro. Mike (how many Mikes has this lady in her life?), even a Solomon would have a hard time knowing who is telling the truth. But definitely it’s the people who are being led down the garden path.

The pressing agenda before the nation is how to get an illegitimate president out of Malacañang. Gloria says she not resigning. So the option is to impeach her or throw her out through another People Power revolt.

The impeachment process is about to be asphyxiated through technicalities and sheer force of numbers by Gloria’s allies in the House. That leaves no alternative but her ouster.

Last July 10, when her back was pressed to the wall by the resignation of the Hyatt 10, she made it appear she was amenable to a graceful exit proposed by her savior, President Fidel V. Ramos. After riding out the storm, nothing was further heard from her about Ramos’ proposal for a transitional council of leaders and elections next year. She cherry-picked only one of Ramos’ ideas, the proposed shift to a parliamentary system.

If she could stick the knife in Ramos’ back, who else would she deign not to double-cross? One more reason everybody who is genuinely concerned about where the country is headed should no longer believe a word of Gloria’s.

Google

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Hunting for oil, scaring the fish

THOSE groups of purported fishermen seeking to stop exploration for oil at the Tanon strait in Cebu are giving the cause of environmentalism a bad name.

The country needs to locate those oil deposits in commercial quantities fast, assuming they are there below ground. Soaring crude prices are threatening to further slow down an already anemic economy. Payments for crude imports are weakening the peso.

Energy conservation has a diminishing value over time. Greater reliance on indigenous non-oil sources of energy will help. But while we are at it – trying to address the looming oil crisis – why don’t we aim for the brass ring?

We have hydrocarbon deposits in commercial quantity, e. g., the Malampaya natural gas field. Twenty years ago, we had small oil wells that at one time accounted for up to a fourth of total requirement. There must be oil in commercial quantities out there.

If we sound like wild-eyed wildcatters, we are. The offshore landscape from the Gulf of Pohai up north to Brunei down south is dotted with oil wells. Nature must not have been so perverse as to have left out the Philippines when it was dispensing oil deposits.

So it’s a matter of finding those deposits. We know the reason why exploration tapered off after the rush in the late 1970s. Crude prices stabilized after the OPEC shocks, making unattractive the search for oil in relatively unexplored places like the Philippines. With crude at $60 plus a barrel, the potential payoffs have sharply outweighed the risk of finding water after considerable expense.

Now let’s go back to the exploration in Cebu. We understand the work is still at the geophysical stage, meaning finding and delineating structures that may contain oil. The purported fishermen are claiming the geophysical survey is polluting the seas and scaring away the fish.

That allegation about pollution doesn’t wash. The ships involved in the survey are not doing any drilling. They are just setting off low-power explosive charges on the seabed and collecting the waves that those explosions generate. State-of-art techniques do not even use explosives anymore, just compressed air.

The blasts may scare the fish all right. But considering that the fish in the Tanon strait have been dynamited to near-extinction, they might be better off being driven out of the area by the benign blasts involved in the seismic surveys.

Scared fish? A fishy tale if there is one.

Google

Monday, August 22, 2005

How to really conserve power

GLORIA Arroyo last week directed Energy Secretary Raphael Perpetuo Lotilla and Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo to look for cheaper and more stable sources of crude oil. We wish the two gentlemen all the luck in the world.

If there’s a crude supplier out there who’s selling its output at a discount, that must be the mostly deeply held secret in the global industry where every cent in price fluctuation is immediately flashed on the computer monitor of anybody who has any business remotely related to crude oil and its finished products.

Stable supply? Well, Petron is controlled by Saudi Aramco. If the Saudis, who hold the world’s biggest oil reserves, cannot guarantee the raw material supply to an affiliate downstream, then nobody else can.

But we’re probably missing the whole point in Gloria’s marching orders to Lotilla and Romulo. Fuel prices are soaring, with all other commodities and services expected to follow in their wake. Gloria, who is facing impeachment for stealing the 2004 election, wants us to believe she is only one standing between us and economic ruin caused by runaway prices.

We are not knocking down government efforts at energy conservation. Every little incremental saving by households, business and government helps. But the more substantial savings will come from the operation of the market. Gas at P40 liter and power at P12 a kilowatt-hour will force users to scrimp, with or without Gloria’s exhortations to save. Proof is Meralco’s dropping sales following the sharp increases in power rates.

And speaking of Meralco, and all the other distributors for that matter, why is government not taking more forceful steps to accelerate the time-of-use pricing which is provided for in the power industry reform law?

As the name implies, the scheme provides for different prices depending on the time of consumption. As an example of time-of-use pricing, a household may choose to iron clothes at 2 p.m. and pay a punishing P12 a kilowatt-hour. But if it chooses to do the chore at 2 a.m., its cost will dramatically drop to, say, P6 a kilowatt-hour.

The savings to households (and similarly to businesses) are obvious. The savings to the whole economy are also considerable although these are not readily apparent if one assumes that the aggregate consumption will stay the same.

So where do the savings come in? It’s like this. There are so-called base-load plants which produce power at least cost. When demand rises, the so-called intermediate plants – which have a higher cost – kick in. When demand is at its highest, the peaking plants – the most expensive of them al – go into service.

If demand can be spread more evenly throughout the day, the use of the peaking plants - and probably even the intermediate plants - can be minimized. The whole economy ends up the winner.

Then why is time-of-use not being pushed with urgency? Ask Gloria and those who own the intermediate and peaking plants.

Google

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The ‘Goodbye, Garci’ cover-up

OF course, former Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano could not have slipped away the way he did without help from Gloria’s minions in government.

The five House committees investigating the "Hello Garci" tapes had been looking for Garcillano long before he left on July 14. The summons servers could not find him. Obviously he was hiding and all along the Palace was saying finding Garcillano was the problem of the House. It was none of the Palace’s business and the Executive would not go out of its way to look for him.

With the legitimacy of the Arroyo administration riding on the authenticity of the "Hello Garci" tapes, Garcillano was the best person to clear Arroyo. He could have surfaced and flatly claimed he had not spoken 14 times with Gloria during the canvassing of the 2004 votes. Alternatively he could have confirmed his conversations with Arroyo but said they did not talk about doctoring the election results.

But Garcillano did not want to talk. And so he decided to flee even before the House issued a warrant for his arrest on August 4.

Slipping out is not a problem for anybody with enough money to buy his way. The southern backdoor is porous. Even at the height of martial law, those wanted by the government were able to get passage to Sabah and from there proceed to the United States and other more hospitable havens.

But Garcillano departed in style. He boarded a chartered jet in Clark. The jet, which incidentally is frequently used by Malacañang for Gloria’s provincial trips, dropped by the Manila domestic airport to file a flight plan. It was cleared for Singapore by no less than seven government offices, with Garcillano as an unmanifested passenger.

Garcillano traveled VIP all the way. And the cover-up went on until the foreign affairs department told Rep. Gilbert Remulla, chairman of the lead panel in the investigation, on Wednesday that Singapore had confirmed Garcillano’s arrival on July 14 and his departure the next day. Interestingly, the Singapore information was a week old before the DFA found it fit to inform Remulla the House panels’ quarry had flown the coop. The reason? Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo did not immediately give clearance for the information’s transmittal to the House.

But we are belaboring the obvious. The administration hid Garcillano and helped arranged his escape.

The House committees are readying charges of obstruction of justice against Romulo and immigration officials. The Palace has called for an investigation. Kuno.

Much good will these do in the search for truth. Garcillano has made good his escape. The corks must be popping in Malacañang.

Google

Friday, August 19, 2005

Gestapo on the loose

POLICE operatives and military intelligence agents raiding a rented house at two in the morning without a warrant on the complaint of the owner is now a "routine" police assistance operation?

This is what government officials now want us to believe after combined PNP and ISAFP operatives swooped down on the "safe house" of Segundo Tabayoyong, an expert document analyst tapped by the opposition to look into alleged fabricated election returns used in the 2004 elections.

That’s the problem when one starts out with a grand lie - that Gloria Arroyo won fair and square in 2004. One keeps on piling lies to maintain the original lie. But people have been accustomed to bare-faced lying by Palace officials, starting with Gloria Arroyo. So they are unlikely to fall for the latest one.

So let’s leave aside the scrambling by Palace officials for a believable explanation. It is the deed itself – the police and military swooping down Gestapo-like on someone’s abode in the dead of the night – and, more important, the motive behind it that must be condemned.

A crisis of leadership is haunting the nation. Arroyo stands accused of stealing the elections. The impeachment process is now unfolding in the House. Arroyo’s toadies are determined to block the process, but they cannot simply sweep the accusations under the rug. The justice committee, in the determination of the complaint’s sufficiency as to the substance, will certainly call for a presentation of evidence.

The fabricated documents seized from Tabayoyong are among the best evidence to show the canvassing was rigged. Who can now give the assurance the documents remain intact?
The police? The military? The very same people who were mentioned in the wiretapped conversations between Arroyo and former Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano as accomplices in the doctored canvassing?

When Lt. Gen. Generoso Senga early this week took over as AFP chief, he vowed to keep the military apolitical. Even as he was talking, seven generals are being investigated for suspected participation in electoral fraud. Lying is clearly contagious.

Now here comes the military intelligence service being used to seize potential evidence and harass potential witnesses.

And what about the police? PNP chief Arturo Lomibao himself was also mentioned in the "Hello Garci" tapes.

Apolitical? Come on, tell us another.

Google

Thursday, August 18, 2005

A robbery to cover up a theft

REP. Constantino Jaraula, chairman of the House committee on constitutional amendments, and the members of his panel are living refutations of the argument that the country will be better off with a unicameral system of legislature.

Could one imagine where constitutionalism and the rule of law would end up without a Senate to check Jaraula and company’s gross stupidity?

The committee’s latest output is a resolution invoking Section 17 of the Constitution which says amendments to the charter may be proposed by a three-fourths vote of all members of Congress. According to the Jaraula and company this means the members of the House can propose amendments with or without the participation of the members of Senate.

There are 236 members of the House while there are 24 members of the Senate, for a total of 259 members of Congress. So Jaraula and company believe that a vote by 195 House members is sufficient to meet the requirement of a three-fourths vote of all members of Congress.
Senate President Franklin Drilon has dismissed Jaraula and company’s antic as absurd. Congress is made up of two chambers. One can’t act as if the other does not exist. And even if the Senate agrees to hold a joint session for the purpose of amending the charter, voting certainly has to be conducted separately to preserve the legislature’s bicameral character.

There are constitutionalists, including Fr. Joaquin Bernas, a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, who, in fact, hold that joint sessions for the purpose of amending the charter are a throwback to the 1935 Constitution which provides for Congress to convene as a Constituent Assembly.

In their view, any chamber can propose amendments in the form of a resolution after securing the three-fourths vote. If the proposal is adopted by the other chamber also with a three-fourths vote, the proposed amendments may then be submitted for ratification.

Let’s back to the proposal of Jaraula and company. Assuming a resolution containing the proposed charter changes is unanimously passed by the House, where will that resolution go? Directly to the President for her signature (the 1987 charter is silent on this). Or perhaps the House can directly send the resolution to the Comelec so the latter can call for a plebiscite?

All with nary a reference to the Senate?

It’s patently ludicrous. But what could one expect? Cha-cha is part of the smoke-and-mirror campaign to distract the people from the calls on Gloria Arroyo to step down or be impeached or be ousted for stealing the election.

To cover-up a theft, the House, it seems, is also brazen enough to seek to rob the Senate of its powers.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Unity to address soaring oil prices?

GLOBAL crude prices are soaring. We have seen this before and the effects are predictable. Prices of other goods and services will follow oil’s. Consumption will slow down, leading to reduced output. Higher payments for crude imports will lead to a further weakening of the peso. And when the global economy goes into a recession, as it most likely will, exports will also decline.

So Gloria Arroyo is right. Something has to be done to address the oil problem, starting with energy conservation in the immediate term and on to greater use of indigenous energy sources in the medium and long-term.

What we don’t understand are Gloria’s calls for political unity. What has political unity got to do with conserving energy and developing local energy sources?

That in the absence of political unity, the members of the opposition would run their air conditioners 24/7 and send their SUVs running round and round Metro Manila to spite Gloria?

What the Palace clearly wants is for the opposition – and for most of the rest of the people for that matter – to stop calls for Gloria’s resignation or, alternatively, her impeachment. The Palace fears that when power rates, transport fares and the prices of everything down the production chain go through the roof, people’s anger will spill into the streets.

And when that happens, resignation or impeachment will be the least of Gloria’s worries. She will be hard-pressed to arrange for a haven abroad which will allow her and the Jose Pidals in her life to enjoy their uh… never mind.

It doesn’t matter whether politics is characterized by unity or fractiousness. The effects of $60 a barrel oil, as we earlier said, are predictable. The people will just have to grin and bear it.

Gloria says she has prepared a contingency plan to address the soaring oil prices. So why doesn’t she implement it? She is president even if she is seen as illegitimate for stealing the 2004 elections. She has full control of the executive department. She doesn’t need to be armed by a new law to do what must be done, so she does not have to go to Congress.

Gloria, in fact, does not even have to call for energy conservation or more austerity. Higher prices will take care of that. People will just have to scrimp to survive on their static incomes. And survive they will.

But not Gloria. In the last two and a half months, Gloria has staked her continued stay in office on her purported indispensability if the country is to survive the looming economic crisis. Nobody forced her to take that tack; she volunteered to stand or fall by her purported managerial skills.

So if the economy implodes, the last remaining justification which she invokes for her continued stay is thrown out the window. She has already lost the moral right to lead. If she loses her claim to indispensability, then, that’s it, she goes.

Google

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Being taken for a ride

HERE we are, being taken for a ride again. Rep. Joey Salceda, aka Rasputin the Mad Monk, is calling for the deferment of the implementation of the expanded value added tax law if and when the Supreme Court lifts its temporary restraining order. Palace officials, in reaction to Salceda’s proposal, are insisting new taxes are as vital as ever in putting the government’s financial house in order.

They should spare us the good cop-bad cop routine. "Kumita na ’yan," as the neighborhood barber would say.

Salceda is reputedly Gloria Arroyo’s most influential adviser. He’s sharp all right. And he crunches figures, sees patterns and derives conclusions at near-wizard speed, a talent Salceda parlayed into a small fortune in the stock market.

But Salceda’s influence on Gloria is probably gained more by default than incisive analysis. There was not a single – yes, not one – economist in the Cabinet before the latters reorganization. Remember that even the National Economic and Development Authority used to be headed by a salesman – some say a snake oil salesman - in the person of Romulo Neri?

Salceda says imposing the 10 percent VAT on oil now would be disastrous with crude prices way above $60 a barrel. There is the inflationary effect, for one. There is the contractionary effect on consumer spending, for the other. The incremental revenues from the new taxes probably might even be less than the revenue losses from a slowdown in growth.

Sounds compelling? We don’t know about the economic part, but politically, Salceda’s proposal is patently a follow through to the Palace’s underhanded effort to secure a Supreme Court TRO on VAT to prop up Gloria’s falling ratings, one of the reasons for the Hyatt 10’s resignation.

Gloria’s rating is even worse now and her credibility is shot. She’s hanging on by her fingernails and she can’t afford to provoke more unrest with gas threatening to go to P40 a liter with VAT. So here we are being titillated with the Salceda option.

Good propaganda, seeking to project the Gloria as the compassionate Ina ng Bayan. The problem is that Salceda’s proposal is founded on a lie.

Why? Because Gloria has no power to suspend the implementation of VAT. The only wiggle room she has is on the increase in the VAT rate from 10 to 12 percent at the start of 2006. And this delegation of the power to tax is precisely the issue before the high court.

So enough of this "moro-moro." The nation should get on with the urgent business of impeaching Gloria. With a legitimate president at the helm, the nation can confront the rising oil prices with unity and confidence.

Google

Monday, August 15, 2005

The least messy solution

THANK you, Mike D., for reminding the nation that President Arroyo is on the dock for stealing the presidency as evidenced by the "Hello Garci" wiretapped tapes and for covering up the crime.

That people want her to resign or be impeached or be ousted has nothing to do with a degenerate political system or a dysfunctional Constitution and only marginally related to her family’s jueteng take and unbridled corruption.

Defensor’s challenge goes to the heart of the issue: He said the opposition should withdraw the impeachment complaint before the House if it could be proven that the "Hello Garci" tapes were "spliced," meaning the voice of Gloria was inserted in the conversations with former Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.

The opposition was quick to accept the challenge.

And if there is still "palabra de honor" in this world, it would easy enough to agree on how the authenticity of the tapes could be established. Both sides would agree on which version of the tapes should be analyzed and who would be in the best position, taking into account technical capability and impartiality, to undertake the testing.

In fact, such a proposal is nothing new. Defensor himself issued the same challenge last month which was promptly accepted by the opposition. The minority in the House had even prepared an undertaking known as the "Voluntary Truth Test." If the tapes would prove to be authentic, Gloria Arroyo would resign. If otherwise, the opposition legislators would resign.

The Palace, through Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye and PMS chief Rigoberto Tiglao, however, disowned Defensor’s challenge. The Palace said the presidency is not to be trivialized by making it an object of wagering. The Palace, of course, was being disingenuous. The question is whether the tapes are authentic or not. There are two possible outcomes, a situation where it is perfectly valid to place a wager.

There is nothing trivial in letting Gloria’s hold to power ride on whether she cheated or not. Such is, in fact, the least messy solution to the leadership crisis the country is in.

The most probable scenario in the House is that the justice committee will declare the tapes as inadmissible as evidence. It will come out with a finding dismissing the impeachment complaint. In the plenary, the arms of pro-Gloria solons will be twisted or, alternatively, their pockets will be stuffed with cash. The complaint dies with the failure of a minority to come up with the one-third vote to overrule the justice panel’s recommendation.

We’ll be back then to where we started. There will be renewed calls for Gloria’s ouster, this time with the additional indictment of her and her allies covering up the truth behind the tapes.

She will have gained time. But sooner or later she will have to go. Why prolong the agony? And by that we do not mean Gloria’s, which she deserves, but the people’s who ought to go on with their lives under a leadership they respect and trust.

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Saturday, August 13, 2005

The voice must be Mrs. Pidal’s

VIRGILIO Garcillano. Vir-gil-io Garcillano. Seven syllables that roll easily enough on the tongue. So why can’t Gloria Arroyo or Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye or Environment Secretary Mike Defensor say the name?
It’s not as if the name is a spell that would strike them dumb if uttered. Or is it? That if Gloria admits that it was Garcillano she was talking to in the wiretapped conversation, she would undeniably be guilty of instructing Garcillano to doctor the results of the 2004 elections?

It has been four months since the "Hello Garci" controversy but Gloria can only talk about a "Comelec official." Ben Abalos is a Comelec official. The municipal election supervisors of Itbayat, Batanes and of Sitangkai, Tawi-Tawi (to bracket the whole archipelago from north to south) are Comelec officials. So there must be a couple of hundred people out there on whom the tag "Comelec official" applies.

If Gloria is honestly in pursuit of the truth, why doesn’t she help narrow down the list to, say, just one name, Virgilio Garcillano?

This stonewalling – obstruction? – is what makes laughable Defensor’s claim yesterday that the wiretapped conversations were spliced. Defensor could not even persuade his principal to come clean on who was her phone pal; now he wants us to believe his "experts" have determined that Gloria’s voice was synthesized to make it appear she was talking with Garcillano, er, a "Comelec official" pala.

Take the report prepared by his "expert," Jonathan Tiongco. It sounds impressive enough with spectrographs and what not. But what does it say in the concluding paragraph, "Expert opinion/recommendation"?

"The recording are undeniably products of a series of wiretapped materials from most probably a landline or combination of landline and cellular. The authenticity of the alleged "Wiretapped Tapes" as material evidence may only be determined when; (1) the original tapes are examined; (2) matched to the recorder used; (3) the owner or operator of the tape recorder identified and (4) his/her "capacity to wiretap" verified. After submission of the alleged original tapes by Atty. Allan Paguia. which already contained labels indicating the time, date and other content details, it is therefore concluded that the tapes submitted, having been the product of review and overdubbed for labeling, are not the original first generation copies, if indeed there is any (underscoring in the original)."

Paguia has already told the House inquiry that his tape was a compilation of selected conversations from a much longer tape. What was the point of Defensor’s "expert" belaboring what is already on record?

What is more intriguing is that reference to the conditions (numbered 1 to 4) that must be fulfilled for the tapes to be considered material evidence.

Is an evidence material or not? That’s a legal question to which there are enough lawyers in this land who can provide a thousand variations to plain "yes" or "no."

So where does an audio expert come in on the issue of materiality? We have absolutely no idea. But the "expert" has already more than earned his keep. He has dazzled the people with smoke and mirrors. Which is patently what this Defensor shell game is all about.

Google

Friday, August 12, 2005

The ‘non-existent’ Garci tapes

IN Gloria Arroyo’s "I’m sorry" address to the nation, she admitted talking to an "election official." Not one word was said about former Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano or about the wiretapped conversations. Since then, Gloria has been asked repeatedly to elaborate on what she meant, starting with coming out clean on the "election official" by naming her phone pal as Garcillano.

No such luck. Gloria isn’t talking, even saying she regretted her "I’m sorry" statement because she spoke against the advice of her lawyers. She has since expanded on that theme, saying she was reserving the exercise of all her rights as an accused, including the right to remain silent. Talk about stonewalling.

It’s laughable seeing the President, whose job the Constitution says is to "ensure that the laws be faithfully executed," taking refuge behind the right against self-incrimination.

But if she wants to be treated like a common suspected felon, that’s her business. In fact, there is every reason to treat her as a felon. The "Hello Garci" tapes abundantly make it clear she and her accomplice, Garcillano, doctored the results of the elections in a number of provinces in Mindanao.

Now that the impeachment proceedings have started in the House, the lawyers of Arroyo have made it clear their defense would be anchored on the inadmissibility of the "Hello Garci" tapes as evidence.

Former Western Samar Rep. Antonio Nachura, a former law dean who has been tapped as Arroyo’s deputy spokesman on the impeachment issue, said the complaint will stand or fall based on the wiretapped conversations. Take away the "Hello Garci" tapes and the complaint has no leg to stand on, he said.

So what we have is an absurdity in the works. The "Hello Garci" tapes triggered the calls for Gloria’s resignation or, alternatively, her ouster. The Palace answer was that resignation was out of the question. The constitutional process has to be followed, meaning impeachment. Now that the impeachment process is underway, the Palace’s game plan is to bury the "Hello Garci" tapes by saying the conversations for all legal purposes – impeachment, criminal prosecution, administrative proceedings – did not take place.

At the start we had the "Hello Garci" tapes. If the Palace lawyers would have their way, we would end up believing there were no such tapes.

What is truth, Pilate asked.

Lies, the Palace would answer.

Google

Thursday, August 11, 2005

PSG as Palace attack dog

THE Palace yesterday admitted members of the Presidential Security Group were hunting for Army Capt. Marlon Mendoza last weekend. But Palace officials said it had nothing to do with Mendoza’s appearance yesterday before the Senate jueteng probe. The PSG, they said, entered the picture because of Mendoza’s links to Kawal Pilipino, a group of soldiers which early this year called for the ouster of President Arroyo.

They should tell that to the marines.

The PSG had all the time to take Mendoza into custody. He had never been in hiding, not until he decided just recently to appear before the Senate inquiry. It’s pure coincidence that the PSG decided to go after him only five days before his scheduled testimony?

The PSG pulled off the same caper when Udong Mahusay was scheduled to testify before the Senate on the Jose Pidal accounts. Had the PSG succeeded in taking hold of Mendoza last weekend, it’s likely he would by now be accusing the opposition of holding him against his will. Or if he was made of sterner stuff, he would have simply vanished like former Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.

And speaking of Garcillano, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the PSG has not joined the hunt for the missing former election official because that was not part of the Group’s mandate, which is to secure the President and members of her family.

What is Ermita talking about? The President’s conversations were tapped, one of the biggest security breaches imaginable. And it’s not the PSG’s job to determine how that happened?

Let’s go back to the wiretapped conversations. Officials of the Intelligence Service of the AFP have told the House inquiry into the "Garci tapes" they are not in the business of eavesdropping on people. NBI chief Reynaldo Wycoco also told the same inquiry the NBI did not have the capability to tap cellular telephone conversations because equipment it had acquired for that purpose turned out to be a lemon. A senior NBI official, Carlos Saunar, has come forward to refute Wycoco’s claim, saying the spying equipment was in perfect working order when he tested and used it in at least three operations. But that’s not the point. More than two months after the "Hello Garci" controversy broke out, nobody knows who did the wiretapping and why.

Is Ermita telling us that to this day, questioning Garcillano, who after all owned the tapped cell phone, has not entered the minds of PSG officials? It might be absurd to think that Garcillano himself taped all his cellphone conversations, but proper investigative work should have pursued this lead until it could be conclusively shown Garcillano did not do it.

But we are giving too much credit to the Palace officials’ good intentions. We are assuming they are reasonably honest men. The simplest explanation, based on the principle of parsimony, would do. They are all liars to a man – and to a woman.

PSG operatives tried to snatch Mendoza. They failed. The Palace is again covering up with a flimsy tissue of lies.

Google

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Gloria does it again

GLORIA Arroyo yesterday came up with another whopper in claiming Monday’s elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao a triumph of democracy, a sign of maturity and proof of the potential for regional autonomy.

If we make Monday’s ARMM elections our standard for democracy, we might as well go back to selection of our leaders by tribal lords. For that was what the elections were, nominally a one-man one vote affair but in truth a fight for power and pelf among the competing political clans in Muslim Mindanao.

There were scores of foreign observers on the ground. And those hicks from the First World probably were impressed by the outward appearances of the exercise of suffrage. It would have escaped their attention that most of the voters were just going through the motions and that they had been commanded the night before to vote for this and that candidate.

It’s par for the course in Muslim Mindanao, of course. Or in Ilocos, Pangasinan, Pampanga and Cebu, to name some of the places characterized by command votes.

What was new in the latest ARMM elections was the restoration of clan politics by Malacañang after almost 10 years of efforts, however fitful, to promote new modernizing leaders. We are talking of the likes of Nur Misuari and Parouk Hussin, of Jerry Salappudin and Toto Paglas. Say what you will about these fellows, but they were not cut from the old cloth of "trapo" leaders.

It’s not that we are blind to the abuses and incompetence of the ARMM leaders who were nominated by the Moro National Liberation Front on the strength of the 1996 peace settlement. They held power for close to 10 years, but could not show much in terms of improving the lives of their people. The ARMM leaders, in fact, showed in many instances they were as corrupt and as insensitive to their people’s plight as the traditional Muslim politicians.

But we continue to believe that these leaders who were steeled in decades of fighting with the government offer the best hope for the Muslims to break out from centuries of economic stagnation and powerlessness.

The ARMM is an experiment in the building of new structures, in the development of new leaders, in the empowerment of the people. It will take some time. But it has to be done.

What did the Muslim get from the elections instead? An Ampatuan who, by Malacañang diktat, was awarded the governorship of ARMM. And why the guy? Because his clan was instrumental in delivering the votes to Gloria in 2004.

Gloria, the transactional president, has done it again – divided a section of an already divided nation. We will not be surprised if those forces who felt betrayed by last Monday’s farce of an election again start entertaining thoughts of armed struggle.

Google

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

A giant leap backward

YESTERDAY was the fifth elections to be held in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. We certainly did not know that. All along we thought there had only been two elections before, the first where Nur Misuari was elected governor and the second where Parouk Hussin "inherited" Misuari’s post.

Our ignorance could be forgiven because like everybody else our understanding was that the autonomous region was put up as part of the agreement to end the long-running secessionist problem in the South.

In exchange for an end to hostilities, the Moro National Liberation Front, which is recognized by the Islamic world as the sole and legitimate representative of the Moro people, would be allowed to run the autonomous region in an experiment that hopefully would lead to authentic self-rule among Muslim Filipinos.

With hindsight, the ceding to the MNLF of political control over ARMM probably was wrong. Perhaps the road to true democracy in the Muslim South was through the more difficult and arduous task of direct empowerment of the Muslim masses who have long been manipulated by their traditional leaders.

But we have to give it to the MNLF. The secessionist war gave Muslims the likes of Misuari and Hussin, leaders who cut their teeth in the armed struggle and not in the time-honored tradition of selling their people’s votes in exchange for doles.

The tragedy of the MNLF is that it proved to be a failure in realizing the vision of an autonomous Muslim region. This is why the Moro Islamic Liberation Front was able to wrest the leadership of the secessionist cause from the MNLF. And much as Manila-based observers would denigrate the MILF, the reality remains that armed secessionism remains a force to be reckoned with in the South.

If we have to name the single most critical issue in reaching peace in Mindanao, that will be the bridging of the ideological, political and organizational differences between the MNLF, which derives its legitimacy from the Tripoli Agreement, and the MILF, which is now holding peace negotiations with the government.

It’s a conundrum: How to grant the demands of the MILF, which is politically and militarily stronger, without going back on the commitments to the MNLF.

But for every ticklish situation requiring finesse, expect the Arroyo administration to come up with the ham-handed and totally wrong solution.

In yesterday’s ARMM elections, the MILF stuck to its expected boycott. The MNLF-Misuari wing, also as expected, decided on a boycott. But the surprise was the MNLF-Hussin wing, which also decided to withhold participation in the exercise.

The reason? Gloria and Lakas, the party of thieves, decided to support a traditional Muslim politician. Why? Because the pol’s clan helped Gloria steal the elections in Muslim Mindanao.

And she has the gall to call for reforms in the political system?

Google

Monday, August 08, 2005

Situation has stabilized?

PRESIDENT Fidel Ramos has said the situation has somewhat stabilized with the cooling down of street marches and the muting of calls for President Arroyo’s resignation. The Palace has also been guardedly optimistic with the findings of a recent Social Weather Stations survey that the trust rating of Arroyo in Metro Manila has improved from negative 33 to negative 24 points.

Arroyo and her supporters rightly have a reason to celebrate. Exactly a month ago, it seemed Arroyo was a goner following the Hyatt 10’s decision to join calls for her resignation. The Hyatt 10 was followed by President Corazon Aquino, Senate President Franklin Drilon, most NGOs and a broad segment of the academic community.

Now it appears Gloria is back in the saddle, however precariously. Calls for her resignation or ouster have been blunted by the filing of an impeachment complaint against her. Similarly, the outrage over her administration’s incompetence and corruption has been deflected by the charter change drive that shifts the blame for the country’s ills from Arroyo’s leadership to the political system.

But if the current quiescence on the political front is what Ramos and Arroyo take for "stability," then they are in for more surprises,

The impeachment process is underway. The administration has bought time. But the seething forces below the surface have not by any means been dissipated.

In fact, the impeachment process is likely to generate more destabilizing divisiveness. One scenario is for the impeachment complaint to be endorsed by the House to the Senate for trial. There is enough evidence to pin down Arroyo on the charge of stealing the 2004 elections. A full blown Senate trial will expose the innards of the widespread cheating that enabled Gloria to "win" by a million votes over Fernando Poe Jr.

This is why Arroyo’s allies in the House are keeping the option of strangling the impeachment complaint at the House committee on justice. "Creeping" impeachment has been successfully blocked. There will be no automatic transmittal to the Senate even if the magic number of 79 endorsers is reached.

The committee on justice has 60 session days to come out with determination on the sufficiency of form and content of the complaint. That gives the committee time to dribble the ball possibly well into December.

After that, the findings go to the plenary. Whatever the findings, a vote by 79 members of the House is still needed to send the complaint to the Senate for trial. And if Gloria could steal an election wholesale, she could buy House members retail.

The Palace game plan is obviously to stretch out the proceedings in the expectation that the public will in time weary of the whole thing. If her allies can pull this off, Gloria would be in the clear all the way to 2010.

It’s not a bad game plan. But it’s based on the assumption that Gloria can continue fooling all the people all the time, an assumption difficult to make given the widespread perception she is the queen of lies and deceit.

Google

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Dead meat

IT’S been two months since the "Hello Garci" tapes controversy broke out, but former Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano has yet to surface or be found.

The five House committees looking into the wiretapped conversations had issued subpoenas. Still no Garcillano, prompting the panels early this week to issue an arrest order against him.

We could always blame the incompetence of the PNP. But considering the issue that rides on the Garcillano controversy - no less than the legitimacy of the Arroyo administration - the public could be forgiven for expecting the government to pull out all stops to locate the former election official.

What do we hear instead from Malacañang? On the day the House panels issued the warrant for Garcillano’s arrest, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the executive branch would, of course, try to carry out the House’s order. But he added no extra efforts would be made to take Garcillano into custody.

The other day, the opposition in the House launched a P1 million fund drive to raise a reward for information that could lead to the whereabouts of Garcillano. Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye’s reaction? It is none of Malacañang’s business.

The Palace position would have been understandable had Garcillano been accused of emptying the petty cash till at the Comelec. But as we said no less than the legitimacy of the administration is at stake because of allegations that Garcillano was President Arroyo’s chief accomplice in stealing the 2004 elections.

There are reports that Garcillano has flown the coop, with him reported as having fone to Singapore and then on to London. The British Embassy has come out on record as saying it would check the information. The US Embassy presumably has also asked Washington to check out the possibility that Garcillano has joined his adopted daughter in New Jersey.

These friendly governments ironically are offering their help in the absence of any request of assistance from Manila. It is to be hoped that Garcillano would be located soon abroad.

The other possibility – that Garcillano has not left the country – is somehow grim to entertain. It could mean that he has been successfully tucked away in some ultra-secret hideaway, something only the government has the capability of doing.

It was Solita Monsod who said Garcillano was "dead meat" after she had listened to the wiretapped conversations with Gloria Arroyo. He was clearly talking about doctoring the results of the elections. He could tag Arroyo as his principal inducer.

If he is still in the country, dead meat surely Garcillano must be. Probably even as we are talking about him now.

Google

Friday, August 05, 2005

Gloria and the economy

PALACE officials were forced to eat crow when the results of a Pulse Asia survey showed a further slide in Gloria Arroyo’s rating to a negative 39 in the first two weeks of July, from a negative 21 the month before. Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita this time admitted he and Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye were wrong in previously saying there was no way for Gloria’s falling ratings to go but up.

To Ermita’s credit, this time there were no silly statements that the survey samples could not possibly reflect the real sentiments of the people. "We will just do the best we can to improve that performance so that next survey, siguro tataas na yan," Ermita said.

That’s better than shooting the messenger. And it’s possible Gloria’s rating one of these days might rebound. Palace officials have been expecting a rebound since October. No law against dreaming.

Someday when Gloria’s rating will have been battered down enough, it will reach bottom and bounce back. As they say in the stock market, even a dog of a stock sometimes has its day.

That’s assuming, of course, she stays in power long enough.

We are even willing to humor the Palace spin masters by going along with the proposition that surveys are of less importance than economic figures. In fact, even before the "Hello Garci" tapes broke out, we were already saying it was time that Gloria’s claims of an economic turnaround be exposed as a big lie.

Growth during Gloria’s watch has been fueled by foreign borrowings, and to a significant extent, higher remittances of overseas workers. That kind of growth is unsustainable, especially considering the projected bigger financing gap this year and in 2006.

What are the figures now? A group of Ateneo economists projects a growth rate of 4.5 to 5.3 percent, a full percent lower than government’s 5.3 to 6.3 percent. Inflation is likely to reach 8 to 9 percent against government’s forecast of 7.9 percent. The peso is dangerously hovering at its record low of 56.45 to the dollar.

These are bare statistics. But we know well enough what they mean in terms of how life is lived. Last year when growth was at 6.3 percent, not a dent was made at the pernicious problems of poverty and unemployment. Surveys after surveys, in fact, tracked ever-growing hunger and joblessness.

Gloria has lost the people’s trust. Politically, she is in intensive care. What props her up is her claim, which not a few continue to believe, that she is the only one who stands in the way of an economic disaster.

It’s time that this prop be knocked down. Gloria’s administration, which is now widely seen as illegitimate for coming to power on the back of massive cheating, is steadily losing the trust of investors and creditors. The people should not wait for the economic meltdown that her continued stay makes inevitable.

Makes for another compelling reason for her to resign, be impeached or be toppled.

Google

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Lowering the moral bar

HOW much spin can one put on the two words "I’m sorry"? Apparently plenty, if one goes by the name Gloria Arroyo.

On June 27, Gloria appeared on nationwide television to seek forgiveness for her "lapse in judgment" in talking to an unnamed election official while the canvassing of the May 2004 votes was going on.

When she said "I’m sorry," people expectedly got the impression she had realized she had done something wrong: that the :President ought not to talk to an official of a constitutionally independent office. Not even if she was prompted by the all-too-human desire to protect her votes (Gloria’s version), and not to doctor the results.

It’s just isn’t done. And she said she was sorry for it.

In a television interview Monday night, Gloria had a different take on the "I’m sorry" of June 27.

"The President is expected to behave in a more appropriate manner than other candidates. So it was for that lapse that I apologize for… I apologized for not behaving better than any other candidates," she said.

So her apology was not for talking with former Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano. It was for behaving like any other candidate. And it was not so much that she ought to have set a higher moral standard for herself, but that she, as the President, was expected to act in a more appropriate manner than the rest.

"He is who is without sin cast the first stone," she has been tiresome in saying.

Could Ping Lacson, Eddie Villanueva and Raul Roco come forward, please, and tell us if they had also talked with any ranking Comelec official during the 2004 elections?

If they had not, we volunteer to supply them with a dump truck full of rocks.

But that’s not the point. Gloria is president. She appointed Garcillano despite allegations he was a "dagdag-bawas" master operator. Now, an aide of presidential political liaison Joey Rufino has come forward to say Garcillano was named to the Comelec precisely to help Gloria steal the election.

Moreover, Garcillano had been bypassed by the Commission on Appointments. He knew that his re-appointment lay in the hands of Gloria. And he was indeed re-appointed after the 12th Congress adjourned.

Gloria was acting just like any other candidate? A candidate for mayor in Cagayan de Sulu certainly would not have the gall to call Garcillano, assuming he knew the latter’s cellphone number in the first place. And Garcillano for sure would not have given the time of day to the poor candidate had he taken the call.

Gloria says she did nothing that had not been done by any other candidates. So, okay, she should resign her office and run for a position where the moral bar is set lower. Like, say, for mayor of her hometown, Lubao, Pampanga.

As Lubao mayor she could have breakfast, lunch and dinner with Lilia Pineda, once a holder of the same position, everyday for all we care. Gloria could even host regular dinners for Comelec regional directors with Tita Baby by her side.

Whether the Comelec officials would come is another matter altogether. The presence of Tita Baby would be a strong inducement. But Mayor Arroyo? Who she to have Comelec officials at her beck and call?

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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The secret of longevity

The Bank of the Philippine Islands observed its 154th anniversary last Monday. The bank was established on that date in 1851, making it the oldest bank not only in the Philippines but also in all of Southeast Asia.

The year and the original name – Banco Espanol Filipino de Isabel II – indicate the bank’s Spanish heritage. It also exemplifies the best of that culture, which still holds sway not only in the Americas but all over the world.

Clearly, BPI had been there long before any other similar institutions came along. But if the bank didn’t use the head start to good advantage, it would have fallen by the wayside with all the competition coming thick and strong. To keep ahead of the curve, it has, throughout its more than 150 years of existence, adopted a number of innovations.

As the nation undergoes another difficult phase in its existence, perhaps it could do well to turn to the bank and learn the secret of its longevity and continuing profitability.

The bank went through two world wars and countless insurrections. Not only did it endure; this venerable institution has emerged from them all stronger than ever. Its secret, apart from a flair for innovation, is a single-minded obsession to advance and protect the interest of its clients and stakeholders.

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Contrary conditionals

ON the eve of his departure to take up his post as ambassador to Cambodia, US chargé d’affaires Joseph Mussomeli said Gloria Arroyo might yet succeed in hanging in there if she manages to pursue social, political and economic reforms.

Mussomeli is obviously just humoring Gloria. She is hanging on to power by her fingertips, with practically all reform-oriented sectors having abandoned her. Her rule is propped up by the most reactionary elements in society, the degenerate politicians and the dysfunctional military and police. Can we seriously expect this collection of cheats and thieves to lead the nation out of the mess of the Arroyo’s own making?

Let’s not succumb to the grand illusion foisted by Gloria that changing the Constitution is the magic potion that would cure the cancer eating our nation.

Let’s talk nuts and bolts of making government work. First is to fire all the corrupt and the incompetents at the highest level of government. Second is to make more gainful use of taxpayers’ money.

What’s happening now? The honest and the competent have jumped ship, saying they could no longer take Gloria’s policy of survival-at-all-cost attitude. Left are the crooks and the inept who have demonstrated their canine devotion to their chief.

It’s Christmas time in August in Congress, in provincial capitols and in municipal halls. Those chimpanzees leading the cheering for charter change do not come cheap. So we’ll be seeing a repeat of the 2004 great raid on the national treasury as Gloria struggles to buy the continued support of these monkeys.

Mussomeli was reciting a rosary of ifs in his prognosis of a miraculous survival for Gloria. So we might as well join the exercise. If Gloria were not a congenital liar then she would be a George Washington. If she had a heart for the truly poor and hopeless then she would be a Mother Teresa…

…And if pigs had wings they could fly.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Mum is the word

SO now Gloria Arroyo says she is availing herself of all her rights as an accused. But isn’t this what she has been doing since the "Hello Garci" tapes controversy broke out? Stonewalling and prevaricating at every turn?

Gloria is tirelessly accommodating requests for media interviews nowadays, a complete reversal from her policy of silence in the weeks following Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye’s revelation of the "Hello Gari" and the "Hello Garci" tapes. Now we reasonably know which of the two versions was real and which was the doctored one, but Bunye continues to make it appear he was a victim of a hoax rather than a principal in an attempted cover-up.

When Gloria broke her silence with her June 27 "I’m sorry" address," she only admitted to a lapse in judgment in talking to an unidentified election official who could only be Virgilio Garcillano. The next time she deigned to speak, it was on July 7 when she sacked her Cabinet to preempt the resignation and call for her to step down by the so-called Hyatt 10.

By last week the more "accessible, open, caring and empathetic Gloria" was launched. We are supposed to see a "new" Gloria. What we are seeing is nothing of the sort. She is talking about everything that’s wrong with the political system and how this can be addressed by a shift to a parliamentary form of government but her alleged doctoring of the election results. She is, on the contrary, more determined than ever to hide the truth behind the "Hello Garci" tapes.

Extracting the truth from her is like pulling out an impacted molar. As earlier mentioned she talked but once on the "Hello Garci" tapes, and only vaguely at that. She admitted it was her voice on the taped conversations, but did not say which one, the "Gari" or the "Garci" tapes. She admitted talking to an election official, but as to exactly who with and under what circumstances she did not bother to explicate.

Now the "new" Gloria is telling us it was a mistake that she made the "I’m sorry" statement against the advice of her lawyers, and from that from here on she would stick to the narrow legalistic path.

Funny that on the way to openness and accessibility, Gloria is doing a 180 degree turn and retreating to her pre-June 27 position that her lips are sealed as per the advice of her lawyers.

Why is she then talking on every topic under the sun except on the allegations that strike at the heart of her presidency, that she stole the election? It’s all noise meant to distract attention from what the impeachment complaint in the House says are actions that are in culpable violation of the Constitution.

We never thought we’d see the day when the highest official mandated by the Constitution to carry out the laws would hide under the right to remain silent. But that’s Gloria for you, the least trusted political leader this country has ever had.

We see that Mike Arroyo is back home. He could provide a few tips to Gloria on how to invoke the right to remain silent with a straight face.

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Monday, August 01, 2005

Oust Article VII?

GLORIA Arroyo yesterday said she believes her husband, Mike, is innocent of charges he has been receiving jueteng payola. Could it have been otherwise, Gloria knowing deep in her heart that Mike is on the take?

Mike arrived yesterday from his "exile" in the West Coast. We don’t know if this is a brief sojourn or if he is home for good. But with Gloria vouching for his character, the latter is more like it.

So Mike might as well return the compliment and declare to the whole world his wife did not cheat in the elections. And while he’s at it, he should also clarify that, in a lapse of judgment, he talked with an election commissioner during the canvassing of votes in the May 2004. But he did it only to protect the votes of his wife who, with a straight face, said in a weekend television interview it was she, in fact, who was a victim of "dagdag-bawas."

Gloria and her spin masters apparently believe they have stopped calls for her resignation dead in their tracks. They are mounting a propaganda offensive not seen since the 2004 campaign period. They have launched three simultaneous campaigns to serve as platforms for their "new" Gloria.

These are the truth commission, the impeachment process in Congress and the amendments to the Constitution. The first two are defensive, meant to establish that Gloria did not steal the elections. The second is offensive, intended to convince the people Gloria is the messiah that would lead them to the promised land of economic prosperity and political maturity.

Reforming the economy and the political system requires the highest degree of leadership. Trust and credibility are essential in convincing the people the short-term pains are worth the long-term gains. A new administration in the flush of a landslide electoral victory might be in a position to do this.

But Gloria? She has been at the helm for over four years. With the destruction she has wrought on the country’s institutions by the cheating and the thieving, who is she to talk about fundamental reforms?

As an exercise, let’s run through what is wrong with the presidential system that Gloria wants to replace with a parliamentary form. One is the chief executive’s appointing powers, which is subject only to the consent of the Commission on Appointments. Another is control over the agencies and instrumentalities of government. Still another is the power to disburse funds.

So what do we have as a result? A Garcillano at the Comelec. Use of the police and the military to cheat in the elections and to extort from jueteng collectors. Raiding of the treasury to buy local officials and political warlords.

Sure the system is partly at fault. But who did all this? Article VII (Executive Department) of the Constitution?

The Constitution, however flawed, doesn’t cheat or steal. People do. So the solution to the current crisis should be to dump the cheats and the thieves.

Anything else is plain smoke and mirrors.

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