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.

Friday, September 30, 2005

The lying goes on

Malacañang claims Executive Order 464, with its kilometric title "Ensuring Observance of the Principle of Separation of Powers, Adherence to the Rule of Executive Privilege and Respect for the Rights of Public Officials Appearing in Legislative Inquiries in Aid of Legislation under the Constitution, and for Other Purposes," is just a reiteration of Memorandum Order 112 issued by President Corazon Aquino on Sept. 29, 1987.

This is a barefaced lie. The title of MO 112, "Adopting Guidelines on Appearances of Cabinet Members before Congress," says it all.

MO 112 opens with the Article VI, Section 22 of the Constitution which provides:
"The heads of the departments may upon their own initiative, with the consent of the President, or upon the request of either House, as the rules of each House shall provide, appear before and be heard by such House on any matter pertaining to their departments. Written questions shall be submitted to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House at least three days before their scheduled appearance. Interpellation should not be limited to written questions, but may cover matters related thereto. When the security of the State or the public interest so requires, and the President so states in writing, the appearance shall be conducted in executive session."

MO 112 then went on to cite the rules of the House and of the Senate.

It then laid down the guidelines on the appearance of Cabinet members whether on their initiative or on that of either chamber of Congress. In either case, consent of the President is required.

What about EO 464? The coverage of persons who need presidential consent to appear before Congress, for one, is expanded to include all heads of and senior officials of departments, generals and flag officers of the Armed Forces and police officials with the ranks of chief superintendent and up, and national security officials.

Under MO 112, when presidential permission has been granted for a department head’s appearance, there is no restriction on what the Cabinet member may talk about save when the security of the State and public interest so requires as the President so states in writing (a reiteration of the Constitutional provision). When the exception is invoked, the appearance must be made in executive session.

In the case of EO 464, it bars outright public officials from disclosing "classified and confidential information" such as:

* Conversations and correspondents between the President and the officials so listed.

* Military, diplomatic and other security matters which in the interest of national security must not be divulged.

* Information between inter-government agencies prior to the conclusion of treaties and executive agreements.

* Discussions in closed-door Cabinet meetings.

* Matters affecting national security and public order.

There is, in short, a world of difference between MO 112 and EO 464.

It is the difference between an honest and open Cory and a lying and deceitful Gloria.


Thursday, September 29, 2005

The end game?

IT’S a well-settled doctrine that only heads of departments need the consent of the President before they could appear before either chambers of Congress. In fact, this is enshrined in Section 22 of Article V (Legislative Department). So Executive Order 464, which is the basis for Gloria Arroyo’s directive to AFP officials not to attend yesterday’s Senate hearing on "Hello Garci" wire-tapped conversations, is patently constitutional.

In issuing EO 464, Gloria says she only wants to maintain the separation of powers between the co-equal branches of government. Strange, but the EO has the contrary effect. The Executive department is now virtually saying that people under it are beyond the reach of congressional inquiries. In terms of checks and balance, this amounts to loading the scales in the Executive’s favor. If this is not a perversion of the principle of the separation of power, we don’t know what is.

But let’s not belabor the obvious: that Arroyo respects nothing – not decency, morality, the law and, yes, even the Constitution – in her obsession to stay in power.

The issue now before the nation is not what the law or the Constitution say. We are now facing naked exercise of power by an illegimate president. It’s sad seeing the Republic descend into lawlessness, but that’s the logical consequence of the chief executive stealing the election and ruthlessly using the powers fraudulently gained to cover up the original sin.

It should be remembered that yesterday’s hearing was about the "Hello Garci" conversations where Gloria was caught on tape conniving with election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano in rigging the results of the 2004 presidential election. Since the scandal broke out on June 6, Gloria has sought to hide evidence and witnesses, has bought members of Congress to dump the impeachment complaints against her and has threatened to jail everybody who continues to say she’s a liar, a cheat and a thief.

Gagging military officials is but a continuation of this policy of hiding the truth.

The Comelec, the House, the LGUs, the courts and the bureaucracy have been prostituted. What makes the AFP officer corps believe they would not be used and abused in pursuit of the continuing cover up?

Brig. Gen. Francisco Gudani and Lt. Col. Alexander Balutan have been sacked and are facing court martial proceedings for corroborating accounts of widespread vote-buying and falsifying of election returns.

Not one hallowed institution is left standing. Gloria, with the institution of the presidency in total disrepute, is just a nudge away from falling off the precipice of her own making.

We are, we fear, nearing the end game.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Charter change and martial law

JUSTICE Secretary Raul Gonzalez is right in saying that for Gloria Arroyo, declaring martial law or suspending the writ of habeas corpus to stay in power is futile and ineffective. Martial law needs congressional concurrence. Its factual basis – invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it – is also subject to review by the Supreme Court.

Moreover, martial law does not suspend the operation of the Constitution, nor supplant the functioning of the civil courts or legislative assemblies, nor authorize the conferment of jurisdiction on military courts… nor automatically suspend the privilege of the writ.

In addition, suspension of the writ applies only to persons judicially charged for rebellion or offenses inherent in or directly connected with invasion. Also, during the suspension of the writ, any person arrested should be charged within three days, otherwise he should be released.

So that’s it. A tyrant or one who wants to be one is barred by the Constitution from invoking the commander-in-chief provision to suppress dissent.

What can a proto-dictator do then without running afoul of the Constitution? Try to use the administrative and police powers of the State, of course, to run after critics in a manner that is not even allowed under martial law.

Remember Arroyo’s proclamation of a state of rebellion in the aftermath of the siege of Malacañang in May of 2001? With that proclamation, the Arroyo administration banned the holding of rallies and demonstrations (an early version of the current "preempted calibrated response) and ran after "rebellion leaders" like Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Ernesto Maceda sans warrants.

The Supreme Court has since ruled there is no such animal as a "state of rebellion." But have Arroyo and her jester of a justice secretary been fazed by the Supreme Court ruling? It appears not. They still are trying to seek ways to curtail civil liberties without suspending the writ or declaring martial law.

At least, as we noted earlier, Ferdinand Marcos was honest. He could not cow his critics under the regular operation of the Constitution, he declared martial law.

Which brings us to the charter change drive of Arroyo. For the moment, the proposed amendments focus on the shift to a federal-unicameral parliamentary system and the easing of the "nationalist" economic provisions of the 1987 charter.

But with Gloria on the ropes and lacking constitutional means to counter-punch, we would not be surprised if lifting the limits to martial law powers would one of these days come to the fore in the charter change drive in her desperate effort to stay in power.


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The crazies are on the loose

ON the purported way to normalcy to regain investors’ confidence, the Arroyo administration is drafting a proclamation authorizing it to take over utilities and strategic businesses just in case crude oil prices break the $80 a barrel level.

There’s a high probability that crude prices could soon reach $80 a barrel. The time for stockpiling heating oil for winter in the Northern hemisphere is here. A disruption of supply from the highly volatile Middle East could not be ruled out; likewise from Venezuela where the United States is exerting all efforts to bring down President Chavez.

A few more hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico could wreak havoc on offshore production platforms and onshore refineries.

So a $80 a barrel trigger point for taking over strategic energy sectors could very well just be around the corner.

Oil at $80 a barrel no doubt would lead to an economic downturn for two reasons. First would be the drain on the country’s dollar reserves to pay for more expensive imported crude, with the resulting depreciation of the peso. Second would be the higher cost of production all around which would send prices of goods and services well beyond what an already impoverished people could afford.

Given this scenario, what good would a declaration of a state of emergency do?

Frankly, none. A stop-gap stabilizing measure would be oil and, possibly, power rationing. But since the cause is rising prices of crude oil, rationing would only lead to further price distortions whose correction, which would eventually come, could be more painful than immediate adjustments, however painful. And we’re not even talking yet of the administrative cost of rationing and the opportunity for corruption when government takes hold of the allocation of scarce resources.

A government takeover of Manila Electric Co. and of the oil companies hardly offers any meaningful help in addressing the problem. Meralco is just a distributor. The Napocor and independent power producers are as much victims of higher fuel costs.

So where does a government takeover make a difference? There are three big private providers of sources of energy. There’s the Philippine National Oil Co. and Pilipinas Shell in terms of oil and Shell Spex in terms of natural gas.

Government could conceivably run PNOC and Shell’s refineries. But where would it get its crude supply? It would be sheer folly to antagonize Saudi Aramco, 40 percent owner of PNOC, and the Anglo-Dutch Shell group, 100 percent owner of Pilipinas Shell.

Malampaya? Government does not have the expertise to run such a complex production platform and undersea pipeline.

So why raise the threat of government takeover in the first place and scare the foreign investors who are already here and who really matter?

But we are talking of rational behavior, and sanity is the one thing this ‘hilong-talilong" administration has consistently demonstrated it lacks.


Monday, September 26, 2005

‘Calibrated response’ from the people’s view

OUR government respects the rights of our people to assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances. However, these rights, as guaranteed by the Constitution, are not absolute."

"They can only be exercised in a peaceful manner and always in consideration of the welfare of the majority of our people."

This, as formulated by Gloria Arroyo, is the underpinning of her policy of breaking up "illegal assemblies" and arresting their leaders and participants. A more fraudulent idea we have not come across since the time of Ferdinand Marcos.

Let’s see why it is a shell game.

When Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita last week first floated the idea of "calibrated preemptive response," we immediately noticed that in proposing to crack down on street protests he was not only talking about the administrative requirements that must be met to secure a rally permit. Incoherent as he was, he was broadly hinting that street protests could be banned in the name of the greater good of society.

The easy refutation of Ermita’s claim, of course, lies in the Bill of Rights. These rights are enshrined in the Constitution not to promote the well-being of the society or the interest of the majority. They are there to protect the minority, nay, even the lone individual if his opinion runs run counter to those held by the 85 million souls living on these islands. Even if only 10 citizens shout at the top of their voice that Gloria is a liar, a cheat and a thief, the Bill of Rights is there precisely to guarantee their right to air their sentiments.

And that’s where the fraud comes in. We are faced not by the J. S. Mill’s classic problem on liberty – of protecting the minority from the majority or of the individual from the state.

What we are facing is the problem of an illegitimate government that the overwhelming majority wants replaced. Gloria does not speak for the majority, much less the people. All this talk about the society’s clamor to be left alone to pursue its members’ business of earning a living is a lie.

All Gloria wants is to keep the power she has stolen. She has shown that she would not allow decency, morality and the laws to stand in her way.

What we are now facing is the emerging tyranny of a usurper. Banning street protests is indeed a calibrated response. She wants to cow the people to acquiesce to her continuing rule. If the people resist, she can invoke emergency powers, suspend the writ of habeas corpus and declare martial law – in that order of calibration. That’s the neat schema of intensified repression.

But the people are not helpless. Speaking of calibrated responses, street protests can turn into a general strike, a general strike into an uprising and an uprising into a revolution.

And when deceit, manipulation and state violence have exhausted their course, the truth will emerge. The people - not Gloria, the party of thieves or the cabal of generals - are the real sovereign.


Proto-fascist bullying

(This was published last Saturday, September 24, 2005.)

GLORIA Arroyo had been warned. Manipulations in the House to block the impeachment complaints against her would force the opposition to bring its case to the streets. The warning was ignored. Now she’s reaping the whirlwind.

The near-daily pocket protests are punctuated by the occasional bigger rallies in Makati. The government now says these protest actions have gone too far, inconveniencing people and disrupting business. As a result, the government has decided to abandon its "maximum tolerance" policy and henceforth will disperse all "illegal assemblies" and arrest participants.

Not since the Marcos strongman rule have we heard the term "illegal assemblies" rolling off officials’ tongues.

The term "illegal assemblies" at the moment is being used, purposely we believe, by Malacañang in two different contexts. The first is legalistic. The second is political.

Gloria and principal law-and-order advocate in the Cabinet, retired general Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, say no rallies will be permitted without permits.

Fine. Local officials, the permit-issuing authorities, need enough time to plan for traffic rerouting, to advice residents to take the rallies into account in planning their activities, to prepare for ambulances in case protesters suffer exhaustion or heat stroke, etc.

But what if local authorities routinely reject applications to hold a rally or deny protesters access to historically recognized venues for the airing of grievances such Edsa, Liwasang Bonifacio, Mendiola bridge or Plaza Miranda?

The right of peaceful assembly is turned into a sham by Gloria’s local government lackeys.
Let’s go to the more insidious version of Gloria’s appeal to the rule of the law as it relates to street protests.

There is this vaguely articulated claim that the demands of street protesters should not exceed some "acceptable" boundaries, limits that have no relation to public safety, public health and respect for the rights of others.

Those who accept the impeachment verdict of the House are welcome, Gloria says. Those who do not, those who persist in going to the streets will be treated with the "full force of the law," she says.

The bottom-line of what Gloria is saying is that protests against her lying, her cheating, and her thievery will henceforth no longer be allowed.

We’re hearing murmurings of "fascism," a word that had been out circulation since the downfall of Marcos’ strongman rule. But why should we be surprised? Repression is the standard weapon of unpopular regimes in quelling disenchantment, discontent and dissent.

Gloria will do her worst to stay in power. The issue is whether the people will allow themselves to be cowed by this proto-dictator’s bullying.


The honest way

(This was published last Friday, September 23, 2005)

GLORIA Arroyo says she is growing tired of running after bullies. Her critics, she says, should accept the throwing out by the House of the impeachment of the complaints against her. Those who do not, she says, should be prepared to face the "rule of the law."

Okay, so assuming we do not accept the ruling of the House and insist on shouting to the whole world that Gloria is a liar, a cheat and a thief, what crime have we committed? If we and like-minded others band together to make our voices heard through rallies and demonstrations, we’re perfectly within our rights. The Constitution says so.

But no, says Gloria. We cannot do that because businessmen are complaining of inconvenience and disruption resulting in loss of millions of pesos. The last time we checked with the Bill of Rights, however, there is no provision protecting businessmen from inconvenience or from losing money.

Gloria’s executive secretary, Eduardo Ermita, says demonstrations and rallies have gone out of hand. He says that even now, meetings are being held to organize more streets protests. It seems, Ermita said, the opposition will not stop in their calls for Gloria’s resignation or ouster.

But where’s the law that says one can’t continue shouting "Gloria must go"? The provisions of the penal code penalizing inciting to sedition or rebellion? The catch here is that one cannot ban a rally on mere suspicion that speakers might call on the people to withdraw their loyalty from the government or to take up arms against it. That’s prior restraint on the exercise of a constitutionally guaranteed right.

Actually Gloria and her subalterns have no one to blame but themselves for the rallies in Makati which are what the businessman are complaining about. Mayors Lito Atienza of Manila and Sonny Belmonte of Quezon routinely reject applications to hold rallies. Or if they do approve a permit, they shunt the protesters to some place where they cannot be seen or heard.

It so happens that Makati Mayor Jojo Binay does not ban rallies in his city. The reason might well be because he is with the opposition. That, however, is beside the point. He respects the people’s right to peaceably assemble to seek redress for their grievances. He should be lauded for it.

Ferdinand Marcos knew he could not ban rallies even as protesters had laid siege to Malacañang on two occasions in January 1970. Bigger and more bigger rallies would follow after the First Quarter of 1970.

He suspended the writ in August 1971, but the street protests went on. He did the only constitutionally sanctioned way to stop the waves of demonstrations. He suspended the Bill of Rights by declaring martial law.

That’s the honest way to quash the political opposition. And frankly, before Gloria elevated lying to a high art, we could not string a simple sentence containing the words "Marcos" and "honesty."


Thursday, September 22, 2005


JOE de Venecia has already drawn a Gantt chart on the proposed charter change. Next month, the House takes up proposed amendments. In October, the House votes on the proposals. After that, Congress convenes as a constituent assembly. The people vote in a plebiscite in March and April. By middle of 2007, elections are held for a unicameral parliament.

Obligingly, the Palace yesterday named 33 people to a 50-man consultative commission that is supposed to study the 1987 Constitution and come up with draft amendments. This commission will sort of pre-digest the proposed changes so the House can focus on the main issue of shifting to a federal/parliamentary form of government.

The commission, we suppose, will convene as early as next week. Given its composition (not single representative from the opposition is included in the 33), the panel can come up with its recommendation in time for Joe’s October timetable.

So is the charter change express right on track with all these preparations?

Yes, on track straight into the immovable wall of Senate resistance to amending the Constitution amid the current leadership crisis.

Let’s humor Joe for a moment. Assuming that the House approves the proposed changes by November, what happens next?

We suppose the House will pass a resolution seeking the convening of Congress as a constituent assembly. An administration ally, we again suppose, will file a complementary resolution. But what if the Senate rejects the resolution?

The House will be left dancing the Cha-cha all by its lonesome self, which the Constitution never contemplates.

As an alternative, Joe can follow the formula first articulated by constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas. In Bernas’ view, convening Congress as a constituent assembly is a throw back to the 1935 Constitution. The 1987 has no mention whatsoever of a "constituent assembly." All it says is that Congress, by a three-fourths vote, may propose amendments to it.

So, according to Bernas, the House can propose amendments by a three-fourths vote. Like an ordinary piece of legislation, the House is transmitted to the Senate. If the Senate, also by a three-fourths vote, goes all with the House, the proposed amendments are then submitted for ratification in a plebiscite.

The problem again is that charter change is highly unlikely to gather support of the 24-man Senate. In fact, a three-fourths vote rejecting changes is more like it.

Foiled again. And that’s the point where enters this bizarre idea that when the charter speaks of "a vote of three-fourths by all (Congress’) members," it refers to three-fourths of the whole collection of 236 representatives and 24 senators.

So 236 plus 24 equals 260. Thus, a three-fourths vote means 195 members, no matter if all of them are from the House.

Madness. But whoever said Joe and Gloria Arroyo are sane?


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Loyalty check

THE PNP is mounting a counter-intelligence operation (read that loyalty check) in the wake of reports that police and military officials are poised to move against Gloria Arroyo.

The PNP spokesman, Chief Supt. Leopoldo Bataoil, said the move is aimed at verifying reports that some officers are in communication with oust-Gloria groups. But Bataoil was quick to explain that counter-intelligence checking is different from a loyalty check.

Asked what’s the difference between the two, Bataoil did not directly answer the question. He only said a loyalty check is unnecessary because PNP chief Arturo Lomibao is confident the members of the PNP are loyal and will not join any efforts to oust Gloria.

To us, a counter-intelligence check and a loyalty check are the same animal in different clothing. But let’s humor the PNP leadership. The police force is loyal to a man to the chain of command. And police officials are not receiving "intelihensya" from jueteng lords.

It is said that military intelligence is an oxymoron. Police intelligence must be the same. But the AFP, at least, bluntly calls a spade a spade. During the time of AFP chief Efren Abu, he announced that the military Counter-Intelligence Group had been reactivated. Asked why, he said the AFP leadership has to identify officers who are hatching coup plots and to monitor their activities.

We have not come across the alleged report prepared by then US charge d’affaires Joseph Mussomeli that two groups in the AFP were preparing to "move" against Arroyo. Some have dismissed the report as mere coffee shop gossip. We are not as sanguine.

The Americans view the Philippines as its closest ally in the region. Any regime change will affect their interests, so they pay close attention to Philippine developments. They have virtually unlimited access to sources of information from the whole range of the political spectrum. And their analyses can be ignored by the powers that be only at their own peril - as Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Estrada realized after their fall.

The Mussomeli report was allegedly dated June 2, that is, days before the "Hello Garci" scandal exploded.

It has been downhill since for Gloria, so the restiveness in the AFP must be more heightened now in pace with mounting calls for Arroyo’s ouster from nearly all respectable sectors in society.

Didn’t Abu himself say that the sentiments of the officer corps could not but track those of the bigger society to which they belong? And what are the sentiments of the bigger society? Four out of five want Gloria out. They only differ on the manner of Gloria’s exit – resignation, impeachment, or ouster.

She repeatedly says she has no intention of stepping down. The impeachment complaints have been murdered in the House. This leaves ouster as the only remaining option.

Whether the men in uniform will weigh in and tip the political balance is not the question. The question is how – whether through a withdrawal of support or a bloody coup. Our fear is that the loyalty check the PNP is mounting could only lead to a witch hunt that would raise the risk of men with state-issued guns shooting each other.


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

One screw-up deserves another?

MAJ. Gen. Samuel Bagasin, the chief of the 4th Infantry Division who was sidelined at the 11th hour in his appointment as chief of the Southern Command, has been named AFP deputy chief of staff. Lt. Gen. Generoso Senga, AFP chief, said Bagasin would be an asset to the GHQ.

Well, if Bagasin would be a liability, then he would not have been named to the No.3 post in the AFP. So much for Senga’s left-handed compliment.

Let’s call a spade a spade. Bagasin’s appointment as deputy chief is an attempt to correct a screw-up by Malacañang. The end result is another screw-up on top of the previous one.

Let’s take a look at the background. Bagasin was supposed to take over from Lt. Gen. Alberto Braganza, Southcom chief, when the latter retired. Bagasin invited his kith and kin to the turnover ceremony, only to find out that Malacañang had rejected his nomination by the Board of Generals.

Named as Braganza’s replacement was Lt. Gen. Edilberto Adan, then deputy chief of staff. The name of Adan had never entered the mind of the members of the Board of Generals and he himself had no inkling he would be shifted to Southcom.

To the Palace’s last-minute second-guessing of the AFP leadership, no explanation has been forwarded. "Basta!" Gloria Arroyo is commander-in-chief and it’s within her powers to name whoever she wants to any post. The AFP can only salute and say "Yes, Ma’am" with feigned cheerfulness and enthusiasm.

The scuttlebutt was that 1st Infantry Division chief Maj. Gen. Gabriel Habacon, linked in the "Hello Garci" tapes to the cheating in Sulu in the 2004 elections, was angling for the Southcom post. The Palace owed him big, but it could not afford to antagonize the AFP leadership either, so the decision to give the post to Adan.

But following the widespread disappointment in the senior ranks, Bagasin had to be accommodated, thus his appointment as deputy chief.

All’s well that end’s well? Not quite.

We now have one case of a square peg occupying a round hole and another of a round peg shoehorned into a square hole.

Adan, the compleat staff officer who has never commanded a division, now leads Southcom, the biggest unified area command simultaneously battling communist rebels, Islamic secessionists and terrorists in Mindanao.

Bagasin, the battlefield commander, is now riding a desk at Camp Aguinaldo.

Only in Gloria’s administration.


Monday, September 19, 2005

Payback time

GLORIA Arroyo, in a meeting with American businessmen in New York hosted by Credit Suisse First Boston, said even if the imposition of value added tax on energy and oil is postponed, it will not affect her "economic turnaround program." She said the VAT on the previously exempt energy and oil is a windfall from Congress which Palace did not seek in the original draft of the expanded VAT law.

She was reacting to a resolution filed by Rep. Joey Salceda in the House which seeks the deferment of the energy and oil VAT. Salceda has said he has lined up 150 signatures behind his resolution. A similar resolution has been filed in the Senate by Sen. Mar Roxas.

"So Congress gave a bigger revenue generation than I asked for. So if resolutions don’t pass, then we will proceed with carrying out with the reforms. If the resolutions are passed, we will respect Congress’ advice. It does not take us away from our deficit reduction program," Gloria said.

That’s the word from New York.

So the hicks back home took that to mean that Gloria was open to the deferment of VAT on energy and oil.

It’s reasonable conclusion based on Gloria’s statement before the Americans. The people are being squeezed dry by rising prices. A leader with a modicum of compassion would be expected to try to ease the burden, not add to it. Economically, it does not make sense to gouge the people further because lower demand will lead to a slowdown in production which eventually will lead to reduced tax collections.

Gasoline is now at P34 plus a liter, with the oil companies set to raise their prices by 50 centavos every week until the full cost of crude at above $60 a barrel is fully reflected in pump prices. Add the 10 percent VAT and we’re looking at something like P40 a liter gas.

Power rates in Metro Manila are now slightly over P10 a kilowatt-hour. A straightforward 10 percent VAT will raise the rates by the same proportion.

We have not come across government studies on what these mean in terms of prices of consumer goods. But the cascading effects of higher power rates and oil prices will definitely be felt all the way down the production chain.

But the "good news" from New York, it appears, is nothing of the sort. The Palace was quick to issue a statement that it was not after all entertaining the deferment of VAT on power and oil.

Nangguyo lang pala.

So the hard question must be asked. If the deficit could be reduced even if the exemption from VAT of power and oil would be maintained, why insist on needlessly imposing additional hardship on the people?

The answer is Gloria owes big the congressmen, governors and mayors who helped kill the impeachment complaints against her. It’s payback time – with our money.


Saturday, September 17, 2005

Master of deceit

(Note: this editorial was published last Thursday, September 15, 2005)

CABINET secretary Ricardo Saludo has a commercial justification for the Gloria Arroyo’s hiring of a US law firm for $900,000 a year plus expenses to secure funding for her proposed charter change. He said the cost is small compared to the millions in dollars that the undertaking will yield.

Well, thinking of low cost/high returns, a mini-skirt, a pair of high heels and a makeover at a beauty parlor are indeed relatively small investments for a first class call girl. Or a couple of Cebu Saturday night specials, a second-hand car and a rented house for a kidnapping syndicate.

Let’s leave the issue of hiring a lobbyist to secure US funding for the proposed amendments to the Constitution for the moment. Let’s go to the wisdom of asking foreigners to bankroll studies on what needs to be changed in the fundamental law of the land.

Gloria’s current hobby horse is the shift from a unitarian-presidential to a federal-parliamentary system. Whatever the merits of the proposal, the proposed shift has become suspect because it is meant to clear Gloria of the mess she has created by putting the blame on the government’s institutional weakness.

The proposed charter change is sired by deceit, but the country does not want for mercenaries who can, with gravitas and erudition, justify a remaking of the charter into whatever is convenient to their paymaster. Millions in dollars will come in handy.

But there are other proposals, currently unarticulated, which make any form of foreign meddling highly abhorrent. We are referring to the "nationalist" economic provisions of the 1987 charter.

We have long been advocating for the scrapping of the nationality requirements in the ownership of land, of utilities and of businesses engaged in the extraction of natural resources. The country lacks capital; foreigners should be welcome. We don’t need US-paid consultants to help us in our advocacy.

The US-funded Agile raised a storm when it was learned that its consultants were behind economic-oriented government reforms. Now Gloria wants the same arrangement in amending the fundamental law of the land?

And why the need for secrecy? Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the contract with the US law firm Venable LLP was news to him. Merceditas Gutierrez, the presidential legal adviser, had no knowledge about it either. The Department of Foreign Affairs was equally clueless.

The contract was signed by national security adviser Norberto Gonzales, who is the director-general of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency. What has an intelligence agency got to do with lobbying to secure foreign funding for charter change?

We need to start the "grand debate" on changing the charter, Gloria declared during her last State of the Nation Address. It turns out she had already kicked off a clandestine "special ops" to manipulate the "grand debate."

The master of deceit rides again.


What’s wrong with lobby deal

RIGHT, there’s nothing wrong with the government lobbying in Washington to get more economic assistance and military aid. Philippines history, in fact, is replete with what we now call lobbying efforts.

Remember the Quezon and the Roxas-Osmena missions when the United States was trying to figure out what to do with these islands? During the heyday of the sugar quota, the Philippines had a full-time lobby office operating right from the Embassy. Even now, there is an official lobbyist looking for the interest of veterans.

In the old days, the country’s diplomatic mission was enough to push our interests in both the White House and Capitol. But with lobbying having evolved into high art in the US capital, tapping private sector lobbyists is now the norm.

So, indeed, there’s nothing wrong with hiring lobbyists. Having said that, there is, however, everything wrong with Malacañang’s hiring of the law firm Venable LLP for a monthly retainer of $70,000 a month.

First of all, it is wrong to seek funding from the United States for the proposed charter change. The United States even now is pushing for wider access for its troops in the global campaign terrorism. It’s not unthinkable that US-funded studies on constitutional reforms would call for the scrapping of the constitutional provision banning the presence of foreign troops and military facilities.

Second, while indeed it is true that the administration is not required to make public any or all agreements it signs, there are proper ways of hiring the services of foreign lawyers, consultants and what have you.

The Venable contract appeared to have been purposely kept under wraps. Why was national security adviser Norberto Gonzales designated as the signer for the government? Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita was incredulous when he first came to know about the deal. He even said the contract could not be authentic because nothing of that sort passed through his office. Merceditas Gutierrez said she was also not aware of the contract’s existence. Ditto the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Third, the secrecy of the source of funding and what is now emerging as a Palace cover-up. Gonzales said the private sector is picking up the tab. Asked to name names, Gonzales said he could not as he himself does not know them because they wanted to stay anonymous.

So was the money then sent to his home in a package with the note it was for payment to Venable? A taller story we have not heard since Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye claimed copies of the "Hello Garci" tapes and the doctored version were delivered to his house by persons unknown.

But why should we be surprised? Lying is contagious and is pandemic in Malacañang.


Friday, September 16, 2005

Make list of contributors public

NATIONAL Security adviser Norberto Gonzales’ claim the P50 million contract for a US law firm to lobby for grants for the proposed charter change will be funded from private donations is utter hogwash.

The contract with Venable LLP listed "Maria Gloria Macapagal Arroyo" and the "Republic of the Philippines" as the client. Gonzales signed the agreement as the "authorized representative of the President of the Philippines."

Payment to Venable, thus, is a contractual obligation of the Republic. Gonzales now wants us to believe some Tan Fulano will actually be picking up the tab? There must be a slew of laws and regulations violated by such an arrangement.

Anyway, we’ve heard this the-private-sector-is-paying line for lobbying efforts in the United States before. So could the Palace make public the list of those civic-minded private citizens who generously donated money to push Philippine interests in Washington, presumably without seeking favors from the government in turn?

Sen. Ralph Recto has a partial list of the contracts filed with the US Department of Justice. The list goes:
* January-July 2001: Fasturn Inc. ($29,285.73 for six months ending Feb. 9, 2001); Icon Group, no reported amount; Patton Boggs LLP ($384,999.96 for six months ending June 30, 2001).

*.July-December 2001: Bannerman and Associates ($21,486.46 for six months ending October 28, 2001); Burson-Marsteller (no reported amount paid); Crowell & Moring International ($90,328.32 for six months ending November 28, 2001); Fasturn Inc. $24,190.27 for six months ending August 9, 2001); Maria Luisa M. Haley (no finances reported); and Icon Group;

* January to June 2002: Bannerman and Associates ($65,457.67 for a six-month period ending April 28,2002); Burson-Marsteller ($446,541.25 for six months ending April 30,2002); Crowell & Moring International ($90,337.00 for six months ending May 28, 2002); Fasturn ($24,460.08 for six months ending February 9,2002); Maria Luisa M. Haley ($141,756.56 for six months ending April 30, 2002); Icon Group (no activities and finances reported); Rhoads-Weber Shandwick Government Relations (no amount reported);

* July-December 2002: Bannerman and Associates ($554.96 for six months ending October 28,2002); Burson-Marsteller ($565,037.18 for six months ending October 31,2002); Fasturn ($12,034.08 for six months period ending August 9,2002); Icon Group (no activity and finances reported); Rhoads-Weber Shandwick Government Relations ($64,056.65 for six months ending Oct. 31,2002);

* July-December 2003: Bannerman and Associates ($20,000 for six months ending October 2003); Burson-Marsteller ($234,249.90 for six months ending Oct. 31, 2003); Fasturn ($28,036.72 for six months ending Aug. 9, 2003); Icon Group (no activity and finances reported); Rhoads-Weber Shandwick Government Relations ($40,000 for six months ending Oct. 31, 2003).

And while the Palace is at it, can it not update the list, say, up to the end of 2004?

This is not difficult as asking Gloria Arroyo about the truth of the "Hello Garci" recording. Or where he is. Or is it?


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Totally misreading Gloria

WHAT a send-off for Gloria Arroyo, that ammo dump of the PNP in Bicutan blowing up the other night. The police have ruled out hostile action. They said it was an accident and we have no reason to doubt their claim.

Our concern is what happens if some misguided uniformed elements pour out of the barracks for some political misadventure. What will the police in Metro Manila fight them with? Blanks? Not possible as the Metro police’s supply of blank ammo was among those that went off during the explosion.

Anyway, PNP chief Art Lomibao deserves kudos for immediately getting in touch with radio and television stations to give the assurance that the rat-tat-tat of small arms rounds and the thumps of mines and bombs were nothing to be alarmed about.

It was not the start of a coup, folks, just possibly negligence in the storing of the ammunition and explosives at the dump.

Lomibao is as loyal to Gloria as they come. What perplexes us is why Gloria is denying a Lomibao nominee, Director Isidro Lapena, chief of the Directorate of Operations, the post of chief of the directorial staff. Lapena is said to be highly qualified. In fact, Lomibao submitted only Lapena’s name as replacement to Deputy Director General Ricardo de Leon who retired last week.

Was Gloria piqued over the apparent presumptuousness of Lomibao and the selection board for not submitting at least three names from which she could choose? What did they think of Gloria, a rubber stamp?

Over at the Armed Forces, the officer corps is resenting Gloria’s appointment of Lt. Gen. Edilberto Adan as chief of the Southern Command. Adan was not included in the list of nominees forwarded to Malacañang. In fact, the Board of Generals thought its No. 1 nominee, Maj. Gen. Samuel Bagasin, chief of the 4th Infantry Division, had already secured the Palace’s nod.

Perhaps that is what’s wrong with the PNP and the Armed Forces. Just because they helped Gloria steal the presidency, they thought they could wrap her around their fingers.

They totally misread Gloria.

President Fidel V. Ramos appears also guilty of the same mistake. The other day he said that if Gloria thinks that by going to the United States she is already out of the woods, then she has another think coming.

The leadership crisis, Ramos said, continues to simmer and may yet boil over.

Ramos’ beef, of course, is that his understanding was that after coming to the rescue of Gloria on that "Black Friday" of July 8, Gloria would adopt his formula of setting up a council of leaders, followed by charter change and general elections by middle of next year.

Ramos, the PNP and the Armed Forces should stop deluding themselves. Word of honor is not in the vocabulary of one of habitually lies, cheats and steals.


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Why not chief of MSU security?

THE government reportedly has a problem putting to heel the "warlords" who terrorize the administration, the faculty, the students and the non-academic personnel of the Mindanao State University. Since it is a problem of imposing peace and order, the solution should be simple enough: a no-nonsense guy should be appointed chief of MSU security.

Given the requirements of the job, retired Deputy Director General Ricardo de Leon, the former No. 2 at the PNP, highly qualifies. But De Leon as MSU president?

Brig. Gen. Jose Almonte, reputed as the foremost soldier-intellectual of his generation, lorded it over at the Asian Center of the University of the Philippines during martial law. But if we recall right, the highest position he occupied was as head of the defunct President’s Center for Advanced Studies, a think tank which was only nominally affiliated with UP. JoAl perhaps entertained hopes of becoming UP president, but he knew he could not provide either the intellectual leadership or the administrative competence that the position requires.

Many in Manila continue to sniff at the hicks at the MSU. But as a teaching and research institution, it can stand its own against any other university with the exception of UP. And we don’t mean only its acknowledged leadership in Islamic studies. It has a strong technology program. It has probably more PhDs than even some of the over-rated Manila-based "exclusive" schools. Its graduates – whether in the natural or social sciences and the professions – provide the backbone of Mindanao’s modernizing elites.

One of the reasons for MSU’s rise is the generous support it receives from Islamic countries and foundations. And this is the root of all of MSU’s miseries. There are indeed factions in the MSU administration and faculty incessantly fighting over money.

But sending a policeman to clean up the mess at the MSU? Madness.

Let’s talk about the selection process. MSU has followed the UP pattern where the board of regents constitutes a search committee. The committee invites and screens nominations. The students, the faculty and the non-academic personnel give their endorsements. The committee forwards a short list to the board of regents. The latter elects the university president. Malacañang’s role after this is purely ministerial, that is, issuing the appointment.

We have no idea where De Leon was during the whole process. But had he been weighed along with the other candidates, he would have been found the intellectually lightest of them all.

De Leon is said to be a holder of a doctorate in police administration. Nothing has been said about where he got his doctorate. But we can guess. There is only local institution we know offering a PhD program in police administration in cooperation with the PNP.

The institution? Bicol University.

We rest our case.


Monday, September 12, 2005

A slap on the AFP face

THE Palace said reported disappointment in the military over the appointment of Lt. Gen. Edilberto Adan as chief of the Southern Command, the biggest of the AFP’s unified commands, are just figments of the imagination of the newspapers.

Well, if the Palace is right, then the AFP truly deserves the shabby treatment it is getting from its commander-in-chief.

The AFP Board of Generals had recommended Maj. Gen. Samuel Bagasin, chief of the 4th Infantry Division, to the post vacated by retired Lt. Gen. Alberto Braganza. The Palace strung the AFP leadership all along, with the latter believing Bagasin’s appointment was a done deal. On the eve of the handover of the command, the word was out that Adan would be it, no matter that he was not in the list of nominees of the board and that he was already occupying the No. 3 post as deputy chief of staff.

It was a slap on the face of the whole AFP leadership. The Board of Generals is made up of the chief of staff, the vice chief, the deputy chief and the chiefs of the three major services. The collective decision of all these six people who run the AFP is to be blithely ignored in the name of "commander-in-chief’s prerogative?"

If the Palace thinks they cannot exercise sound judgment in the selection for a three-star post, then it might as well sack all of them and replace them with officers who know better how to run the joint staff and the major services.

The government is fighting two major security threats: the communist rebellion and the Islamic secessionist movement, with the latter having at its fringe groups with links to the Southeast Asian terrorist group Jeemah Islamiah. Not a few believe the AFP, as currently structured, bankrolled and led, is incapable of defeating the twin insurgencies. By its action, the Palace is signaling to all that the AFP leadership is either a) incompetent or b) cannot be trusted or c) both.

Until now the Palace has not given an explanation what prompted the screw up of the selection process. Lt. Gen. Generoso Senga, AFP chief, has also clammed up, perhaps afraid to fall from grace. Adan was Gloria’s choice. So that’s it. Everybody down the chain of command could only follow orders. There is no problem with morale and discipline?

What is intriguing in this Palace action is that Adan is hardly known as a Gloria "loyalist." He also was not angling for the Southcom post. While command is preferable to a staff position, one does not happily give up the No. 3 post, which according to the scuttlebutt Adan would soon relinquish to remove the anomaly of concurrently holding two key positions.

So it’s likely the Southcom command controversy is a red herring. The deputy chief is the workhorse of the joint staff. For all practical purposes, he runs the AFP. Perhaps this is the post Gloria wants taken over by one of her or Mike’s favorites.

We’ll see soon enough.


Saturday, September 10, 2005

Monkeying around with AFP

WITH restiveness widely reported in the ranks of junior officers, it’s rather strange that Malacañang would choose the moment to fool around with senior appointments in the Armed Forces.

The other day, Lt. Gen. Edilberto Adan, the AFP’s No. 3 man as deputy chief of staff, flew to Zamboanga City. Officials of the Southern Command thought it was just a case of a routine visit to the field by a top honcho from the joint staff. It turned out that Adan had orders cut for him as per direction of the commander-in-chief to take over the Southcom upon yesterday’s retirement of Lt. Gen. Alberto Braganza.

Adan certainly was not angling for the Southcom post. Although he is as competent as they come, he has not commanded a division, the usual stepping stone to command of one of the country’s five unified area commands. Sources said he was just as surprised as everybody else when Malacañang directed AFP chief Lt. Gen. Generoso Senga to cut his orders.

More puzzling yet is Adan’s designation as Southcom chief - even if only as officer-in-charge - in a concurrent capacity. The Southcom is based in Zamboanga City while the office of the deputy chief of staff is at Camp Aguinaldo.

The Board of Generals had recommended Maj. Gen. Samuel Bagasin, commander of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, as Braganza’s successor. Another officer, Maj. Gen. Gabriel Habacon, commander of the 1st Division, however, was also interested in the post.

Habacon is alleged to have helped deliver the votes in Sulu to Gloria Arroyo in 2004. The Palace owes him big, but it cannot offend the Board of Generals either. So the zarzuela involving Adan’s designation as Southcom OIC.

The reason behind the OIC appointment is that Adan, in effect, is the designated patsie who would ensure that neither Bagasin nor Habacon will get the post.

How so? It’s like this. Habacon retires on Sept. 9, 2006. Yesterday, his 55th birthday, was the last chance for him to be appointed under AFP rules to a post carrying three-star rank..

Bagasin retires on Sept. 19, 2006. So Adan only has to stay as Southcom OIC for exactly 10 days before Bagasin too is knocked out of contention.

Why Gloria has to go through all this rigmarole is beyond us. There’s nothing wrong with accepting the Board of Generals’ recommendation of Bagasin. Too bad for Habacon, but Gloria could always promise to name him to some cushy job after his retirement for services rendered above and beyond the call of duty.

We know that Gloria is anything but transparent and straightforward. But playing games with the military at a time when she’s hanging on to power by her fingertips? She must be suicidal.


Friday, September 09, 2005

A rogue intelligence agency

OFFICIALS of the Intelligence Service of the AFP could not give a coherent explanation on why its agents last month raided a room rented by a former NBI official helping former Sen. Loren Legarda in her electoral protest against Vice President Noli de Castro.

The less malevolent explanation is that the officials have become so immersed in the culture of spying they could not shed the habit of dissimulation, presumably to prevent compromising the identities of agents, ongoing operations and the capabilities of the ISAFP.

The more frightening explanation is that the officials are covering up a political operation directed against the opposition, which is more likely considering ISAFP’s recent history of allowing itself to be shamelessly used by the administration.

Take the case of the "Hello Garci" wiretapped recordings. It’s fairly obvious that the round-the-clock monitoring of his cellular phones was conducted by ISAFP. The wiretappers saw an opportunity to make a fast buck and this they did by selling copies of the recordings to the opposition.

Who ordered that the operation be mounted is among the unanswered questions in the investigation into the "Hello Garci" recordings. It could have been an unsanctioned operation, but the word must have come from somebody up high.

Sometime back, the ISAFP was also used in the demolition job against Sen. Panfilo Lacson. Then ISAFP chief Col. Victor Corpus manufactured wholesale a long list of purported foreign bank accounts of Lacson. The accounts purportedly contained at least $800 million.

Corpus originally claimed the list was a result of his unit’s "intelligence operations." He subsequently admitted the list was a fabrication.

That Corpus caper ought to have raised warning signals at the AFP. The ISAFP should have been reined in and re-directed to its original mandate of gathering information on security threats. No action was taken by the AFP. With loosened control over the agency, the wiretapping of former election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano was a scandal waiting to happen.
Former AFP chief Efren Abu did the right thing in giving operational control over ISAPF units to unified military commanders. That would shift ISAFP’s focus to usable tactical information and leave it less room for engaging in politically tainted mischief.

But Abu’s action does not go far enough. The rot at ISAFP appears to have already corroded its professional core. The Senate inquiry’s attention at the moment is limited to the abuses committed by ISAFP in relation to the raid on the rented room of Segundo Tabayoyong.

That should be expanded to include a review of ISAFP’s mission and its structure and remedial measures to insulate it from politicians.


Thursday, September 08, 2005

A strategic Gloria blunder

GLORIA and her operators might again have proven themselves too smart for their own good with their sub-rosa deals with two sections of the opposition in the run-up to the House plenary vote on the impeachment complaints.

We are referring to Rep. Imee Marcos’ surprise no-show during the session and the absence or abstention of the legislators identified with President Joseph Estrada. Those seven votes would have been enough to carry the number of "No" votes past the magic number of 79, considering the number of declared and undeclared supporters of impeachment.

We can speculate on the quid pro quo: a Libingan burial for Ferdinand Marcos in the case of Imee and further easing of the terms of detention of Estrada in the case of his allies in the House.

The deals were a major tactical victory for Arroyo, but could prove to be a spectacular strategic blunder now that the campaign for her ouster has shifted to the street.

The reluctance of the middle class to join pre-impeachment street protests was partly due to their residual distrust of the Marcos and Estrada camps. Gloria, the consummate "transactional" chief executive, in one swoop lifted this psychological barrier.

The composition of the frontline of the march to the Batasan on Tuesday at the close of the House voting tells the story. Linking arms were Sen. Panfilo Lacson, evangelist Eddie Villanueva, President Cory Aquino and Susan Roces. Providing security were Christian Brothers from La Salle and diocesan priests. Making up the body of the protesters were militants, urban poor, workers, students and civil society members.

These are the reincarnations of the Edsa 1, Edsa 2 and Edsa 3 players. The only missing link to complete the people power chain is military and police support.

The objective and subjective conditions, to borrow the schema of the Left, for the overthrow of Gloria are in the place. The people are groaning under the burden of runaway prices and declining incomes. They have lost trust in Arroyo.

The opposition to Gloria, broader and free from narrow self-interest this time, has mapped out a sustained campaign of street protests. Given the palpable disgust over the killing of the impeachment complaints, it would not surprise us if the protest actions would attract more and more people.

Other – and more creative – forms of protest actions, all in the name of civil disobedience, would surely follow.

Gloria has dug herself a deeper hole. It’s only a matter of time before she’s buried by the avalanche of an Edsa 4.


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

To the barricades?

IF Mrs. Arroyo is innocent, it is hard to understand why she is keeping so quiet, and allowing the current whitewash. But puzzled Filipinos will have little recourse until the next election, when they can at least kick out all these rascals – provided, of course, that the vote is not rigged."

The usually insightful London-based magazine The Economist got it only half-right this time. It’s not true the people have little recourse until the next elections. Two presidents were thrown out of Malacañang in the last 19 years. It is unlikely that Gloria Arroyo will last until 2007 when the next elections, which by the way are local, are scheduled.

No administration in the history of both the Republic and Commonwealth has sunk so low in credibility and trustworthiness as the Gloria government has. Four out of four people want her out. Her administration is propped up only by the party of thieves, whose members have been handsomely bribed, and the bootlicking police and military leaders who are the junior partners of the Jose Pidals in the jueteng protection racket and in rigged contracts.

The beauty of a democracy is indeed the opportunity it offers for the people to kick the rascals out at regular intervals fixed by the Constitution. But when stealing elections has been perfected into an art, what do people do?

During the deliberations of the House committee on justice on the sufficiency in substance of the Lozano complaint, pro-Gloria congressmen developed a bizarre idea of how to rob the people of their right to vote and to get away with it.

It went like this: Assuming Gloria indeed conspired with Garci in doctoring the results of the election, the acts took place before Gloria’s inaugural on June 30, 2004. Impeachment, however, covers only acts committed during an official’s term of office. Ergo, Gloria cannot be impeached on the ground of stealing the election. She may be liable for violations of the Election Code, but indicting her for such offenses can only take place after her term because the president is immune from suits.

The implication is that one can lie, cheat and steal to gain the presidency. Victory ensures one of immunity for six years. Under the twisted impeachment rules of the House, the victor can even merrily go on lying, cheating and stealing, provided he can find a Lozano to file and a Marcoleta to endorse a whimsical impeachment complaint every year he is in office.

If this is the rule of law and of constitutional processes, then the people should not only march in the streets. They should start erecting and manning the barricades.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

That Saudi visit

MALACAÑANG had been saying Gloria Arroyos would drop by Saudi Arabia on her way to the 2005 World Summit and the 6oth annual UN General Assembly. The latest word is that the visit, originally set Sept. 12, would be postponed.

What’s going on? The Palace, in fact, did not make an announcement that the visit would not go on. The news was leaked and only then did confirmation come from Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye.

Sources said the reason the visit did not push through is that the Saudi government informed Manila that King Abdullah bid Abdel Aziz "would be in the province" on Sept. 12. Bunye declined to say if indeed such a message was relayed by the Saudis, adding only that a new schedule is being arranged.

A head of state does not simply drop by on a foreign capital and hope to be received by his counterpart. Such visits are highly ritualized affairs, every meeting and its agenda agreed on months before.

Was there really an invitation for Arroyo to visit on the scheduled day and the Saudis, for reasons known only to them, boorishly withdrew it a week before? Some say the Saudis put off the visit because of the impeachment proceedings against Arroyo. The explanation is hardly credible. The House of Saud could hardly care about who governs these islands.

Or did the Palace announce a visit the hosts knew nothing about? If so, we would not be surprised. It needs a distraction, any kind of distraction, from the current leadership crisis.

Gloria, however, should have chosen another country to embarrass in its drive for self-preservation. Slighting the Saudis who provide the bulk of the country’s crude requirements is a serious, uh, "lapse in judgment."

But what could one expect?

‘Hello, Garci’

THE murderers in the House were at it yesterday, moving to bury all three impeachment complaints against Gloria Arroyo. The eulogies were waiting to be delivered. But the burial party has to wait a while.

Rep. Gilbert Remulla, chair of the lead committee in the "Hello Garci" investigation, delivered a privilege speech on what he alleged was a government conspiracy to spirit out former election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, the phone pal of Gloria Arroyo.

Gloria’s allies have done their job of trashing the complaints in the committee on justice. It is likely they would also succeed in the plenary.

But if there is any lesson to be learned from Remulla’s privilege, it is this: the question of whether Garci and Gloria conspired to rig the results will not go away.


Monday, September 05, 2005

Gloria’s isolation

TODAY, we’ll know for sure whether there are at least 79 members of the House who, as Rep. Edmundo Reyes said, care enough for truth. We certainly hope the pro-impeachment bloc would be able to muster the one-third vote needed to send the impeachment complaint to the Senate for trial.

But we are realistic enough to concede that the Palace has as good as bought two-thirds of the House. Trickery through technicality, moreover, needs only a majority in the House. So even if 79 votes are gathered, the impeachment complaint can still be tied up in knots through a majority plan to refer the case back to the committee on justice or to boycott the plenary altogether to deny a quorum.

It’s still a long, long way to the resolution of the current crisis in leadership.

Malacañang continues to express confidence the impeachment bid would not prosper because the groups behind it come from widely varying persuasions. There’s the Left and then there’s the Right and the full political spectrum in-between: the Marcos groups, the Estrada loyalists, the Poe campaigners, sections of Big Business, Church groups, civil society organizations, intellectuals, students, etc. The Palace says they don’t have a basis for unity, except opposition to the continued stay in power of Gloria Arroyo.

The Palace wants us to believe this dooms the oust-Gloria campaign.

Nice try, but it completely misses the mark. An alliance as broad against a sitting administration has never been seen since 1986. The simplest explanation is that Gloria has lost the trust of all significant political players and, if surveys are to be believed, of four out of five of the citizenry.

Why? Let’s take the case of the Marcos remnants, probably the least palatable among the oust-Gloria campaigners. Palace spin masters want us to believe it is about burying President Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

The real issue is what happened to the Marcos wealth and whether the recovered funds have helped the poor as the Palace claims. Of the P35 billion or so recovery from the Swiss stash, at least P16 billion vanished in 2004, the first year of the funds’ transfer to the Treasury, clearly in support of Gloria’s campaign for the presidency. Around P10 billion is set to be spent this year, leaving P10 billion for the claims of human rights victims.

What the government succeeded in recovering after 18 years, Gloria spent in less than two years to 1) buy the elections, and 2) to keep herself in power after her election cheating was exposed.

So there’s nothing disreputable about Cory Aquino being on the same side of Imee Marcos or of the rest in the impeach-Gloria campaign.

The wonder is given the lying and the stealing, it took them a long time to get together.


Saturday, September 03, 2005

Giving away state assets

WHEN politicians of all stripes hail a business deal as an unadulterated boon to the nation, we instinctively check if our wallet is still in our pocket.

With the recently announced purchase by Manila Hotel Corp. of the interest of the German-firm Fraport AG and of two other investors in the Philippine International Airport Terminals Co., erstwhile builder-contractor of the NAIA Terminal 3, we have a feeling our pocket is again about to be picked.

Presidents Cory Aquino and Joseph Estrada were among the latest worthies to hail the business deal. They said it would speed up the opening of the terminal. It would revive interest of foreign investors. More, it would advance the cause of nationalism as the terminal would be run for Filipinos by Filipinos.

It was Samuel Johnson who said patriotism is the last resort of scoundrels, and Manila Hotel Corp. pulled off a similar stunt before. When the Manila Hotel was put on the auction block by GSIS years back, the clear winning bidder was a Malaysian group. The current owners of the hotel went to court, saying that, as Filipinos, they have first crack at the hotel because it is a national patrimony.

The local group won the case in the Supreme Court. A hotel is part of the national patrimony? Historical, maybe, but part of the patrimony?

The last time we heard, Manila Hotel has yet to fully pay GSIS the full purchase price. Its lawyers have gone to court in the group’s time-honored tradition of making money on the strength of political pull rather than business acumen.

The Manila Hotel Corp. said it would eventually end up owning 80 percent of Piatco so it was ready to negotiate with the government on the terminal’s completion, its opening and on running it.

There are two problems. First, Piatco no longer owns the terminal; it was expropriated by the government and the compensation due to the builder is the sole issue that remains to be resolved. Second, the Supreme Court has ruled that Piatco’s build-operate contract with the Department of Transportation and Communications was void from the very start because of anomalies surrounding the raft of amendments introduced into the original contract.

So Piatco, whoever owns it, is completely out of the NAIA Terminal 3 picture. Any government official who would return ownership of the terminal and re-award the management contract to Piatco faces a lifetime stay in jail for plunder.

But under the Arroyo administration anything can happen. Awarding state assets to a favored group without public bidding pales in comparison to stealing a presidential election. If Gloria could do the latter, why not also the former?

What’s to prevent her from favoring a friend?

Impeachment? Ha, ha, ha!


Friday, September 02, 2005

Methodical murder

SO this is where Gloria Arroyo’s promise to answer the accusations of stealing the election ends up? All three impeachment complaints thrown out by the House committee on justice?

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita yesterday said the committee’s massacre of the three complaints was the vindication of the rule of law. But we distinctly heard his principal repeatedly saying last month she wanted a forum where she could answer the charges and go on to clear her name. Nothing was said about using the majority’s sheer number in the House to kill the complaints.

She sure fooled the too few people who were willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, including those bishops who by now are probably going around their dioceses with eggs on their face.

The methodical murder of the complaints shows evident premeditation. The amended complaint filed by the opposition was declared separate from the Lozano complaint. This was followed by a ruling that since the Lozano complaint was filed first, the rest should be thrown out. Then followed the moro-moro that the Lozano complaint was sufficient in form but not in substance.

All done in one day.

So where exactly during the proceedings did Gloria present her side?

Even on the specific accusation of Lozano that she committed the offense of betrayal of public trust in talking to former Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, her defenders at the House did not address the issue.

Their line went like this. The sole evidence of the conversations was the "Hello Garci" tapes. It was a product of illegal wiretapping. Therefore, it cannot be accepted as evidence.

Even assuming that Gloria and Garci talked about rigging the results, the offense was committed before her installation on June 30. She can only be impeached for actions done during her current term. Ergo, there is no case against her.

The congressmen seeking her impeachment still have a fairly good chance of overturning the justice committee’s recommendation by securing the needed 79 votes representing one-third of the chamber’s membership.

We certainly hope the impeachment bloc would succeed. Even if the charge would be limited to stealing the elections, the continuing conspiracy to cover up the cheating would be enough to hang Gloria at the trial by the Senate.

The assumption, of course, is that the majority would not do every dirty trick in the book, including boycotting session, to block a vote by at least 79 members to send the impeachment case to the Senate. Put another way, the assumption is Gloria and her lapdogs have a remaining sense of basic decency.

An assumption controverted by everything Gloria has done since grabbing power four years ago.


Thursday, September 01, 2005

Spare us the hypocrisy

WHAT is truth? Pilate asked. He never waited for an answer. We thought we would never see the highest officials of the land out-Pilate Pilate. But there they are, not only evading the issue but not raising the question at all.

The House justice committee yesterday threw out the Jose Lopez impeachment complaint (the second) and the amendments (the third) introduced by the opposition to "fortify" the original complaint of Oliver Lozano. The committee is now going through the motions of determining the sufficiency in form and substance of the Lozano complaint.

They should spare us from their hypocrisy. The Lozano compliant has been described as no better than toilet paper. Gloria and her allies can stick that soiled complaint up you know what.

Gloria’s allies are just running true to form. They are religiously sticking to a prepared script. Uphold Lozano in order to inoculate Gloria from a credible impeachment complaint.

Pro-impeachment congressmen are still hoping they can gather the 79 signatures needed to automatically send the compliant – even the weak Lozano version - to the Senate for trial. There’s a good chance that they would yet succeed.

The disgusting stories coming out now about the Lozano complaint may yet convince the few remaining decent members of the House to sign up. And these same shameless tactics give the senators more reason to find Gloria guilty of betrayal of public trust.

Former Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman the other day disclosed that she heard Gloria directing Gabby Claudio, her adviser on political affairs, to find somebody to endorse the complaint of Lozano. The intention, to repeat, is to inoculate Gloria as the same Lozano sought to do in November 2000 when Gloria was still vice president. The on-going moro-moro is in furtherance of this script.

And Gloria and her lapdogs in the House have the gall to talk about adherence to constitutional processes and the rule of law?

The Gloria administration was conceived in sin when she and her supporters conspired to bring down President Joseph Estrada even before the latter’s impeachment trial. It was born in that lie of an Edsa 2 People Power revolt. It was nursed by that laughable Supreme Court ruling that Estrada "constructively" resigned. It came into adulthood by stealing the 2004 elections.

So why should we be surprised that that mutant of an offspring turned out to be totally evil?