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, October 28, 2005

Déjà vu

Who’s Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita working for? Is he indeed a Trojan horse of his erstwhile patron President Fidel Ramos?

Ermita, in justifying the barricading of the approaches to Malacañang, dredged up a Supreme Court ruling which he said upholds the place’s status as a "protected area" where rallies are banned and tight security is imposed.

The ruling cited by Ermita, it turns out, was issued by the high tribunal way, way back in 1985. Since the executive order that proclaimed Malacañang and its environs as a "protected" presumably has not been recalled, it remains in effect. The SC ruling, also presumably not having been overturned, continues to be the prevailing jurisprudence.

But in going back to 1985, is Ermita, in effect, saying the conditions then are the same as the conditions now?

That was the time when the truth about the unprecedented corruption of President Ferdinand Marcos and his cronies was starting to surface. The people were fed up with strongman rule. They were outraged by the killing two years before of Ninoy Aquino. They wanted Marcos out.

And Marcos, to give where credit is due, toward the end of 1985 called for "snap elections." Marcos massively cheated in the February elections. But in less than two weeks, Edsa 1 would erupt and Marcos would find himself shanghaied by the Americans to Hawaii.

Let’s look at the current situation.

Calls are mounting for Gloria’s ouster for cheating in the 2004 elections. She had said she looked forward for truth to come out about the allegations but her lapdogs at the House scuttled the impeachment proceedings. The cover-up is continuing, with Gloria barring members of the executive department from appearing before the Senate without her permission. As protests spread, she answered with her "calibrated preemptive response."

People, however, are not cowed. Protesters are defying CPR and are directly challenging it with marches to Mendiola and prayer meetings at the churches around the Palace.

Gloria’s response is to ring Malacañang with steel for fear that people would storm the seat of power. There is no starker picture of a president who has totally lost the people’s trust than the barricades of barbed wires and container vans thrown at the approaches to the Palace.

It’s 1985 all over again. We should thank Ermita for reminding us about it. The regime is tottering. A few more nudges and one big final push will send it crashing.

Google

Thursday, October 27, 2005

‘Re-engineering’ gov’t

A former policeman to "reengineer" the bureaucracy? Well, that’s what Gloria wants and what she wants goes. Never mind that the PNP has never been known for making any dent on criminality since its establishment 14 years ago.

Gloria’s "reengineering" czar is Virtus Gil, retired No. 2 man in the PNP. His marching orders are to identity frontline agencies which could operate in an "emergency mode" in delivering basic services. Presumably, Gil would be empowered too to kick the asses of heads of under-performing departments.

But didn’t Gloria announce after the resignation of the Hyatt 10 that she was instituting a new system of management where she would end her micro-managing and give full play to the initiative of her Cabinet members? Naming a lieutenant – a former policeman at that – to look over the shoulders of Cabinet members is certainly far from giving them a free hand in running their departments.

In a bureaucracy with a modicum of efficiency, frontline services are delivered in the ordinary course of business. Civil servants are supposed to do their jobs day in day out without a fuss. They may be called upon to do extra-ordinary service in times of emergencies, especially during natural calamities, but people cannot work for long on the strength of an adrenaline rush. They’ll collapse from sheer physical exhaustion.

So why are government agencies not doing the job they are mandated to do? Let’s start from the top. Many front-line agencies at present are leaderless, thanks to Gloria. After the Hyatt 10 resignations, Gloria has yet to fill the vacancies with permanent appointments. Top of the head, we can name education, social work, land reform and economic planning as departments being handled by OICs.

Perhaps it’s true. Nobody with proven competence and unquestioned integrity is volunteering to work for the discredited administration. There s a long list of applicants, but these are mostly politicians who want to make last-minute fast-breaks in what they know is an administration whose days are numbered.

Gloria wants us to believe she is doing her best to improve revenue collection to narrow the budget deficit. What’s the real score? Jose Mario Bunag at internal revenue and Alex Arevalo at customs are about to be given the boot. Sure, they’re OICs and they knew very well they are just warming the seats they now hold for permanent appointees.

But the names being floated as their replacements do not exactly inspire confidence.

At customs, in particular, the front-runner is Ed Pamintuan, secretary for external affairs (whatever this ersatz department is all about). Pamintuan’s scant credentials as revenue raiser go back to his stint as mayor of Angeles City; he said he was able to raise city revenues.

But this Kapampangan’s loyalty to Gloria is unquestioned. When all is said and done, that’s the over-riding qualification. Gloria is circling the wagons. She needs people she can trust with her life by her side. And governance go hang.

Google

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Is that the rattle of loose nuts we’re hearing?

Delusion is running riot in Malacañang.

Gloria is visited with visions of a First World Philippines 20 years hence. She orders frontline government agencies to start working on an emergency mode. She calls for a national spiritual renewal. She wants to beautify provincial and town capitals. She wants the MMDA to step up face-lifting of eyesores that offend investors and creditors.

For a president who’s hanging on to power by her fingertips, how else could be consider these fanciful dreams if not delusional?

She wants frontline agencies to work as if they are operating under a state of emergency or a state of calamity. They do that, work at the agencies will soon grind to a halt because of sheer exhaustion. What people expect from government is not heroic 24/7 efforts. They want to be safe in their homes and in the streets. They want good education for their children. They want doctors, nurses and medicines when they are sick. They want these basic services available in the ordinary course of government business.

First World status in 20 years? We’re reminded of a German sociologist who, despairing over Nazism, said there is hope for humanity, but, alas, not for us. Especially if, by some cruel joke of history, Gloria continues to inflict her lying, cheating and thieving ways on this benighted land.

Gloria said she will ask Catholics to go to confession and Muslims to dedicate Ramadan to reconciliation. Does she mean she is a priest and an imam too? Too late the preacher she; Ramadan will be over a week from now. But for one whose moral pole star is self-preservation at all cost, she’s the last person to tell us about spiritual uplift and self-sacrifice.

Beautification? Perhaps she’s only following the example set by her favorite mayor, Lito Atienza, whose idea of urban renewal is the tarting up of seawalls and riverbanks. The blood-carrying arteries of the city, meantime, are left clogged and sclerotic.

MMDA chairman Bayani Fernando as beautification czar? What a laugh. This is the same guy who dotted the metropolis’ landscape with pink fences and urinals.

People in the Palace appear to be losing their grip on reality. The masses are starving; they offer the pie in the sky of First World status in a generation. Delivery of social services is breaking down; they answer with a state of emergency. The people are dispirited and losing hope; the liars and deceitful put themselves up as paragons of virtue.

We can hear the disconcerting rattling. Some nuts appear to be loosening. We pray they would not drag the country with them when they eventually slip into madness.

Google

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Economic take-off?

Do you know why jobs are not created despite the 5 percent growth the Gloria administration is crowing about? Bear Stearns and Co., a US investment bank, has part of the answer in a recent study.

Banks are not lending, sated as they are by risk-free investments in government IOUs. The government is happy with the banks’ reluctance to lend to business. It gets cheap money to bridge its gaping budget deficit.

Everybody happy, save for the depositor who gets an interest on his deposits well below the inflation rate and the businessman who can’t get money to start a new venture or expand existing ones.

According to Bear Stearns, the local banking system had a loan to deposit ratio (DPR) of 57 percent at end of 2004, meaning that for every peso in deposit, the bank lent out 57 centavos. By the first half of 2005, the DPR was down to 55 percent.

In other places where banks are more effective, Bear Stearns said, the DPR is between 70 to 80 percent.

The banks reluctance to lend is understandable. They took a beating in the aftermath of the 1997 regional financial crisis. Most of them, in fact, only recently completed the transfer of their soured loans to asset management companies.

So the banks would rather buy government IOUs. The cost of buying P100 million worth of Treasuries is less than that involved in the processing a P1 million loan. With 90-day T bills paying slightly less than 6 percent, the banks are comfortable with their 4 percent spread from the 2 percent interest they pay depositors.

The government, for its part, is happy the Treasury’s weekly auction is oversubscribed. It pays lower interest. No matter that more than a third of its expenditures go to payment of interest on debts.

We have a situation where the banks lend to the government which immediately uses the proceeds to pay old loans to the same banks. The government boasts about its ability to service its obligations, the mark of a good borrower. The banks dutifully book earnings from their holdings of Treasuries.

All is well with the world although nothing is actually produced. The word, we believe, is "ampaw" economy – a thin shell of puff pastry with nothing but air inside.

Gloria’s claims the economy is set to take off but is dragged down by politicking. We are puzzled by the resurrection of W. W. Rostow’s largely discredited 1950’s model of modernization. But let’s give Gloria, the PhD in Economics, a run for her adopted model.

According to Rostow, the stages of modernization are: Traditional society, Preconditions for take off, – Take off, Drive to maturity, and Age of high mass consumption.

We are, if Gloria’s model is correct, still at the second stage.

And at the rate Gloria is destroying institutions, we might yet step back to traditional society.

Google

Monday, October 24, 2005

Big business gives Gloria the lie

Gloria Arroyo, who had not run a single enterprise, not even a sari-sari store, before she joined government, keeps invoking the need to keep the economy healthy to justify her assault on the Bill of Rights and on the powers of the legislature.

People who run businesses, however, do not see street protests or congressional investigations as threats. On the contrary, it is Gloria’s actions, they say, which are detrimental to the economy.

Between the two, Gloria and the Makati Business Club, there is no question which one is more credible. Aside from the fact that the MBC members are in the trenches, as it were, and, thus, better informed about what’s happening on the ground, they don’t have a history of lying and cheating (except on their tax liabilities, of course -- just kidding).

In a statement issued last Friday, the MBC said the issuance of EO 464, the calibrated preemptive response, and the contemplation of the declaration of a state of emergency which calls for government takeover of privately owned utilities and businesses "illustrate a pattern of repression which has detrimental effects on basic freedoms and eventually on an open economy."

On the barring of members of the Executive from appearing before congressional inquiries, MBC said: "The implications of EO 464 are that public acts by the executive can now be hidden from public scrutiny… There will be even less transparency in government."

On CPR, it said: "While rallies may indeed be an inconvenience for the public, we must nonetheless respect the right to assemble and the right to free speech. Rallies per se are not the cause of instability as the government purports. The rallies are an expression of frustration at the government’s inability to make significant inroads on poverty and corruption."

On emergency rule, the MBC said: "Why would investors enter key sectors such as the utility and transport sectors, only to find their businesses subject to government takeover under emergency conditions that are not clearly defined?"

In July, the MBC saw Gloria’s continued stay in power as a block to economy recovery. This time, her actions are seen as potentially detrimental. So why did the MBC this time not reiterate its call for Gloria to step down?

Our guess is that the MBC still expects that Gloria would listen to reason, that she would recall EO 464, drop CPR and disown Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez’ draft state of emergency declaration.

The MBC is deluding itself. She is a tiger wounded and cornered. She’ll sink her fangs first at what she sees as her tormentors.

The MBC said her actions are detrimental? Wait till she goes berserk. She’ll lay waste to her perceived enemies in business. One more reason she should go.

Google

Ramos in a bind

(This was published last October 22, 2005)

Every time, President Fidel Ramos opens his mouth, everybody’s wondering what hidden agenda he is pushing. Speaking before a group of businessmen the other day, he called on President Arroyo to agree to cut short her term so a shift to a parliamentary system can be installed in 2007.

The immediate reaction is that Eddie is up to another of his tricks, spewing words of high patriotism while his hands are manipulating the players on the political board so they can arrange for his accession as prime minister. It’s a result of Ramos’ bad rep as a manipulator and as a psy-war expert, which is unfortunate because Ramos is much less devious than you-know-who. Compared to her, Ramos was a regular straight-shooter when he was in Malacañang.

On July 8, Gloria Arroyo was tottering on the edge after 10 Cabinet members and key revenue officials called for her resignation, a call supported by President Corazon Aquino.

Ramos’ dramatic intervention carried the day. Scarce notice was paid to a formula for ending the leadership crisis he presented to the Manila Rotary Club a few days before. The Ramos proposal calls for the formation of a council of elders that will effectively take over the reins from Gloria, charter change to carry out the change to the parliamentary system and general elections in 2007.

The formula was reiterated by Ramos during his July 8 press conference where he threw his support behind Gloria. Palace officials, who very well knew they barely scraped by that time, said in so many words that Gloria was amenable to Ramos’ proposal.

Now, the word from the Palace is that cutting Gloria’s term is an issue that can be discussed later. She is too busy running the government to discuss Ramos’ formula to end the leadership crisis.

That’s gratitude for you, Gloria-style.

Ramos probably is too grizzled a player to have entertained the illusion that that debt of gratitude will allow him to dictate on Gloria. But it is this very keen sense of politics of Ramos that should make the Palace listen to what he is saying.

Ramos personifies the belief that whatever the sins and crimes of Gloria, there is no alternative to her at the moment. The ranks of these hesitant Gloria supporters are thinning day by day. The reason is not difficult to see. Reforms have taken a backseat to Gloria’s survival at all cost.

So the dwindling supporters of Gloria, Ramos included, are in a bind. They are propping up a discredited administration because there is perceived to be no alternative. This perception, however, has made Gloria even more intransigent.

A lose-lose situation. Ramos should know when to fold and call for a new deck.

Google

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Reds are coming!(?)

The Palace should accept the obvious. Its "calibrated preemptive response" to mass protests is a failure. It has not stopped those calling for Gloria Arroyo to resign from marching in the streets. In fact, the contrary has happened: the perceived assault on civil liberties has prompted persons who were on the sidelines to swell the ranks of protesters.

"Calibrated preemptive response" can accommodate a softening of position in the face of stiffening resistance. There’s nothing for the administration to lose by saying: "Hey, we erred in abandoning the maximum tolerance policy. From now on, you can shout till you lose your voice and march till you drop from exhaustion."

Did we say nothing to lose? There’s face, of course, and given the vainful pride of the occupant of Malacañang, we aren’t holding our breath waiting for a more reconciliatory stance.

Gloria is as arrogant as ever. She has lumped all critics as part of a campaign to destabilize her administration. The militants, the civil society groups, the vocal segment of the Church, the generals, the political opposition – they are all part of an unfolding power grab. They should, thus, be stopped in their tracks.

It’s scorched-earth tactics.

Ignacio Bunye called the bishops and other personalities who led last week’s rally to Mendiola "hypocrites and pretenders." Bunye said he was only reflecting the mindset of his principal. How could it be otherwise? A spokesman verbalizing the contrary of what his principal thinks is an absurdity.

So a more realistic expectation is that Gloria, instead of easing up, will respond with more strong arm tactics to suppress protests. Perhaps not right now, but sooner or later in the face of more frequent and bigger protest rallies seeking her resignation.

Militants are marching today to Mendiola in another challenge to Gloria. The police will surely block them well away from the symbolic bridge. The stage is set for another confrontation.

What is worrisome is the military’s raising of the communist bogey on the eve of today’s protest actions. It warned that the New People’s Army might infiltrate the ranks of protesters and stage a repeat of the Plaza Miranda bombing.

Perhaps the military knows something we don’t. But we cannot dismiss this nagging suspicion that raising the Red bogey is a preemptive (that word again) justification for some nasty trick the men in uniform are preparing.

Google

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Who’s afraid of MJ?

Who’s afraid of Mark Jimenez, Erap’s "corporate genius" who ends his stint as a guest at a US federal institution in November and is scheduled to fly home without delay, also courtesy of the US government?

Some Palace denizens apparently are. Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said "MJ," as Jimenez is known, should "re-think" his stand toward Gloria, enjoy life and not get involved in new controversies.

Fair enough warning, we suppose. But on second thought, why is the Palace concerned at all about Jimenez’ coming home?

Jimenez is a Filipino citizen who has paid the price for committing a criminal offense in the United States. He starts with a clean slate. So why should Malacañang demand he "re-think" his position toward Gloria? He can, with his reputed fortune, support Elly Amatong, for all we care.

Our suspicion is Jimenez still holds a lot of information that could destroy some people in power. He is a braggart, but in one specific case, his allegations have been corroborated by unassailable documentation.

We’re talking about his complaint before the Ombudsman that Hernando Perez, Gloria’s first secretary of justice, extorted $2 million from him in exchange for approving an Argentine company’s contract to rehabilitate the Caliraya-Kalayaan-Botocan hydroelectric complex. He said this took place a month after Gloria grabbed power from Estrada.

Jimenez filed the plunder complaint in December 2002. At this time, the Supreme Court had dismissed his petition questioning his extradition to the United States. So the impression was that it was an act of desperation, a last-minute bid to establish himself as a key witness in a high-profile graft case, hoping to stay his extradition.

In 2003, however, the Swiss government provided the Philippines documents that tended to confirm the specific information provided by Jimenez. On Feb. 23, 2001, Coutts Bank of Hong Kong received a $2 million remittance from the Trade and Commerce Bank of the Cayman Islands for the account of Ernesto Escaler. A portion of the money, said to be Escaler’s commission, ended up in Manila. The rest was traced to Singapore and, after a series of suspected laundering transactions, to some banks on the Channel islands. The accounts were in the names of Perez, his wife and some John and Jane Does.

Since November 2004, the Ombudsman has been asking the Department of Justice to make a request with Hong Kong authorities for copies of records of the Coutts accounts. Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez has been sitting on the Ombudsman’s request.

So what’s the Gloria administration’s business in apparently shielding Perez?

There’s another $14 million in bribes from the same source allegedly coursed through Jimenez, according to Sen. Panfilo Lacson. If $2 million was the price of a justice secretary, $14 million must have gone to somebody else with more clout.

Who? Let’s ask Jimenez when he arrives.

Google

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Bitter pill must be taken

Curbing the runaway budget deficit is absolutely necessary. We may wish the government would improve the efficiency of tax collection or be less wasteful in its spending. But neither is forthcoming. So the pill that is the expanded value added tax must be taken, however bitter.

The government has been running a deficit since anyone can remember. If memory serves, the last time the government posted a budget surplus was in 1973 when the economy was booming because of the high prices of the country’s primary exports. Deficits are funded by borrowings. And the folly of relying on borrowings has now caught up with us.

Of the proposed P1 trillion budget for 2006, 40 percent is earmarked for payment on interest on loans. With fully 90 percent of the remainder committed to salaries and operational expenses, that leaves around P60 billion for expansion of services and capital investments.

The full implementation of EVAT (scrapping of exemptions now, basically on power and gasoline, and increasing the rate from 10 to 12 percent at the start of 2006) is expected to raise additional revenues of P80 billion a year. The additional revenues are expected to cut the projected 2006 deficit to P125 billion from the current P180 billion.

The deficit reduction will send a strong signal to lenders and investors that the country is indeed serious in placing its financial house in order. They will likely be more open to extending additional loans and easing terms.

That said, the government should watch out for the social cost of higher taxes. Incomes are down and the additional burden in the form of higher prices could be more than what the people are prepared to bear.

Government propagandists are trying to make people believe the EVAT’s effect on prices would be minuscule. That’s a flat lie. Higher power and fuel prices will have a cascading effect down the line. The current inflation rate of above 8 percent, basically due to higher crude prices, is already unacceptable. If the rate goes double-digit, the country will have trouble in the streets.

The Arroyo administration is facing a legitimacy crisis. At the moment, the mass of the people are staying away from protest actions. But the dissatisfaction with Gloria is palpable.

More hardship caused by the EVAT just might be the proverbial lighted match thrown into the tinderbox.

Google

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Petty tyrant

We are supposed to be grateful for the government’s concern over the inconvenience caused on us by the traffic snarls resulting from protest rallies staged in Lito Atienza’s ancient and royal city of Manila. Mendiola, for example, is close to the University Belt. So the place should be spared from protest actions that inconvenience tens of thousands of students.

The greatest good for the greatest number should be the rule, Palace apologists say. The inference is it’s all right to hose down with high pressure water jets protesters who turn streets into sidewalks.

Well, there’s no provision in the Bill of Rights guaranteeing one’s speedy travel, but there’s one saying the freedom to peacefully assemble to seek redress of grievances should not be abridged. There is an hierarchy of values and the Constitution recognizes it. If we choose to hold smooth traffic as more important than the right to call on Gloria to step down because she is liar, a cheat and a thief, then let’s scrap the Bill of Rights.

Gloria’s "constitutional commission," we understand, is already mulling the introduction of a Bill of Duties and Obligations in the proposed charter changes. At the rate Gloria is trampling down on the citizens’ liberties, her chosen drafters of a proposed new charter might as well enshrine the bizarre constitutional principle that citizens exist to serve the state.

The history of constitutionalism is essentially characterized by the ever-expanding rights of the subjects and the narrowing of the powers of the sovereign.

Perhaps, these rights are hollow, bourgeois abstractions that hide the brutal reality of inequality in the economic and political powers wielded by the different sectors that make up society. This, more or less, is the underlying principle of totalitarianism – whether of the Right or of the Left – which sacrifices the individual to the altar of the Race or the People.

We can debate till hell freezes over on legal rights versus substantive rights. But that’s a distraction.

Gloria may mouth bromides about the need for a strong state and a responsible citizenry. That’s an afterthought, an artificially constructed ideology to stay in power.

The reality is she grabbed power from the elected president. Next, she stole the presidential election of 2004. Now she’s trying to intimidate everyone who sees the utter illegitimacy of her rule.

At least Marcos had a vision. Gloria, in contrast, has no guiding principle but the drive to power. Marcos is a despot in the grand tradition of many post-colonial leaders, the reason he managed to stay in power for a generation.

Gloria, in contrast, is a petty tyrant. She should not stay long.

Google

Monday, October 17, 2005

Calibrated people’s response

Former Vice President Teofisto Guingona and the trio of equally elderly prelates who led Friday’ prayer-rally cum march to Don Chino Roces bridge are destabilizers? Sure, they are, the Palace says, and therefore thoroughly deserving of the hosing down they received from policemen.

Don Chino, he with his impish visage, must be approvingly smiling up there. He was tarred as a "subversive." The "subversives" are alive and well and are expanding their ranks under the new tag of "destabilizers."

Who can forget that photo of Don Chino with his frail body thrust forward to meet the jets of high-pressure water hosing down protesters as they marched toward the Welcome rotunda at the height of strongman rule? Too few were the Don Chinos of that time. The forces of repression appeared invincible. Marches and protest rallies were seen as futile. But the eddies would turn into waves. The waves would flow and ebb. But gather strength they would at every cycle, finally cresting into the People Power revolt that would wash away the dictatorship.

The paradox of repression is that its exercise leads to resistance that leads to intensified repression that again leads to greater resistance. Gloria Arroyo, in seeking to bury the truth about her lying, cheating and stealing, had only invited calls for her to step down. Her answer is to crackdown on dissenters.

There should be no mistake about "calibrated preemptive response." Palace officials would like us to believe that "calibrated preemptive response" is but a fancy name for the "no-permit, no rally" policy. It isn’t. The context is unmistakable. The Palace is prepared to take harsher actions to meet stepped-up protests.

How else could Gloria last, with the people wanting her out for stealing the 2004 elections and for flouting all the rules of decency and morality in the subsequent cover up, if not by silencing her critics through threats initially and through force ultimately?

We have, we fear, reached the point of no return in the unfolding logic of repression and resistance. Gloria is not stepping down. She apparently believes she can ride out the calls for her resignation or ouster through intimidation and violence.

But history is on the people’s side. The people have shown twice within a single generation that when roused, they are an irresistible force. Perhaps, the next time around, it would not be in the form of a mass gathering at Edsa. The people are far more creative than imagined by theorists.

They have their own "calibrated people’s response." They are not about to submit to the peace and stability in the cemetery that is all Gloria can offer.

Google

Gloria’s thugs

(This was published last Saturday, October 15, 2005)

The administration is pressing the US government to name the local officials who were named as recipients of the classified information downloaded by FBI intelligence analyst Leandro Aragoncillo. The US Embassy says: "Wait, their identities will be known during trial."

The US response was not meant as a direct rebuke. It was a polite putdown. The administration should know very well that in the American criminal justice system, people are not tagged willy-nilly as targets of criminal investigation. First, it would alert the targets. Second, it would smear persons who might turn out to innocent. Third, there is the possibility of miscarriage of justice through trial by publicity.

Nobody talks out of turn. Not the FBI. Not the prosecutors. Not the grand jury. And definitely not the judge (remember, in contrast, that judge in the Vizconde murder cases?).

NBI director Reynaldo Wycoco is a blabbermouth. His boss, Raul Gonzalez, is worse. The former holds press conferences on ongoing investigations. The latter, in informal talks with mediamen, discourses on the criminal liabilities of persons even when there are no investigations being conducted, let alone the filing of charges.

But why should we be surprised? Wycoco some years back was talking about putting Sen. Panfilo Lacson behind bars for allegedly maintaining a number of bank accounts abroad where he allegedly stashed hundreds of millions of dollars. Wycoco’s "evidence" was later established in a Senate inquiry as a total fabrication of Col. Victor Corpus, then chief of the Intelligence Service of the AFP, with funding from Malacañang.

About the same time, the NBI was banging its head on a blank wall on the Nida Blanca killing. Prosecutors somehow managed to file a case. Their so-called evidence was laughed out of court by a US judge when the Philippines sought the extradition of their suspected mastermind, Nida’s husband Rod Strunk.

No matter, the NBI is undeterred by its image as a regular Keystone Kop. It is seeking to try by publicity people against whom US authorities find no reason to indict. A grand jury, for all we know, might at this point be receiving evidence against these people. But grand jury proceedings are kept secret precisely to protect the innocent.

Let’s not belabor the obvious. The NBI, the DOJ, the PNP and the AFP, for that matter, have been reduced to acting as the personal Gestapo of Gloria Arroyo. And she’s right, in a sense, in siccing law enforcers on her political opponents. Most people believe she stole the 2004 election. She has utterly lost her credibility. Without her secret police cum thugs, she would not last another day.

Google

Friday, October 14, 2005

GMA in the role of bully

We believe Fidel Ramos when he said all this talk about emergency rule is pure B.S. We really do.

Gloria Arroyo is just playing the bully, trying to cow everybody who says she is a liar, a cheat and a thief. Perhaps she might declare emergency rule down the road in desperation. But at the moment Gloria knows that there is no basis for declaring emergency rule (in whatever version), that people will resist and that the military might give her the boot.

Gloria’s justice secretary, Raul Gonzalez, says the conditions they are preparing for are an economic dislocation that might be brought about by an uncontrolled rising spiral of oil prices. Who’s he kidding? Takeover of vital industries will not add a single barrel of crude oil to the county’s stockpile. In fact, it would bring about the contrary – the tightening of the taps by the mother companies of the two refiners (Saudi Aramco in the case of Petron and Shell in the case of Pilipinas Shell). Higher cost of crude is a pricing problem that can be taken care of by the workings of the market. Government takeover will turn a manageable problem into a full-blown supply shortage. If this is not idiotic, we do not know what is.

The Palace’s "calibrated preemptive response" has become a unifying force for the fragmented opposition. It has only triggered more protests. Protesters are talking about a "calibrated people’s response." If Gloria thinks this is an idle threat, she ought to review the tumultuous two years immediately before the declaration of martial law.

For the moment, the military leadership never tires of swearing loyalty to the Constitution and "duly constituted authorities." But Gloria should not be too complacent. The generals invariably accompany the avowal with the qualification that they are committed to following "lawful orders" only. If we were Gloria, we would not stake our survival, political or otherwise, on such double-edged pronouncements.

The bottom line is that there is no sense in declaring emergency rule. The risks far outweigh the benefits. The trouble is there is no rhyme or reason to Gloria’s current actions , save the over-riding drive for survival. Rationality is taking the backseat to folly.

Google

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Recipe for a good night’s sleep?

A division commander based in Tanay, Rizal, has ordered his men to arrest those recruiting them for destabilization attempts. If the recruiters resist, he added, then his men should shoot them, whether they be civilians or soldiers in active duty or in retirement.

The order issued by Maj. Gen. Efren Orbon of the 2nd Infantry Division is nothing new, Army chief Hermogenes Esperon said. He said it’s SOP (standard operating procedure) and it applies nationwide.

"If they resist arrest and shoot us, we will shoot back," Esperon said.

Esperon’s logic is unassailable. Somebody opens fire at a soldier, the least the latter could expect is a return of the compliment. Perhaps Orbon simply forgot the "if they shoot us" qualification cited by Esperon.

Orbon said he has been relaying his arrest order to his men "for a long time already."

"I have to be tough because of the proximity of my unit to Metro Manila," he also said. The 2nd ID, it so happens, was the mother unit of most of the participants in the July 2003 Oakwood mutiny.

The PNP, not about to be outdone by the AFP, has launched its own campaign to rid its ranks of destabilizers.

"Report to the CPNP (chief PNP) as soon as possible anyone in the PNP organization who are reportedly being contacted by elements of the AFP, or by the members of opposition, or by fellow members for any destabilization plans," said an Oct. 3 directive issued by the PNP Directorate for Operations to all 17 regional directors and chiefs of the 11 national support units.

The memorandum was issued after the PNP quarterly command conference held in Camp Crame on Sept. 30, which was attended by President Arroyo.

During that meet, the PNP and all other organizations within the police force pledged their all out support to President Arroyo’s administration.

The same memorandum reminded police officials to strictly adhere to Executive Order 464 which bars police officials with the ranks of chief superintendent and up from attending congressional hearings without the permission of the President.

"As stated in EO 464, all PNP personnel are reminded to always follow the chain of command. All officers who are summoned in Congress should first ask clearance from the CPNP as basis for seeking clearance from the President," the memorandum said.

We suppose the order was just to stress PNP chief Arturo Lomibao’s claim that the 117,000-strong police force remains solidly behind Gloria Arroyo.

We also suppose Orbon’s order, backed by Esperon, was also intended to underline the obvious – that the AFP is solidly behind Gloria.

With these pledges of loyalty Gloria should be able to sleep soundly. Or can she?

Google

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

When liars speak the truth

We can’t quite get a handle on the Northrail project which has come under fire from some quarters.

Oppositors say the project, which aims to rehabilitate the Philippine National Railway system from Manila to La Union, is over-priced, is marked by kickbacks and did not go through the bidding process.

Proponents say it is on the up and up and no better deal could have been struck for its financing and for its contractor.

This controversy is unlike the P50 million lobby contract with the US lobby firm Venable LLP, which was improper, or the P2.3 billion fertilizer fund which was released just before the 2004 elections, which stinks to high heavens.

The Venable contract was in itself a judgment call. The only objectionable provision in it was the one calling for US funding for charter change. National security adviser Norberto Gonzales messed it up when he did not secure authority before signing the contract in the name of the Republic and raised funding for it surreptitiously.

On the fertilizer deal, there is strong evidence showing that the money was used to buy electoral support for Gloria. The money was coursed through the Department of Agriculture which funneled it to congressmen, governors and mayors. The funds, however, ended up with "NGOs" nobody in civil society knows about.

So it is understandable why Gloria Arroyo is risking a constitutional crisis in barring officials of the Executive department from appearing in an inquiry being conducted by the Senate on the P2.3 fertilizer fund. The inquiry is very likely to find more evidence she bought the election.

But as we earlier noted, Northrail appears to be defensible even at Plaza Miranda.

The contractor is the China National Machinery and Equipment Corp. (CNMEC), a former ministry which was spun off following the shift from a planned to a market-led economy. The loan for the project comes from the China Export-Import Bank. The project is covered by a government-to-government agreement.

The Arroyo government appears to have been negligent in crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s. But that’s no reason to junk the deal.

Now, with the Executive stonewalling efforts of the Senate to get to the bottom of this issue, the impression in the public mind is that the project is indeed overpriced and was attended by kickbacks.

That’s what a government seen as a habitual liar gets even in the few times when it is already telling the truth.

Google

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

‘Bayad utang’ strikes anew

Bayad utang" again reared its ugly head with the sacking last week of Insurance Commissioner Benjamin Santos.

Finance Secretary Margarito Teves reportedly wanted his own man — rather woman — in the person of Evangeline Escobillo, who heads a small thrift bank to head the agency. But the word going around in the industry is that Santos’ head is Gloria’s gift to small insurance firms which are represented by a woman legislator from a province near Metro Manila.

The industry suspicion appears well-founded. Santos has declared war on under-capitalized insurance companies, saying those with paltry capitalization have no business issuing insurance policies. They are hit by claims, they cannot make good on their obligations even assuming they have reinsured part of their exposure.

So why then do these under-capitalized firms, mostly engaged in non-life insurance, survive? The big ones, of course, are making good money issuing cover to physical assets. But who is the businessman or homeowner who would pay good money in premium to a company operating from a hole in the wall?

And there lies a can of worms.

Most of these small operators are engaged in a pure scam through the issuance of fake compulsory third party insurance covers for motor vehicles.

Given the number of vehicles registered with Land Transportation Office, insurance premiums are placed at P2.5 billion a year, from which the government should collect P500 million in taxes. But the total premium payments in the latest available industry reports comes to only P1.4 billion, from which the government collects P90 million.

Where did the missing P1.1 billion go? To the scam artists who issue worthless pieces of paper which are required before an owner can register his vehicles.

The insurance company owners earn. So do LTO men who are their partners. And last but not least the ubiquitous fixers at LTO offices.

The government loses. The motor vehicle owners suffer aggravation. The victims who are hurt, maimed or killed in road accidents get no recompense.

Santos’ proposed solution to the problem is the putting up of a pool of legitimate insurers. Only one form of insurance policy would be allowed. The members of the pool would regulate themselves.

We don’t know if Santos’ proposal makes sense. But at least he seemed to be addressing the problem.

Then one fine morning he got this missive from Eduardo Ermita saying, "Thank you for your services. Hoping for your success in your next endeavor."

What a way to run government.

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Game of the generals

(This was published last October 10, 2005)

It’s funny, the AFP leadership’s call on politicians to keep them out of the current leadership crisis. The call came from generals who were shown in the "Hello Garci" tapes to have helped Gloria Arroyo steal the elections. Now they want to make us believe they all scrupulously stuck to the principle that their only role during the last election was to vote.

Generals Kyamko, Esperon and Habacon were mentioned by election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano in the unmistakable context of helping doctor the results. General Gudani, the other mentioned in the tapes, would not help in rigging the results in the notoriously poll fraud-ridden Lanao provinces, for which he was called as being with the "other side."

From division commander, Gudani ended up as assistant superintendent of the PMA. Now retired, he faces court martial proceedings for spilling the beans on "cheating in Lanao from start to finish" before the Senate.

Kyamko and Habacon have retired. But Esperon is now the Army commanding general. He might yet end up as chief of staff.

This is how the "apolitical" AFP rewards professionals?

There are reportedly at least 40 generals retiring this year and the next. We hope the senior colonels next in line are less politicized than the current crop of generals. But that’s probably wishful thinking.

As noted by the late Capt. Rene Jarque, who resigned his commission in frustration over his campaign against corruption, company grade officers generally retain their integrity. It is when they get promoted to field grade that they are introduced to the culture of corruption. When they get their stars, most of them think stealing is part of the privileges of their rank.

The same thing characterizes the promotion process. From lieutenant to major, promotion is automatic. So there is not much room for bootlicking. From major up, buttering up to superiors is the norm. When the jockeying starts for star rank, those in line for promotion know they have to pull strings to get ahead of the pack.

Of course, the outstanding officers will get promoted in time. After all one can’t run a war-time military (we have the communist and the secession rebels as well the Abu Sayyaf terrorists, remember?) with incompetents. It’s the wait that rankles while the less deserving but with more time in place get promoted.

In the last round of selection for brigadier generals, there were a dozen or so available slots. Half went to the top qualifiers. The rest went to long-serving colonels who had slightly over a year left before retirement, leaving a half-a-dozen brigade commanders twisting in the wind.

That’s why an exceedingly high number of generals are retiring next year. The past years - that is, under the Gloria Arroyo as commander-in-chief - stars are being showered on those nearing retirement age. The result is a bunching up of retirable generals.

No wonder one always hears of talks about disgruntled officers.

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Monday, October 10, 2005

Attack dog on the loose

(This was published last October 8, 2005)

A Fil-Am retired Marine is accused of downloading classified documents from FBI files and sending these over to a former Philippine official and two serving ones. A retired PNP official now living in the United States is accused of acting as co-conspirator of the ex-Marine.

So what business has Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez in ordering the NBI to investigate whether the alleged spy received money from Manila and if so, from whom?

Absolutely none.

Both the ex-Marine, Leandro Aragoncillo, and the former PNP official, Michael Ray Aquino, have been indicted in the United States for stealing documents from an FBI facility in New Jersey where the former worked as intelligence analyst. So the case is now in the hands of US prosecutors even as the FBI is reportedly expanding its investigation to include Aragoncillo’s theft of documents while he was serving at the Office of the Vice President.

The Manila-based recipients of the documents might also be indicted as co-conspirators. The US Department of Justice might seek Philippine help under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty. But that is mere speculation. There is no reason for Gonzalez and NBI to volunteer their service to a foreign government in running after Filipino citizens who have not been charged in the case.

A befuddled NBI official was on television yesterday, trying to justify the hatchet job Gonzalez had directed them to do. In so many words, the official said they know nothing about the case; their sparse knowledge came from news reports.

Gonzalez is just running true to form as Gloria’s attack dog.

When the spying case broke out a few weeks ago, Gonzalez immediately volunteered to extradite whoever the local principals of Aragoncillo and Aquino are. When reminded that no self-respecting government volunteers to hand over a citizen to a foreign jurisdiction, Gonzalez promptly shut up.

Now it appears that he was only playing possum. The rapid attack dog is back in business and justice go hang.

The unnamed former official is reportedly President Joseph Estrada. One of the two unnamed sitting officials is reportedly Sen. Panfilo Lacson. The demolition job against them is on.

Estrada and Lacson can very well take care of themselves. They are prominent political figures. They have the wherewithal to mount an effective legal defense. They know where Gonzalez is coming from and most likely have already covered their flanks.

But what about ordinary citizens like us? We have a secretary of justice who brushes the law aside in pursuit of his and his principal’s enemies. We have an NBI which is acting like a Gestapo.

Where will we turn for justice? Where will we seek protection from abusive exercise of power? The NPA?

Google

Friday, October 07, 2005

Government by deceit, of thugs and for thieves

Many of this administration’s allies have been wondering why Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye has turned combative, lecturing senators on what they should or should not do. Previously, he was seen as the "liberal" face of a Cabinet turning more authoritarian. So why this transformation into a rabies-infected attack dog?

Rep. Tony Cuenco of Cebu, a Gloria Arroyo loyalist, had a suggestion. He said Bunye should be sidelined and presidential political adviser Gabby Claudio instead serve as Palace pointman in a dialogue with legislators on EO 464, the order barring practically every official in the Executive department from appearing before Congress without the permission of Malacañang.

It was a reasonable proposal. Something has to be done to heal the rift between the Executive and Legislative.

Cuenco’s suggestion, however, is based on a false assumption, that Bunye is somehow a rogue of a spokesman who is winging it all by himself.

It simply is not the case. He is presidential spokesman, aside from his other hat as press secretary. He is presumed to reflect the thinking of his principal. And Gloria just yesterday confirmed that the sustained assault on Congress, especially the Senate, is high policy.

How else could one interpret her call on senators to stop their "mindless preoccupation with all things political" and do something, anything to help her?

It’s a formal declaration of war, and nobody should be surprised at the turn of events.

Gloria is on self-preservation mode. The Senate is looking into the "Hello Garci" tapes, the Venable contract, the Northrail contract, the fertilizer deal in the run-up to the 2004 election.

The "Hello Garci" tapes and fertilizer deal hearings are expected to expose more proof of stealing and buying the presidential election. This is the main reason Gloria wants a stop to the Senate inquiries. The appeal to separation of powers and executive privilege is but smoke and mirrors in Gloria’s fight for self-preservation.

We have come to that pass where an illegitimate, incompetent and corrupt administration is forced to resort to force and deceit to stay in power. Nothing will bar it from pursuing this end. Not the Constitution. Not the laws. Not morality. Not decency.

We would not call it fascism. At least fascism has an ideology, however distorted. Fascism arose from the specific European condition of a stalemate between the Right and the Left. When the fascists came forward to present themselves as the saviors of the people, of the nation and of civilization, they were articulating deeply rooted uncertainties and fears of society.

Gloria presents herself as the Bonaparte who would build the Strong Republic to save the nation from disintegration. There’s an element of ideology in that, but let’s not fool ourselves. It’s a lie invented to hide the reality of a government of liars, of cheats and of thieves.

We now have a government of thugs. The task before the people, thus, is clear:

Throw these thugs out. By whatever moral – note that we do not say constitutional or legal – means.

Google

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Miriam’s standard of accountability

WOULD Sen. Miriam Santiago really keep her word that she would shoot herself if her allegation that President Corazon Aquino and Senate President Franklin Drilon were conspiring to assassinate President Arroyo turns out to be false?

Japanese officials commit seppuku when caught having lied or cheated. Is Miriam ready to show the way to higher standards of accountability for public officials?

National security adviser Norberto Gonzales was patently lying when he appeared before the Senate hearing on the contract with the US lobby firm Venable LLP. He was promptly cited in contempt by the Senate and placed under its custody. Gonzales is said to be the first Cabinet member to have been detained by the Senate. If Gonzales were Japanese, such a loss of face would have prompted him to retire to some quiet room in the Senate building and disembowel himself.

Let’s take the biggest liar of them all. She said (truthfully) during Rizal Day on 2002 that she was the biggest cause of division within the society. So she was taking herself out of the race in 2004. It turned out that she, while insisting during the months that followed that she was sticking to her vow, was already laying the ground for systematic cheating by appointing "dagdag-bawas" artist Virgilio Garcillano to the Comelec.

When the "Hello Garci" tapes scandal erupted, she apologized for her lapse in judgment in talking to a high election official. Her aides are now claiming she was set up by Drilon. The aides say she was hesitant to make the apology, but had to go along with Drilon’s suggestion. She was not sincere. All that show of penitence on television was just for public consumption.

She said she wanted a forum to answer the allegations of stealing the election. But when the House started the impeachment proceedings, she cajoled, threatened or bought congressmen into blocking the impeachment.

Lying has so become habitual that she and her aides are excoriating the Senate for dredging up the "Hello Garci" scandal and the North Rail project, two issues which they said have been closed by the dropping of the impeachment complaint.

Closed by the dropping of the impeachment complaint? Swept under the rug was more like it. The Lozano complaint focused on her having talked with the unidentified Comelec official. It said nothing about stealing the election or the subsequent cover-up. The North Rail issue was not even remotely touched because the House committee on justice threw out the "fortified" complaint filed by the opposition.

Following the, ah, let’s call it the Miriam standard of accountability, the Palace should soon be emptied of its occupants by now.

But enough. Let’s stop daydreaming.

Google

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

‘Useless’ Senate

Joe de V was perorating over the radio yesterday on the utter uselessness of the Senate which is wasting its time on endless investigation instead of working on legislative measures.

Imagine, Joe said, the House working its butt off in order to pass at least 1,000 bills, only to be frustrated by the Senate’s inaction. Could not the senators, Joe said, spare a little of their time to tackle these pending measures?

Oo nga naman.

If only the senators would put their mind to it, it would take them less than a week – following their Monday to Thursday scheduled sessions – to clear up the backlog of House-approved pieces of legislation. What in the name of bicameralism is stopping the Senate from approving, say, the bill seeking to change the name of "Mataas na Kahoy Barangay High School" into the "Tan Fulano Memorial High School" and the thousand other similar bills of local application?

The congressmen have committed passage of these measures to the leading families in their districts. The congressmen would not have the face to go back to these local worthies and seek their support come the next elections.

One more reason the Senate should be abolished. Its members are nationally elected, so they hardly care about the real concerns of the people out there.

What do Tan Fulano’s descendants, for example, care about the agents of the Intelligence Service of the AFP tapping the cellular phone of election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano and in the process recording his conversations with Gloria Arroyo about rigging the results of the 2004 election?

Or of national security adviser Norberto Gonzales entering into a contract in the name of the Republic with an American lobby firm for the purpose of panhandling before US Congress for money to bankroll proposed charter changes?

In truth, the P50 million budget for the US lobby firm is peanuts. During the impeachment proceedings against Gloria, P50 million could not buy even two House members at the going rate. Buying the US Capitol for that kind of loose change must have been the biggest bargain in Gonzales’ life.

In the same program, Joe said the Senate was not being reasonable in junking outright the House’s bid for Congress to convene as a constituent assembly in order to take up proposed charter changes. He said the senators should at least listen to what the House members are proposing.

Bastos nga naman talaga.

So the House might do it all by itself. It will convene into a constituent assembly sans the Senate’s by your leave. The beauty of the House plan is that the proposed shift to unicameralism will be speeded up.

Why, it will come even before the 1987 Constitution can be amended!

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Why anti-terror law won’t fly

TERRORISTS struck anew at Bali and PNP officials predictably raised alert levels to foil possible attacks by Jemaah Islamiah operatives and their local partners.

The Philippines has fortunately been spared a carnage similar to the results of the first attack on Bali two years ago and of the latest one. The last bombing attacks on these shores were on Valentine’s Day this year in Makati and some cities in Mindanao.

It’s been more than four years since the Rizal Day bombings in 2000 which claimed almost a score of people dead. Casualties have been light in recent attacks. But terrorists strike at the time and place of their choice. There’s always the next time.

Police and military authorities routinely claim they are on top of the situation and that home-grown terrorists as well as their foreign trainors are on the run. Just as routinely, foreign governments, especially the United States and Australia, tag the Philippines as the weakest link, along with Indonesia, in the regional fight against terror.

Which is which?

Perhaps we’re just plain lucky.

The latest bombings in Bali have triggered renewed calls for the passage of an anti-terrorism law. Law enforcers say that apprehended would-be bombers, for example, are entitled to bail because the applicable charges are "mere" illegal possession of explosives. Despite the passage of the anti-money laundering law, the flow of funds to terrorists has largely gone un-interdicted. The anti-wiretapping act also makes it difficult for the intelligence community to conduct electronic surveillance.

So why are legislators taking their own sweet time in passing the proposed anti-terrorism act and why is there lukewarm support for the bill from the citizenry?

Lack of trust in Gloria Arroyo and the intelligence community is the reason why. Take the case of the "Hello Garci" tapes. The wiretapping was evidently done by the Intelligence Service of the AFP. What the extent of eavesdropping was and who gave the orders remain unanswered to this day. The Senate decided to conduct an inquiry. The AFP leadership, including ISAFP chief Brig. Gen. Marlu Quevedo, was barred by Gloria from testifying during the opening hearing. Brig. Gen. Francisco Gudani and Lt. Col. Alexander Balutan, who did appear before the Senate, were relieved of their posts and are now facing court martial.

And who can easily forget the bumbling national security adviser, Norberto Gonzales, who is on top of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, which as its name implies is the coordinator of intelligence gathering, analysis and distribution?

With these characters at the helm, it is understandable why the people are fearful of giving the state expanded powers to pry into their lives.

Google

Monday, October 03, 2005

Assassination?

Cory Aquino and Frank Drilon are plotting to assassinate Gloria Arroyo? The idea itself is absurd. More crazy yet is peddling such inflammatory nonsense at a time when a single spark could lead to a social conflagration.

We are not surprised by such antics coming from Miriam Defensor Santiago. In fact, her allegations could simply be brushed off as products of her over-reaching ambition. She wants to become Senate president. She has to boost her credentials as Gloria’s lapdog in the Senate. Never mind that when it comes to a vote in the 23-man chamber, it will probably just be her lonesome self voting for her.

But given the deepening political crisis, Miriam’s wild allegations are a lighted match thrown into the tinderbox.

Recent assassinations of sitting presidents by conspirators from hostile political parties or groups can be counted on the fingers of one hand – with a few digits to spare. The killing of Egypt’s Anwar Sadat comes immediately to mind.

Most assassinations, however, were the handiwork of individual crazies working alone. Israel’s Yitzhak Rabin was killed by an ultranationalist. Indira Gandhi was killed by a Sikh bodyguard who could no longer stomach perceived attacks on his religion.

So why put ideas into the minds of the psychotics out there?

Or perhaps that’s precisely the point - egg on someone like that mentally unhinged man who stabbed Imelda Romualdez Marcos with a bolo to mount an amateurish attempt against Gloria’s life. Then pin the attack on a conspiracy of the opposition.

There’s a saying even paranoids do have enemies. And Gloria has all the right to feel paranoid. She has stolen the 2004 elections. She’s been dishing out lies after lies in an attempt to cover up the fraud. Let’s not even talk about jueteng protection money and grand thievery. The opposition, joined by the middle forces-led icons like Cory, is pressing for her ouster. That’s the reason Gloria sees conspiracies everywhere. Jojo Binay allows protesters to hold rallies in Makati, ergo, he is part of a conspiracy to bring down business to a halt. The Senate holds an inquiry into the Northrail project, that’s part of another conspiracy to drive away foreign lenders and investors. Generals spill the beans on Gloria’s poll cheating, it’s part of destabilization.

In a way Gloria is right. Four out of five people want her thrown out of Malacanang. She will have to go.

But not through assassination. She either resigns or be ousted. Her exit will take place in the clear light of day.

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Thanks for nothing?

(This was published October 1, 2005.)

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago has come up with a novel proposition that, contrary to conventional wisdom, department heads when summoned by either chamber of Congress must appear with or without the permission of the President.

Her basis is 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."

According to Miriam, the phrase "with the consent of the President" refers to the case where the "heads of d departments may upon their own initiative…appear before such House…"

If their appearance is upon the request either chamber, presidential permission is not needed.
An interesting idea, but it’s neither here nor there in the tug of war between the Palace and the Senate on the need for presidential permission before officials can appear before Congress.

The Senate is prepared to concede that department heads need presidential permission. What the senators believe constitutes obstruction of the job of the legislature is the expansion of the privilege to generals in the AFP and those holding equivalent ranks in the PNP.

More objectionable yet in the minds of senators is the unstated but more insidious claim by Gloria Arroyo through EO 464 that she has the power to determine all the persons to whom the mantle of executive privilege may be extended. What could stop Gloria, if the validity of EO 464 is recognized, from including even clerks and janitors in, say, Executive Order 465?

Gloria told members of her Cabinet on Thursday EO 464 is for their own protection. She said she does not want them to undergo the humiliation suffered by national security adviser Norberto Gonzales when he was summoned to shed light on the P50 million Venable lobby contract.

Palace spinmasters said that after the meeting, all Cabinet members expressed their gratitude to Gloria for her concern over their and their offices’ dignity.

That’s a red herring. Congress recognizes the need for presidential permission before Cabinet members can make an appearance. So why should Cabinet members be grateful for a privilege that the Constitution itself grants?

There are 35 or so Cabinet members. Assuming all of them qualify as "department heads," which they do not because almost half of them hold no portfolio, why are they so scared of appearing before Congress?

Are they perhaps all like Gonzales who signed a contract on behalf of the Republic under a nebulous authority and who received money from unknown sources to pay for such a deal? Or perhaps they have bigger skeletons rattling in their closets?

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