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.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Time for circumspection is past

Huli man at dumating, magaling din," the saying goes. We can say the same thing about the bishops’ call for the "relentless pursuit of the truth" about Gloria Arroyo’s cheating during the 2004 election as shown by the "Hello Garci" wiretapped conversations. But how we wish the bishops had issued the call when it could have made a difference.

The bishops said the search for truth has been blocked and evaded. True. But the pastoral statement they issued after their plenary council meeting last weekend made no mention about who did the evading or obstructing. There’s a time for diplomacy and circumspection, and a time for raining hail and brimstone on unrepentant cheaters, liars and thieves. By their timidity, the shepherds sadly let their flock down.

Let’s do a quick review of the "Hello Garci" scandal. Sometime in May, the opposition got hold of the "Hello Garci" tapes. Seeking to preempt disclosure of the tapes, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye came out with two CDs on June 6. According to Bunye, one, the conversations between Gloria and Garcillano, was fake. The other, the genuine recording, contained the conversations between Gloria and "Garry," said to be a staffer of Rep. Ignacio "Jose Pidal" Arroyo.

When the House opened its inquiry, Garcillano could not be found. The Palace consistently ignored calls to help locate Garcillano and there were credible reports that a couple of Cabinet members helped hide Garcillano and even facilitated his flight to Singapore.

When an impeachment complaint was filed against Gloria, the Palace threatened, cajoled and bought congressmen to ensure the unsubstantiated case filed by Oliver Lozano was brought before the plenary. The administration congressmen then proceeded to dismiss the complaint for lack of substance.

Garcillano has since surfaced, appearing before the joint House panels, whose "unreliable" chairmen had been sacked. The lying has not ceased.

The Senate opened a separate inquiry into the national security implications of the wiretapping which has been traced to the Intelligence Service of the AFP. Save for Brig. Gen. Francisco Gudani and Lt. Col. Alexander Balutan, not one of the invited AFP officers have appeared before the Senate, invoking Executive Order 464. Gudani and Balutan have been threatened with court martial for attending the hearings.

In contrast, Rear Adm. Tirso Danga, the head of Isafp during the time the wiretapping took place, has just been named chief of the Western Command, one of the six unified area commands. Two generals mentioned in the "Garci" tapes as having helped rig the elections in favor of Gloria have been promoted. Maj. Gen. Gabriel Habacon is the new chief of the Southern Command. Lt. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon is the commanding general of the Army and is slated to take over as chief of staff when Gen. Generoso Senga retires this year.

And Gloria? She remains ensconced in Malacañang and continues to weave her veil of deceit that even the bishops apparently are reluctant to pierce.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

AFP restiveness taking its toll

So they got Capt. Nicanor Faeldon. One less tormentor for the Armed Forces and four more to go, counting only Magdalo leaders who bolted Fort Bonifacio on Jan. 17 or about a month after Faeldon gave the slip to his guards after a hearing at the Makati regional trial court. Six if we include two other lieutenants who have gone AWOL and presumably gone underground with the other escaped Magdalo leaders.

The military and the police will probably catch the rest in time. At what price in terms of money and efforts we don’t know. Certainly cost is the least of the AFP leadership’s worries. Catching the escapees is among its highest priorities.

The AFP has been sorely embarrassed. While on the loose, these officers will continue to infect the officer corps with their mutinous ideas. It has to get these officers back.

We’re only talking here of half a dozen "renegades." Yet the AFP appears to have been already distracted from its primary job of running after communist rebels and Muslim secessionists. Continuing AFP efforts to root out Magdalo sympathizers in the ranks and to identify the "civilian components" of these "destabilization" moves must also be taking a heavy toll on military men and resources.

It’s not only now that the AFP is paying for the restiveness in the ranks. Sometime back the National Capital Region Command was reactivated, bringing the number of area unified commands to six. The Southern Command is dedicated to fighting the secessionists in the South. The Western Command is in charge of protecting the country’s interest in the disputed South China Sea. The Northern Luzon, the Southern Luzon and the Central (Visayas) Commands are focusing on the communist rebels.

So what is the NCR Command tasked to do? It’s out to protect the capital, where the seat of government is, from coups. All the while, the men and units under this command are twirling their thumbs while waiting for the next military misadventure.

Now wonder Gregorio "Ka Roger" Rosal can afford to taunt the government with his frequent calls on the New People’s Army to step up attacks against soldiers, policemen and government installations.

Mindanao is quiet because of ongoing negotiations in Kuala Lumpur with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Newly retired Southcom chief Lt. Gen. Edilberto Adan had warned that the MIFL was training new 2,000 fighters. The warning, however, was dismissed by the political leadership.

The NPA and the MILF threats cannot be ignored. But because of the division in the AFP, these threats are not being adequately addressed. We might wake up one of these days with the communists knocking at Metro Manila’s door and the secessionists carving out a separate territory from the republic.

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Buying a charter wholesale

(This was published Saturday, January 28, 2006)

President Fidel Ramos continues to insist that there was a consensus at the meeting early this week of the Council of State for the scrapping of a proposal to scrap the 2007 elections.

Assuming Ramos is right, so? The Council of State is an advisory body. President Arroyo is free to do whatever she wants with that body’s recommendation. In this case, she wants to scrap the elections. Ramos, as we said yesterday, can go take a jump into the Pasig river.

Cabinet Secretary Ricardo Saludo, who we presume was the official recorder of the meeting, said there was no such consensus as claimed Ramos. We don’t know who’s telling the truth between Saludo and Ramos. But we would not be surprised that even as the meeting was packed by Gloria with Lakas CMD leaders, the Palace would resort to fudging the record of the proceedings. What’s a little cheating among friends?

Meanwhile, as Gloria, Ramos and Speaker Jose de Venecia are crafting a proposed new Constitution that would lead us to political maturity, economic progress and general happiness all around, who’s minding the store?

The 2006 budget remains stuck in the bowels of the House. It would take only a word from Gloria and Joe for the House to pass the budget bill with alacrity. So why are the two not cracking the whip?

Gloria talks about reviving the confidence of the country’s lenders. She is boasting about programs to pump-prime the economy. She dreams (hallucinates?) big. But she can’t even attend to basic housekeeping such as adopting a budget.

In the five years that Gloria has been in power, if we remember right there were only two years (2003 and 2005) when the government operated under an approved budget. In the rest, the previous years’ budgets were reenacted.

We know what happened with the reenacted budget in 2004. It was an election year and appropriations for projects completed in 2003 where hijacked for election "pa-pogi" projects. What compelling needs does Gloria have for having a blank check this year?

We can only think of the campaign to revise the Constitution in order to shift to a parliamentary form of government. Cha-cha is being pursued in the face of overwhelming public sentiment against it. But Gloria, Joe and the other leaders of Lakas, the party of thieves, believe that everybody, just like them, has a price.

They want to buy a 2006 Constitution wholesale to ensure their continued stay in power. A reenacted budget will provide them the wherewithal.

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Friday, January 27, 2006

A conclave of believers

President Ramos said that 99 percent of the participants in Tuesday’s Council of State meeting were against the scrapping of the elections in 2007. With 75 people in the meeting, not including Gloria Arroyo, that 99 percent translates to 74 people against. So who’s the odd man out who continued to press for "no el," a proposal which Ramos described as "a disaster in the making?"

Frankly, we don’t care. The Council of State has been described as the highest advisory body to the president. What Gloria Arroyo wants is all that matters. She wants to scrap the elections, Ramos and the 73 others can go take a jump into the filthy Pasig.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, who was there at the meeting, denied Ramos’ claim that there was a consensus to bury "no el." Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, who was also present, also said there was none. Cabinet Secretary Ricardo Saludo, who presumably was the official recorder at the meeting, supported Ermita and Gonzalez’ claim.

How the impression that "no el" was junked was explained by Ermita thus: "It’s so happened that anti ‘no el’ advocates were just very vocal during the debate."

Anyway, the point is that the reports that "no el" is dead were an exaggeration. "No el" is the reward Gloria is dangling before congressmen and local government officials for supporting the proposed charter change that would install a parliamentary form of government. Promises apparently have been made. Gloria is not known for reneging on her side of, well, deals of the transactional kind. When she breaks her word, it’s only when high principles and solemn oaths are concerned, as when she vowed not to run in 2004 because she was the cause of the divisiveness that was – and is – preventing the nation from moving forward.

Frankly, we consider the debate over "no el" a red herring. The issue is the change to a parliamentary system. And if there’s any consensus reached at the Council meeting, it is over the need for charter change. Not surprising really, considering that the meeting was a conclave of believers.

Charter change, however, will not happen unless the Senate agrees to it. Of the seven senators who attended the meeting, only one, Senate President pro-tempore Juan Flavier, has an open mind to the proposed revision of the 1987 Constitution, and another, Edgardo Angara (why is this guy still considered a member of the opposition?) who is flat-out for charter change.

That Council meeting was a waste of time and effort. The opposition and President Corazon Aquino were right in boycotting it.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Standoff in the military

Malacañang has directed the Armed Forces to root out suspected coup plotters. The AFP leadership immediately called a press conference where chief of staff Gen. Generoso Senga and the three major service commanders declared that the chain of command is intact and that the military remains loyal to the Constitution. They added that field commanders had been directed to check the sentiments of their subordinates and the feedback has been largely assuring.

As an afterthought they said there are indeed plots a-hatching, but quickly added these have no chance of succeeding.

Strangely, despite the admission, the generals were silent on what concrete actions they have taken against suspected coup plotters as per the directive of Malacañang.

Sen. Nene Pimentel immediately saw through the rigmarole. He told Senga to stop babbling about the incapability of the plotters to launch an uprising and instead arrest them.

"If General Senga knows of a coup plot, he should arrest all involved whether or not they are capable. Plotting is a crime," he said. "I dare government to act decisively or shut up."
The AFP leadership is hesitant in launching a witch hunt for suspected plotters in the ranks. The interesting question is why.

It is probably not because of any sympathy by the senior generals to the cause of the reformist officers. The senior generals have risen to where they are now by acting as toadies of Malacañang. They know which side of their bread is buttered and if they could drum the plotters out of service, they would have so done by now.

The more likely explanation is that the restiveness in the military has reached a point where the AFP leadership would rather not precipitate the very event it wanted to avoid – a coup – by rounding up suspected plotters.

(As an aside, one of the secrets of leadership is not issuing any order that will likely be ignored or defied. By ordering the AFP leadership to run after suspected plotters, Malacañang has violated this rule. But what else is new?)

So at the moment, the AFP’s hands are tied. The hunt is on for the escaped Magdalo leaders, mostly lieutenants with a sprinkling of captains. But the AFP cannot and will not move against the colonels and the few generals who are in the hit list of Malacañang.

The dilemma Senga and the service commanders are facing can only turn acute in the coming weeks and months. This year, at least 50 generals, half of those holding star ranks, are retiring. Who will the AFP leadership promote?

The politically compliant and trustworthy who are way down the seniority list? Or those with sterling records but are perceived to be unreliable?

A Hobson’s choice if ever there is one.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Sleepless by the Pasig?

There are soldiers plotting a coup, all right. They don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell, however, of succeeding, said the leadership of the Armed Forces, in a press conference attended by the AFP chief of staff and the three major service commanders.

Speaking like generals indeed. They have weighed the enemy’s intentions and capabilities. Their professional opinion is that the coup plotters do not have the men and the firepower to win against the 130,000-man Armed Forces.

The generals are probably whistling in the dark. There are strong indications that the Armed Forces is more restive now than it has ever been. The revolving door policy at the top, the "bayad utang" promotions and assignments, the continuing corruption are taking their toll.
More generals in active service or on the verge of retirement are speaking out. Even senior colonels are not afraid of being denied their stars in exposing corruption and favoritism. The junior officers? Not a few of them are openly calling for President Arroyo’s ouster.

In an organization like the military where discipline is the rule, these instances of defiance are the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Ninety percent of the restiveness is under the surface.

And even if the coup plotters are, in fact, incapable of winning in a shooting war, the generals are missing the point by focusing on the sheer calculus of men and firepower arrayed on both sides.
A repeat of the July 2003 Oakwood mutiny would be a disaster. The economy, sputtering as it is now, would implode. Access to foreign borrowings would be lost. Would-be investors would steer clear of this country. Investors who are already here would be pulling out their stakes.

The Oakwood caper took all of 300 enlisted men and 30 officers to pull off. The mutineers were cobbled together into an ad hoc unit, the reason for the confused command structure that made them easy pickings for the psy-war experts.

A full battalion, with its unit integrity intact, could hold loyalist troops in a standoff until it runs out of ammunition. Remember December 1989? Some 500 or so Scout Rangers were able to keep control of the Makati business district for more than a week.

The Magdalo core leaders, including those who have escaped from detention, come from rather interesting units: the Marine Recon, the Air Force Commando, the Navy Special Warfare Group, the Army Light Reaction Companies, the Army Special Forces and the Army Scout Rangers.

These gentlemen are capable of serious mischief. The Sengas, the Esperons, the Reyeses and the Mayugas know it. So we don’t know who they’re trying to fool with their show of bravado. Probably us, the people. But what if...? Somebody living on the bank of the Pasig must be having sleepless nights.

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Basking in reflected glory

(This was published Tuesday, January 24, 2006)

Will the politicos please shut up and stop riding on Manny Pacquiao’s win over Erik Morales? They’re just spoiling the celebration over Manny’s sweet revenge over the Mexican boxer who narrowly won by points the previous time they went up the ring.

Mike A. was roundly booed by fans who paid to see the fight live at SM theaters. He deserved it. He had no business imposing his intrusive presence at the moment of Manny’s glory.

Back home, a Palace official said that with Pacquiao’s victory, "divisive politics has become even more irrelevant and abhorrent to the Filipino people."

"Let there be a moratorium on attacks against the government and on the politics of hate, gloom and doom being waged by the detractors of the administration. I hope we can make this feeling of unity and victory last for the good of our nation."

What’s this idiot talking about?

Gloria Arroyo cheated her way to the presidency. When caught, she resorted to lying through her teeth. When an impeachment complaint was filed against her, she bought the congressmen using taxpayers’ money.

People want her out. What’s the connection between Manny’s ring exploits and the campaign to kick an illegitimate president out of Malacañang? Manny won; Palace spin masters say we should stop attacking Gloria. Had Manny lost, would Gloria’s aides have conceded that efforts must be stepped up to bring down their principal?

Manny is a great boxer. Perhaps genetics has something to do with his skills. But he devoted his whole life perfecting these inborn talents. At times, Manny seemed to be overwhelmed by the fame and the glory. When he climbs into the ring, however, he delivers.

There is no more decisive moment in the world of Pacquiao’s than flattening one’s opponent on the canvass. Or, conversely, to be decked and fail to stand up at the count of 10. There’s no lying or cheating here.

And every dollar that Manny earns he works for it, which cannot be said of those thieves who are loudest in hailing him as an icon of national unity.

This attempt to glow in Manny’s reflected glory just goes to show how desperate these people are in trying to climb out of the pit of disrepute they have sunk into. They are hated and despised by the people, so they clutch at the hems of the shorts of a boxing idol.

Can anything be more pathetic?

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Monday, January 23, 2006

Bloodbath

For a government installed by a bloodless people power uprising, it is the height of arrogance for the Arroyo administration to threaten the people with a bloodbath if they join the campaign to bring it down from power.

Five years ago, President Joseph Estrada, faced by the mass of protesters at Edsa and the withdrawal of support by the AFP and PNP leadership, left Malacañang without a fight. Fifteen years before that, President Ferdinand Marcos, also under the same circumstances, firmly put his foot down on his military advisers’ call to bomb the Edsa crowd and Camp Crame, the headquarters of rebel soldiers.

In both instances, there is no doubt both Estrada and Marcos had armed forces loyal to them that could have put up a last stand. Both Estrada and Marcos, in fact, enjoyed wider civilian support at the nadir of their power than the Gloria administration now has.

They decided to pull back from the brink. Even the most rabid Estrada and Marcos haters would grudgingly concede history ought to judge these two with kindness for not plunging the nation into a bloodbath.

Last week, the nation marked the fifth anniversary of Edsa 2. Not a word was heard from Gloria about that momentous event that swept her into power. The government, in fact, let the historic day pass without any official celebration or observance.

She would apparently prefer that the nation forget that it was "people power" that placed her in Malacañang.

Two things could explain her amnesia. One is she would rather not be reminded that her rise to the presidency was extra-constitutional. Estrada was alive, had not been impeached and had not resigned. She was an illegitimate president from the very start. She sought to secure a mantle of legitimacy during the 2004 elections. All it resulted into was to cement her illegitimacy by buying and stealing the presidential election.

The other explanation is that Gloria wants people to forget that twice, during Edsa 1 and Edsa, they succeeded in peacefully throwing out two sitting presidents. Her fear, of course, is an Edsa 3, with her as the target of another people power uprising.

Her fears are well-grounded. The people see her as the worst president this country has ever had, barring none from Emilio Aguinaldo to Estrada. She is well and truly isolated. The two remaining props to her administration are the Lakas CMD (shades of Marcos’ KBL) and her corrupt favorites at the AFP leadership (remember Gen. Fabian Ver and his cabal of generals?).

So what does a petty tyrant do when her rule is good as over? Scare people, what else.

That said, there is a real possibility that Gloria might become unhinged, that is, if hasn’t already become one, considering all her crazy claims about a bullish economy, a reformed politics, order in the streets and improved national security.

As her madness turns for the worse, the streets might yet flow with blood. One more reason she should be kicked out now.

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Black and blue vs polished behinds

(This was published last Saturday, January 21, 2006)

The Intelligence Service of the AFP continues to insist it does not have the capability of eavesdropping on cellular phone conversation. The latest take from Brig. Gen. Marlu Quevedo, Isafp chief, is that his unit is capable of listening in only on landline telephone conversations. He means the low-tech way of spying involving tapping into the wire connecting a telephone set to the network (the origin of the word "wiretap).

How does this square with the fact that Isafp’s MIG 21 has virtually been established as behind the tapping of the "Hello Garci" conversations of Gloria Arroyo and former election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano and the communications of some opposition leaders?

Most likely Quevedo is lying, perhaps having been infected by the pervasive economy with truth at the highest level of government, including the commander-in-chief. It surfaced during Thursday’s Senate hearing that equipment capable of monitoring cellular calls can be had for $400,000.

That amount is a drop in the bucket of the AFP budget. We recall that a few years back, the AFP bought a vehicle wrecker with plates of steel riveted on its sides for $1 million from Turkey in the name of modernization. To justify its price, they called it "armored combat recovery vehicle." Having the ability to listen in on the conversations of Gregorio "Ka Roger" Rosal or Khadaffy Janjalani is certainly cheap for $400,000.

But what if Quevedo is, in fact, telling the truth, that Isafp does not have an electronic scanner that locks into targeted digital telephone signals? How do we explain the "mother of all tapes" and its "children"?

The answer is far more troubling. The Isafp must have access to the computers of telecommunication companies. The agents must be in place at the heart of the telcos or they must have suborned engineers to do the tapping for them.

But these are technical issues which one way or the other have the same results. The Isafp has been (is?) breaking the law against wiretapping. By targeting the opposition, the Isafp has violated the principle of non-partisanship by the military in politics.

To be fair to the Armed Forces, it is possible Isafp’s wiretapping did not have the sanction of the leadership. Isafp could have turned into a rogue unit, short circuiting the chain of command and taking orders from political operators. But to bring it back into line, the brass should have sacked the senior officers during whose watch the wiretapping took place.

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, defense chief to Marcos and Aquino, said had the wiretapping taken place in his time, he would have kicked the asses of the generals.

Under Gloria, it’s the other way around. The brownnosing generals get, ah, reciprocal treatment. They end up being promoted and getting assigned to head key commands.

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Friday, January 20, 2006

Gloria offensive goes pffttt

Three weeks into the new year, Gloria Arroyo’s hope the nation would leave behind the questions over the legitimacy of her administration is being dashed by unfolding events.

The escape of four Magdalo core leaders highlights once again the erosion of her support in the military, the last remaining institution that stands in the way of her ouster. The reopening of the "Hello Garci" tapes investigation by the Senate is starting to uncover systematic use of the Armed Forces intelligence service to spy on the opposition during the 2004 elections.

The latter shows Gloria and her subalterns have gone beyond the pale. The professionals in the military, especially the young officers, have understandably taken more open actions to denounce Gloria’s prostitution of the uniformed services.

Just three weeks ago, Gloria and her lieutenants were exulting triumphant in having fended off efforts to throw her out of Malacañang. They claimed having routed the critics. They then declared a "counter-offensive" to wipe out the opposition, civil society, the sections of business who see ruin under Gloria’s continued stay in power, the idealistic officers in the AFP and just about everybody else.

The charter change proposal from Gloria, President Fidel V. Ramos and Speaker Jose de Venecia was supposed to wrest national attention from the noisy squad of "destabilizers and petty spoilers."

Well, the grand production called Cha-Cha had a good run of something like two weeks.
Gloria, Fidel and Joe are continuing to flog a gasping horse. But the people this early have seen through the "moro moro." Cha-Cha has been unmasked as an attempt by Gloria and the Lakas CMD, the party of thieves, to keep themselves in power until 2010 and beyond.

Still as part of the "offensive," Gloria has called a meeting of the Council of State on January 24. This is supposed to be an opportunity for all political forces to come together and rally behind a government of national unity. President Cory Aquino is not buying. The opposition is not buying. The meeting will end up as a conclave of Gloria and her allies. It can only lead to further polarization of the nation.

It’s probably caused by hubris, this belief by Gloria that she can always manipulate events to her advantage. But reality is less tractable. The people cannot be fooled all the time.

Try as Gloria might to mislead the people, the real challenge before the nation will inexorably come to the fore. And that challenge is how to throw out Gloria. It’s a matter of national survival. Four more years of the liars and the thieves in power and the future will be truly lost.

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

AFP leadership is losing its grip

Army chief Lt. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon yesterday said he is getting the pulse of young officers in the field. He said he called up division commanders early yesterday morning – hours after four officers of the Magdalo group escaped – and was given the assurance that company commanders have sworn to follow the chain of command.

Esperon should have saved himself the trouble. Did he expect the division commanders to admit junior officers are restive? Or for the junior officers to say they are just waiting for the opportunity to move against the chain of command all they way up to their corrupt and illegitimate commander-in-chief?

The escape of four Magdalo core leaders from detention in Fort Bonifacio already speaks volumes about the sentiments of junior officers.

First, the escape itself shows the Magdalo core leaders have lost hope they could secure justice from military and civilian courts. The Magdalo staged the short-lived Oakwood mutiny to dramatize their call for an end to corruption and favoritism in the military.

Two years after their misadventure, the more blatant forms of corruption in the military have been curbed, but talks continue of commanding officers pocketing funds for their units. In the case of favoritism and "bayad utang" promotions, the situation has turned for the worse.

Two, the Magdalo leaders could not have escaped without the support, however passive, of sympathizers within the officer corps and among enlisted men.

Rene Saguisag, lawyer of one of the escaped officers, cut right into the heart of the issue when he was asked if the escape proved there were Magdalo sympathizers inside the camp.

The proper question that should be asked, Saguisag said, was whether the Gloria administration still has sympathizers inside Fort Bonifacio.

The Armed Forces declared a red alert immediately after the escape. But that action was normal, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, himself a retired general, said. He downplayed the possibility the escape was a prelude to a coup, adding the Magdalo is just a small group within the military.

We also do not see an imminent coup. There must be a spark, some action by this administration that would provoke widespread public outrage that would prompt the professionals in the military to withdraw support from the administration.

But at the rate Gloria Arroyo is leading the country to ruin with her Cha-cha and no elections, the time when the Armed Forces will be compelled to exercise its mandate as the protector of the people and of the state is not long in coming.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Why gov’t is losing war to Reds

THE Armed Forces and the National Police have ordered the launching of "all-out" offensives against the New People’s Army after recent high-profile rebel attacks on government troops and installations. The AFP and the PNP leadership said the NPA rampages should not go unpunished. The war should be brought to the doorstep of the rebels themselves.

Do they mean that the military and the police have been treating the communist insurgency with benign neglect, if not tolerance, all along? And it’s only now that they have woken up to the 37-year-old threat?

Army chief Lt. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon has been talking about crushing the leftist insurgency during his watch. We’ve been hearing that promise every year since the New People’s Army was founded in 1969. The communists, unfortunately, have not exactly been intimidated by such threats and continue to pose a credible threat to the Republic.

More than any other past administrations, the Arroyo administration is probably the least capable of containing, let alone crushing, the communist rebellion.

One, the military remains undermanned and ill-equipped to fight a guerrilla war. Bulk of the budget of the AFP goes to salaries. The rest is routinely stolen. And given the fiscal crunch the government is in, the day is far off when money will become available for the modernization of the AFP.

Two, the military and police are demoralized. This is partly due to low salaries and paltry benefits. But the bigger reason is the favoritism in promotion and assignments. Case in point are the recent "bayad utang" promotions in the military.

Three, military and the police are restive and factionalized. Generals are watching each other warily while keeping an eye on the colonels below who are suspected of sympathizing with destabilizers. Military assets are tied down to anti-coup duties. The National Capital Regional Command, for example, was recently activated, raising the number of unified area commands to six all over the country. Its task is definitely not counter-insurgency.

Four, we have a leadership that has lost legitimacy and credibility. The communists offer the vision of a national democratic society leading to a socialist utopia. What does Gloria and Lakas, the party of thieves, offer? More of the same lying, cheating and stealing. No wonder the communists are winning handily in the war for the hearts and minds of the people.

And we’re not even talking yet of the structurally embedded poverty and inequity, the constant that has sustained the communist rebellion through Marcos, Aquino, Ramos, Estrada and, now, Arroyo.

We’re not saying the communist problem is beyond solution. But it won’t come during the discredited administration of Arroyo.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Gloria declares war

GLORIA is sounding like a Genghis Khan out to trample everybody standing in her way. She says charter changes will come in the middle of the year. The opposition may as well roll over and play dead if it doesn’t want to be crushed underfoot by her rampaging troops from Lakas CMD.

"With our heavy armor of democracy and legitimacy, we shall fight the squads of destabilizers and spoilers in the opposition," she said in her address during the meeting last Saturday of the Lakas national directorate.

Heavy armor of democracy and legitimacy? After stealing the election in 2004 and robbing the people of their fundamental right to elect their leader, she talks of democracy and legitimacy? She should instead talk about her heavy artillery firing barrages of lies and her airborne units stealthily dropping ahead to rob the treasury.

But there should be no mistake. Gloria is talking war literally. The Palace has long been abuzz with talks about a "counter-offensive." Here it is coming. If Gloria is not stopped dead in her tracks, the Constitution will soon be in tatters, Congress will have lost whatever remains of its credibility and the Supreme Court will be exposed as a Palace stooge.

The only institution now in a position to repulse Gloria’s drive to amend the Constitution is the Senate. At the moment, the overwhelming sentiment in the Senate is to defer any debate on constitutional changes until the leadership crisis has been resolved. There may be a few senators who despite their posturing will eventually suck up to Gloria. But surely there are at least eight senators who, still valuing their honor, will not sell the people down the river in the proposal to institutionalize the rule of Lakas, the party of thieves, through a shift to a parliamentary system.

The options bruited about by Lakas are a) to sideline the Senate by claiming the charter can be amended by a two-thirds vote of "all members of Congress," meaning by the Lakas-dominated House by its lonesome, and b) to go through the people’s initiative route which the Supreme Court has long ruled as without basis for lack of an enabling law.

Constitutionalists are virtually one in saying these two options have no leg to stand on. But given this Supreme Court, which gave us the bizarre doctrine of "constructive resignation" by Joseph Estrada, nobody knows what to expect from the high tribunal anymore.

Let us expect the worst from Gloria. She will have no compunction in wrecking the country’s institutions to stay in power.

The lessons of history are lost to Gloria. She, after all, has not participated in the historic struggles to regain and keep our freedoms. She should learn soon enough as some tyrants and other would-be tyrants had.

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Monday, January 16, 2006

Expose the fraud

All goodies come from Gloria Arroyo. It is but to be expected that the leaders of Lakas CMD all dance to the tune she calls. Lakas isn’t the party of thieves for nothing.

Last Saturday, the Lakas national directorate rejected President Fidel Ramos’ call for a) the exit of Gloria in 2007 in step with the proposed shift to the parliament system and b) the proposed scraping of elections also in that year. As a sop to Ramos, the Lakas leaders coyly fobbed off the issues to the Congress. But what the action meant was unmistakable. Gloria had her way. Fidel is as good as washed out as a person of influence in the party he founded.

So is the shift to parliamentary system with Gloria’s full powers as president intact a done deal? Not quite.

The Lakas national directorate mentioned Congress as having the last say on the proposed transition. Good. For so long, the charter change proponents have been trying to make it appear that revising the Constitution is purely an affair of the House where Lakas enjoys uncontested dominance. The Senate is mentioned only as an afterthought.

On Wednesday, the Senate is, in fact, scheduled to start deliberations on House Resolution No. 26 which seeks to convene the House into a constituent assembly. But also before the Senate committee on constitutional amendments is Senate Resolution No. 2 which calls for the holding of a constitutional convention.

SR 2 is supported by 14 of 24 senators. The sentiment, thus, is clear. The majority of senators prefer that the proposed revision be done by elected delegates. But even this number is short by two votes to meet the required two-thirds vote for a constituent assembly.

With Senate President Franklin Drilon and the Liberal Party having withdrawn its support from Arroyo, there is simply no way the proposed constituent assembly would get the nod of the Senate.

Still the senators have to rouse themselves from their seeming lethargy. Lakas has succeeded in putting charter change on the national agenda. The parliamentary system is being touted as the best thing since Wonder Bread. The senators should start exposing the fraud.

First, the proposed change to parliament system is a ploy to keep an illegitimate president in power.

Second, a parliamentary system is meant to strip the people of their right to directly elect the chief executive.

The senators’ work is cut out for them. They should get moving and rally the people against the revision of the charter for the purpose of maintaining the traditional politicians’ hold to power.

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‘Karera ng tuta’

(This was published Saturday, January 14, 2006)

Poor Lt. Gen. Samuel Bagasin, the AFP deputy chief of staff. He spent most of his recent years in Mindanao as a division commander. He came to his current position only because of the uproar caused by the last-minute withdrawal of his appointment as chief of the Southern Command. So he could be forgiven for being clueless on the controversies that rocked the nation last year and continues to rock it now.

Asked to comment on allegations that the appointments of Maj. Gen. Gabriel Habacon as Southcom chief and of Rear Adm. Tirso Danga as Western Command chief were "payback" for helping President Arroyo steal the 2004 election, Bagasin said: "I do not remember of any instance that their integrity was questioned."

If that’s the case, we’ll help jog Basasin’s memory. In the "Hello Garci" wiretapped conversations, former election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano told President Arroyo, "kasi sila Gen. Habacon ba, hindi masyadong marunong pa dyan."

The context was "dagdag bawas" in Basilan and Sulu. The implication was that Habacon was a party to the cheating.

The Senate committee on defense chaired by Sen. Rodolfo Biazon called Habacon and three other generals mentioned in the "Hello Garci: tapes to a hearing. Only Brig. Gen. Francisco Gudani showed up.

Now we go to Danga. When the "Hello Garci" conversations were taped by operatives of the Intelligence Service of the AFP, the unit had Danga as commander. Information reaching the Biazon committee shows the wiretapping was more widespread than it appears in the "Hello Garci" tapes. The suspicion is the wiretapping could not have happened without instructions from the agents’ superiors or, at least, clearance from them.

Danga, by his position, is right at the center of the scandal. His integrity has been questioned left and right, back and front.

In justifying the appointments, Bagasin added that Habacon and Danga are fully qualified and competent. No argument on that coming from us. All those generals sporting two stars are automatically qualified for positions reserved for three-star generals.

But as Biazon pointed out, Danga lacks command experience. Even his staff postings have been limited to intelligence. Habacon is No. 20 in the seniority list, placing him near the bottom of the line-up of major generals.

The opposition has described the expected race to file the first impeachment complaint in the House against Arroyo as "karera ng daga." In the AFP, the game evidently is "karera ng tuta."

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Friday, January 13, 2006

The real stake

Lakas leaders are dreaming when they say their party national directorate meeting on Sunday will end the row between Presidents Arroyo and Fidel Ramos. But opposition leaders are also dreaming in hoping the administration party would be ripped apart by the two Lakas leaders’ wrangling.

We are fairly certain that the Lakas leaders will rally around Gloria, specifically upholding her purported mandate that runs until 2010 over Ramos’ call for her to step down in 2007.
Gloria is the sitting president. She’s the source of all pork and of all appointments. The Lakas members know which side of their bread is buttered. Ramos? He doesn’t have anything of value to offer.

Friendship, past favors, loyalty and shared principles don’t count. Money remains the coin in the political realm. Lakas is not known as the party of thieves for nothing.

Ramos is no political naïf. On the contrary, he is probably among the most devious of today’s major political players. He knows that when push comes to shove, the pols he had helped when he was president would sell him down the river in exchange for favors from the current tenant of Malacañang.

It is a puzzle why Ramos would allow himself to be sandbagged by agreeing to bring his case against Gloria before the Lakas national directorate. Seeking to plumb the convoluted mind of Ramos, however, is a useless exercise. He must have a Plan B, Plan C, Plan D for every contingency. So the far more practical approach in trying to understand Ramos is to take him for what he claims to be.

And what is Ramos’ stated agenda? To revise the Constitution so the system of government could be changed to parliamentary. Gloria is in agreement with him. So is Speaker Jose de Venecia. So are the Lakas members to a man. What they don’t agree on are the specifics.
Our suspicion is that we are being treated to a "moro moro." Ramos, Arroyo and De Venecia would want us to believe that the parliamentary system is superior to the system now in place. The parliamentary system, especially a unicameral one, will eliminate gridlock, will lessen corruption and make for an easier way of booting out an unwanted chief executive.

The main counter-argument is that the scrapping of the built-in check and balance in the presidential system, especially where there is a two-chamber legislature, will further worsen corruption and strengthen the hold of traditional politicians.

Let’s take a look at the faces during the meeting of the national directorate of Lakas on Sunday. These people the living refutation to the purported superiority of the parliamentary system.
Moses led his people to the Promised Land after 40 years in the wilderness. If we agree to Lakas leading us, we will as a people probably all quickly drown after we started.

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

‘Bayad utang’ AFP appointments

Rear Admiral Tirso Danga is not among the generals tagged in the "Hello Garci" tapes as having helped Gloria Arroyo cheat in the 2004 election. So his promotion to chief of the Western Command is not a reward for helping steal the presidency for Gloria as critics claim. It’s payment for something else.

Danga was the chief of the Intelligence Service of the AFP Philippines when a unit under it, MIG 21, eavesdropped on and taped the conversations between Gloria and former elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano. Information reaching Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, chairman of the Senate defense committee which is looking into the national security implication, shows the wiretapping was not limited to Garcillano. Biazon said he has copies of 11 hours of taped conversations which indicate widespread and systematic illegal electronic snooping related to the elections.

Danga could claim he had no knowledge about the operation. But what does that make of him? A commander who allowed "rogue" subalterns to run rings around him? We would not be surprised if one of these days his subordinates would sell the Wescom war plans to China or Vietnam, to name just two of the country’s rival claimants to the Kalayaan Group, the defense of which is the command’s primary task.

And Maj. Gen. Gabriel Habacon who has just been named chief of the Southern Command, the AFP’s biggest area command? According to Garcillano, Habacon was the klutz who could not make fake election returns and canvasses of votes tally. But the AFP Board of Generals only has praises for Habacon’s competence, experience and leadership.

The board, in fact, found Habacon such an outstanding officer it had to break informal but long-standing rules to accommodate his promotion to Southcom chief.

By law, an officer like Habacon who has less than a year before retirement cannot be promoted to the next higher rank. AFP chief Gen. Generoso Senga said the rule would not be violated because Habacon would not be promoted to lieutenant general, the rank that goes with the position.

Senga is being disingenuous. The practice is that no officer nearing retirement is assigned to another post which carries a higher rank. Among the reasons are that the appointee cannot make a difference during his few remaining months in service and that younger officers need a break.

Another curiosity is the transfer of Lt. Gen. Samuel Bagasin, deputy chief of staff, to the Central Command. Bagasin was the ex-future Southcom chief who woke up on the day of his assumption of command to find that somebody else (then AFP deputy chief Edilberto Adan whose retirement yesterday triggered the new round of re-assignments) was taking over. Following the uproar over the Palace’s last-minute substitution, Bagasin was named to the post vacated by Adan, the No. 3 position in the AFP. Now, he was shifted (demoted?) to the least important of the five area commands.

There’s no rhyme or reason to the new assignments. Save, of course, "bayad utang" in the case of Danga and Habacon.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Ramos as the symbol

Who’s afraid of Fidel V. Ramos? Obviously President Arroyo. Why? Because withdrawal of support by Ramos would knock off the last remaining leg propping up Gloria’s teetering administration.

Who does Ramos represent or at least appears to represent? As an indirect answer, let’s run through a few of the personas of Ramos on top of his being a former president. He’s chairman emeritus of Lakas. He’s a former chief of staff of the Armed Forces. He’s an indefatigable promoter of the Philippines as an investment destination. He’s an emerging regional statesman.

These do not exactly make for a flattering composite image. Lakas, a collection of traditional politicians, is described as the party of thieves. The AFP is now seen as the praetorian guards of Gloria. Opening up the Philippines to foreigners without adequate safeguards for local producers will simply mean more of the same of Gloria’s "ampaw" economy. Ramos, in his efforts to project himself as an Asian leader, wants the world to believe the Philippines needs authoritarian figures like Lee Kuan Yew and Mohamad Mathathir to vault it into the ranks of newly developing economies.

In short, Ramos represents conservatism. He wants stability. He wants continuity. He will be the last to rock the boat.

This is the conservative mindset that has served Gloria as an anchor in these stormy times of widespread calls for her ouster or resignation. Along this line, Palace propagandists stoke the fears that after Gloria comes the deluge.

Given this mindset, Ramos will be the last to abandon Gloria. But that is far from being reassuring. On the contrary, it bodes ill for Gloria. It means that if and when Ramos dumps her, she’ll be left all alone in political isolation.

Remember 1986? For most of the 14 years of President Ferdinand Marcos’ one-man rule, Ramos loyally served his cousin. Perhaps Ramos honestly believed in Marcos’ vision of a New Society that would replace the centuries-old feudal-oligarchic order.

It should be remembered that Marcos "democratic revolution from the center" had a fully developed blueprint for systematic structural reforms. Gloria’s Strong Republic is but a sketch compared to the ambitious tapestry of Marcos’ New Society.

But withdraw support from Marcos did Ramos in 1986. Corruption had its limits. The economy could not be allowed to implode because of mismanagement. Paranoiac repression of critics had to end.

It seems we are seeing another February in the making.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Rice and noodles economics

Survival food used to be rice and canned sardines. Now it’s rice and noodles. We shudder at the thought of the damage this diet will do to the health of a whole generation of kids from the poorest of the poor.

"Sardinas," whether in tomato sauce or in oil, at least provides a modicum of fats, protein, vitamins and minerals. But noodles? That’s carbohydrates - on top of rice which is already carbohydrates - heavily laced with salt and "vetsin."

But beggars can’t be choosers. And so we have Gloria’s "rice and noodles" economics where pump-priming is equated with providing survival dietary intake to the poor.

Lest we be misunderstood, we believe the government has a duty to help feed the truly destitute and provide safety nets for those teetering at the edge. It has nothing to do about politics or ideology. It’s about being human. It’s an obscenity seeing one out of six Filipino families go hungry when there is enough for everybody. More so when the thieves in government are raiding the treasury with impunity.

Let’s call "rice and noodles" economics charity or plain dole. This is a legitimate function of government under the rubric of social welfare.

Let’s not, however, call it "pump-priming" because it stretches the meaning of the term beyond recognition. For example, any additional spending immediately translates into an additional output, resulting in an increase in the GNP. But this is a triviality resulting from an accounting identity.

Pump-priming is a fairly straightforward concept. When there’s a slump in consumer demand, the government can take up the slack by increasing spending. It can finance the pump-priming through savings or borrowings. In the current situation, it should be obvious there’s no way the government can do this. For one, there is a chronic budget deficit. For another, government is suffering from a crushing debt burden.

Pump-priming, therefore, is out. The contrary – let’s call it pump-drying – is, in fact, what is happening now. The government is extracting a huge portion of people’s income (VAT exemptions were scrapped in November; the VAT rate will be raised from 10 percent to 12 percent next month), resulting in a drop of spending.

And where will the additional exactions go? To pay for debts, to bankroll overpriced projects and, in many cases, directly to the bottomless pockets of the thieves.

The poor, in whose name higher taxes are invoked, are fed with crumbs, er, rice and noodles.

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Monday, January 09, 2006

A zarzuela?

All former presidents are supposed be members of the Council of State. President Joseph Estrada is a former president. So why doesn’t Malacañang invite him to a meeting of the council scheduled for next week?

Actually Palace officials earlier gave the impression a pro forma invitation would be extended to Estrada. Somewhere along the way the issues were raised over the plunder charges that Estrada faces. Estrada, apparently sensing he was being set up, announced he would not attend if invited.

From where we sit, the charges against Estrada are irrelevant. He has not been convicted. If invited and he decides to accept, it will be up to him to secure permission from the Sandiganbayan to attend. The Sandigan might or might not grant his request. But he deserves to be invited.

Estrada to this day maintains he was robbed of the presidency. Now, it seems, the usurpers want to rob him of his being a former president too.

Nobody knows exactly what this Council of State is all about and what is expected to be its output after the meeting. Since the restoration of democracy in 1986, we could not remember any contribution by the Council of State in the resolution of the life-and-death issues facing the nation. Not the coups during the administration of Aquino, the Asian financial crisis during the time of Ramos or the jueteng and graft allegations that led to the aborted impeachment trial of Estrada.

The Palace said the meeting was proposed by Ramos and Arroyo saw the meeting as an opportunity to secure a consensus on her political unity agenda and economic reform program.

We know where Ramos is coming from. He felt betrayed by Arroyo’s turnaround on the "graceful exit" she was supposed to make this year. The council meeting gives Ramos a pulpit from where he can preach his doctrine of a post-Gloria parliamentary government.

Gloria is so politically isolated that any occasion where she would be seen shaking hands with opposition leaders could be pitched by her spin masters as a "breakthrough" in forging a "unity" government.

The meeting would likely turn out to be a "zarzuela" within the leadership of the party of thieves, Lakas, of which Ramos is chairman emeritus and Gloria and Speaker Jose de Venecia are chairman.

Opposition leaders might as well boycott the meeting. Likewise Cory. They should not allow themselves to be used as deodorizer to an administration that stinks to high heavens.

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Gloria is politically isolated

(This was published Saturday, January 7, 2006)

We might as well join the fray. What President Fidel Ramos, Senate President Frank Drilon and Sen. Tito Sotto talked about during their meeting last Monday all remains in the realm of speculation. Ramos is not talking. Neither are Drilon and Sotto.

But we do know what Ramos wants (he stressed during a recent interview that his views on the current leadership crisis are public knowledge). And whatever we say about Ramos – his perceived deviousness, for one – he in, fact, has been consistent in his position since the "Hello Garci" scandal broke out.

The role Ramos played during the turbulent days of July that immediately comes to mind was his rush to Malacañang to "save" President Arroyo after the Hyatt 10, President Aquino, Drilon and the Makati Business Club called for Gloria’s resignation.

What is glossed over was Ramos’ formula for restoring stability that he presented before the Manila Rotary Club a week before.

Ramos’ formula was for the "graceful exit" of Arroyo in 2006 through a shift to the parliamentary form of government and the election of the members of parliament.

This was the unstated quid pro quo in Ramos’ decision to throw his support behind Gloria. What Ramos failed to consider was Gloria’s utter lack of word of honor. Gloria formed a committee composed of handpicked members to come up with a draft new Constitution. The commission proposed adoption of the parliamentary system all right. But it also proposed the scrapping of the 2007 elections and Gloria’s continued stay in power until 2010.

Ramos described "no-el" as a monumental blunder and gave Arroyo until Jan. 1 to dump the proposal. In response, the Palace treated him to a song-and-dance about Congress actually having the last say and "no-el" being the price for the support of local government officials when the proposed new constitution is presented to the people for ratification.

After all this digression, we come back to what Ramos, Drilon and Sotto talked about.

It should be obvious. Ramos wants the Senate to go along with the proposed convening of Congress into a constituent assembly to effect the shift to the parliamentary system, with elections for parliament to be held in 2007.

We don’t know whether the camp of Aquino, represented by Drilon, and of Estrada, represented by Sotto, would bite. Aquino wants Drilon to act as transition president preparatory to the holding of new elections. Estrada wants his restoration.

Our guess is it’s highly unlikely. But the interesting common thread in all these scenarios is that Arroyo hardly figures at all. Everybody is talking about a post-Gloria transition.

The problem is Gloria does not realize yet that she is already past tense. So we suppose we just have to wait awhile until all anti-Gloria forces get their act together.

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Simoun’s treasure

(This was published Friday, January 6, 2006)

Camilo Sabio, the new chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, has said he will resign if no settlement is reached this year on the coconut levy investments. We fervently wish we would be bidding him goodbye after his self-imposed deadline.

The investments funded by the coconut levy are estimated to be worth at least P120 billion. Those investments are better left where they are, increasing in value every year from capital appreciation and accumulated profits as they have since they were frozen in 1986.

If the thieving Arroyo administration gets hold of the money, it will disappear into you-know-whose- pocket in no time.

Remember the P36 billion Marcos Swiss deposits? The government got hold of it in the early part of 2004. Now, there’s nothing left of it save for the P10 billion reserved for the compensation of human rights victims.

How the "magicians" made it disappear is truly breathtaking in audacity and shamelessness. Recovered ill-gotten wealth is earmarked for land reform. In 2004, the DAR had a budget of around P17 billion (we are not sure about the figure; it’s not the amount but the "paikot" made by Gloria’s operators that matters). The budget was divided into compensation to landowners (through the Land Bank) and assistance to land reform beneficiaries.

What the DAR did was use the Marcos money to pay Land Bank, freeing the compensation component of the budget for assistance to land reform beneficiaries. The original budget for assistance was then transferred to "pro-farmer programs" of other agencies, principally the Department of Agriculture. This was the source of the money laundered by Mike Arroyo’s boy, Joc Joc Bolante, through non-existent NGOs.

The rest – P9 billion to P10 billion - was booked as funding for projects in 2005 (that is, after the elections) although the bulk had been released in 2004.

Would we trust this same gang of thieves with P120 billion?

We’re reminded of Simoun’s treasure. After Padre Florentino hurls the steel chest into the Pacific, he says:

"May nature guard you in her dark abysses, among the pearls and corals of her eternal seas.

"When for some holy and sublime purpose man may need you, God will in His wisdom draw you from the bosom of the waves. Meanwhile, there you will not work woe, you will not distort justice, you will not foment avarice."

We say amen to that.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Ano ba talaga, Ate Glue?

First it was P35 billion, the "savings" in 2005 that Malacañang said was earmarked for "pump-priming" the economy during the first quarter of the year. Budget Secretary Romulo Neri subsequently clarified that the amount available was actually P10 billion, representing the cash from better-than-expected revenues. Overnight the figure was back at P35 billion after the Palace cobbled together all kinds of releases scheduled for the early part of the year.
Ano ba talaga, Ate Glue?

Two days ago, we wrote in this space:

"There is something fishy in Gloria Arroyo’s programmed P35 billion spending spree in the first quarter of 2006. She said the P35 billion was in the form of ‘savings’ in 2005, but she has yet to come up with the figures on actual disbursements against scheduled expenditures…

"More puzzling yet is the Palace’s explanation that the P35 billion in ‘savings’ was a result of the government’s ‘success’ in cutting down the programmed deficit of P180 billion for 2005. If that is so then that P35 billion is in the form of over-borrowings.

"National treasurer Omar Cruz then deserves to be fired for adding to the government’s debt stock when there was no need to borrow. Or alternatively Budget Secretary Romulo Neri should be sacked for not releasing funds for government projects when the treasury was overflowing with money."

The latest components of the P35 billion figure which were released by Malacañang are made up of a) P10 billion from "current" appropriations, b) P17.5 billion in the form of Internal Revenue Allotments owed to LGUs in 2000 and 2001, c) P5 billion "frontloaded" from the 2006 reenacted budget, and d) P3 billion in unfunded allotments (P1 billion for housing and P2 billion for the AFP modernization program).

As can be seen from the schedule the biggest component is the P17.5 billion for the LGUs. This is a long unpaid obligation which the national government should rightly pay.

So how does the government plan to get the money? From savings? Far from it. The Palace said the IOUs to the LGUs would be "monetized" by the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines.

"Monetize" is an innocuous-sounding word. But we can only see two ways by which the unpaid IRA can be monetized. One is for the national government to directly borrow the amount from the LDB and the DBP and give the proceeds to the LGUs. The other is for the two banks to open a lending window to the LGUs amounting to the P17.5 billion. More likely, the latter would be resorted to because the scheme would not immediately be reflected in the accounts of the national government.

But the long and short of it is that P17.5 billion will still be funded through borrowings. So much for Gloria’s pump-priming using savings.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

An assault on the Bill of Rights

No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances."

That’s Section 5 of the Bill of Rights, a provision that that has remained unchanged from the 1935 Constitution which was adopted during the American colonial era to the 1973 Constitution which was adopted at the height of martial law. That provision springs from the fundamental rights of man, and has been hallowed by tradition and remains a powerful check to the abuses of the State.

So if the charter has to be changed, that particular provision – along with the rest which are enshrined in the Bill of Rights – would be the last that should be monkeyed around with, right?

Those "geniuses" handpicked by Gloria Arroyo to propose changes in the 1987 do not think so. They have come up with a proposed amendment that would emasculate the exercise of such right.

The proposal reads:

"No law shall be passed abridging the responsible exercise of the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances."

Does that mean then that under the proposed new charter laws may be passed abridging the irresponsible exercise of the freedom of speech, of expression or the press of the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances? That’s the only reasonable explanation for that proposal.

And who then would define responsible or irresponsible exercise of such right? Presumably parliament.

A more direct assault on fundamental rights we cannot imagine.

We can understand why the pro-fascist administration of Gloria would emasculate freedom of speech, of the press and of peaceful assembly. Remember the CPR (calibrated preemptive response) policy on mass actions? This administration is deathly afraid of the truth, of criticism and dissent.

What we cannot understand is why those purported "wise men" who had been picked to draft the proposed amendments went along with this throwback to the Malolos Constitution of 1989. (The Malolos charter recognizes these rights, but with the qualification that their exercise "shall be subject to general provisions regulating the same.")

History is said to be the chronicle of man’s march toward freedom. Gloria, through her handpicked architects of the proposed new charter, would seek to reverse history’s trajectory.

She has robbed us of the truth, of our right to elect our leader, of the taxes we pay. She wants to rob us of our freedoms, too?

Now we understand why people find her more execrable than Marcos.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Trickery on the fiscal front

There is something fishy in Gloria Arroyo’s programmed P35 billion spending spree in the first quarter of 2006. She said the P35 billion was in the form of "savings" in 2005, but she has yet to come up with the figures on last year’s actual disbursements against scheduled expenditures.

Let’s take the P900 billion – give or take a few billions - budget for 2005. Taking the ballpark figure of P300 billion for debt servicing, that leaves P600 billion in capital and operating expenses. Since the 10 percent mandatory savings for every agency is still in effect, the total "savings" then amount to P60 billion. Is the P35 billion for "pump priming" part of that P60 billion? The answer is we don’t know.

But if it is, that P35 billion can’t be carried over to the next fiscal year simply because that’s supposed to have been expended for 2005. The practice is for the "savings" to be spent on anything during the last quarter on any program the executive may choose as part of its power to reallocate funds as long as the budget ceiling for the year is not breached.

More puzzling yet is the Palace’s explanation that the P35 billion in "savings" was a result of the government’s "success" in cutting down the programmed deficit of P180 billion for 2005. If that is so then that P35 billion is in the form of over-borrowings.

National treasurer Omar Cruz then deserves to be fired for adding to the government’s debt stock when there was no need to borrow. Or alternatively Budget Secretary Romulo Neri should be sacked for not releasing funds for government projects when the treasury was overflowing with money.

But let’s focus on the planned spending of money budgeted for 2005. Can Gloria do this?
Ordinarily she cannot and here’s where the clear effort by the House to delay the passage of the budget bill for 2006 comes in. The House can freeze the ball as it were and transmit the budget bill to the Senate only this month or the next. Under this time table, the earliest that the budget bill can be passed by Congress will be in March.

In the meantime, the government will be operating under a reenacted 2005 budget. The executive department, thus, can spend on anything it wants using even the money carried over from 2005 in the form of "savings."

The trickery is par for the course for the Gloria administration. But why go through the convoluted exercise at the risk of turning off creditors who the Palace claims are applauding Gloria for her purported skill at fiscal management?

Our suspicion is Gloria is readying a war chest for buying support for her proposed charter change. She did it in 2004 to stay in power. She’ll do it again in the next three months and all the way to 2010. Assuming, of course, she is not kicked out earlier.

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Monday, January 02, 2006

Economic gains?

(This was published Friday, December 30, 2005)

The people need substance, not puffery. Can’t Gloria and her acolytes get it?

They are all in Baguio right now for the holidays. Arroyo and her innermost circle got together to map out what they intend to do during the incoming year. Top of the agenda was again how to prop up her rock-bottom ratings. There’s a failure to communicate, was the group’s consensus. So the prescription was to rev up the government’s propaganda machine. The people are too dumb to recognize the accomplishments of Gloria. Therefore, the gains should be repeatedly drummed into their thick heads.

Gloria says the people need to be convinced of the need to sustain the economic gains of 2004, among them the "stupendous" appreciation of the peso. True a firmer peso eases the cost of imports, especially of the politically sensitive commodity like oil. It also eases the cost of repayments of dollar obligations. We have no quarrel with Gloria on this score.

But Gloria should know well enough that the single most important measure of economic performance is growth. We may question how the pie is shared. Still there is no argument that the bigger it is, the more there is to go around.

Growth this year is expected to be between 4.8 and 4.9 percent. Compare this with last year’s 5.7 percent growth. There is a clear slowdown. So what gains is Gloria talking about?

Overseas remittances are at record levels. Again this is good. As transfers, they directly translate into high-powered consumption that roughly account for 10 percent of spending. But they also mask the underlying weakness of the economy, that is, the remaining 90 percent which is either stagnant or declining.

Agriculture, which accounts for 20 percent of output but supports a disproportionately large number of people, remains weak. And let’s not blame the weather because 2005 has relatively been free from destructive typhoons.

Manufacturing is also in the doldrums. Services have largely been carried on the shoulders of the telecommunications boom. The cell phone craze however, is apparently over.

We can cite more danger signals. But let us close with the figures on external trade. Exports during the first 10 months rose by a disappointing 2.9 percent to P33.6 billion. Imports rose during the same period by an insignificant 0.3 percent to P37.2 billion.

More "gains" such as these in the coming year and we would see the economy melting down.

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