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, February 28, 2006

Shooting down the economy

The plane was still a long way from take-off, erratically sputtering down the runway, when it got hit by a surface-to-air missile down the stovepipe. The pilot should junk the thought of getting airborne. Keeping the plane from exploding alone would take a lot of skill and a dose of good luck.

Delusions, however, die hard. Palace officials still keep talking about getting improved credit ratings after shooting off that errant missile of a declaration of a state of national emergency. That the peso and local stocks yesterday shrugged off the events of the last four days should be no comfort to the leadership. It’s like Palace officials crowing about the foiling of Friday’s coup attempt that never was. A hole in the dike might have been successfully plugged, but the dammed pressure is building up into an irresistible force.

Credit risk is a matter above all of confidence. The Arroyo government has lost the support of all sectors that matter in this deeply fractured society. Gloria Arroyo’s presidency is being propped up in place only by the police, the military and the politicians identified with Lakas CMD and Kampi.

No government which has exchanged the people’s support with the bought allegiance of self-serving interest can stay long in power.

Let’s go back to the country’s credit rating. In ordinary times, credit analysts mainly rely on the projected fiscal conditions of a borrower-country. After all, credit assessment is, at its most basic, but the looking into a borrower’s ability to pay.

The projected Arroyo fiscal numbers indeed look good. With new tax measures, a balanced budget could come as early as 2008 and at worst in 2010. The borrowing overhang remains worrisome, but nothing that could not be solved by prudent fiscal management.

So far, we’re dealing with straightforward projected revenue and expense streams. Now we go to the rather slippery dimension of political risk. Do lenders have the assurance the borrowing administration will continue in power to answer for its obligations?

Likely successors with the same neo-liberal economic orientation could reasonably be expected make good on sovereign commitments.

But what if the administration is itself systematically closing off avenues for a peaceful transition to a government committed to the same fundamental values of a market economy and of democracy and constitutionalism.

The Arroyo administration has correctly identified the extreme Left and the extreme Right as the historical enemies of the Republic. But at the rate the Arroyo administration appears bent on decimating the middle forces, the people might just succumb to the siren song of the extremists.

The holders of Philippine IOUs could end up with beautifully engraved pieces of certificates of indebtedness issued by the Republic of the Philippines good only as wallpaper.


Monday, February 27, 2006


Assuming the extreme Left and the extreme Right, described by Malacañang as the historical enemies of the democracy and the Philippine state, have indeed come to an alliance to bring down the Arroyo administration, the way to counter the threat is to demonstrate the superiority of democracy and of constitutionalism. Borrowing the authoritarian tactics of the extremists weakens democracy instead of strengthening it.

Calling in the Armed Forces to quell lawless violence is within the powers of the President. We can even concede that the events last week justify the declaration of a state of national emergency. But a state of national emergency does not suspend the operations of the Bill of Rights.

The arrest of opposition figures and the crackdown on the media are an unacceptable exercise of the powers of the state even in the name of defending itself.

The Supreme Court, in ruling on the first state of national emergency declared by the Arroyo administration in 2001, upheld the legality of arrests without warrants. We bow to the wisdom of the Supreme Court, but it remains troubling that the executive would resort to what could only be destroyed as short-cuts in dealing with what it considers as destabilizers.

The suspects are accused of rebellion. Why can’t charges be filed against them in the ordinary course of the prosecution process? Sure, it will take time. But those targeted for arrests are not going anywhere. Any overt action they might take that could endanger the state could surely be contained or countered by the overwhelming force enjoyed by the government.

The crackdown on media is absolutely unjustifiable. The Constitution says, no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of the press. Surely if no law could be passed abridging the freedom of the press, then no administrative directive could close down a news outlet or direct its editors and staff what to publish or not.

If the staffers violate the laws, they could be haled before the court for, say, inciting to sedition or inciting to rebellion. They defame anybody, there is the law on libel under which the one who feels maligned can seek redress.

The government overreacted to the alleged threats. This early, it is already reaping the backlash of such precipitate actions. The sentiment is overwhelmingly against the resort to what people equate with repressive actions during martial law.

The Arroyo administration was already suffering from a severe erosion of confidence before all this started. It may yet up with a total loss of confidence before this is all over.


The real conspirators

(This was published Saturday, February 25, 2006)

Here we’re back to seeing the vicious bully twisting the Constitution and the law to sweep away from the streets people who are calling for her to step down for stealing the presidency and destroying the institutions of democracy to cover up the original crime.

Gloria Arroyo has called out the Armed Forces to suppress lawless violence. Try as we did, we saw no "lawless violence" taking place yesterday. What we saw were images on television of policemen cracking the heads of unarmed demonstrators celebrating the 20th anniversary of the nation’s deliverance from strongman rule. We heard on radio how UP professor Randy David was arrested after being rebuffed in his efforts to negotiate safe passage of a group of demonstrators to the People Power Monument on Edsa. David was among 39 persons arrested yesterday. More apparently are targeted for arrest, including Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay who is president of the United Opposition.

For their involvement in a coup attempt against the Arroyo administration? AFP chief Gen. Generoso Senga himself was not quite sure there was indeed such an attempt at a power grab. According to Senga, Brig. Gen. Danny Lim, commander of the Scout Rangers, was planning to join the scheduled Edsa anniversary celebration at the Ninoy Aquino statue in Makati led by President Corazon Aquino.

Paying tribute to Ninoy and joining the commemoration of Edsa is now a crime and a capital offense at that? Had Lim wanted to bring down the Gloria government, the First Scout Ranger Regiment could have seized the Makati Central Business District and brought business activity to a halt (as a battalion of Rangers, in fact, did in 1989 under Lim who was at the time a major).

Gloria, in proclaiming a state of emergency, talked about the Left and the Right linking up in a conspiracy to overthrow her government. Well, it’s not only the Left or the Right calling for her ouster. Every hue represented in the political spectrum wants her out.

As to the purported conspiracy, nothing could be further from the truth. Calls for Arroyo to resign are being shouted in the harsh of light day by clearly identifiable groups and personages, including Aquino.

If there is a conspiracy, it is the plotting by Arroyo to keep her illegitimate hold on power. Her co-conspirators are the AFP and the PNP leaders. It is they who are guilty of conspiring against the Republic and the people.


Friday, February 24, 2006

People power

Gloria Arroyo says she has no intention of cutting short her term. She says she is the best person to lead the transition to a parliamentary set-up so she is sticking it out until 2010 (and beyond?). That’s clear as clear can be.

But the nation cannot survive four more years of her administration’s incompetence and thieving ways. She thus needs to be thrown out of Malacañang. She cheated her way to victory in the 2004 election. It is perfectly morally right to get rid of an illegitimate government.

We have had to two cases where a sitting president was removed from power in a non-violent way. We are, in fact, celebrating this week the 20th anniversary of Edsa 1. Gloria understandably prefers not to celebrate the historic event at all. She is going through the motions, but her heart is not in it. She is, after all, the next logical target of a similar exercise of people power. She would rather that the people forget that they have the inherent right to change a discredited regime, and marching in their millions is the proven way to do it.

Strangely, we find that Cory Aquino, while calling on Gloria to resign, stops at invoking people power for a regime change. She has come up with this odd idea that people power is best realized by giving them livelihood through micro-financing.

People power is an undeniable reality. The people, through massive demonstrations, can overthrow regimes. Edsa 1 and Edsa 2 are proof of this. People power , in its specific expression as an instrument of bringing about political change in a non-violent way, has nothing to do with how to eke a living. So why confuse the two?

Let’s grant that the people need to be economically empowered to give substance to formal political rights. That the promises of Edsa 1 and Edsa 2 would remain just that - promises – until people take their destiny in their own hands instead of allowing the liars, the cheats and the thieves to hijack the ideals of democracy and social justice for their selfish ends.

Still, let’s set workable goals. Eliminating poverty is a generational task. Let’s confront the overarching problem now. The nation cannot move forward under a leadership that has totally lost the trust of the people.

Our fear is we are running out of time. A regime change is inevitable. It either comes peacefully or violently. All those facile claims about people power being inapplicable to the times unintentionally only set us up for the terrible alternative.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

Hail, the best leader

Gloria Arroyo says she is the best person, in the sense of being the most qualified, to lead the country in the transition to a parliamentary system. We concede she is, precisely for the prime reason she cited, which is experience.

Ends and means are intertwined. A goal is molded as much by how we get there as what we envision it to be. So what, we can reasonably ask, is the kind of a political system we would be headed to?

A parliament system fuses the powers of the legislative and the executive into one branch of government. It has its advantages. For example, it eliminates gridlock between the lawmakers and the implementers. Its disadvantages are also obvious. It does away with checks and balances.

What is the likely make-up of a parliamentary system, with a unicameral chamber, under Philippine conditions? We would have the House transformed into parliament. Joe de Venecia would be prime minister handling the day-to-day running of government. Gloria would stay as president and continue to act as the chief executive.

We would have institutionalized, in effect, the current rule of Lakas CMD, the party of thieves.

The members of the House would become the members of parliament. They would henceforth be called MPs, but they would stay the same "trapos" who would sell their mothers in exchange for pork barrel and regular projects of the line ministries which give them the privilege of skimming at least 15 percent of the budget off the top.

Since they would be selecting the prime minister (who would eventually act as chief executive after the transition) from among themselves, it’s a no-brainer to expect them to choose the one who would be most charitable with government largesse.

Glo or Joe after the transition is same same ("pare-pareho"), as Erap would put it. Joe, for all his perceived faults, cannot be said, however, to be vicious or treacherous. So Gloria it would likely be post-2010 and for ever and ever as Mike Arroyo devoutly prays.

We would be seeing under the proposed new charter, thus, the recipe for reproducing – election year in and election year out – a government where those who rule rely on patronage to stay glued to their parliament seats. They would have the whole Treasury to serve as their campaign chest.

And who is the master in raiding the Treasury? Well, there’s that P627 million in fertilizer funds and the vanished P26 billion in Marcos money.

So Gloria is right. She is the best person to lead the transition and also the regular parliament.
In a government devoted to looting and pillage, there is no substitute to a proven liar, cheat and thief for a leader.


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

‘Kita na naman!’

At least 1,300 people remain missing under tons of mud in St. Bernard, Southern Leyte. It’s been five days since the whole mountainside slipped and buried the village of Guinsaugon and hopes are dimming fast for any survivors. Rescuers, however, continue to hope against hope.

The grief is deeply etched in the faces of the victims’ relatives. The bodies of many of the missing would probably not be recovered and remain entombed in their muddy graves. Those left behind would not even have the salve of properly bidding goodbye to their dead.

In the Panaon island landslide three years ago also in Southern Leyte, where a smaller number of people were buried (around a hundred), many victims were not recovered. Life had to move on, efforts had to shift from rescue to recovery, then from recovery to rehabilitation of the life of the survivors.

Foreign and local assistance is pouring in. More can be expected when the monumental task of helping a whole village go back to its feet starts.

Some ghouls, however, apparently are not to be denied their chance to make a fast buck from the tragedy.

For what can we say about a plan to sell a prime property in Fort Bonifacio in the name of preventing a repeat of the St. Bernard tragedy if not ghoulish?

Planned to be placed on the auction bloc is a 7-hectare property owned by the National Mapping and Resources Information Agency. The lot abuts Forbes Park-Dasmarinas Village enclave. At the price of P33,000 per square meter (the price paid by Metro Pacific in 1995 for 117 hectares of Fort Bonifacio), we’re talking here of P2.3 billion.

The proceeds are supposed to finance the identification of places made hazardous for habitation by geological conditions. These areas which are prone to land and mud slides mostly lie along the Philippine Fault which runs down the whole spine of the archipelago from north to south.

The cost of geo-hazard mapping project was placed at P80 million when the initial planning, surveys and studies were completed in 2005. The main body of the project, however, has not been carried out for lack of money.

How much did the government spend on ordinary fertilizer dissolved in water to yield more volume to be sold at an overprice of more than 1,000 percent? Exactly P728 million. And our geniuses of fiscal managers could not find one-eighth of the amount to fund the geo-hazard mapping project?

And now a P2.3 billion property is being eyed for sale to bankroll an P80 million project?

"Kita na naman!" our neighborhood barber would exclaim.


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

An exercise in blame-tossing

We know why a whole mountainside slid down and buried a barangay on Friday in Southern Leyte. A team drilling for geothermal deposits in the place disturbed the already heavily fractured geological formation near the Philippine Fault above which Barangay Guisajugon is sited. Heavy rains were just the trigger.

Okay, we’ll be more specific. The exploration is being done by the Philippine National Exploration Co.-Exploration Corp. The target is the geothermal field at Mt. Cabalian in the town of Cabalian (renamed San Juan). Anybody can check the map. St. Bernard is next to San Juan. In fact, the former used to be a barangay of the latter.

Sounds credible? It does. Any scientific basis? None. We drew the geothermal exploration-did-it scenario purely as an exercise in imagination, using facts in the public domain to weave an explanation that sounds "scientific" enough to appear credible.

It’s on par with speculations - all wrong - that illegal logging or commercial mining was behind the Guisajugon tragedy.

There has been no large-scale logging in the place for generations. The mountainside has long been planted to coconuts. Perhaps we could blame the original settlers for planting coconuts, with their shallow roots, on the slopes. But that’s neither here nor there. We are talking of actions that took place, if our informants are right, that took place all the way back in the 1920s.

Mining? There’s none in that part of Southern Leyte. Three years ago, similar landslides on Panaon island killed at least a hundred people. The site of the Panaon landslides is only about 60 kilometers away from St. Bernard by road via the causeway in Liloan town. It so happened that there was a mining site on Panaon island that was being commercially exploited about 30 years ago. Most of the ore came from boulders which had rolled down the slopes to the sea, that is, there was no actual digging that all.

Our point is there’s no need to seek more elaborate explanations than are necessary. The Philippine fault that runs from the Cordilleras in the north to the Davao provinces in the south is grinding the rocks down below. That makes for unstable surfaces. Heavy rains loosen the soil. The soil, now turned to mud, runs down following the force of gravity and buries everything that stands in the way.

Preventing a repeat of such tragedies, it follows, means moving people out of high-risk places. That, of course, is better said than done. People have encroached into the slopes precisely because they had run out of places to farm in the lowlands.

As one smart aleck of a radio commentator said, "Where do we relocate them, Metro Manila?"

Well, we can always return to blaming illegal logging and wide-scale mining. Or geothermal drilling. That would free us from addressing the real problem.


Monday, February 20, 2006

New-found respect for the people

The dishonesty goes on with proponents of charter change saying there is no cause to worry over proposals to scrap the 2007 elections because the people, after all, will have the last say on the proposed transition in a plebiscite called to ratify the proposed amendments.

Frankly, we hope the Cha-cha proponents would press their "no-election" proposal so the people would trash the proposed charter amendments without much thought about it. Just seeing all those tradpols salivating at the prospect of staying in power without submitting themselves to a vote would trigger mass vomiting.

Let’s go back to the new-found respect by Cha-cha proponents for what the people want. The overwhelming majority of the people do not want a shift to the parliamentary system, which is what the proposed revision is all about. There is even no evidence that the people wish to see changes in the 1987 Constitution at all.

Cha-cha is a baby of Gloria Arroyo, Joe de Venecia and Eddie Ramos. They and the members of Lakas CMD, the party of thieves, were behind the campaign to junk the presidential system with its built-in system of checks and balances. The motive is plain enough. Gloria is determined to stay in power despite the illegitimacy of her administration. Joe wants to become prime minister. Ramos wants to…(who can really tell what the mischievous old man has in his mind?)

The people? Nobody asked their opinion. Not in the mid-1990s when Ramos launched Pirma. Not last year when Gloria declared during her state of the nation address the opening of the "grand debate" (her words) on charter change.

We can imagine Cha-cha proponents questioning our claim that the people do not want charter change. They can dismiss survey results by saying the people would in time recognize the superiority of the parliamentary system in the actual debate that would follow in the wake of formal efforts to amend the Constitution.

We can debate this point till kingdom come, and would not come to a resolution. For it is after all an empirical issue. So how do we go about reliably taking the public pulse? course?

The Constitution itself – surprise! - provides a mechanism to determine the people’s sentiments.

There’s Section 3 of Article XVII (Amendments or Revisions) which provides that "The Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of all its Members, call a constitutional convention, or by a majority vote of all its Members, submit to the electorate the question of calling such a convention."

So how about it? Let Congress call such a plebiscite if the Cha-cha proponents sincerely believe they have the people on their side. Neat and simple.


Temporary liberty for Erap?

(This was published Saturday, February 18, 2006)

What have Cardinal Ricardo Vidal, Iglesia ni Cristo’s Eraño Manalo and El Shaddai’s Mike Velarde got to do with allowing President Joseph Estrada to stay in his house in San Juan to prepare for his testimony in his plunder trial before the Sandiganbayan?

No, we’re not talking about the separation between the church and state, although there is something somehow offensive to the clause against "respecting an establishment of religion" when the names of these religious worthies are mentioned in relation to the trial of Estrada.

Palace officials have said Vidal, Manalo and Velarde have agreed to serve as "guarantor" that Estrada would not flee if allowed to leave his detention quarters in Tanay for his Greenhills home. We suppose this is similar to outstanding members of the community asking that an accused be released to them on cognizance. This, after all, happens all the time, especially when the accused is charged with minor offenses.

Erap’s being a flight risk, however, does not seem to be the crux of the issue here. Erap has consistently said he does not want an accommodation from this administration. He is fighting the plunder case in court and is confident he will be acquitted. He was offered during the early days of the Arroyo administration, in fact, exile abroad as an alternative to being charged with the capital offense of plunder. He refused.

In Erap’s standing plea before the Sandiganbayan to be allowed home to prepare for his testimony, he is not asking temporary liberty on recognizance. He is asking that he be allowed to stay home under guard. Let’s call it "house arrest" for lack of a better term.

Therefore his availability to the court does not need the "guarantee" of anybody. A company of the PNP Special Action Force ringing No. 1 Polk street would ensure he would not escape.
To borrow a remark supposedly made by Stalin about the Pope, "How many battalions does Cardinal Vidal have?"

That quote might be offensive to many. But it’s meant to underscore the fact that bringing Vidal, Manalo and Velarde into the picture has nothing to do with Erap being a flight risk. It has everything to do with the Palace’s wish that Estrada’s supporters be appeased. Thus, the move to have him temporarily "released."

Estrada has not been biting the Palace offer. In the first place, his petition that he be allowed to stay home is solely the business of the Sandiganbayan. He is better off communing with his menagerie in Tanay than giving the impression to his supporters he has struck a deal.


Friday, February 17, 2006

Strange happenings at the Supreme Court

News organizations have a rule that no Supreme Court action or even contemplated action is reported unless the tribunal says so in black and white. It’s for the news organizations’ protection of their credibility. A decision might have been reached and signatures of the justices have been affixed, but the justices can still change their minds. Also, publishing a leaked ruling opens one to sanctions as was the case of a columnist (who incidentally was also a lawyer) who was cited in contempt some years back.

So editors of this paper were dumbfounded when the Supreme Court spokesman, Ismael Khan, said on Monday the tribunal "might" issue a temporary restraining order against Executive Order 464 after a scheduled en banc session the next day. The word "might" was not a mere expression of possibility. The context makes the sense clear that the Supreme Court was likely to issue a TRO.

The SC spokesman is not in the business of reading the minds of the members of the tribunal. Somebody must have put him up to it.

The next day, no TRO came. Khan again helpfully explained that the tribunal would likely come up in the afternoon with a resolution rejecting the petition filed by senators for a TRO and explaining why. The tribunal decided to keep mum.

On Wednesday, Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, appearing before businessmen, said the tribunal indeed had reached a decision not to issue a TRO. He said issuing a TRO was unnecessary after President Arroyo’s decision to allow Cabinet members to attend Senate budget hearings.

This was the first time we had come across a Supreme Court decision being made public during a speaking engagement. But no matter, let’s just chalk this one up as an "innovation" of the Panganiban court.

What is troubling is that Panganiban’s explanation proceeds from the wrong facts. The original EO 464 exempts senior officials from seeking the permission of the President before appearing at budget and confirmation hearings. The original petition filed by the senators prayed for a TRO against the ban on appearances at other than budget and confirmation hearings, that is, at inquiries in aid of legislation.

A second petition pressing for an early issuance for a TRO was indeed filed by the senators last week after Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye and DILG Undersecretary Marius Corpus snubbed the hearings on their respective departments by invoking EO 464. Panganiban clearly was referring to this second petition, but not to the original prayer for a TRO.

The effect is the denial of the original prayer for the TRO on the basis of a Palace "urong-sulong" on an expanded coverage of EO 464.

It’s distressing to see the tribunal missing the crux of the issue by a mile for we continue to believe the Supreme Court is beyond the reach of "bayad-utang" politics.

But then we could be wrong.


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Credit rating upgrade?

Palace officials are ecstatic over the upgrade in the country’s credit outlook by Standard and Poor’s and Fitch from negative to stable. Moody’s retained its negative outlook, but Gloria Arroyo’s spinmasters claim two out of three is good enough. With fiscal reforms in place, they say, a credit rating upgrade is just around the corner.

A ray of light piercing the gloomy skies is indeed welcome. But let’s not go overboard over the small mercies from the rating agencies.

Philippine IOUs remain junk. The country’s debt papers are four to three notches below investment grade, depending on who is doing the rating. That means that, in the US for example, they cannot, by law, be even looked at by pension funds, insurance companies and the like. The government, thus, is forced to offer higher yields to attract buyers.

Going back to the credit rating agencies, their "outlook" basically has a time frame of six months. Their credit rating proper, designated by a soup of letters and numbers ("BB-/B" for foreign currency IOUs and "BB+/B" for local currency in the case of S&P), has a time frame of two years.

So short of a miracle, it would take the Philippines eight years for its IOUs to crawl up four notches to investment grade. Only a few sovereigns, of course, are considered investment grade. But that should give us an idea of what challenges the country has to surmount before reaching the rarified borrowing status of, say, Singapore.

We know we are leaving ourselves to accusations of comparing apples to oranges. Singapore is Singapore, the Philippines is the Philippines. So let’s take some figures. The yield on RP papers has gone down from over 400 basis points to around 200 points over US treasury. For long-term IOUs, that translates to a drop in yield from 9 percent to 7 percent.

So OK, we concede. The Philippines no longer holds the distinction of having the highest borrowing cost among Asian countries. It now shares the dubious honor with Indonesia.

Actually, most analysts concede that the Philippines deserves a higher rating than what it is enjoying. It’s the political uncertainty that’s dragging us down.

Gloria Arroyo’s take on this is that her critics ought to shut up because they are the ones causing the jitters among investors and creditors. Her critics counter that it’s her stealing of the 2004 elections that gave rise to the current crisis in legitimacy; ergo, she should resign.

We don’t know how events will eventually play out. But definitely no credit upgrade is forthcoming until the leadership crisis is resolved.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Playing with matches

The House leadership has declared war on the Senate, saying it will call a joint session anytime soon to take up proposed amendments to the 1987 Constitution. This is the "non-traditional" approach Lakas leaders claim as their ace up the sleeve in pushing the shift to a parliamentary system of government despite an overwhelming sentiment in the Senate against constitutional amendments at this time of crisis of leadership.

The proponents of the "non-traditional" approach claim the House members can come up with amendments to the Constitution because of the provision which provides that changes can be proposed by a "three-fourths vote of all members of Congress. The House has 246 members; the Senate has 24. "All members of Congress," therefore, total 270. Three-fourths of 270 is equal to 195. So 195 congressmen, proponents claim, can propose amendments.

This is "non-traditional" all right. Congress is made up of two chambers and it takes a leap of fancy to imagine that the House can speak for the whole legislature. Still Cha-cha proponents said they are prepared to go to the Supreme Court and express confidence they would be upheld.

Well, the Davide court was seen as subservient to Malacañang. The Panganiban court may end up as possibly worse. We have never ceased to wonder at the tricks the Arroyo government has pulled off (doctoring election results, stealing billions of money meant for farmers), so we would not be surprised if the tribunal would rule the House could dance the Cha-cha by its lonesome.
But the fact that Congress is made up two chambers cannot simply be glossed over or wished away.

Speaker Jose de Venecia said he would call for a joint session in 30 days. How the House meets is its own business, subject only to the rule that one chamber cannot hold session while the other does not. Assuming that the Senate is in session when De Venecia issues his call, what can he do if Senate President Franklin Drilon refuses to agree to a joint session?

Nothing. The Constitution provides only for one case where Congress is required to vote jointly, which presupposes a joint session, and that’s to pass upon the declaration of martial law or suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.

The House is rushing headlong into a constitutional crisis. That might not be catastrophic if the Supreme Court enjoyed trust and credibility. But given the damaged institutions all around, the House’s Lone Ranger misadventure might not be successfully contained within the constitutional framework.

The country is in a tinderbox situation. No one should be playing with matches.


Cross-eyed analyst

(This was published Tuesday, February 14, 2006)

An analyst working for a foreign bank has said the revision of the 1987 charter is good as done. This will lead, the analyst said, to a one-notch upgrade in the country’s credit rating as uncertainty over the government’s deficit eases. If his bosses believe half the nonsense this analyst is peddling, the bank fully deserves a bathing in red ink from its exposure in the Philippines.

An upgrade is probably coming this year if overseas remittances maintain their momentum and if the reformed value added tax yields the revenues expected. Charter change will have nothing to do with it. In fact, messing with the Constitution is probably the single event on the horizon that could derail the upward trajectory of the economy.

Let’s walk through the possibilities that in the analysts’ view make amendments to the Constitution a certainty.

There’s the "constituent assembly" mode where Congress comes up with the proposed amendments. There’s no way this could secure the necessary three-fourths vote in the Senate. The administration’s fallback position is the claim that the three-fourths vote is based on "all members of Congress." By this interpretation, three-fourths vote means 195 warm bodies based on the total membership of Congress (246 congressmen plus 24 senators).

It’s possible that when the issue is raised before the Supreme Court, the tribunal would uphold this "non-traditional approach," in the words it advocates. The price, however, would be a total loss of trust and erosion of confidence on the high tribunal.

Same goes with the "people’s initiative" campaign. The Supreme Court ruled almost a decade back that the enabling law for this charter change mode is flawed. The vote, if we recall right, was 8-7. A number of justices have since retired and the balance possibly has changed. It’s true that Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban and another senior justice dissented to the ruling. But both of them said people’s initiative is limited to amendments and not the overhaul proposed shift to a parliamentary form government. A somersault would only reinforce public perception the tribunal is in Gloria Arroyo’s pocket.

Now we go to the final step in amending the charter. The people, in a free vote, will not have anything to do with anything peddled by Gloria. The only way for proposed amendments to be ratified is for Gloria to buy the plebiscite or rig its results.

Even the proverbial patience of the carabao has its limits. Foreigners may sneer at what goes by the name of democracy in the Philippines. But the people threw out two presidents in 1986 and 2001.

If we were a global bank, seeing the storms ahead, we would prudently, ah, underweigh our exposure to a regime that is practically universally hated by its people.

The danger is we might be perceived as propping up an illegitimate government. A new government might have other ideas in dealing with the old government’s perceived accomplices.

Speculative? Twenty-years ago, then Finance Minister Jimmy Ongpin and Central Bank Gov. Jobo Fernandez almost lost the debate on debt repudiation. Foreign creditors should not tempt fate.


Monday, February 13, 2006

Dishonesty the best policy?

MalacaÑang insists Executive Order 464 is meant to maintain the "dignity" of officials of the Executive department in the face of "harassment" and "grandstanding" by legislators. We need only to review the history of EO 464 to expose the dishonesty of Malacañang’s claim.

Start with national security adviser Norberto Gonzales’ appearance before the Senate on the Venable lobby contract, the original justification for the order requiring Cabinet members, military and police generals and those whose jobs deal with national security to secure permission before appearing in congressional inquiries.

In his appearance, Gonzales consistently withheld information. He would not answer who authorized him to sign the contract with the lobby firm in the name of the Republic. When asked who paid Venable, he initially declined to answer. When pressed, he said the contract was funded by a private group. When asked for the identities of the private citizens who bankrolled the project, he said he didn’t know. Later he admitted he did but he was not talking.

That prompted the Senate to hold him in contempt and place him under custody. Question: What is the dignity of a dissembler and a liar worth? Enough to up-end the constitutional order by subverting the legislature’s power to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation?

Then came the "Hello Garci" tapes, the single biggest controversy that has placed under question the legitimacy of Gloria Arroyo because of her alleged cheating in 2004. The evidence is now overwhelming that the Intelligence Service of the AFP conducted the wiretapping. Among those summoned by the Senate were ISAFP chief Brig. Gen. Marlu Quevedo, then AFP intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Tirso Danga (who was chief of ISAPF when the wiretapping took place) and AFP chief Gen. Generoso Senga. They all took refuge under EO 464.

Ongoing is the inquiry into the alleged diversion of the P728 million fertilizer fund during the 2004 election to congressmen and local officials who were allies of Arroyo. Two of those summoned by the Senate invoked EO 464. One was Undersecretary Belinda Gonzales, who handled the money, and the other was former Assistant Secretary Ibarra Poliquit, who identified the beneficiaries, mostly non-existent.

An undersecretary invoking EO 464 is questionable enough. But extending the privilege to Poliquit, who has left the agriculture department and is now a vice president of the Government Service Insurance System, is ludicrous.

Leaving aside Norberto Gonzales’ case, EO 464 has been invoked to block inquiries into a) Gloria’s election cheating, and b) Gloria’s stealing of government money to buy election support.
The reason for EO 464 clearly is not to curb harassment of witnesses and grandstanding by the senators. It’s plain obstruction of, as the bishops’ call it, the "relentless pursuit for the truth."


‘The Great Raid on the Treasury’

(This was published Feburary 11, 2006)

The opposition appears to have caught on only recently on why Malacañang is bent on delaying proceedings on the P1 trillion budget for 2006.

Gloria Arroyo is determined to shift to a parliamentary form of government. She’s readying a campaign chest to buy legislators for the initial step, that is, for Congress to come up with the proposed revisions, and to buy local officials for the final step, that is, ratification of the proposed changes in a plebiscite.

And as during the 2004 presidential election, Gloria will be raiding the treasury to buy her a new constitution. Even with the money, there’s no way a new charter will be adopted in a free plebiscite. So this early, we’re sure preparations are already in place to rig the plebiscite.

But let’s take one thing at a time. With a budget law in place, it won’t be easy diverting appropriations for specific programs and projects. For Gloria to get a virtual blank check, the proposed 2006 budget has to be scuttled so the 2005 budget kicks in under the automatic reenactment provision of the Constitution.

This early, Gloria is announcing the release almost every day of P500 million for this and that project and even boasting about spending money that fast on the basis of a reenacted 2005 budget. That is the pattern we expect to see for the rest of the year if this year’s budget is not passed.

It’s now the second week of February. The House, from which every appropriation measure must originate, still has to pass the proposed budget. The House leadership said Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., chairman of the committee on appropriations, will sponsor the budget bill next week as his valedictory before moving on to the budget department.

If the Palace really wants fast action on the measure, it has only to crack the whip on Lakas House members. Plenary debates can easily be abbreviated. There really is time for the House to pass the measure before the end of the month. In the same way that it had enough time in November or in December last year or January this year to act on the proposed budget as repeatedly sought by the Senate.

The proposed budget was submitted more than six months ago. There is nothing controversial or significantly new in it. The expenditure items are mostly incremental adjustments to previous appropriations. Even if we take into account the congressmen’s lobbying for their pet projects, six months is more than enough for them to go through the appropriations line by line.

The foot-dragging is clearly showing. Soon coming: "The Great Raid on the Treasury, Part 2." Or is it Part 3, 4 or 5 already? The stealing after all has been going on without letup since Gloria grabbed power in 2001.


Where will it end?

( This was published February 10, 2006)

So even the confirmation of appointive officials is now covered by the ban on appearing before congressional hearings without the permission of Gloria Arroyo?

Ian Fleming wrote in one of the early James Bond that once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, and thrice is enemy action.

Initially, Executive Order 464 covered appearances of Cabinet members, other high officials and ranking members of the Armed Forces and the National Police in inquiries in aid of legislation. A few days ago, the coverage was expanded to include budget hearings. Yesterday, the word from the Palace was that appointees would be covered by the gag order.

As Senate President Franklin Drilon said, Gloria is doing violence to the Constitution by these actions. We are tempted to say, "What did Drilon expect?" She rode to power on the back of an extra-constitutional action by a mob. That original sin has since led to sustained assaults on everything held sacred under the rule of law and of the Constitution. She raided the treasury to buy election support in 2004. When this was not enough to secure her victory, she rigged the results. When the "Hello Garci" tapes, which caught her talking about doctoring the tallies with an election commissioner, surfaced, she had her allies block the search for the truth at every turn. When an impeachment complaint was filed against her, the same well-compensated allies junked the complaint through technicalities.

Through all this naked exercise of power, we continued to entertain the possibility that the good side of Gloria’s nature would in time prevail.

Now, it appears nothing will stop her – not even the very real prospect of bringing the whole temple down on her and our heads – in her drive to keep herself in power.

We understand the demands of self-preservation. Gloria’s stay in power is precarious, with practically the whole nation wishing her exit. But there are limits to what she can do. The Constitution provides for checks and balances so as to prevent the concentration of powers on one person or one branch of government.

Gloria may temporarily strengthen her hand by doing violence to the Constitution. But she should remember that the Constitution she is trampling on is the very same document that stands in the way of her and the Jose Pidals in her life of being hoisted by the neck from the nearest Meralco post.

But we’re going in circles. We are assuming Gloria listens to reason, an assumption contradicted by her actions.


Thursday, February 09, 2006


Then Interior Secretary Angelo Reyes dutifully trooped to the House when his budget was being heard. So did Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye. But why are Interior Undersecretary Marius P. Corpus, the officer-in-charge until newly designated DILG chief Ronaldo Puno comes aboard, and Bunye now invoke Executive Order 464 to excuse themselves from the budget hearing of the Senate finance committee.

It could not be EO 464 because that Palace directive was already in effect when Reyes and Bunye appeared before the House appropriations committee.

What are these two gentlemen hiding? We have not come across any new scandal in the DILG. Bunye, of course, could expect some questions over his "I have two tapes" statement that opened the "Hello Garci" can of worms. But appearing before Congress to justify the budget of his department is an obligation – nay, the duty – of a Cabinet member. If he has to beg on his knees for his department’s budget, then a Cabinet member should do so. If he believes such obeisance is beneath his dignity, he can always resign.

We are not talking here of congressional inquiries in aid of legislation which EO 464, as originally justified by Malacañang, is supposed to cover. Executive Order 464 was issued, according to Malacañang, to prevent a repeat of the "abusive treatment" of national security adviser Norberto Gonzales when he was asked to explain a lobby contract with an American firm. We are talking of budget hearings.

The power of the purse is exclusively Congress’. There are many ways the Executive can go around this constitutional principle, principally by re-allocating funds from other departments. But even if the power to appropriate funds is constitutional fiction, everybody should follow the form.

It is unfair perhaps to pillory Corpus and Bunye for refusing to attend the Senate budget hearings. We are sure these two gentlemen are prepared to face the senators and defend their requested funding. They, however, are in no position to defy their principal.

Gloria Arroyo talks about "degenerate politics." But who is the most degenerate politician of them all? More than P2 billion was used to buy electoral support for Gloria in 2004 as established by an ongoing Senate investigation. The "Hello Garci" tapes unmistakably point to election cheating. The subsequent cover-up, including the junking of the impeachment complaint, shows unmitigated contempt toward the law and the Constitution.

We used to explain these aberrations as expressions of sheer arrogance of power. Now we are wondering if we are not seeing plain madness at work.

Madness as in "nasiraan na ng ulo."


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Cha-cha gets a dance master

Rep. Gilbert Remulla was wrong in saying the appointment of Rep. Ronaldo Puno to the interior department is a sign that Malacañang is having second thoughts about charter change. On the contrary, tapping Puno, the "election magician," is another strong signal that the Palace will push Cha-cha, whose main thrust is the shift to the parliamentary system, despite widespread opposition to it. And who knows, another eternity for Gloria, for as long as there is money in the treasury.

Puno is not opposed to Cha-cha as Remulla claims. The party he heads, Kabalikat ng Mamamayang Pilipino which was organized by Gloria when she was vice president to serve as the vehicle for her higher political ambition, might not be involved in the House initiative to revise the charter. But the reason for this is more of the rivalry for spoils with Lakas CMD than over questions of principle.

Moreover, Puno himself said coyly when word of his return to DILG was going around that he had unfinished business as president of Kampi. The unfinished business is the proposed charter change.

Our reading is Puno’s marching orders consist of two things. One is to jumpstart the people’s initiative mode of changing the Constitution in the event the Senate stands firm in its position that a convention is the preferred way to the House’s proposed constituent assembly. The other is to lay the ground for ratification if and when a plebiscite is called.

Both are right down Puno’s alley. He knows all the strings to pull to make local officials dance Cha-cha through people’s initiative. "No el" is as good as dead. There must be more creative ways of rewarding governors and mayors for their support for charter change. And what Puno does not know about making the local executives dance to his tune is probably not worth knowing at all.

On ratification, the stage is set for a repeat of the wholesale purchase of votes in the May 2004 presidential election. Gloria got a P36 billion injection into her campaign chest in early 2004 in the form of the Marcos money. This time, she is looking at least P85 billion from the higher VAT rate.

The House is now preparing a blank check for Gloria like in 2004. The scheme is the same, sitting on the general appropriations bill so the previous year’s budget is reenacted. Rep. Rolando Abaya, the second House member to be tapped for the Cabinet, is reportedly scheduled to deliver his budget sponsorship speech this week before he takes up the post of budget secretary. The senators, who have been waiting for the House-originated budget bill since last November, are not holding their breath.

Malacañang has been repeatedly saying politics has nothing to do with the latest Cabinet appointments. Sure. And Gloria does not cheat, lie or steal.


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Ensuring silence

We have a tip for high and not-so-high government officials who want to feed off the public trough while Gloria Arroyo is in power. They should do something that would truly embarrass the administration, like diverting around P2 billion in taxpayers’ money into the campaign chest of Gloria, and Gloria would do everything to provide them a sinecure while she is around.

Let’s take the case of Arthur Yap. He was agriculture secretary when the second half of releases from the P728 billion fertilizer were made by Joc Joc Bolante, Mike Arroyo’s designated hitter in keeping with post-2004 election promises to congressmen and local government officials.

He has been invited by the Senate committee on agriculture to shed light on the fund diversion. He declined to attend hearings, invoking Executive Order 464. How he got covered by EO 464 was not explained, but presumably it’s because of his designation as presidential assistant for job generation.

(Cito Lorenzo, who was agriculture secretary when releases were made during the run-up to the elections, must be ruing by now his decision not to accept other appointments after his stint at presidential adviser on job creation. He’s not covered by EO order 464. So he is reduced to taking a continuing forced vacation in the US West Coast.)

As presidential assistant, Yap might have been given the rank of Cabinet member to provide him the mantle of protection under EO 464. That’s stretching the coverage of Section 22 of the Article VI of the Constitution which talks only of "heads of departments" as requiring the president’s consent before appearing in a congressional proceedings.

But OK, let’s take the honorific "rank of Cabinet member" as equivalent to being a head of department. But what about others who have also invoked EO 464?

Incumbent Agriculture Undersecretary Belinda Gonzales has also invoked EO 464. Former Agriculture Assistant Secretary Ibarra Poliquit, named in the Senate hearings as Bolante’s right hand man, has also invoked the same. His current posting? A member of the board of the Government Service Insurance System, a position which surely the framers of the 1987 charter never contemplated as being covered by Section 22.

But let’s not get fixated on Yap, Gonzales and Poliquit. They’re not the principals in this grand thievery. We know who the principals are. And they are now busy covering up the crime.
Relentless pursuit of the truth? Tell that to gullible bishops.


Monday, February 06, 2006

Preventing a repeat

That at least four scores died and two hundred were injured at the stampede at Philsports arena should have sufficiently established negligence by organizers, security personnel and the police.

Since Thursday, people had been camping out in front of Philsports for the chance win a house and lot package as well as cash prizes during the Saturday television game show Wowowee. By Saturday dawn, there were an estimated 20,000 seeking to make it inside the show’s venue and be one of the few who were entitled to join the games and the raffle.

Most were there with an eye on the prizes to be given away. As many observers have already noted, there is something sick in a society where people turn to luck and miracles as the way out of poverty. More disgraceful yet is big business exploiting these frailties to maintain or grab market share. But we are talking in the first case about human nature and in the second case the harsh logic of the market, two things we cannot change.

Still responsibilities have to be pinpointed. The government has formed a fact-finding body. ABS-CBN security officials said they have done all they could within their area of responsibility. That was also the claim of Philsports arena management. The Pasig police said they have sent adequate men to help maintain order and deter the petty criminals like pickpockets.

Watching the proceedings, to us it looks like cover-your-you-know-what time. Indeed it is virtually impossible to pinpoint individual responsibility. One can’t indict a Pedro or Juan for these senseless deaths. The investigation, nonetheless, can identify corporate or institutional responsibility.

And even if the fact-finding body falls short of identifying those who are to blame, public outrage may hopefully make sponsors of such events as well as law enforcers take more effective measures to prevent a repeat of the tragedy.

Also, the fact-finding proceedings may provide the cathartic relief for a people numbed by sadness and grief at the sight of the bodies crushed underfoot in their pursuit of the dream of materially easing their lot.

ABS-CBN has promised to shoulder the financial burden of the injured and the fatalities’ relatives. Good. It’s the least it could do. The government has also promised assistance to the victims – of what kind we do not know after ABS-CBN’s promise.

And while we are at it, will those officials who are making a production of comforting the victims please cut out the stage-managed crap?


Thieves exposed

(This was published Saturday, February 4, 2006)

Congressmen named in the fertilizer scam have dared a whistleblower to file a complaint before the House ethics committee. There for the complaint to sleep the sleep of the dead or be consigned to the waste basket for insufficiency in substance as what happened to the impeachment complaint against Gloria Arroyo?

If we recall correctly the use of government funds to buy local government officials’ support for her candidacy in 2004 was among the impeachable offenses listed in the amended complaint prepared by the Opposition. The House judiciary committee ruled that the amended complaint could not be entertained because it was filed later than the Mickey Mouse complaint filed by lawyer Oliver Lozano.

The same people will convict their fellow thieves? That will be the day. And if the "30 percenters" are, in fact, found guilty, what will be the sanction? Suspension or, at most, expulsion from the chamber?

Senate President Franklin Drilon’s suggestion is for the Ombudsman to charge these congressmen and local officials with graft. The evidence is there in the hands of the Commission on Audit. The witnesses who testified before the Senate are prepared to appear before the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan.

These officials should rot in jail. We are not, however, holding our breath. The independence of the new Ombudsman, Merceditas Gutierrez, is suspect. When her name was floated after the resignation of Simeon Marcelo, critics noted her closeness to First Gentleman Mike Arroyo. Nothing Gutierrez has done since she assumed office proves her critics wrong.

The fertilizer fund scam goes beyond the kickbacks to the congressmen and local officials. The well-grounded suspicion is that the money was distributed — with the understanding that the local officials could "monetize" the proceeds — to buy support for the presidential bid of Gloria. The designated operator was Agriculture Undersecretary Joc Joc Bolante, a member of the Makati Rotary Club whose most prominent member is we know who.

Bolante has made himself scarce, defying a clutch of subpoenas from the Senate agriculture committee which is investigating the fund scam. Witnesses have told the committee Bolante was skimming from the top through overpricing. For his account or for his patron’s or for Gloria’s slush fund nobody knows.

Most likely all three.

The "Hello Garci" tapes tagged the cheaters and liars. The fertilizer fund scam points to the thieves.

Truly, as Susan Roces said, "Ang sinungaling ay kapatid ng magnanakaw."


Friday, February 03, 2006

In defense of ‘hoarders’ and ‘speculators’

During a recent visit to flooded areas in Central Luzon, President Arroyo said the government will do everything in its powers to keep prices stable following the increase in the rate of the value added tax from 10 to 12 percent.

So what specific actions is the government contemplating to stop an expected price spiral with the implementation the higher VAT rate? Gloria said she will crack down on hoarders to show unscrupulous traders that gouging consumers, especially the poor, does not pay.
And we thought she has a PhD in Economics.

What’s the situation on the ground? Consumers are penny-pinching, foregoing purchases of goods they can do without because of the diminished buying power of their income. Manufacturers, distributors and retailers are complaining about the slack in demand. There’s enough anecdotal evidence to confirm the slowdown in demand. The National Statistical Coordination Board has figures (the latest is for the fourth quarter of 2005) showing the decline in both personal and government consumption expenditures.

Who’s the crazy distributor or retailer who would stock up on inventory given the soft demand? And what, pray, is what Gloria calls hoarding?

She mentioned rice and sugar as among the basic commodities the prices of which are rising. Let’s take a look at the cheapest available rice. The rice sold by the National Food Authority now costs P18 a kilo retail, from P13 a kilo before she grabbed power. Gloria only has to call up officials of NFA for her to know that world prices of rice have been going up.

As to locally produced rice, she should know as an economist that those who buy palay during harvest and sell rice during the lean months have an indispensable role to play in a market-driven economy. The "hoarders" and "speculators" smooth out the price gyrations in a product whose supply is seasonal.

As to sugar, world prices are also on the rise because of the Brazilian government’s decision to allocate a big portion of the harvest for the production of alcohol for fuel. Thailand, another big exporter, has suffered setbacks in production.

As with local rice, so with sugar. Since the country is a net importer of these two commodities, prices naturally track world prices.

The effective solution, of course, is to make rice and sugar lands more efficient. As a start, the government should dismantle its market-distorting intervention in these two commodities.
But rice is a highly political commodity because it is the nation’s staple. Sugar is also highly political for a different reason. There are at least 35 congressmen plus a clutch of governors and a posse of mayors identified with the "sugar bloc."

Gloria can’t or won’t reform the farm sector. So she runs after the red herring of "hoarders" and "speculators" instead.


Thursday, February 02, 2006

How not to sell higher VAT

We have long been a reluctant supporter of an expanded coverage of the value added tax and a higher rate. The government clearly cannot go on financing its programs through borrowings. As it is, P1 out of every P3 in government revenues goes to payment of debts. Revenues have to be improved to fund social programs and infrastructure without hocking the future of the next generation.

That said, there are two things that government must do to win public support for the new VAT measures. First is to be honest about the effects of VAT, especially on the poor and the middle class. Second is to ensure the money is spent well.

The effects of last year’s lifting of the VAT exemption of power and fuel are already starting to be felt in the form of higher rates of utilities and higher prices of goods and services that use power and fuel, meaning practically all. Most people are surviving, although there are some for whom an 8 percent rise in prices of basic goods and services as measured by the inflation rate spells the difference between a full stomach and an empty one.

Yesterday’s increase in the VAT rate from 10 to 12 percent will definitely be another burden. But instead of recognizing the sacrifices the higher VAT rate requires, we hear officials saying the higher rate has a negligible effect.

President Arroyo, who has never had to scrounge for her next meal in her whole life, said that the 2 percentage rate is "very small if you have to be very arithmetical about it." She is flatly wrong, of course, because the increase in the rate from 10 to 12 percent is –arithmetically – 20 percent. But it’s the insensitivity that makes her statement so offensive.

Now we go to spending. In her recent visits to military and police camps, she was issuing orders left and right for the releases of a few billions here and a few billions there for improving the AFP and the PNP’s capability and increasing the members’ benefits. She also announced fund releases every time she visited provinces.

Fund releases are the executive department’s province. How taxpayers’ money is spent is Congress’ business. As we enter the second month of the year, Congress has yet to pass the annual appropriations measure. This means the spending engaged in by Gloria is solely based on her own discretion, courtesy of a reenacted budget.

And who is holding up passage of the budget? It’s her party mates in Lakas at the House. The game plan apparently is to stall budget deliberations until the middle of the year when it will be more expedient to run government on a reenacted budget than pass a current one.

The suspicion is Gloria wants a blank check so she could buy support for her proposed charter changes which would ensure her continued stay in power. Right or wrong, that’s the perception. People could not be blamed for protesting the imposition of higher taxes for financing what they believe is Gloria’s efforts to promote her personal political interest.


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Credible alternative is not the issue

The Palace yesterday abandoned its plan to scrap the elections in 2007. But it said Gloria Arroyo will stay until 2010 unless her term is cut short by a constitutional process.

Let’s sort out what this means. In the first place, there is strictly no connection between the elections in 2007 and Gloria’s continued stay in power. The mid-term elections are provided for in the Constitution. There’s no way the elections can be cancelled unless the charter is changed.

With "no-el" out, Gloria and Lakas can kiss their plan of revising the 1987 charter goodbye. "No el" is the promised reward for local executives in ensuring the ratification of the proposed shift to the parliamentary system. In the finest (?) traditions of transactional politics, reneging on one’s promise cancels out the obligation of the other.

Elections in 2007 will be a golden opportunity to throw the rascals out. We can already see congressional candidates paying lip service to continued support for Gloria as they take delivery of their pork barrel and other "campaign logistics." But back in their districts, they would be distancing themselves from the administration.

In the Senate race, it would be miracle if Gloria could fill up the administration’s 12-man slate with credible candidates.

That’s only where the relationship between the 2007 elections and Gloria’s continued stay in power comes in. She’ll be constitutionally forced to cut short her term all right via impeachment.

That’s assuming, of course, she can survive until 2007. Another impeachment proceeding looms this year. . Even before that, a people power type of revolt is also a distinct possibility.

But there remains another constitutional way, neater and less destabilizing. And that is for Gloria to step down.

Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, was asked Sunday what conditions have to be fulfilled before the bishops call for Gloria’s resignation. "When people find a credible alternative" was Lagdameo’s answer.

Lagdameo apparently failed to consider that while it might be premature to name individuals who are credible alternatives, the Constitution provides a process where the people can choose a replacement.

If Gloria and Vice President Noli de Castro resign, Senate President Franklin Drilon takes over in an acting capacity until an election is called.

De Castro, who certainly continues to enjoy mass support, can run.