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Oct 03

Kowtow

Late last night, the story broke: Arroyo decides ‘not to continue’ with ZTE deal–Bunye. Today, the story got to be clarified further: GMA explains ZTE fiasco to Hu (as another story put it, Arroyo ‘stops’ deal with ZTE; China prexy accepts decision).

Obviously, that was the main objective of the President, with specific, domestic political considerations on her mind. As her people put it, ‘Political instinct’ made Arroyo scrap ZTE deal — Palace.

Having achieved that, she can then attend to other things.

Contrary to speculations to the contrary, the President has a serious reason for visiting China. She’s there in support of Philippine investments overseas, a legitimate and praiseweworthy thing for any president to do, and which explains why she’d go to China when the Chinese themselves are enjoying one of the major holidays in their culture.

As the news has it, Arroyo inaugurates Razon container terminal in Shandong. After all, Razon now most powerful businessman, says De Venecia son. Those interested in the maritime ports industry might be interested in the blog Maritime Watchkeeper.

The main thing is that prior to the electrifying news arriving late in the evening from China, the Palace faithful had been mobilized to propose the party line: Palace wants Senate to stop NBN deal investigation. This was expressed by the Executive Secretary when the President left; in addition, after the President left, her husband returned: obviously well-briefed on what he, in turn, should be saying: Mike Arroyo: I never said ‘Back off’.

What I found very curious last night was that a couple of hours before the news of the President’s statement was released, the distinct possibility that the scheduled ZTE hearing for Thursday would end up being either canceled outright, or postponed, began to circulate. Obviously, coming at the heels of official Palace expressions of desire -for the hearings to end- this is what made the scuttlebutt take on the Wow factor.

Consider, first, that resuming the hearings would further add scrutiny to an already open can of worms: Probe of PDI, 4 solons sought over leak on secret meeting (for its part, the paper I write for says, PDI stands by story on Joker’s intervention in Neri’s testimony). The Senate, then, having already spent yesterday arguing its case before the Supreme Court (see No TRO on ‘Hello Garci’ probe; SC grills petitioners) and earning a minor victory (no TRO to stop the Hello Garci hearings) and faced with that probe called by an angry Joker Arroyo, and headed for a justifiable confrontation with Romulo Neri on his invocation of executive privilege, seemed poised for, well, a home run.

As the Inquirer editorial for today put it, in The battle resumes:

This returns us to the Senate, which is due to resume its joint committee hearings on the ZTE deal. There will be two issues immediately confronting the chamber. First, allegations concerning the conduct of the executive session last Thursday. This was meant to allow senators the opportunity to understand why Chair Romulo Neri of the Commission on Higher Education invoked executive privilege just as he had tantalizingly came close to revealing that the President had said more about Abalos’ bribe than just advising Neri not to accept the bribe.

Conflicting suggestions of improper behavior, either by senators or members of the Cabinet, in that executive session, have been made. One senator has asked whether these suggestions of improper, even scandalous, conduct justified the unprecedented move of some senators to reveal what took place. We say unprecedented, because the allegations of what happened during that executive session are unparalleled in the history of our Congress and perhaps any legislature in the modern era.

The second issue is whether or not to compel Neri to reveal what he knows but won’t say. Senators must decide if they will detain Neri and trigger, in turn, a case in the Supreme Court to settle, once and for all, whether the Cabinet member is right in invoking executive privilege. This is a confrontation that seems not only inevitable, but necessary. We cannot agree with Sen. Joker Arroyo that the Senate should quit while it is ahead.

It is by settling these two questions, which all hinge on Neri’s possessing information as to what the President knew, and when — and what she did or did not do, knowing what she knew — that checks and balances are asserted and the parameters of democracy are more clearly established. At stake is the ability of Congress to exercise oversight, of witnesses to use legitimate legal shields or hide behind legal barriers erected to cover up official wrongdoing. There is even the possibility that Neri’s value as a witness has been compromised, because he no longer has free will, and has been subjected to official intimidation — whether from the Senate, or the executive branch.

Except, the battle has been… well, to put it charitably, postponed. And this brings me to what got reporters scrambling back into action last night, even prior to the announcement by the Palace, that the President had ordered the ZTE deal “stopped”. Here’s the report by Malaya: Senate freezes probe into broadband deal. As their report puts it,

The freeze was a result of the decision to scrap an all-member caucus last night where a proposed hearing tomorrow was to be taken up.

The caucus was called to discuss how the Senate would pursue the inquiry after the resignation on Monday of Election Chairman Benjamin Abalos, the alleged broker of what was suspected as an overpriced supply contract with the Chinese company ZTE.

Earlier in the day, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the Senate investigation might not be relevant anymore after Abalos’ resignation.

“Ngayong wala na yung object ng kanilang investigation, ano’ng relevance noon?” he asked.

He added that President Arroyo “is very confident that things will somehow simmer down.”

Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano, chair of the Blue Ribbon, the lead committee, said the failure to hold a caucus only means that no hearing has been scheduled.

He said the inquiry will definitely continue.

He said the committee has subpoenaed the NEDA Investment Coordinating Committee for all documents relating to the ZTE contract. He said the transportation department has already submitted the documents in its hands upon receipt of a similar subpoena duces tecum.

Congress was originally scheduled to start its All Saints’ Day break on Oct. 13. On Monday, it was announced at the Senate that the recess would be advanced by a week.

As of last night, when the buzz about either a cancellation or a postponement began, Senators were contacted and immediately responded vigorously: Senate to continue with ZTE hearings–Cayetano. The rhetoric from all the chairmen was all right: we will continue, never fear, etc., etc., although the views of some colleagues, such as Francis Escudero, was noticeably temperate while other senators complained they never got the memo: Senator puzzled over lull in hearings on broadband deal:

He said no hearings were scheduled this week because his committee needed to assess the status of the investigation, which led to the resignation of Benjamin Abalos Sr. as Elections chief following allegations of bribery.

Before he took the floor, Cayetano told reporters in a press conference that the hearings would be scheduled some 10 to 14 days from now, during the four-week congressional break.

He also gave as reasons the impending absence of senators, who are about to go on a break, and the absence of resource persons willing to speak about the deal.

Actually, the whole country didn’t get the memo.

So I can’t help but wonder at the confluence of events.

A newspaper finishes layout pretty early, and there’s no indication, for example, Malaya held the presses, which makes it reasonable to consider that its story on a cancellation (outright) of the ZTE hearings was, at one point yesterday evening, in the cards. On the same day the Palace expressed the desire the whole thing should be stopped -and knowing, as we do now, that Ermita spoke knowing full well what the President would later on announce, after the formality of her meeting with the Chinese president was concluded.

The Senate had the chance to have two more weeks of hearings, but decided to knock off work early, and all the vows of pursuing the hearings after their vacation, doesn’t explain the thing that puzzles me. Politics is about timing. It requires seizing the initiative, and doggedly refusing to relinquish it. But then, with things going in its favor, the Senate decides to, well, how else can I put it?

Back off.

And just when there were more questions raised, than settled, by the President’s statement from China. As Manuel Buencamino puts it,

Once upon a time Gloria Arroyo rightly laid out clear policy guidelines for the broadband network: build, operate and transfer; no loans; no sovereign guarantees; use and pay, rather than take or pay. Then one day, suddenly and without any explanation, she reversed those guidelines.

Can she tell us why the ZTE deal was so hastily approved that her Cabinet cannot even make up its mind whether it’s a supply contract or an executive agreement?

Can Mrs. Arroyo tell us why she allowed a contract of this magnitude to be signed even if it did not follow the proper sequence of steps as dictated by laws and regulations?

Can she explain why a concessionary loan is better than no loan at all?

Can she explain why it’s better to spend billions of pesos to own and operate an exclusive network that taxpayers will pay for whether the government uses it or not, rather than a network whose services taxpayers will pay for only when the government uses it?

Can she tell us how, and why, the Department of Justice (DOJ) rendered an opinion on a contract it never even saw?

Can she tell us why the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) did not furnish a copy of the contract to the DOJ when DOTC chief Leandro Mendoza admitted to the Senate that his department had finished reconstituting the contract on May 24, weeks before the DOJ rendered its opinion?

Can she tell us why she allowed Mendoza to keep the departments of Justice, Trade, Finance, Budget, the Executive Secretary, the Palace legal counsel and the public in the dark?

Is pushing through with the deal only a legal matter to be settled by the Supreme Court, or more important, is it a taxpayer expense that must be justified?

Meanwhile, the Palace suddenly has the means (and most definitely, the motive) to then pursue its prey (just when it seemed businessmen were beginning to start showing signs of increasing uneasiness about the Palace: see Tongue In. Anew, who has an interesting take on things).

After the primary prey of the opposition, the now ex-Comelec Chairman, has quit (entrusting his fate into the hands of our deeply respected Ombudsman, which, as this report indicates, is overflowing with the milk of human kindness: Ombudsman Gutierrez logs a record of going easy on Abalos, Comelec), taking him out of the game, the Senate takes itself out of the game, too, for a month.

And there’s also wiggle room in the Supreme Court: Motion to junk NBN-ZTE deal not yet moot – Supreme Court, by which I mean, there’s time to further buttress the Palace arguments by means of filing appropriate motions…

As Uniffors puts it,

Anyway, Gloria and Mike are on the ropes, to use a boxing term… The whole nation is waiting for the Senate to go in for the knockout… But what does the Senate do?… It decides to go on its All Saints Day vacation a week early.

Gloria and Mike will now have until Nov 5, at the earliest, to gather their wits, marshall their strength, and work their way back into the fight.

To be fair, the Senate’s decision to suddenly advance their vacation and to postpone the ZTE hearings indefinitely was not entirely Alan Peter Cayetano’s to make. It was a collective decision. (Maybe everyone collected. 200 each maybe?)

But here’s why we take Alan Peter Cayetano to task.

Remember those two impeachment hearings in the House? Remember how he and Chiz Escudero, led the charge for truth and all that against overwhelming odds?

Well, where the fuck is that crusader now? He didn’t even put up a fight.

I don’t know if this is the same Alan Peter Cayetano that we elected to the Senate so we would have someone to look out for us. Maybe the man we think is Alan Pater Cayetano is really Juju Cayetano, the fake candidate who ran for senator last May. That’s the kindest thought I can have for him right now.

Come to think of it, I’ve never seen Juju and Alan Peter in a picture together. Maybe because they’re one and the same now. Peke.

With breathing room the Palace, intends to make permanent: Spare First Gentleman, Neri from future NBN hearings–Palace, it now only has to face one: a potentially bruising battle for the first time ever, over the budget. House begins plenary debates on 2008 budget.

We all know that the greatest power of the House, is the power of the purse. A House inclined to be unpleasant to a President can go over the budget with fine-toothed comb, subject cabinet officials and presidential appointees to an inquisition, and unlike the Senate, it can do so without anyone really noticing -or with everyone watching if the House tells reporters to expect fireworks.

But instead of facing a battle on two fronts, the President, knowing Senators are off to attend the Interparliamentary Union gabfest, and so she can instead focus on, well, this story tells it all: ‘I have nothing to fear,’ says De Venecia on ouster rumors.

The antidote to threats of a House with a sudden zest for taking budget-writing seriously, is to say: look, for a whole month, JDV3 is going to get hammered by the Palace. And daddy, too.

Anyway, good news: Senate approves cheaper medicines bill.

And cool news: Super jet to touch down in RP next week.

And I think Sassy Lawyer is spot on why people should cut “Desperate Housewives” some slack.

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253 comments

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  1. DevilsAdvc8

    Manolo, Naga is a great city to live in (these times) not only is crime rate low, but man oh man, city govt services? i tell you, we don’t even have snaking lines at city hall! the only hell Naguenos experience are when social services are still held by the national govt. you may have noticed the number of complainants from Naga abt GSIS Naga branch. SSS Naga is no different. and so is LTO, DTI, etc, etc. if they are not covered by city hall powers, they remain virtually corrupt.

    and you should visit sometimes. Naga is really a different place to see from 5 years ago. a lot of exciting developments (and that’s an understatement) If Robredo would only run for president, I’ll be his fanatic supporter for life. never mind if he’s known outside Naga or not. Filipinos only have to look at how he changed Naga to be convinced of his ability.

    as I’ve maintained ever since, what we need is a managerial president (successful mayors), not one culled from senators or congressmen, who are virtually formed into hagglers and compromisers in their stay at congress. nothing wrong with that really. except you can’t expect visionary leadership from that kind of people.

    so who are respectable presidentiables for me aside from Robredo? Bayani Fernando fits the bill. So does Gordon, no matter what other people say abt him (he’s transformed Subic, isn’t that a glowing accomplishment in itself?) and that other mayor who’s an enemy of the Garcias in Cebu. forgot her name.

  2. Manila Bay Watch

    Pete,

    Have been thinking about your LOA, I believe it can be done if there’s enough resolve by both politicans and public to push for it, i.e., short of a revolt.

    But again, Gloria is so enamoured with power that it would take Lucifer to unhinge her from her seat.

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