Ding Gagelonia’s recent entry in his blog, At Midfield, got me thinking. As well as some comments by readers for me to consider their view that there’s not enough time to pursue Charter Change (I think there is).
But both got me to reflect, once again, on this: Timing is everything in politics, the saying goes. Yesterday’s Inquirer editorial points to the political timing of oil price rollbacks, for example.
You can calculate your moves to be timed in such a manner as to throw your opponents off-kilter. You determine the timing of events.
Or you can time your moves to coincide or take advantage of events no one could preordained, but which you foresaw as being predetermined, that is, they would occur sooner or later, and once they take place, better-prepared, you can seize the moment.
Time is seasonal; for example, in terms of political time, impeachment has its season and other things, like Charter Change, have their own season.
What happens when two seasons coincide or their timing seems to operate at cross-purposes to each other.
After all, the only thing that can seriously derail the marshaling of forces for Charter Change is impeachment. Or is it?
What if you put it another way, the other way around? The only thing that can derail the marshaling of forces for impeachment is Charter Change.
The only checkmate on the President is impeachment, not the official end of her term; for her term expiring is at best, a moveable goal-post (create a new job, and the expiration of your term isn’t consequential; retiring isn’t a problem if besides an obliging Ombudsman and a friendly Supreme Court, you have a new President you swung the election to). Only impeachment means sudden death, politically. And things can happen very fast, when people see a check mate unfolding, for capitalizing on it requires only a committed and nimble minority with its eye on the prize.
The long, hard slog of trying to exact accountability through constitutional means since it was first attempted in 2005 has only served to sap the will of those attempting it and makes cynical those who favor it as a means of replacing a president above all others. As Cocoy wrote in The Political Machinery and Infrastructure Of President Arroyo:
But I submit, to you my dear readers, that the cases against President Gloria Arroyo, are strong, very strong, based on command responsibility, based on misappropriated funds, and so much more, but the smoking gun has never been found, except for one, which I mention in the next paragraph. Call it genius, I say it’s something else. You decide. And even when it led straight to the top, it has had to be based on testimony, for example, that of Romulo Neri. He told her about the alleged bribe attempt, she confirmed her knowledge about the NBN deal, in no less than on a radio show, but still, nothing came about.
Even, when the strongest case, election fraud, was brought to The Senate, in the whirlwind that we now know as The Garci Tapes, we still could not deliver a death sentence to this Administration, it was not only a failure of our government, and all those involved, but it was the death of the trust that our people had in this government.
President Gloria Arroyo, blame her all you want, because I certainly do, has built up so many safeguards, has made the political moves, and has the deep political team, and bench, that even in such a time in which Joc Joc Bolante is now testifying before The Senate, she may be a bit nervous, but in the end, she has to know, her machinery, and her political infrastructure will shield her from any form of accountability. Each and every time, she has been cleared, either by witnesses, by government institutions, or by providing another fall guy to take the fall.
It’s a sad realization. That even, while, I am sick to my stomach, watching the Joc Joc hearings, that, nothing seems be coming out of it, that it is important that The Filipino People realize, just as when Neri testified, the messed up system of procurement, appropriation, project planning, etc, that our nation is in.
But, when people close their eyes to such anomalies, declare a saint out of this woman, I take notice, and I take offense, because such denial, such defense, it can no longer can be based on logical reason, but on a mere partisan reaction.
So, we are in a quandry, the obviousness of the whole affair, this affair that we call The Arroyo Administration, as to how to hold her responsible. But we have not the political climate to exact the punishment that is due to her. The strongest hard evidence, The Hello Garci tapes, led to nothing, but a now popular term - “Noted”.
Hard evidence is there, I say, but even putting this aside, the most damning is when you take the bulk of these anomalies, add on to it human rights violations, kidnappings during this regime, and now a resurgent Fertilizer Fund Scam investigation, these all scream Arroyo, and political will is strong to bring her to account, but the numbers, however, and the machinery sides with Arroyo.
In light of the above, let me propose, further, that the only people really in a position to put teeth in the proceedings, are not her long-standing foes, but her more recent foes: those who were once very close allies and partook of presidential plenty during the happy days of old. And who was closer than Jose de Venecia, Jr.? Arguably three individuals spelled the difference between a breathing spell and a second wind, politically, and resignation and exile in 2005. They were: Fidel V. Ramos, Jose de Venecia, Jr., and Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, Archbishop of Manila.
FVR and JDV thought they’d saved the President in exchange for her bowing out gracefully by means of a transitional parliamentary being put in place by 2006. By the time that deadline rolled around, FVR had been publicly sidelined in his own party; the Speaker had been stalled by a last gasp of People Power summoned by the Catholic hierarchy in December, 2006. So in 2007 mopping-up operations took place courtesy of the NBN-ZTE controversy which led to de Venecia’s being deposed.
Every time de Venecia previously showed signs of spilling the beans, the Palace ferociously asserted there were no beans to spill at all; failing that, that they would be self-incriminating beans, too; and failing that, that the beans ought to be spilled “in the proper forum,” which the Palace of course controlled. In other words, a thick smokescreen is laid down, as the Palace checks and re-checks the chain of command, counts votes in the House, summons and obtains manifestos of support from governors and mayors, sends emissaries with sweeteners to the bishops, puts together cabinet and other clusters to game out scenarios, and so forth.
A smokescreen buys time, and time allows you to look for opportunities. Laying down that smokescreen -with its great, rolling clouds of appeals to “objectivity,” to “sobriety,” for “stability,” and the other noxious rhetorical vapors of the official media machine, has been perfected over time, as Write Rhythm recently pointed out, showing how the institution most people rely on to get their news and comprehend the topsy-turvy world of politics, can be gamed:
Aside from the number of issues to report about this administration, The Age of Gloria is a challenging time for Filipino journalists because of another characteristic of this era. The Age of Gloria… okay let’s be more specific, Gloria is known for her strategy of divert and obfuscate. Aside from diverting funds, Gloria is a master of diverting the public’s attention to another issue (i.e. usually the economy, national unity, etc.), thereby obfuscating the original issue by bombarding people with one issue after another. Unfortunately, this has worked to her advantage as the media and civil society try to keep up with the many issues tied to her.
The difficulty in setting the agenda is that the Philippine media has to consider both what is new and timely, and what is a matter of public interest. Sometimes, the two do not go together. especially with the administration’s expertise of burying issues in the past. Sometimes, they do but not to an extent that the choice is clear. And oftentimes, one has to yield to yet another consideration of choosing the other, sexier stories.
Let me suggest that there apparently may have been political rhyme and reason to de Venecia’s loudly proclaiming he’d spill the beans, but stepping back or never letting more than a stray little bean escape -a mere hint of the pork and beans he wanted to spill. He is by temperament and instinct, I think everyone agrees, a consensus-builder, an operator, not the kind who leads cavalry charges. It certainly exasperated those egging him on to come out swinging. Of course even as people thought they were taking the measure of the man, whether from the ranks of the Palace or the various factions of the opposition, he was taking their measure, too. Having been in politics longer than most of them, it’s entirely possible he held his peace and did his Dopey act to buy time and fend off the more aggressive among those importuning him to weigh in.
If you are up against a numerically and logistically superior enemy, you do not make a frontal attack at the time and place chosen by that enemy. If the spider and the fly had been politicians, the spider would have said “bring it to the proper forum!” instead of “welcome to my parlor.”
So what do you do, if you are, in Sergio Osmena Jr.’s words, “outgunned, outgooned, and outgold”? You probe for weaknesses. You foster, in the superior enemy, a sense of its overwhelming superiority, so that the enemy begins to believe its own propaganda.
You also marshal your own forces, whatever they might be, and do what you do best: build or re-build alliances.
Both take time, and craft, not boldness; or more craftiness, at least in private, and less boldness, at least in public. Both require biding your time so you don’t play entirely according to the game plan of the enemy.
Still, while things can happen pretty fast, plots require time to be hatched. One major strength of any administration is its access to information, aided by our national propensity to boast and gossip.
For months now, it’s been talked about that de Venecia consulted other disgruntled elders, such as Fidel V. Ramos, and others, all of whom are chafing at the interminable durability of the President, as well as other power players who are inclined as much to think one step ahead as the President, whether it’s potential presidential candidates like Manuel Villar, Jr. or people fully intent on continuing to play the role of king maker, like Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr. One such meeting took place around September, where FVR is said to have received JDV in order to determine if provincemate really had the goods, and could really put up a fight.
The two supposedly reached a tacit agreement involving JDV throwing the bomb, and if it had the intended effect, it would provide the two -FVR and JDV- with a pretext to call for the scrapping of the Lakas-Kampi merger, and take an FVR-JDV loyalist rump into union with the NPC of Cojuangco and the NP of Villar. An application had been been filed with Christian Democrats International to accredit the NP as a Christian Democratic party, providing an ideological pretext for the new coalition, while the NPC could simply state that as a child of the NP, it was simply patching up the quarrel among partymates that dated back to Danding Cojuangco and Doy Laurel’s disagreement over who should have the party franchise.
All very neat, tidy, potentially formidable, a real game-changer, and one denying the President’s uncouth Kampi blowhards and the perpetual Opposition losers the satisfaction of victory. A true victory for the veterans. At least, this is the delicious scenario as they might see it.
In recent weeks, it’s been talked about that the NPC began to stall on Charter Change talks, and that the Palace decided to accelerate the killing of the impeachment complaint not only to forestall opportunities for new revelations, but also to maintain their political momentum and stampede representatives into joining the Charter Change bandwagon. The way things ebbed and flowed in the House going into the last Charter Change effort in 2006, indicates how congressmen can be mulish just when the mule drivers want them to trot. As it is, the Palace has had to give the impression it’s backpedaling a bit: Palace: No to lifting of term limits really says nothing, though. the Palace, procedurally and politically, can “exclude, dismiss, and reject” whatever it wants in public, but so long as the behind-the-scenes green light stays lit, the ultimate aim of something for everyone can be achieved. Part of the smokescreen.
And there are other leaders perpetually circling around, sniffing for opportunity. Which is why I’m inclined to think Uniffors is on to something. What do you think is a bigger motivation, and calculation, for someone like Juan Ponce Enrile? To wrap up his political career “para siempre un muchacho,” as his generation might put it, or as possibly, the transitional President of the Philippines, his portrait permanently on display in the presidential palace? Amando Doronila, who has had decades to observe his former jailer, Enrile, says a sudden toppling of a President who views him as an elderly toady is just the sort of thing to make the old schemer grin in anticipation.
Everyone knows timing is everything in politics. If everyone has begun to think of a post-Arroyo future, how do you, as Arroyo, keep yourself front and center, to continue enjoying a maximum number of political options? The President has always shown a marked preference for thinking tactically and not strategically. Her elders pride themselves on thinking strategically. The tactician has proven herself the mistress of the strategists so far.
The way to keep everyone off-kilter is not to wait for them to throw you off, but to throw them off, obviously.
Start having the machinery you control belch out another smokescreen.
It seems Secretary Jesus Dureza confided to persons close to him that they were going to do “something” the next morning, to gauge the public pulse. The next morning, Dureza said his famous little prayer and what had been previously sewn up at Rep. Romualdez’s house, could begin to be delivered -Charter Change.
Charter Change primarily as smokescreen, but also, since there’s nothing to lose, as yet another item in the menu of presidential options.
Charter Change immediately swept the central story -impeachment, with all the accompanying side plots, from Bolante to the Eurogenerals, to NBN-ZTE-deal, off the table, as far as public attention was concerned.
Something beyond the Palace’s control had refocused the story not on the President’s insistence that all was well, but on everything that had made her administration unpopular in the first place. That thing was Bolante’s return, and impeachment season coming at its heels.
That thing includes reminders of all the many issues that have antagonized the public, including, I might add, the question of the BJE-MOA deal, which even the president’s critics didn’t want to touch with a ten foot pole.
Charter Change could have been resumed, with a lot of fanfare, two months ago or even two months from now. But why go great guns now?
Because it’s the only way to stop being on the defensive, and instead, go on the offensive.
But it seems the timing was not, exactly, right. Because the timing had been determined not by the Palace, from the start, but by other things.
Charter Change essentially remains a reaction to the embarrassment Bolante represents, and someone else proved capable of mastering the timeline, too.
Yesterday’s Inquirer reported on the revelations de Venecia’s already made -by means of his authorized biography- and which the House has to prevent being further elaborated upon and amplified in the House deliberations on impeachment. See JDV details secret Arroyo-ZTE meeting:
Again, timing is everything in politics. Those deliberations, at least in the Justice Committee, were supposed to be wrapped up last Friday. But the hearings on Thursday and Friday were canceled.
Timing is everything in politics. And it’s just as well that the gastrointestinal troubles of the President’s husband has him home in time to mind the store as the House of Representatives wrestles with what to do with its former Speaker, Jose de Venecia, Jr.
With the President absent (a benefit of her absences, if you’ve noticed, is that out sight means being out of mind: reducing the effect she has on public opinion, which is galvanize it, against herself), the man everyone, even her own loyalists, dislikes but needs, can take up the slack because he has nothing to lose. Ergo, First Gentleman: JDV a ‘liar’. Hey, it’s a crappy job but someone has to do it, and the President’s husband does it pretty well, in public and more crucially, behind the scenes.
JDV had wrestled with the problem of his lacking the numbers to prevent his being gagged by the House. Recall how he’d tried to do so, but coverage was cut off by the new House leadership. If one assumes he’s capable of a certain amount of introspection, he knows full well that among his many liabilities as a politician, is how he cannot make pithy remarks in front of media, he tends to meander and his rambling undercuts his effectivity. He is more suited to cajoling people in back rooms and, from time to time, making more carefully-structured speeches.
Which makes his decision to publish an authorized biography a pretty clever political move, one which undercuts his administration foes, and centers the discussion on his allegations. Critics would have to repeatedly make reference to the allegations, put forward in print; those references will make people curious; curious people will want to read what’s been written, and throughout the process, the debate will keep returning to the source document -de Venecia’s book. For this reason, I disagree with smoke who wrote, yesterday:
As far as bombshells go, this was a certifiable dud. Certainly didn’t reveal anything new, nor even added any sort of nuance to the story that’s been told over and over and over by everyone and his dog. JDV’s recollection of these events merely invites the reader to make the connections for himself – something which we’re all pretty good at; a strategy guaranteed to generate the most salacious conclusions possible.
There is a calibrated effort going on. Smoke’s entry was in response to his restating some of his original revelations. That’s just one story, in a book no one has had time to fully read, but whose contents are slowly -and surely, with timing in mind- being dribbled out by the one who authorized the book, JDV.
Again, not much by way of a revelation except it provides in-house confirmation, so to speak, of something everyone saw because the congressmen waddling out of the Palace in 2007 didn’t bother to hide their gift bags. And it confirms the testimony of Gov. Panlilio of Pampanga, another official on the Palace hit list.
But Joey de Venecia’s already said he expects his father to spill at least some beans on the issue everyone thought JDV would always remain mum on: North Rail.
We shall see how it unfolds today if it’s explosive or if it’s a dud. The Palace has to ride it out today and going into the rest of the week, trying to kill impeachment by midweek and ensure this by publicly ramping up Charter Change. JDV says he’s leaving Tuesday for Washington -where he has friends, unlike the President- which gives him a chance to peddle his book to foreign media, and leaves the Palace with no target to vent its ire on: it will have to face the accusations by its lonesome, when it’s usual tactic is to turn the tables on accusers by unleashing the attack dogs. But Washington is the last place to send those attack dogs, because the brunt of the asking will be done here at home.
Brilliant, if you ask me, true guerrilla hit-and-run tactics.
So if the de Venecias pull this off, and today turns out politically explosive, it should then be described as the day that revenge was truly proven to best be served cold. That’s another hoary old chestnut, but for some, it’s true.
If some of us would take inspiration from a Shakespearean call to sally forth, “Once more, unto the breach!” There’s the the little old prune who could just as much say, “Do or do not, there is no try.”
I find it interesting that the President’s husband had to sally forth and face the cameras. Flanked by his two sons. The President’s congressional allies have been rather subdued.
Actual impeachment may be a lesser possibility based on the numbers in the House of Representatives but the political implications are certainly big enough. The revelation guarantees the focus on GMA’s foibles and constitutes further political pressure to make her resign.
The GMA majority in the House of Representatives actually rests on the fragile loyalty that money can provide. It is only feasible as long as the continued stay in power of the powers dispensing the largesse is assured. This is the reason why the current charter change move by Malacañang is being watched by all sides. When it fails, no money can dissuade the congressmen from seeking new patrons among the presidentiables. Their own survival imperative to stay in power will trump the money.
Before then, the pressure on GMA to resign is expected to increase. What is unspoken in this message is the “or else” clause. This is brought about by the interesting anti-GMA positioning of the de Venecias who are still very much a part of the ruling Lakas-CMD coalition party. Malacañang cannot anymore be certain of the loyalty of the majority in the ruling coalition, particularly the non-GMA Lakas-CMD, the NPC, House LPs, and other smaller groups. This was not present before in previous opposition initiatives.
This is an elaboration on the possible scenario I indicated above. And brings up all sorts of interesting permutations, including a cabinet declaration of presidential incapacity, which if contested by the President, leads to the question being thrown to Congress.
Blogger seven million goldfish in exasperation and alarm asks why not just shoot her? Those in a position or with an inclination to do so, are in jail. The truly big political players are not inclined to invest in or promote permanent solutions. And the question is not to eliminate her at all costs, but to save the Republic even if it means the President preterminating her term.
My column for today is, Congressmen respond, with the responses of Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and Rep. Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. to my my last column.