We shall see, today, whether Jose de Venecia Jr. has been able to rattle enough congressmen to give impeachment a second wind, or whether the Palace’s intention to kill it comes to pass (the funeral rites will have to wait for a plenary vote). Make no mistake: the killing of the impeachment was supposed to be preordained from the start. It was supposed to have been completed last week. It has to be killed by midweek, this week. Today, the House truly has a three-ring circus going (and why no complaints from the usual Senate-as-circus bashers, eh?): the Justice Committee hearing on impeachment; a hearing on Constitutional Change (you know my views on this being helpful as a smokescreen, besides it’s being a Palace priority, anyway); and a Bolante hearing.
The only reason impeachment is still part of the circus is that there have been some wrinkles in the scheduling (and I think we intervenors can take at least a day or two’s credit for helping achieve this), because of the reorganization of the Senate, the publication of former Speaker de Venecia’s book, he and his son’s decision to come out swinging more than they did previously, and so on.
The Palace and its ruling coalition never leave anything to chance; and they know, too, that every government since 1986 that has fallen has done so, less because of its long-standing opponents, but more from the destabilization caused by its own allies bolting the administration of the day. Among the former close friends turned outright enemies if not uneasy and rather disgruntled allies, are a bunch of people with quite a resume when it comes to bringing down governments: never mind Cory Aquino, who on her own, without Cardinal Sin, has been, at worst, a living reproach to the President.
Think Fidel V. Ramos, and Juan Ponce Enrile. Why, consider, even, Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr., who, together with Enrile and Ramos were part of the “Rolex 12” who helped plan martial law in 1971-72.
The buzz of the town has been, as I mentioned in my column last September, that de Venecia had proposed a scheme by which he and FVR would scuttle the Lakas-Kampi Merger, and bring at least a rump of their old party to coalesce with the Nacionalista Party of Villar, with Cojuangco’s NPC rejoining the NP, from which it had split over a quarrel over the party leadership and franchise with the late Doy Laurel. Together, they could put together a formidable machine, keeping government safely and comfortably in the hands of the Old Guard: all the old pragmatists could do business the old-fashioned way. de Venecia and FVR could demonstrate, along the way, that they could exact their revenge for being double-crossed by the President, Cojuangco could bring to the table a new generation of leaders like Escudero, Villar could be a reasonably accomodating President, or the three could back one of Cojuangco’s proteges or even commit to bankrolling the Vice-President, and Villar could consider becoming Speaker again or something (de Venecia’s ambitions? Who knows. Senate President? Secretary of Foreign Affairs?)
Which is not to say the oldies but baddies trust each other, but they are old pros and can reasonably cooperate with each other; but FVR is said to have told JDV, to show tangible signs of not only meaning business, but having a tangible effect on the dynamics of the House. If JDV could rock the boat enough, then the other elders could move and provoke a party split, as a prelude to swinging the votes necessary for an impeachment -or even a cabinet coup, declaring the President incapacitated, which she would challenge and which would then have to be put to a vote in Congress.
Among the ex-Speaker’s supposed big bombs: testifying that he had personal knowledge of the Batasan being broken into, and election documents stolen, thus nullifying both Congress’ proclamation of the President and Vice-President in 2004, as well as the Supreme Court’s declaration of the authenticity of that proclamation, based on the official documents kept in the burgled ballot boxes in the Batasan (see SAF commandos confirm 2004 poll fraud coverup and Complicity in poll fraud coverup taints SAF record ). This is a bomb that might have delivered the presidency to Villar, making him Acting President and a powerful incumbent. Enrile’s election as Senate President means Villar is down, but not out, he can still be supported by the elders in 2010, but another elder with wide experience in bringing down governments, can be enticed with the glittering prospect of crowning his career, not just as Senate President, but as President of the Philippines. And the other presidential wannabees might just risk it, too.
A scenario that requires nerves, to be sure, and which furthermore brings to the same table four figures with their own bases of military support: Ramos, Enrile, Lacson (as part of the new Senate majority) and Cojuangco, whose nephew,after all, is Secretary of National Defense and has, together with his uncle, carefully cultivated generals all the way back to the Marcos years. And lots of money, and a little luck. But one that offers the comforting prospect of a predictable, fairly safe, elimination of the President and a chance for the ruling coalition to remain pretty much intact, meaning those enjoying the perks can continue enjoying those perks in a new government, and one which can claim it saved the Republic from both the President and the parts of the opposition they don’t like or can’t deal with.
Now there’s supposed to be a reason behind the President’s husband suddenly coming home, which is that the Palace has gotten a little nervous over all these plots and sub-plots (and it is always sniffing out plots, real or imagined), that it was beginning to wonder if the loyalty of the ruling coalition was fraying a the edges, and that it had better have someone minding the family store if JDV starts going berserk.
One source of nervousness is the possibility that the financial resources of the powers-that-be aren’t what they used to, between the losses of $100 million by the DBP or $800 million by the GSIS, and who knows, what if personal portfolios ended up evaporating in the financial meltdown, too? Besides which, even if the piggy bank’s still stuffed to the gills, someone has to make sure the “bon bons,” as the euphemism du jour puts it, these days, reaches the intended recipients. And if there’s one tradition as deeply entrenched as the Opposition revival of impeachment year after year, it’s the ruling coalitions expectation of bon bons for quashing impeachment and for Charter Change, besides.
So it was interesting to see the President’s husband shuffle out of St. Luke’s, flanked by his sons, when he could very well have been whisked away. This was obviously a calculated move to reassure friends and foes alike, that the President’s main operator is present and accounted for, aided by his two sons, who have grown into the job of being junior operators, too.
And it was equally interesting to see that even as JDV rambled on in the Committee on Justice, his colleagues slipped away -to consult? Be reassured? Extort? All of the above?
We shall see, today. Last night, Matias Defensor on Ricky Carandang’s show tried to sound balanced but gave the impression he was inclined to discount the former Speaker’s testimony. The ruling coalition, then, seems to be holding together.
And why not? While FVR, JDV, Cojuangco, and Enrile might be an Old Boys Club inclined to get along, the idea of a President Juan Ponce Enrile -even in a temporary, acting, capacity- should be enough to give even the most jaded of legislators the creeps.
Still, there you have it, what has been talked about, for some time now. I understand that even people in the government’s own network have taken to freely exchanging scuttlebutt on a potential Enrile assumption of the presidency. Which only goes to show their lack of affection for their boss.
Still, if the President and her husband show any signs of running out of bon bons to hand out to their coalition supporters, then anything is possible.
But first things first. Just dispense with impeachment as a matter of necessary housekeeping that’s already gotten untidier than it was ever supposed to. Then refocus on what had to be brought forward a bit to act as smokescreen to try to deflect de Venecia’s own sense of timing: Charter Change.
Whatever’s afoot, it’s still important to keep an eye on the President’s husband, and whether he will once more recede from the scene or become more visible as part of the Palace being on a war footing.
While there have been many reports on the behind-the-scenes role Atty. Arroyo plays in the administration (see Did Mike Arroyo fund postelection ‘special operations’ in Lanao? in the PCIJ blog), his own statements for posterity leave little room for speculating as to what he does and is capable of doing.
In the 1960’s, Nick Joaquin, writing as Quijano de Manila in the old Philippines Free Press, wrote a piece titled “The Battle of the Books”, about the propaganda battle between Diosdado Macapagal and Ferdinand E. Marcos, waged in part by means of their authorized biographies.
It’s one of those ironies of history that Jose de Venecia, Jr. has weighed in with his authorized biography while another, penned by Joaquin, already sits on the shelves. That authorized biography is Madame Excelsis: Historying Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo by Nick Joaquin, published in 2002 by Philippines, Inc. and Strategic Advantage, Inc. (the “Project Principals” co-chaired by Donald Dee, Luis P. Lorenzo, Jr. and Sergio R. Ortiz-Luis, Jr.).
I’d like to reproduce some extracts from the book, which has the President’s husband explaining his own role, as he and his wife saw it, in her assuming the presidency in 2001.
The first extract has something to do with a problem I discussed previously in my entry Numerology and politics: it is wrong to think that everyone -or actually, anyone- acts truly rationally, not only because of emotions, but because the Supernatural is something these players factor into their actions. Take for example one of the odder reasons given for that curious midnight Mass the President held in the Palace: that it had something to do with feng shui. Aside from listening to visionary nuns,and periodically having priests exorcise the presidential palace, the President or at least her people, do believe in feng shui and it seems to me likely, based on the published recollections of the President’s own husband, that the couple don’t think feng shui hurts, either.
Take pp. 212-213, from Joaquin’s book, where the President’s husband talks about the fallout from his wife’s decision to resign from Estrada’s Cabinet:
“We had been too busy in the rest of the country to worry about Metro Manila -until this black propaganda surfaced. Then Gloria came hurrying back to Metro Manila and began stumping all over like during an election campaign. She was going from barangay to barangay, and we were distributing her presidential programs -and the tactic worked. Gloria did a great job convincing the populace that she had done the right thing in walking out on Erap. And she won back Metro Manila. She had throttled the black propaganda and brought back the media to free ground. Then the impeachment trial started -and we knew it was tuloy-tuloy na. We were on our way. I remember telling Gloria at this time that I reckoned the regime would fall before Chinese New Year, which fell on January 24 in the year 2001. There was this friend of mine, a Buddhist, who visited her grandmother’s grave on All Saints Day and posed her grandmother a question: Is Erap going to fall? And the answer was: Yes, before the New Year. But when January 1 came along and nothing had happened, we thought the answer false -until we realized that, for the grandmother, New Year was Chinese New Year.”
The second extract, I think also adequately answers the question of whether now Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile is a cause for celebration or sleepless nights in the Palace. On pp 220-221 this aged figure now in everyone’s mind springs forth, this time in the context Estrada calling for a massive rally, as a show of strength:
The very next Sunday, November 11, the Iglesia ni Cristo and Mike Velarde’s El Shaddai assembled a million people on the Luneta in a prayer rally that was really a manifestation of Erap as Lord of the Masses.
Lord Erap had espied the error of the opposition: It wanted him out but were in violent disagreement on: what next? There was no consensus yet on just letting the Constitution prevail, with Veep Gloria taking over should President Erap be ousted.
Unhappily there was a contrary tenet that Gloria should be bypassed because she had collaborated with the corrupt Erap government.
“That,” says Secretary Rene Corona, “was the propaganda ploy of a certain group: the group of Johnny Ponce Enrile.”
Rene Corona, in those days a Gloria monitor (and afterwards her Malacañang spokesman), insists that prevalent then was the preference for the succession prescribed by the Charter.
“So, judging from the public mood, I could conjecture that it was Gloria the people wanted to be seated. Certainly they didn’t want the military to take over, nor any civilian not authorized either. But there was this group saying: No, not Gloria, she is an Erap discard. And this group wanted a civilian-military junta to take over. The result would have been Johnny Ponce Enrile sitting in that junta as the civilian leader, with the uniformed pals he had picked as the military component. My perception was that the junta would simply have been a power grab by Enrile and Honasan.”
Rene Corona says they learned of this junta plot in November, when in the public mind Gloria was not yet separate from nor independent of the Erap government. And yet, says Corona, there was an instinctive recognition of her as the legitimate successor…”
Corona then describes how Arroyo, returning from Europe in October, had been met by what he describes as a “spontaneous” crowd at the airport; and that relief greeted her speech explaining her decision to leave Estrada’s Cabinet. Corona continues,
“I think the foreign community there present heaved a sigh of relief: our probable next President was no bloody Amazon. Better yet: she simplt wanted the law followed.”
This may have cost her the hearts of those who believed that Erap could not be dislodged without violence, chief of whom was the Enrile group proposing to field a combined civilian-military force. Rene Corona opined that where this group erred was in so airily assuming that Gloria and the Constitution could be so lightly bypassed.
On p. 224 is this:
Gloria herself is definite about her takeover being for sure from the start: from the moment she resigned from the Cabinet… The subsequent meetings with the military began, I think, with Victor Corpus, towards the end of October. And it was never a question of me supporting them, no. They were going to support me, period -for a constitutional succession.”
Enter, once more, her husband. What you last saw in Ellen Tordesillas’ column, taken in turn from The Philippine Graphic, appears once more in the book, pp. 235-239, here’s how that particular interview was woven into the book,:
However, this second People Power epiphany was not unformly the tea party that Mao said no uprising could be. For a while, again and again, it looked as if bloof would have to be shed. And Mike Arroyo says they were ready to shed it.
“Our group there was a back-up strike force. In fact, it was our group that won over to our side the PNP first. If Panfilo Lacson had resisted, he and his men would have been repelled: there would have been bloodshed, but not on EDSA. In every place where Erap loyalists had a force, we had a counter-force to face it, with orders to shoot. And not only in Metro Manila. Carillo had already been sent to the provinces; and in Nueva Ecija, for instance, we had Rabosa. This was a fight to the finish. That’s why those five days that Erap was demanding were so important. He was counting on counter-coups and baliktaran.”
And on real war. A hot war to empty EDSA, divide the nation, ands keep him in MalacaÃƒÂ±ang. All he needed was time: time to get the hot war started and startling. And so Erap’s endgame was delay, delay -delay discussions, delay agreements, delay decisions. But Mike Arroyo says they were prepared for that, too.
“Why, I was negotiating with Pardo up to three o’clock in the morning: niloloko lang pala kami. But I told him point-blank: “If by six o’clock this morning [Saturday] you haven’t given us the resignation letter, we will storm the gates of Malacañang!’ But they insisted on more talk: with de Villa up front, and my back channel debate with Pardo, which even became a three-way contest, with Buboy Virata pitching in. But the threat to march to Malacañang was for real. And so was the danger of bloodshed.”
And those who taunted the peaceful “mob” at EDSA to go ahead and make revolution -with scissors and bolos and kitchen knives- didn’t know how close they came to being killed in a not so gentle show of People Power. If Erap was banking on a hot war, so were certain troops of Gloria’s, including Mike Arroyo’s forces.
Superstition maybe, but all the signs, as Mike Arroyo read them, pointed to the room at the top for Gloria.
“When she became vice-president, a believer in feng shui told her she was lucky: Erap would not last his full term. ‘Why, will he die?’ we asked, knowing that Erap had a bad liver. And this guy said no, but Erap wouldn’t last three years as President.”
Mike Arroyo would marvel how people who sneered that Gloria was too greedy and impatient for the presidency would later, when Gloria the President consulted with this or that people’s group, would very snidely sneer that the consultations proved that Gloria had not been preparing for the presidency.
“But Gloria knew that her job as vice-president was to be prepared to take over. She was the spare tire: what happens to the jeep of State if it suffers a flat tire and the spare tire is also flat? Gloria has always shown herself ready to take over -and for that she has been taunted as being in a hurry to be President.”
Mike Arroyo admits he had his moments of doubt.
“There was a time honestly, when I felt I erred in advising her to resign from the Cabinet. The Masa in Manila apparently wanted her to stick it out with Erap. And when she started attacking him, everything fell on us – grabe!- everything! But I told myself: it’s now or never; if we lose here we’re totally destroyed and it’s goodbye to her political career – but if we win here, she becomes President! So we really fought. We bought one million and a half million copies of Pinoy Times to give away so the public could read about the Erap mansions and bank accounts. And when EDSA happened, we texted everybody to go running there. EDSA, EDSA: everybody converge on EDSA! Panalo kung panalo. Patay kung patay! Jinggoy had already announced what they would do to us if they won.”
Arroyo says he and Chavit Singson had what they called Plan B, involving elements of the military eager to strike the first blow against the Erap regime.
“They would kindle the spark by withdrawing from the government, and one by one others would follow: Class ’71 would also withdraw, then Class ’72, and so forth. But General de Villa warned that the timing had to be precise because one untimely move against the government and the military would automatically defend it. The move must be made at what De Villa called a ‘defining moment.’ So I told Chavit to put our Plan B on hold until after he had testified in the impeachment. In January we had two more meetings: he said the military wanted to move on the 13th but I said that was too early. In the next meeting we tentatively set our move on January 20. I wanted it to be on a Saturday because the traffic on EDSA would be lighter and the public would be freer to join us there. The site we chose was not the Shrine but the People Power Monument: that was where we planned to launch Edsa 2. But our plan got overtaken by events.”
Even so the military involved were for going on with the plan: “Boss, let’s go ahead and make the strike!” But Mike Arroyo knew that other moves were afoot.
“So I said to them: ‘Don’t, don’t move!’ And I told them there were negotiations going on higher up. They could just monitor those negotiations and offer assistance. You see, General de Villa had his Plan A, which was better than ours, because he was focused on the Chief of Staff and the Service Commanders. At past one o’clock p.m. January 20, Chief of Staff Angelo Reyes defected, but we knew that already the night before, when negotiations had lasted until the small hours. By past 2 a.m. we knew Reyes had been convinced to join us. His only condition was: ‘Show us a million people on EDSA so it will b easier to bring in the service commanders.’ And they asked when the crowd was thickest. We told them: ‘From three to five in the afternoon.’ But while hiding in their safehouse, they got reports that General Calimlim could not be located -and their first thought was: ‘He’s out looking for us, to arrest us!’ So they decided to rush to EDSA right away. When they got there -why there too at the Shrine was Calimlim! He had been looking for them all right, but join to join them, not to arrest them!”
The rest is history.
So if you live by the plot, you can die by the plot -hence the need to be constantly ruthlessly stamping out plots against you.
How the key players act today and over the next week or two, will bear watching.