The Long View
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:39:00 01/04/2010
THE SPEAKER SAYS THE 2010 GENERAL Appropriations Act is a-printing and is due on the President’s desk by the 7th of this month. In the past, the President notoriously spent immense amounts of time poring over the budget, leading one exasperated congressman to describe her as a “fussbudget” (defined by the American Heritage dictionary as a “person who fusses over trifles. Also called fusspot”). But then again, her mastery of both the wholesale and retail aspects of politicking is what has kept her in power.
By the time Congress reconvenes on the 18th, legislators will know if the President has done her part by approving the thickly larded budget, allowing them to adjourn on Feb. 5 to campaign, secure in the knowledge the administration will take care of its own. Congress going on the hustings also means all pretenses at oversight will be abandoned, leaving the President poised to spend freely for partisan purposes.
As she wraps up her presidency, the President is putting in place a five-point legacy which aims to keep her politically relevant and leave her successor hamstrung from Day One of the next presidency.
The first legacy will be an empty national treasury by mid-year. The budget was supposed to be balanced by this year; the Department of Finance has already announced this can’t happen until 2015. The deficit already exceeded projections by P50 billion for 2009; government officially projects a P278-billion deficit for this year, while analysts suggest this is up to P44 billion short of what they think the real deficit will be.
The second legacy is tied to the first: to confront the next administration with an Arroyo bloc impossible to ignore. There is, first of all, the Arroyo family bloc that could have five members – the President, her two sons (her eldest might be reinvented as a party-list representative), plus her brother- and sister-in-law in the House by June 2010. Her bloc would also include Cabinet members poised to enter Congress and local governments.
Arthur Yap, for one, running unopposed for the 3rd District of Bohol, will, like Eduardo Ermita who is running for the 1st District of Batangas, continue to serve in the Cabinet, thanks to a recent Supreme Court decision. Yap will be presiding over a Department of Agriculture budget increased by P9 billion: a bonanza that comes in very handy indeed for the same cast of characters that gave us the Fertilizer Scam for the 2004 polls.
Aside from helping to elect themselves, the President and Cabinet members like Agnes Devanadera (also running for a House seat) can ensure the budget is spent to help friends and punish enemies, while maneuvering in the remaining nine days of the current Congress’ regular session to deny crucial government piggy banks to the next administration. Pagcor Chair Ephraim Genuino has been quietly lobbying to give himself a legislated fixed term, which would ensure his clout continues beyond the current dispensation.
The third legacy is tied to the first two: to ensure the national polls end up under a cloud of doubt to deny the next president legitimacy. The Palace says it will support the Comelec’s proposal to hold ARMM elections ahead of the country – a proposal that makes sense only to the same administration types who claim they will get 33 percent of the vote, to condition the minds of the electorate to expect unexpected results in the May elections. What should be done is to hold national elections first, and then hold elections in the ARMM. To do the reverse is to lay the basis for administration-engineered trending for whoever is its real candidate.
As it is, the Miracle of Automation is poised to turn into a hybrid monster of an election, with some areas automated, others still manually conducted: or, for manual voting to take place with only the transmission and adding-up of precinct results automated, similar to the manner in which the KBL tried to massage the votes in 1986.
Which leads to the fourth legacy: a truncated term for the next president. Out of cash, with the Frankenstein Coalition poised to finally capture the Senate – something it failed to do during Arroyo’s term – the result could be a new administration faced with the leading suspects from the past regime safe in Congress, maneuvering to turn the presidency into a decoration.
And this leads to the fifth legacy, which is to tie the hands of the next administration internationally. Even if it doesn’t turn out to be true, that US Ambassador Kristie Kenney’s term is being extended to help nurse a RP-MILF deal before May, there’s the possibility the President will try to tie the hands of her successor by rushing a BJE-MOA deal redux before her term ends. Foreign governments acting as godparents of such a deal would look unkindly at any effort to change the terms of reference of such an agreement, or on any situation that might replace the present dispensation with an unfriendly one.
The warlord alliances of the administration will need assurances they won’t be edged out if the ARMM expands into a BJE: and the administration needs them to be cooperative and happy so they will deliver in 2010 as they did in 2004. But delivering means risking exposure.
Which means that even if the 2010 elections end up a shambles, the willingness of the international community to support democracy would be circumscribed by their interest in nurturing a deal they helped hammer out.
This would have an effect not just on partisan institutions like the executive or the legislature (it will be easy enough to sidestep legal language that might arouse the antagonism of the Supreme Court: the real political objective is to enshrine expanded territory with substantial attributes of sovereignty for the proposed BJE) but even on the Armed Forces, which might otherwise balk at taking a pro-administration hard line if the 2010 polls end up clouded by doubt.