An interesting dinner with colleagues in media, upon the invitation of a foreign visitor affiliated with an overseas investment analysis firm.
Random notes from the freewheeling discussion:
1. The impeachment timeline
60 session days for the impeachment complaint to be resolved and then decided in plenary, equals 15 weeks. So that means the impeachment complaint wouldn’t be voted upon in plenary, or before the House of Representatives as a whole, until October. It could get further bogged down there, until say, November. By this time, Chief Justice Hilario Davide would have retired, and most likely replaced by Justice Artemio Panganiban.
During the 15 weeks the impeachment complaint is debated in the Committee on Justice, the President’s team has a chance to mount a dress rehearsal of the defense in the senate; the opposition, on the other hand, in undergoing the same process, perhaps hopes it will raise the political temperature. There is the risk, of course, people will get bored, and tune out. The majority seems inclined to push forward an interpretation of the rules that says failure to have reached 79 signatures on the day of filing means the impeachment complaint is stuck in the Committee on Justice for the full 15 week period. The process is full of inherent risks: a few good witnesses, too much legal maneuvering by the majority at the expense of the minority, bungling by the minority, could lead the process either way.
The Speaker is widely considered to be holding his troops in reserve, to continue pressuring the President to support charter change. But I personally doubted this, as it’s the kind of card the Speaker can only use if he wants to bring not only the President, but the system, crashing down. But say he says, “I will have my people sign the impeachment complaint to send it to the senate,” what will he gain? Well, the possibility that upon the President’s removal from office, her successor will be more amenable to really pushing for the Ramos plan. So perhaps it is something he’s using as a means to pressure the President.
2. The President’s “sweet spot”
The analyst suggests the President is in a “sweet spot,” economically, because of a sort of circular arrangement. Filipinos are not only still going abroad, but are increasing the percentage of better-paying jobs they’re holding overseas; they in turn, are sending remittances that keep increasing year after year; the majority of funds sent by remittances are immediately spent, which keeps the economy turning over; the money flows through banks and other channels, which in turn benefits the banks, both through surcharges and because, apparently, the amount that’s stuck in the banks grows by 10% every year; the banks, in turn, for lack of any better investments to make (that is, they lend out less and less to people), put their money in government bonds, which in turn, allows the government to keep itself afloat, financially. So overseas Filipinos, their families, the banks, and the bond market, are keeping the President buoyed up, the economy fairly in a good way (the analyst says the end of the year will provide the President numbers to crow about, such as our growth rate finally matching that of Malaysia while the numbers for Korea and other countries in the region begin to shrink).
The analyst says the recent Economist article comparing the Philippines to Argentina is “crap,” suggesting that the constant inflow of foreign exchange from Filipinos abroad, the relative stability of the Peso, and the distinction between foreign and local debt works more to the Philippines’ advantage. I must confess I got rather lost at this point, but he seemed fairly confident the country definitely doesn’t look like it’s going to undergo an Argentina meltdown anytime soon. Unless, of course, there are massive layoffs of Filipinos abroad, or if the political crisis is resolved in a messy way, such as a junta.
3. VAT is more necessary for patronage
The securities analyst suggests the President’s fiscal management isn’t so bad, actually, and that over the next few years, we’re actually headed towards a balanced budget. What would get us there sooner is to purge the civil service of thousands of redundant, incompetent, or politically-placed employees, but to do so would be political suicide. Hence, the budget deficit has to be eliminated very slowly. But it can be done, says the analyst, because it is already being done.
So what’s the VAT law for? The VAT law covers the need for patronage; that the funds sourced via the VAT are what would pay for the projects and pork barrel needed by politicians beginning the end of this year and accelerating next year, as they prepare to seek reelection in 2007. Now that the President is fighting for her political life, she needs to be prompt (though alone of recent presidents, she has actually been prompt and conscientious about the release of pork barrel funds to the provinces, which is why provincial leaders like her) with patronage funds, to keep everyone happy, and loyal.
4. The unfinished story of the tapes
So far, PCIJ traces the “Hello, Garci” tape to Agent Doble talking about it while drunk, leading to the opposition hearing about it and procuring the tape, through fair means or foul. But why did Doble only blab about it a year after the events? Could he have been deliberately assigned to leak the story? There remains much more to the story, including why the tape was leaked, and what other tapes there might be. Colleagues there hinted they are working on the story and have a suspect or a few suspects, in mind. Motivations are interesting, too, ranging from revenge, to boosting retirement funds, to any combination of these.
5. Where in the world is Garcillano?
ABS-CBN in advance of Newsbreak, released today a story on how it’s sources have confirmed that Commissioner Garcillano left for Singapore, and after an overnight stay, took a commercial flight to London (one journalist: how did he get a visa?). No news as to whether he stayed in London or went directly somewhere else -and why London, and where would he then go? And of course: doesn’t this mean he’s never coming back? What will be the consequences of his disappearance, involving, as it does, the connivance of government authorities in immigration and the airport? The House of Representatives will surely be ticked off.
Two contending opinions on this. One, the President is half-heartedly proposing charter change to satisfy the demands of former president Ramos and Speaker de Venecia, so that, when the effort collapses, she can say, “well, it’s not my fault your idea failed,” leaving her as the only option until 2010. Or, the President will sincerely push it, and has her consultative commission as her ace in the hole, as people like Prof. Jose Abueva, suitably ego-massaged by being appointed to the commission, will then help sell the idea to the public. What of the Senate? Some say the Speaker is working on “sweeteners” that will ensure senators a seat in parliament for the duration of their existing terms, and some sort of gerrymandered solution to ensure them bailiwicks they can be elected to, afterwards. It might be enough to convince senators with regional bailiwicks (such as Lito Lapid, for example) so sign on. But opponents of charter change only need 6 senators to steadfastly resist the effort, for the effort to fail.