Cabinet cannibalism

When the Executive Secretary basically accuses a colleague of estafa, you know something’s afoot. Speaking before a Senate budget hearing, Executive Secretary Ermita let slip -and an old pro like he he does not slip unless the slip is politically expedient- that National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales has millions of pesos in advances for which he’s failed to account. Gonzales is widely viewed as a cabinet member to whom recently-resigned Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz, Jr. was close. And if Cruz’s departure signals that the cabinet will increasingly put a premium on fanaticism and scorched-earth governance, then Ermita’s Senate testimony can be viewed as an attempt to finally accomplish a purge that has been taking place since July, 2005. First to go were the Hyatt 10 (who were fired, lest anyone forget), and then the easing out of the group represented by Rigoberto Tiglao, and then the departure of Cruz. While no one considers Gonzales a moderate, he represents the non-Lakas functionaries in the President’s administration. If Gonzales is sinking, also in the line of fire is Michael Defensor. That these two -Gonzales and Defensor- are now openly being sniped at, shows how extremist the instincts of the ascendant Ermita-Gonzalez-Claudio cabal have become.

The head of the Philippine National Oil Company has also let loose he quit to prevent being turned into a Joc-Joc Bolante. The administration naturally denies it. But more interesting is the split in the cabinet over funds for the Ethanol program, which, if anyone’s forgotten, stands to benefit not just the sugar industry but a family that remains a player in it -the President’s own family which has resisted land reform to preserve its sugar plantations. Money, of course, is power, and fighting for power becomes particularly vicious when livelihoods are at stake.

We can view it this way: three factions in the cabinet: the Lakas camp (Ermita, Claudio); the Kampi camp (Puno, Gonzalez); the “independents” not known for their fondness for the First Gentleman (who is the grey eminence behind Kampi as a blocking force to Lakas domination of the administration) but who maintain an influence and loyalty to the President herself (formerly, Cruz; Gonzales, who is up and down but always in, to my mind because of Fr. Intengan; and Defensor who, like Yap, is a non-threatening presidential loyalist). Both Lakas and Kampi have decided to go in for the kill with regards to the third faction (take a look at Manuel Buencamino’s whimsical look at what I mean); but the other two, as shown by intramurals in the House, have their daggers drawn (Lakas vs. Kampi) and might start slaughtering each other which means the window of congressional opportunity is closing. Otherwise, it’s Plan C.

Neither Lakas nor Kampi have been able to fully deliver in terms of expanding her options between now and 2010, and Lakas’ leadership has shown too much of an inclination to think of its own options between now and 2010 -and a future without the President at the helm. The reformists (Tiglao was kicked upstairs, the minor parties such as the Liberals represented by Defensor and Atienza haven’t been able to blunt Lakas’ strength and provide the President with an alternative machinery), that is, people like Cruz or her own pocket hard-liners like Gonzales who speaks toughly but isn’t as eager an attack dog as Gonzalez, have been a thorn in her husband’s side in engineering a less frightening outcome in 2006.

Cannibalism, then is the name of the game, and we have to consider a fourth, semi-independent force, the generals, whether in active service or retired, who didn’t like Cruz, either, and who also have extremist instincts.

As with all things, the President is the mediator between factions and where she decides to shift her support is the faction that will be ascendant. She has tried to evenly distribute her chips but if the people being pushed forward for the defense portfolio suggests, the President’s instincts have markedly taken a turn for the extremist, too. The short list is overhwelmingly militarist: Arturo Lomibao, Leandro Mendoza, and Hermogenes Ebdane, with Norberto Gonzales as the token civilian candidate.

Add to this the continuing vendetta against provincial leaders (even in sacred Cebu: wasn’t Garcia the one who argued against the so-called “people’s initative” before the Supreme Court? And when I was in Santa Rosa, Laguna,I met the mayor who was suspended by the Palace, and a vice-governor complaining he was left with no choice but to bolt Lakas, which isn’t as bad as the guy I voted for for veep, poor Hermie Aquino whose having his taxes looked into) and high-profile opposition members in the House.

We have to back to 2001 for the genesis of her militaristic mentality: in May 2001, Civil Society and the reformists didn’t save her government, the generals did. That was the beginning of the tensions between the Hyatt 10 and herself. In July, 2005, it was reformists like Cruz and Tiglao who helped steel her to stick it out, aided by the Lakas leadership, but they weren’t of any help to her when things continued to deteriorate in late 2005 and early 2006: again, it was the military brass that kept her in office.

So we can view things as an ongoing realignment among factions: civilian loyalists like Defensor and Gonzales are being frozen out; militarists are now the main force (which is why Ermita can approach Lacson), in alliance with some Lakas leaders and Kampi and others who are pushing the President’s agenda for constitutional change in Congress; and there’s the rest of Lakas which continues to insist there is political life beyond President Arroyo.

Overseas, I have to say I’m delighted by the victory of the Democrats in the House of Representatives and hope they’ll take over the U.S. Senate, too. Recount in Richmond, Virginia to decide control of the US Senate. But recount process actually begins November 27 and could take until late December to resolve. The news, this early, isn’t flattering:

Complicating the picture still further, the FBI opened an investigation into alleged fraud and intimidation involving phone calls made to Democratic voters in Virginia falsely claiming their names were not on the electoral rolls or giving false information about the location of polling stations.

Though of course even Chelsea Clinton got disenfranchised. I wish I could’ve played Wonkette’s 2006 Midterm Binge Drinking Game.

Philippine officials are junketing to observe poll automation in America, but the news has been pretty bad as far as the supposed blessings of poll automation are concerned. The Guardian calls them “glitches”, TCS Daily said the whole thing was ominous.

My Arab News column for this week is A History of Plebiscites in the Philippines.

The Inquirer editorial compares Avelino Cruz, Jr. to Ramon Magsaysay -and says his resignation could be as politically ominous for the present administration as Magsaysay’s was to the Quirino administration.

Gerry Geronimo speaks up for Justice Carpio.

Ang Pinoy Nga Naman reflects on my misgivings with a movement he supports.

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Manuel L. Quezon III.

40 thoughts on “Cabinet cannibalism

  1. There is a principle in law that states simply, if you are a witness to a crime and you keep silent you commit a crime. The entire Watergate crime was about that. The cover up. When Nixon fied the special prosecutor Cox and when his Attorney General refused to follow thr order and resigned, then his subordibnet in line also resigned rather than follow the order. Robert Bork then took on the job and fired Cox. Bork believed then that Nixon was a chief executive and like a King had to be followed.

    Bork a staunch conswervative lawyer believed in the heirarchy of power. Ours is not to question why, but to do or die.

    It would seem that Carpio and Cruz have a line of independece based on principles. I read Carpios dissent in the minning acts restoration.

    It would seem that an ‘institutional’ power grab will be attempted again by the Ramos forces. They did not get what they wanted after Erap but it looks to be that after the resignation of the Hyatt 10 and now Cruz they have been able to consolidate their forces in the executive and please note that they are all military men.

    What you have today in the executive office clearly is a military cabal running the country. The military removed Marcos, Cory was forced to depend on them, the Philippines 2000 plan of Ramos came from the National Security Council led by Almonte not NEDA, they removed Erap and somehow have crept back in charge of this government.

    They must loved it when one of their own (military man) from PMA is now running Thailand. Gen Yudyono is also in charge of Indonesia. Do you think it has given them ideas. It is interesting to see if the Senate can now be ‘persuaded’ to come to their senses to come together for the Con Ass.

    There are billions to be made this time.

  2. Since we usually refer to our country in the feminine, as in the Motherland, this excerpt from Gerry Geronimo’s column seems appropriate language to describe the PI and Plan B proponents.

    ” Says Justice Cruz, in People vs Desuyo (G.R. 71173, Aug. 9, 1988): ‘Defilers of women are an especially despicable ilk of evil men, and more so those who would inflict their lasciviousness upon innocent and defenseless children. They are filthier than the slime where they belong. Whatever punishment is imposed on them can never expiate their loathsome offense, for which forgiveness itself, from a mortal court at least, would be a sin.’

  3. MLQ3,
    I have come up with a Brain Teaser that I hope will elicit some interesting responses from your readers.

    Suppose ALL the Members of the Senate and all the Members of the Lower House join the Knights of Rizal and take over its governing body. One day, with ALL the Members of the Congress in attendance, the KOR hold a vote to adopt a Revision of the 1987 Constitution switching to a Unicameral Parliamentary System, and ALL the Members of Congress in attendance SIGN upon a copy of the Resolution, to which is attached the full text of a new 2007 Philippine Constitution (Revised 1987 charter).

    Now does Article XVII Sec. 1 apply?

    Any amendment to, or revision of this Constitution, may be proposed by: (1) The Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members; or (2) a Constitutional convention.

    Can the Resolution signed by ALL the members of Congress be presented to the Comelec for ratification in a plebiscite?

  4. Karl Rove’s genius has limits after all.


    Are they signing as Congress or as KOR?

  5. There are only two instituions in the country that have heirrarchal
    structures that is instact and organized all across this country. The Catholic Church and the Military/Police establishment. After the death of Cardinal Sin the Church has retreated into its cloisters. The days of activism seem to be over. Civil society is disoriented and disorganized and some on the left are being hunted.

    The military establishment has a clear road to dominate and they have been practcing on how to govern since Ramos.

    It would be the natural course in history for them to be the ascendant institution in a country where civilian instituions have been distorted and debased beyond recognition.

    Citizens who do not ‘show up’ deserve the government they get. It is only natural. The only force that has a sense of country is the military. They are trained to fight and die for it. They just might see this opportunity to move since they are already in. It won’t take much. They only have a few men in the Senate to convince. Villar is a head chopper. He moved the have Erap’s head chopped off. He is first and foremost an entrepreneur. Deal or no Deal??

  6. MB,
    The Title Page on the document bearing the signatures of all the Members of Congress upon the full text of a Revised Constitution bears a simple word: RESOLUTION, and single statement, “We the undersigned Members of Congress, propose the attached Revision of the 1987 Constitution for ratification in a Plebiscite.”

  7. mb, well dear justice cruz’s writing obviously proves the sc has been capable of strong language in the past.

    hvrds, i think that’s what fvr hoped would happen in july 05, but he didn’t swing it because other lakas people felt it was their turn to call the shots. supposedly, friction between lakas and kampi is precisely over the same thing -kampi is tired of lakas calling the shots since 1992.

    the armed forces, too, may lack the stomach to rule, though obviously individual officers have the fire in the belly. but the question remains, to what extent can the officers tell their troops to do something without facing increased discontent?

    the retreat to the cloisters, too, was halted to a certain extent by charter change.

  8. djb, but a resolution in parliamentary practice is a particular kind of thing, and there are house and senate resolutions, and join resolutions. so something called a resolution if not in conformity with what resolutions are and how they’re generally approved in a parliamentary setting -what would that be but a scrap of paper?

  9. DJB,

    The wording seems vague to me. Maybe yo cn write out the resolution out. Just in xase it includes a remodeling of the toilet facilities of the KOR which could be the reason why everyone was so eager to sign

  10. DJB,

    The wording seems vague to me. Maybe you can write out the resolution . Just in xase it includes a remodeling of the toilet facilities of the KOR which could be the reason why everyone was so eager to sign

  11. mb,
    There is no mention of the kor. Assume in fact that that YOU agree with the SUBSTANCE of the Revision, which doesnt have to be unicameral parliament.

    yes, but the queston is, does Art XVII Sec 1 apply? There is no mention of resolutions of any kind in it. But the necessary number of signatures is there, correct? So why doesn’t the provision apply? Why would Comelec NOT act to schedule a plebiscite?

  12. I guess the question and our understanding of the provision boils down to this: It is obvious that as a matter of form, the signatures of “three fourths of all its Members” is a NECESSARY condition for amendments or revisions to be proposed. But is fulfilling the numerical requirement SUFFICIENT? Here, the “Resolution” is upon a vote of ALL the Members of Congress, yet we sense that somehow this is not “enough.” to satisfy the sense we have of the intent of the Constitutional provision. Why?

  13. mb, have you seen kor’s toilets? perhaps they charge P10 (pay before you pee) hence no need for remodelling. 🙂 djb, the resolution won’t be legal unless duly approved and voted upon in official session so as to be entered in the congressional records. this means the senate passes its own resolution, and so should the lower house for the con-ass alchemy to take place. that’s what i think anyway. 🙂

  14. djb,

    Just so we are on the same wavelength, go to and you will see the different kinds of resolutions, i.e., joint, concurrent and simple resolutions. Each one has a defined meaning and purpose.

  15. mlq3,
    haha! of course it’s crappily written. But that’s just easy for us to say. Still it’s in far, far better shape, unamended, than even the original US Constitution, which we should remember did not even have the entire Bill of Rights in it. Imagine, the Bill of Rights of the US constitution are its first 10 amendments!

    But to the point at hand and Toots explanation. It is not the “Members of Congress” that may propose amendments or revisions, but the Congress itself. How can acts of the Congress be distinguished from acts of even all its Members and reflected as such in official records? Well, Acts of Congress take two forms: STATUTES and RESOLUTIONS. As you’ve already mentioned, there are House and Senate Resolutions, as well as Joint and Concurrent Resolutions. Of these, House and Senate Resolutions are Acts of their respective Chambers and not Acts of the Congress per se. Even concurrent resolutions I don’t consider Acts of Congress. Only laws (statutes) and Joint Resolutions are Acts of the Congress.

    Indeed, Joint Resolutions were used by the United States Congress 27 times to propose that same number of amendments to their charter (all of them “upon a vote of two thirds of both Houses of Congress” and ratified by all the States of the Union.)

    These considerations actually destroy one of Pichay’s main arguments when he says this is not like passing an ordinary law because there will still be a plebiscite to ratify it. That difference is immaterial to the requirements of form and substance upon any Act of the Congress. Also, even an ordinary law may still be vetoed by the President and only passed upon a vote of two thirds of both houses of congress.

  16. First it was the Hyatt 10, then secretary Cruz, now Presidential Adviser Norberto Gonzalez. Could this be the start of internecine?

  17. DJB… Alexander Hamilton was against the “Bill of Rights” being in the original constitution. His fear — protecting specific rights might imperil rights that were not mentioned. Hamilton argued against a “Bill of Rights,” asserting that ratification of the Constitution did not mean the American people were surrendering their rights, and therefore that protections were unnecessary: “Here, in strictness, the people surrender nothing, and as they retain every thing, they have no need of particular reservations.”

  18. Ed,
    Here is a question for you. Suppose the Congress convenes a “Constituent Assembly”. Can it adopt rules that say when voting for the final proposal it will be voting jointly?

    In such a case, what is the FORM of the proposal to be submitted for plebiscite?

  19. DJB,

    What is the presumption of your first question? I take your “final proposal” to mean the draft constitution. If that is so, the 1987 Constitution is silent as to how the Constituent Assembly will approve the final draft to be presented in a plebiscite.

    In that case, Congress can and may decide to formulate its own rules as to what would constitute approval of the final proposal.

    The only constitutional safeguard in re constitutent assembly is that formation of a con-ass can be approved by 3/4 of the members of Congress, and by that, I mean, both houses voting separately.

    What is the form then? Basically one question: Do you approve the proposed constitution? unlike in a people’s initiative which has a full-text requirement.

  20. From the way things look from my own lil’ world, if this in-house fighting continues, either the administration will simply implode, or one by one we will witness “casualties of war.”

  21. Ed,
    Thanks for indulging me on this. The premise of my first question is that there is in fact an ambiguity in Art XVII Sec. 1(1). The question then is can the Congress itself settle the ambiguity by adopting as a “rule” the mode of voting: separately or jointly. I believe, like you, that in adopting such a rule, it must be done by a separate vote of each House.

    BTW, I thought they could convene a Joint Session of Congress by a simple majority of both Houses? Isn’t the 3/4 of the members of Congress only required to approve the proposal for plebiscite?

    As regards the form of the proposal for plebiscite, I was really asking what it is that the Congress submits to the Comelec for Comelec to rule upon the sufficiency in form and substance of before preparing a plebiscite. In P.I. it is the initiative petition with the full text and all the signatories. In con-ass what is the equivalent? Can it be a simple document marked “RESOLUTION” and with the statement “We the undersigned Members of Congress hereby propose the attached Revision of the Constitution” together with say ALL the members of congress signing?

    This was my original question. What is your opinion?

    whether produced by constituent assembly, or in the normal configuration of the Congress, I believe the form must be as a recognizable Act of the Congress and not some arbitrary Form.

  22. Ed,
    Perhaps I could make it less abstract by asking it like this: Suppose that 195 Lower House Members sign a House Resolution proposing Revision, then 2/3 of the Senators sign the same House Resolution, can that House Resolution be submitted to Comelec for plebiscite, as an Act of the Congress proposing a Revision to this constitution?

  23. Donald Rumsfeld is stepping down as US Secretary of Defense as Dubya-Bush signals to the American people that he has heard the voice of the electorate. [Filipinos, however, should not expect any immediate changes to US actions against Abu Sayyaf. Mindanao is quite a few steps lower in importance to US electorate and Dubya officials than Iraq, Afghanistan. Iran, North Korea, Hamas, Lebanon, Turkey, Israel, China, Taiwan, Thailand, and Burma.]

  24. Rumsfeld is out, ex-CIA director Bob Gates is in, and the Democrats are most relieved because the Democrats do not have to define any strategy on how the US makes a strategic withdrawal from Iraq that does not lead to civil war in that country or more terrorist organizing and planning from inside Iraq. The Iraqis really have to step up and get themselves organized to prove that they can govern their own country.

  25. This is a good segue to point out why the US-of-A points to the Philippines as its success story. The primary metric is commmunism and the domino theory of its time. Unlike Vietnam which fell to the communists, the Philippines did not. Unlike what seems to be in store for Iraq with the Iraqi-on-Iraqi bloodletting going on, decorum and “normal” politicking held sway over the Philippines when the Americans left. [The rebuilding of Japan after WW2 and the rebuilding of S-Korea after armistice better success stories for the US-of-A, though.]

  26. It sure looks like Ermita is the new Rasputin. And the gates of Malacañang seem to get tighter and tighter.

    Just looking at the list of potential SND’s gives you an idea of how shallow Mrs. Arroyo’s bench is. Two things only, either nobody wants to join her cabinet anymore or just an indication of the bunker mentality: they prefer loyalty to the president as the highest qualification for SND rather than loyalty to the constitution and the country. Just to give an example, when Bush announced the resignation of Rumsfeld, he immediately had a replacement for him.

    Are we so bereft of talents that the first name mentioned to replace Cruz was Ebdane?

  27. Tony,
    You mustn’t forget Japan, America’s perfect semicolony. (On that I agree with North Korea’s Kim Jong Il!) Perhaps if the Philippines, (where the Americans learned everything they needed to succeed in Japan), would only follow the Japanese lead, instead of indulging and tolerating communist insurgencies, we too would be so dishonored by the axis of evil hairdos.

  28. Alan… I think the answer is “yes” to your question on whether the Philippines is bereft of talents. I am not talking about innate talents or God-given talents; I am not even talking about level of education. Many Filipinos, once properly schooled and trained in the science of management and/or public administration, can do the job. I sense, though, that the Philippine civil service system is inhospitable to professionalism, in marked contrast to Japan, Hongkong, Singapore. Philippine society also is inhospitable to professionalism in the ranks of its civil servants. Many a Filipino will instinctively broadbrush almost anybody who rises up the ranks to accomplishing it thru connections, not performance.

  29. In addition to UP student’s comment, I think that not a lot of Filipinos feel happy for those who “moved up” a rung. Most of the time we will blame it to “crab mentality” of Filipinos, but a little jealousy is fine as long as it spurs one to do better instead of moving him to bring down the other.

  30. Philippine politics, in general, has been a virtual snakepit since Marcos’ disgraceful exit. No president, from Cory to GMA, could exercise political will to do something good for the country without running into an impenetrable wall of resistance from the benficiaries of the staus quo. No administration could count on full support from the citizenry because of inability to obtain a clear majority in an election where over five political parties fight for nothing more than a plurality.

    Multiple parties plus multiple factions within some of these parties equal shaky coalitions that militate against
    good governance. The presidential cabinets, the lower house, the senate, the opposition, even the supreme court and LGU’s are mostly composed of members from more than two political parties or factions whose interests do not always agree.

    The so-called “cabinet cannibalism” is just a natural result of this political abberation which makes the Philippines difficult, if not impossible, country to govern. A general systemic overhaul of our government, within the ambit of democratic republicanism is immediately necessary.

  31. What the Philippines lacks is experienced professionals, many of whom are moving out of the country. We need to make the labor market more fluid and relax local hiring policies so that we can hire experienced people from elsewhere (e.g. India) as a stop gap for labor shortages in government and the private sector. The different attitudes they bring may also have a positive effect to the rest of the system.

    Titanium, resistance can be good or bad depending on the context. Recently, it has been a good thing as in the case of the People’s Initiative. The last time we had leader with strong political will and unbridled power, our economy collapsed. Having multiple parties is not bad in itself. A simple way to get a clear majority is to allow for run-off elections for President (and other leadership positions) if necessary. Having multiple parties is not bad in itself.

  32. cvj…. maybe the Philippines should accept more immigrants with money — capitalists (the politically-accepted word is “investor”).

  33. UP Student, yes we should. There are probably a number of rich Chinese entrepreneurs from the mainland who would like to set up shop here. On the professional sector, it would also be worth attracting Indian medical practitioners, and teachers who would like to relocate to our islands. Government regulations should be relaxed and simplified to expedite this process.

  34. Acceptance of more “investors” might be good. It will open more employment and more avenues for the crooks in government to milk them. On professionals, I thought RP have excess of them?

  35. camry, that’s why the laws and regulations need to be liberalized and simplified to minimize the opportunity for corruption. as for professionals, in some sectors like the medical field, there’s a shortage of experienced practitioners. in the education sector, we need to attract more teachers who are proficient in math and science to teach in primary and secondary schools.

  36. How are we going to attract proficient teachers when the current salary of experienced elementary school teachers could hardly make both ends meet for a family of four? We can not blame teachers leaving RP to become domestic helpers in Hongkong, etc. because of low pay. It does not make sense for a teacher to stay teaching in RP when his/her salary can not afford her to send his/her children to college. I know so many of them way back as early as 1980’s. Those who left before have children who got college education and are now working outside RP.

  37. camry, for the reasons you mentioned, it will indeed be difficult to attract proficient teachers due to pay so we have to rely on other means for now. one possible reason to want to go here would be the more liberal attitude towards women as compared to other societies in mainland Asia. Not all of them can or want to go to the West so if we design our laws and regulations accordingly, resulting in one less hurdle, more of them may want to move here instead.

  38. cvj, I will agree with your idea, however, the way congress is doing its job seems to me it is very impossible. However, if a leader will rise to advocate this with out flipflop, that will be the day when Filipinos would not want to leave love ones for abraod to work. I wish we could have this scenario before we close our eyes. My niece who just finished college wants to leave RP for greener pasture. At her young age, she seems to have lost hope in RP.

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