The ploy to keep the Speaker loyal

My Arab News column for this week, The Ploy to Keep the Speaker Loyal, further refines an earlier blog entry on the revival of the constitutional amendments plan. The point of my column is that while many observers think the revived Federalism scheme is the same old script reused for the same old purposes, a larger purpose may be in the Palace’s mind. Constitutional change is being dangled to entice the Speaker to patch things up with the Palace. The Speaker himself, like the old pro that he is, is non-commital to keep his options open: De Venecia welcomes Charter change talk but not this year. In his blog, Mon Casiple says the Charter Change revival could be all talk -or a sign of darker things to come.

The column was written before I had a chance to interview Speaker Jose de Venecia, Jr. on my show last night. He’d already spent the day sounding fairly belligerent: JdV: End govt corruption: Statements hint at possible split with President. His son was certainly doing his best to foster the impression his father wasn’t in the chirpiest of moods: Arroyo admin won’t change, says Speaker’s son.

On my show, he waved a document at the camera and said, he was preparing a letter to the President, urging her to purge her cabinet of corrupt officials, curb smuggling, and, if the peek I got was correct, somehow reform the pork barrel system. JDV talking of reform and fighting corruption at the very least will probably have people rolling in the aisles, but like most things, there’s an element of self-preservation at work, too. He pointed out that he was quite appalled, during the last election, to see how mercenary both candidates and the electorate had become. And he went into a rather lengthy description of how, unless the spiraling costs of campaigning weren’t reduced, officials would have to raid the public treasury and break rules just to be able to run for, and keep, office.

To be sure, this limited awareness had its origins in his facing an unusual situation, for him, last May. He normally runs unopposed. The Palace is said to have strongly backed the candidacy of his rival who spent oodles and which led to JDV having to spend oodles, too, to be re-elected. And so, the Speaker said, “I have committed my share of sins” but this all getting too much, already. What JDV has come to realize is the same kind of realization the older generation of premartial law politicians came to realize when faced with Ferdinand Marcos. By golly, the guy recognizes no limits. The Speaker, it seems to me, is increasingly frightened by the prospects of a President he strongly supported, giving him the treatment she formerly used to to dish out only to their mutual opponents.

He is a man in search of a mission, because his old career as the Fella Who Gets All Folks to Get Along is obviously facing a dead end. His choice is a stark one: total surrender, which means maintaining his position but without power, in effect becoming a decoration, or fighting it out, and risking it all, when his problem is, he may have lost the means (the numbers) without which he can’t expect to put up a good fight.

The Great Consensus-builder is, I think, ill-equipped to fight it out, mano-a-mano, with a President, much less the present incumbent. Alone of his contemporaries, among his political peers, de Venecia by all accounts, has no personal enemies. His fellow politicians on all sides of the political fence all think he’s a nice guy. And that, precisely, is his problem. Whatever his other defects, having a mean streak is not one of them.

He is not a fighter, by instinct, he’s a consensus-builder and what’s more, in the traditional mold, who lacks the imagination to think that certain political behavior is even possible (a liability many traditional politicians of the old school suffer from, with regards to the President: up to now I keep hearing some of these leaders express shock and horror at the President’s habit of dropping in on the wakes of her deceased critics, which leaves old-fashioned oppositionists at a loss on what to do or say, except, well, express shock and dismay after the fact -I think the President derives a kind of malicious satisfaction from doing such things because it’s a reminder of the residual awe in which even her critics continue hold her office).

So one moment he sounds like he’s fed up, has had enough; the next moment he’s literally pleading for the President to seize the day and become a crusader for good government; then the Speaker’s mood deflates again as he says he has to give her this last chance but… but… What? I don’t think he knows, or to be more precise, he doesn’t want to have to reach the point of no return. Or admit that point was reached last week, when the President showed she had 180 congressmen in her pocket and forced to pick between her and him, JDV’s fellow congressmen would pick her and not him (though being on the whole, not cut out for battle, either, they’d like to keep them both).

John Nery in Inquirer Current, says the Speaker’s headed for a fall. In this light, the above could be his Swan Song.

Meanwhile, is the inoculation in danger of failing? An article in the Inquirer two days ago –House to pursue rules vs bogus impeach rap–majority leader– gives a hint:

Majority Leader Arthur Defensor said on Monday the lower chamber would proceed with key amendments to the impeachment rules, essentially to keep lawmakers from having to deal with apparently bogus complaints.

The changes — which would allow the consolidation of two or more complaints before they reached the committee on rules and included in the order of business — was scheduled for plenary deliberations last week.

But Defensor, the main author of the revision, withdrew the schedule to avoid being accused of trying to influence the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Roel Pulido against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo…

..The amendments created a stir at the plenary hall among legislators loyal to the President on Monday night last week, another senior member of the majority told the Inquirer in a separate interview.

Amid the suspense on whether Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. would refer the Pulido complaint to the House committee on justice, the Arroyo allies asked the majority leadership to withdraw the amendments from the order of business.

“They thought we were going to change the rules so a stronger impeachment complaint could be consolidated with the Pulido complaint,” the congressman said. “They even wanted us to adjourn the session at the height of the budget deliberations.”

This account was confirmed by another administration lawmaker who played a major role during the plenary deliberations on the proposed 2008 national budget. Both lawmakers asked not to be named because of the sensitive nature of their positions.

When the opposition says it will file a new, improved complaint, the odds still favor the original Pulido complaint; but an opposition impeachment complaint would open up the opportunity for the House to amend its rules on impeachment (going beyond what Defensor’s proposed) or the filing of a case in the Supreme Court.

RG Cruz points out the Palace is not helping itself by stonewalling reporter’s questions. The cabinet officials who do speak up aren’t helping matters any more than the President’s Congressional allies: Atienza says ‘cash gifts’ are normal fare in Arroyo Palace.

The Palace’s stonewalling, as RG Cruz puts it, comes at a time when economic developments seem to have slipped under the radar, to emerge as threats to the Palace propaganda line that the economy is super duper and the Peso’s appreciation is fantastic. RP balance of payments slips into deficit in September, comes the news, and there is a concern over the prices of basic commodities: Yap orders SRA to release sugar reserves to stabilize prices so that the administration has had to admit there are problems beyond back-biting within its own coalition (and squabbles that keep requiring presidential intervention). As the news yesterday put it, Cabinet tackles ‘major risks’:

National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) acting Director General Augusto Santos said an emergency Cabinet meeting has been called by the President to discuss the possible measures government may undertake to mitigate the ill effects of these threats.

Santos said three threats–rising oil prices, decreasing value of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) dollar remittances that may crimp the spending of beneficiaries, and reduced exports–may be attributed to the strength of the peso.

Santos said a stronger peso is good for the economy, however, in terms of making imports cheaper, decreasing the amount to be paid for debt service, and increasing investor confidence.

The Neda has already prepared economic simulations and recommendations, but the documents were not yet available to journalists as of press time.

He added that some of these measures may include the reduction of tariffs for oil imports, but the trigger price will still be determined by the Cabinet after today’s meeting.

This news coming during the opening of the Christmas season, is not politically-beneficial for the Palace. In its editorial, the Business Mirror editorial explains why:

As the peso strayed into historic territory last week, reaching seven-year highs and flirting with the 43 level, the exchange continued to dismay even more overseas-based workers: in one case that found echoes in many households, a minor construction project, projected to cost P25,000 two months ago, suddenly became too expensive for an OFW’s $500 remittance, budgeted way back. As a result of the project’s deferment, the worker found his $500 merely stood at over P21,000 when it reached Manila. And so on and on, similar tales of financial woe can be heard from the OFW sector (workers and beneficiaries) as the robust local unit continues to hold its own.

Meanwhile, the other sector hardest-hit by the strong peso, the exporters, have not stopped complaining about how the impact of a steady appreciation has gouged their pocketbooks, forcing dozens to either close shop temporarily in hopes of regaining their bearing after some time, or downscale operations and thus put thousands out of job.

To be sure, the executive has lined up a series of remedial measures to blunt the impact on the badly hit sectors, but still the “massacre” continues. To underscore the gravity of the situation, Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting was set solely on the major economic risks faced by the nation in light of recent developments, and as this paper’s banner story on Tuesday underscored, three of these risks–rising oil prices, declining value of the OFW remittances even as their volumes surge, and export cuts–were all somehow tied to the peso, albeit in varying ways.

A few months back the Bangko Sentral warned exporters to brace for a stronger peso and counseled them to seek shelter in hedge facilities that had long been there, while Malacañang directed state financial institutions to seek ways to prop up their sector.

The situation of exporters could get even more challenging, meanwhile, because as Trade Secretary Peter Favila reminds, they’re bound to come up against stricter regulations in the global markets arising from the creation of exclusive trade blocs.

Certainly there’s no way the “hurting” sectors of the economy, such as the OFWs and the exporters, can be separated by some firewall from the rest. One consequence of OFW families getting less for their dollars is that they will spend less, thus crimping the other productive sectors of the economy. As for exporters closing shop, imagine the impact of that on jobs and on the overall GDP projections.

Of course any administration has to do a balancing act handling the economy; but the timing is bad, if only because the holidays might be a little less cheery and it comes at the heels of a new round of scandals that won’t go away. As Manuel Buencamino points out in his column, one reason the scandals have political traction, is that with 2010 in mind, both politicians and the public aren’t inclined to be left holding the bag. Since Buencamino tackles why China’s government-owned corporations are being courted by the administration, it would do well to keep up to speed with developments in the Middle Kingdom: High stakes for China as party congress begins and Missing the barefoot doctors.

The Inquirer editorial tackles Pampanga Governor Ed Panlilio’s taking the money -and why he should return it, even if no one will accept it.

big mango explains why the revived Charter Change proposal doesn’t leave him thrilled.

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Manuel L. Quezon III.

202 thoughts on “The ploy to keep the Speaker loyal

  1. CVJ, RAmrod

    I agree with your statement that the younger Tsinoy generation are now more or less more open in communicating with the workers/Labor. CVJ still does not get my point. I am not saying we should be less democratic. I am saying that we should just have a moratorium on strikes and too liberal labor policies until the economy becomes stable enough to withstand any external shocks.

    I guess it’s really hard for CVJ to understand it unless he has been on the other side of the fence (as an employer).

  2. Proud to be Tsinoy, i’m not against a moratorium on strikes, but i’m against the decision being arrived at un-democratically. Same principle applies to those policies that you find too ‘liberal’. Try to pursue your advocacy via discussion and numbers rather than relying on force. You’d be surprised what you can get other people to do if you ask nicely.

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