The machinery’s in place

Back in 1997-1998, President Ramos ordered the presidential palace, rather run down and ramshackle after a decade of being uninhabited, repaired so that, as he put it, his successor would have a place fit to live in. At the time, it seemed Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo would be a contender for the presidency, and I recall telling some friends (who were shocked) that if she won, you could be sure she would never step down. If she climbed the stairs of the Palace in an act of symbol repossession, I said, the only way she’d ever leave would be on a stretcher.

They asked me why I said that, and I remember correctly, I explained that she’d shown power was more important than anything else. She’d been elected to the Senate not as a Liberal, but as something else, despite her father having been one of the few absolutely loyal party men the country’s produced (DM got many people to switch parties but from the time he entered politics to the day he died, he was always a Liberal, and proud of it).

This told me, I said (engaging in some amateur psychology) that we should consider that the one, enduring lesson she’d learned from her father’s rise and fall, is that Nice Guys Finish Last. Every presidential family’s fall from power is traumatic to the members of that family, but the fall of Macapagal was followed by the longest period of political obscurity any presidential family’s had to endure: Macapagal was more often than not, used as a figure of fun by the Marcoses and so the psychological wounds would have been particularly great. The daughter had already done better than the father (DM had failed in his senate bid in the 50s), and she could look forward to not only posthumously vindicating her father by becoming president (a dream that had eluded Serging Osmena, Gerry Roxas and Doy Laurel), but also, to relishing the role of being the top dog after decades of having her family treated like dogs, relatively speaking. Like her mother, she has a long memory and nurses grudges.

What changed my mind was her biding her time, and her going for the vice-presidency: she’s capable of holding her ambition in check, I thought. And more or less I felt I’d unfairly estimated her as she proved overall, a good boss and as President, she seemed inclined to be generous to the memory of her predecessors and more inclined to institution-building. The high point of this was her announcement not to run for the presidency in 2004. I remember being quite touched and telling anyone who would listen, how proud I was to be working for such a president. This was a thing of personal importance to me, because in my article on Corazon Aquino as the Person of the Century, I’d argued that what our country has had all too little of, are leaders who willingly, and serenely, relinquish power (which is why I continue to admire Cory Aquino). And I recall my irritation when other people in the Palace (belonging to the camp of the President’s husband) were either non-committal or openly disappointed with the President’s decision.

But I began to return to my original impression of the President when she announced, a year later, that she would, after all, seek election to the presidency. Whether I should continue serving her or not was, in a sense, decided for me when the Inquirer offered me a job on condition that I relinquish any official appointment; I could return to focusing on my profession while supporting her but no longer as as part of her administration. And still, I tried to soldier on in support of her until 2005 proved that she would stop at nothing, thereby proving that, indeed, her guiding principle was, Nice Guys Finish Last. My decision to stop supporting the President has been chronicled in this blog, and there’s no need to revisit it.

An economist I recently met told me he’d had the President as his professor, and that he felt she’d been a lousy teacher. Why, I asked. She conducted classes, he said, like a bully. She gloried in bombarding her students with questions, saying it was how law students toughened up. The economist said that’s not the way questions are approached in economics, as a discipline, and that furthermore she derived too much enjoyment from demonstrating her authority every which way she could. She tried to pander to female students, he said, but the female students, oddly enough, resented it.

I do believe the President thinks she is doing the country a favor and that as she survives crisis after crisis, this belief has been buttressed by an absolute certainty on her part that she will do the country good even if the country thinks otherwise. Hers is the essentially self-defeating attitude of a weak person who becomes a bully, and thinks that it’s a virtue to hold on to power by appealing to the mercenary instincts of those who surround her. This is self-defeating because there always comes a point where someone can not be bought, and will no longer be for sale; while leaders who appeal to the higher instincts of their followers can often ask them to make superhuman sacrifices for a cause the leader’s been able to identify as a shared goal both leader and follower possess.

All this is a lengthy prelude to what we observe today. Two articles put the the recently concluded baranggay elections in perspective: Village polls become prep work for 2010 race and Arroyo seeks allies in villages, doles out more power, perks. In most healthy democracies, public opinion is what leaders aim to cultivate; in the case of the President, it is the machinery that she lovingly oils, and which hums its gratitude, in turn. This is what I called The “vision thing”, in 2005.

Yet the absence of an inspiring vision matters less than a thorough, even if contemptuous, mastery of the levers of power. A mastery that trumps everyone trying to seize those levers.

Here’s s very interesting observation in The Blog:

This entire drama is being played out between the ruling classes, and there doesn’t appear to be any space presenting itself for a legitimate democratic revolution – who would lead one anyway, with the Left bitterly divided between the powerful Communists and the less radical but more responsible center leftists?

There is one interesting possibility that should be noted. Though no space has arisen yet, there is an opportunity for some opportunistic elite politician to finally decide to take the first shot and engage with the Left (who have all but completely sat this current fight out). A leader like that, from outside the left, might be able to unite the factions and lead a legitimate democratic revolution.

In another interesting development, that I haven’t seen anyone writing about or discussing, there is a gathering storm slowly approaching Manila. Though mostly out of the headlines in the capital, the MAPALAD farmers are gathering support from communities across the Philippines in their march from Mindanao to the capitol. Their 1998 hunger strike became a tremendous media event, earned them a later-broken promise from then-candidate Estrada, and probably was the single biggest factor in the extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

Today, CARP is up for extension again. With the political situation as it is, if, as we suggested above, an opportunistic trapo were to bring in the Left, the arrival of MAPALAD circa Dec. 10th would present a unique opportunity to gain mass support of many in rural communities and their allies. The Communists aren’t in favor of extending CARP (they oppose reform, and seek rather to overthrow the complete system and seize the land from the current landowners), but the NPA itself expressed support for MAPALAD in 1998. The symbolic value of MAPALAD could be the catalyst and rallying point for a real democratic uheaval in this country. The space isn’t there yet, but opportunity to make it is.

The blogger, incidentally, doesn’t think the Speaker will fall (see his article in Newsbreak, Ethics Complaint vs JDV Doomed; see, also, similar views in Philippine Politics 04), but considers what will happen if he does. This involves the baranggay elections which represent a political consolidation, and an investment in the future, by the President:

With barangay elections out of the way it’s full steam ahead into the legislative session as the House comes back from recess. If JDV falls, proving me wrong and possibly ending my journalism career before it ever begins, Arroyo will likely get an ally of hers in the House. This would set the stage for another fight over ChaCha (charter change), through which Gloria hopes to reorganize Philippine government under a parliamentary system, paving the way for her to stay in power through 2010, the end of her current constitutionally mandated term.

In his column, Tony Abaya thinks he has it all figured out (and I happen to think he pretty much does):

Readers may also recall that in the latter half of 2006, there were concerted efforts to shift to the parliamentary system.

One through a people’s initiative led by the Sigaw ng Bangaw, the other through a Senate-less constituent assembly shamelessly maneuvered by Speaker Jose de Venecia (who wanted to become interim prime minister, before the whip-wielding dominatrix takes over in July 2010.

That both maneuvers failed, thanks to an outraged public opinion and an uncooperative Supreme Court, does not mean the efforts toward parliamentary have been abandoned. Less than 14 days ago, President Arroyo, out of the blue and without anyone asking her, called for a shift to a federal form of government “by the year 2012.”

This means that agitation for federalism will begin before her presidential term ends in 2010. This would be a signal for the Sigaw ng Bangaw to launch another people’s initiative towards a simultaneous shift to parliamentary.

Proof? The baranggay investment strategy, the trial balloon involving names for possible Comelec appointments (keep your friends close, and you enemies even closer), and the rallying of support of the congressmen in cassocks known as the Catholic hierarchy. A thorough analysis of the dynamics within the Catholic hierarchy is in Conservatives Now Control CBCP; Bishops Won’t Join Resign-GMA Calls:

Although Lagdameo got a fresh mandate for another two years, the bishops–in a surprise move–replaced CBCB vice president Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro.

In CBCP history, members of the permanent council usually enjoy two terms in office, with the vice president normally succeeding the president when his term expires. Ledesma, described as a progressive bishop and a Lagdameo follower, was supposed to succeed Lagdameo at the end of the latter’s term in 2010.

But breaking tradition, the conservative bishops ousted Ledesma and replaced him with Bishop Nereo Odchimar of Tandag, considered a conservative.

A CBCP officer privy to the June election disclosed that Lagdameo in fact barely won the presidency. He had to undergo three secret balloting before he was able to garner the required majority for his reelection.

The replacement of Ledesma, as well as Lagdameo’s tough reelection, showed that most of the bishops are already uncomfortable with the CBCP’s active involvement in political affairs.

In her column, Ellen Tordesillas gives us an insight into the dynamics of the Arroyo-Estrada AgrementL

Sources privy to the negotiations of the pardon said Estrada was dictating the terms. What Arroyo wanted from Estrada is for him stop funding the protests against Arroyo and for the ousted president to rally his loyalists to support the one who engineered his ouster.

Estrada complied in his statement early afternoon Friday when the delivery of the pardon was being delayed. In a statement read by his lawyer, Ed Serapio, outside the gate of his Tanay estate, Estrada addressed Arroyo “President” and thanked her for granting him “full, free and absolute pardon midway through her term.” The sentence recognized Gloria’s Arroyo’s term stolen from his dear friend, Fernando Poe Jr.

This was the clincher that finally made Puno chopper through cloudy skies to deliver the pardon: “I believe I can best continue to repay to our people the blessings that God has so graciously given me by supporting from hereon the programs of Mrs. Arroyo that are intended to attack generational poverty and hunger.”

Arroyo must indeed be desperate to hang on to this assurance by Estrada. If she thinks Estrada’s loyalists will love her because of the pardon, she is hallucinating. The adoration of Estrada’s fans of their idol is not transferable. In fact, they see the pardon as something that she owes their idol. No thanks to her.

Estrada’s funding of rallies has long been a non-factor among the “protest community”. If he was not able to gather an impressive crowd last September during the Sandiganbayan promulgation, he is not expected to subsidize the gathering of warm bodies for any protest activity. Besides, Edsa One and Two type of protest is already a thing of the past, rally organizers concede.

Ellen points out that the President’s much-diminished core group of supporters have to be troubled by the President’s efforts to cozy up to Estrada. Not least because the apparent easing out of Executive Secretary Ermita in a showdown over strategy with Sec. Ronnie Puno, puts the President’s political prospects in the hands of someone widely assumed of being the epitome of the mercenary.

As John Nery says, in his column,

Another traditional politician is in charge of the President’s own fortunes. Ronaldo Puno is not only the secretary of the interior and local government (and thus head of the country’s police forces), he is also the presidential adviser on political affairs. He chairs President Arroyo’s own political party, Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi)…

There is no question, however, that Puno is a political animal — in Aristotle’s original sense, of a species whose nature it is to live for the State.

But his many years in government service or political work (he also served as Joseph Estrada’s interior secretary) have given Puno a reputation associated with another philosopher: Machiavelli.

I am certain he will dispute the following characterization, but his political work can be said to display a signature style. He is fond of the feint; he is a whiz at the use of funds; his trail is followed by accusations of fraud.

He is adept at diversionary tactics (his crucial role in Estrada’s pardon, effected at a time of political scandal, has been both recognized and condemned). Political operators say he knows how to use special funds strategically (his own secretary-general in Kampi, Francis Ver, was involved in the attempted bribery of opposition congressmen; his own undersecretary at the DILG just happened to be in Malacañang during the alleged distribution of cash gifts in paper bags). And fraud continues to dog his name (he has been accused of masterminding the so-called Sulu Hotel operations, which reputedly gave Ramos the margin of victory)…

The point of all this: Is Puno the right man to guide President Arroyo in the endgame?

Granted, he can win elections; indeed, his signature working style (marked by those three F-words) works best, and was perhaps first perfected, in election campaigns. But it is a mistake to treat the President’s last days in office as though it were only the continuation of electoral warfare by other means.

John could also have observed, that every President who’s relied on Puno has had their ambitions foiled: Marcos fell; Ramos had his desire for a term extension thwarted; Estrada fell. And the President?

An an altogether unrelated note, this entry in Bayang Magiliw is just an enjoyable read.

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Manuel L. Quezon III.

186 thoughts on “The machinery’s in place

  1. i don’t see where bencard’s legal indoctrination equates to his favouring GMA.

    It doesn’t really. There are many many lawyers who are vehemently opposed to GMA. They even marched against her, led by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines itself (first time since 1986 that lawyers as a group have staged a protest.) —

    The “legal indoctrination” isn’t the problem (as it shouldn’t be), but rather, as cvj pointed out, “Bencard is arguing from the point of view of a methodologist (aka referee). To him, the legal methodology is the only way (or at least the favored way) of admitting (or disallowing) reality in a manner that favors his side. He is playing a dual role, that of a participant in a dialog and a referee.” He is highly-partisan and quite vicious when attacking people or groups he abhors, never mind if his opinions on such matters doesn’t quite pass the “legal truth” standard that he insists on when defending GMA. That’s why he can be very inconsistent. If he wants to be partisan, by all means, be so. But he can’t act like he’s THE referee at the same time.

    despite his rhetoric, he makes a reasonable demand of those who criticize “his President”. Prove things in court.

    I’m sure you can see the problem here. If the “impeachment court” is the only court than can try GMA right now, and if you have been following things, you know that GMA and her allies turned it into a purely numbers game and has bastardized the whole process. The administration has used all their resources –through means fair and foul– to make sure that things don’t reach the “court” in the first place. They are acting in bad faith and are not playing fair.

  2. In 1998 Erap won by the largest margin in presidential election history. He won close to 11M votes, leading second runner JDV by more than 6M votes. He had only a paper party then, ranged against the quintessential trapo who has all the machinery bells and whistles. – willy

    Erap had an unfair advantage, he had years of exposure as a celebrity specifically in Philippine cinema, back in the days when Vilmanians will kill Noranians, it was literally a “cult” following of the “Robin Hood” steal from the rich to give to the poor. Add FPJ’s endorsement, heck, even my mother voted for him against all odds in our family (walang pakialaman, was her constant defense).
    Even last night when I had a haircut, the barber was saying like “bakit nung si Gloria ba nakaupo may nakatikim ba kayo kahit isang kusing? buti pa nung si Erap kahit papano may pakinabang!” I wanted to tell them that she gave money to the congressmen and mayors, those who really matter, why would she give you barbershop politicians anything? But I didn’t because I didn’t want to come out missing an ear…

  3. “…maybe it is what my cumpaneros lozano and pulido say is the truth?” -Bencard

    Magkabaybs pala kayo ni Lozano. Honestly, what do you think of him Bencard?

  4. There is one elite tradpol who tries very hard to gain the sympathy of the leftist especially with the NDF. You may want to rally around her as a possible replacement of GMA. Her name is Sen. Jamby Madrigal.

  5. “mike, an unreasonable law in every manner, shape or form, has no validity whatsoever.”–Bencard

    So who determines if it is reasonable? The Supreme Court? Since it never ever overturned Proclamation 1081, I suppose Marcos’ martial law was all fine and legal, eh, Bencard?

    Will it take a similar act of GMA to make you rethink your support of her? And, you being far away from the consequences, will it make you do anything besides shake your head and go, “tsk tsk, mali pala ako”?

    “everything legal, everything right? WRONG, mike, WRONG!” Hay, there’s hope for you, Bencard. Please come to your senses and let’s fight to end this obscene regime, for the good of our country.

  6. By the way, guys, sorry to be such a n00b, but how do you guys make quotes appear in that white box with the quotation mark image?

  7. mike,

    Sorry. Is difficult to explain, cvj taught me how but i can’t seem to write the exact instructions. I’ll look for the thread.

  8. it’s weird waking up and finding out people are psychoanalyzing you while you were asleep. anyway, contrary to the usually “profound” observation of a resident pseudopsychologist here, i am not a “referee”. i’m an advocate. a referee is a judge and one cannot be a judge and advocate at the same time. this is true in life as it is in the legal sphere.

    jeg, let me put it in the simplest terms that you can comprehend. suppose a neighbor of yours who hates your guts somehow got an “envelopmental” journalist for a good price to publish an article in the “Daily Gossip” that you stole his fighting cock. after reading it, cvj goes around telling your mutual friends that you are a
    “thief”. they believe him. would that be fair to you? what are you gonna do assuming there is no law against cvj’s act, and no lawyers to protect your “rights”?

    ay-naku, of course, i am partisan with respect to the cause i am fighting for, but i am not vicious except against people who are themselves vicious. in any event, all that don’t matter. what is important is reason, and the soundness of an argument as seen by an unbiased eyes.

  9. bencard,

    Good morning to you!(?) Its 10:37pm here.

    Anyway, the way I see it, although it might not be obvious to you is that “you’re saying, stop telegraphing your moves by name calling or accusing because GMA/company can smell your hostility a mile away and get prepared (and its getting old and irritating), and the opposition must do their work properly, prepare a good, solid, winnable case so that we can get over with all this hulabaloo instead of just making so much noise that has been proven time and time again to be unproductive.”

    I actually graduated BS Industrial Psychology minor in Counseling and Clinical Psych but I never pursued that line because I needed the money fast so I went into sales. As you can see, its advisable to stick to my day job huh?

  10. mike,
    Let me try it.Look at the tabs of the keyboard:
    uppercase of comma=less than sign
    uppercase of period=greater than sign
    lowercase of question mark=slash sign
    blockquote= will be the word blockquote as it is
    So let’s try it:



  11. ram,
    sorry for the blooper, I was worried that mike might not get it if I put the spaces. I hope MLQ3 will delete the entry.

  12. Mike, inside this type blockquote as your opening code, then your text without space after and then for closing code type blockquote inside the closing code

  13. it will look like..(blockquote)text here(/blockquote)… but instead of parenthesis use the the upper cases next to letter M. can’t type them here cus it will not get reflected…try it..

  14. cvj,

    Have you seen the Probe Team’s report on the cheating in the presidential elections (hello garci stuff with statistical analysis). I posted the youtube links in the next topic but its awaiting moderation.

  15. Ramrod, you can see more videos from the Probe Team on

    There’s a search box there. You can search “garci” to see related videos. Here’s one:

  16. ramrod, i think your reading is right to the extent that the opposition (or gloria bashers) will not get anywhere just by repeatedly calling her a “cheat”, “liar”, “corrupt”, “illegitimate president”, etc., etc. i don’t think they can annoy the president into resigning through sheer harassment (a juvenile exercise). if they have a viable case for impeachment, pursue it the right way and work towards getting the “numbers” they need, instead of constant whining, bellyaching and hate-mongering that people like me finds tiresome and sickening. in the interim, let’s all unite and work towards a better philipines.

    mlq3, thanks for your link on mlq’s press conference. i fully agree with him on the distinctions between administrative and criminal cases in the way they are treated and adjudicated considering their different objectives. currently however, administrative cases involving elected officials are, i think, differently handled, from those who are appointed.

  17. tonio, my problem is when people (such as cvj) misrepresent an assertion, or allegation, if you will, as a conclusive “fact”. if it is an opinion, say it is so, rather than make an unqualified statement that “so and so is a criminal” when so and so has not even been formally charged, much less convicted, of any crime.

    libel consists of a false and malicious imputation of a crime, vice or defect. libel is both a crime and a tort (actionable for civil damages). i think this blog bars libelous statement, among others, right mlq3? let’s not jeopardize this forum by avoiding recklessly or intentionally libelous comments.

  18. tonio on, “and even if the people do get that info, honestly, what can they do about it? not vote for the politicians concerned, sure, but in the meantime those people can work at amassing money for themselves.”

    When the term expires, the person is no longer covered by immunity and so the illegal acts. Filipinos are not interested in upholding the law and made an official accountable for illegal acts. Filipinos are just interested in current politics and grabbing power. The cycle continues on and on. Today Gloria, tomorrow the same usual politics.

  19. ay-naku, of course, i am partisan with respect to the cause i am fighting for, but i am not vicious except against people who are themselves vicious. in any event, all that don’t matter. what is important is reason, and the soundness of an argument as seen by an unbiased eyes. – bencard

    Just for clarification, just what is the cause you’re fighting for? And whose eyes would you consider unbiased?

  20. ay-naku, as a lawyer, each case i handle is a cause i fight for my client. in this blog, as a citizen, my cause is the fair and just treatment of my president by the people who wish her ill. unbiased eyes are those that are not clouded by hate, prejudice, dislike, and envy, or by any other emotion.

  21. Bencard, thanks for your clarification. But in that case, there really aren’t any “unbiased eyes”, or at least, nobody can unarguably claim to have one.

  22. Bencard, these are the facts. GMA is not a legitimate President. She is just an occupant of Malacanang. I say that because she cheated. Cheating is a crime. Staying in office that has been stolen is a crime. That makes GMA a criminal. However, i accept that the law has not yet caught up with her and i hope that will happen sooner or later.

  23. When the term expires, the person is no longer covered by immunity and so the illegal acts.

    Domestic crimes, war crimes or crimes against humanity committed by the Head of States, or Head of the governments are not covered by immunity whatsoever. There’s no need to wait for the expiry of the terms to proceed with prosecution and if is is the President it is done by Impeachment and Trial by the Senate and the Prosecution by the criminal courts thereafter. In a Parliamentary a vote of no confidence and can be directly tried in the courts of law.

    The only reason that the Philippines Leaders seem untouchable while in tenure because they hold the balance of power, the can buy the process on their favor, influence the courts and even the Police and the story change dramatically when the opponents take over the balance change hands…

  24. Sorry, i meant to say – i accept that the law has not yet caught up with her and i hope that will happen sooner than later.

  25. Bencard, just a point of moral clarity, based on your unbiased ear, would you consider the “Hello Garci tapes” personally repugnant to you?

  26. And the difference between a convicted criminal and the non-charged and non-convicted criminals is they are both criminals, the only one is non convicted for one, he has a very good lawyers to defend him or her, just like oj and a few others who can afford million dollars councils. Second in the case of President Arroyo, she can circumvent the process by paying the member of congress in a number game of Impeachment, thirdly, the best avoidance of all, cover ups… so many famous criminals in history were not charged for their crimes at all, only history and evidence not presented in the courts established their crimes> Adolph Hitler, was never charged or convicted during his life, yet he was the worst of all criminals. There was Mao, Stalin and even Idi Amin was not convicted. Some Criminals were even hailed as heroes….

  27. trio,

    haha . . .Marcos was never found in court to be a tyrant. On the other hand, the Military court found Ninoy Aquino to be guilty of subversion and murder.

    Question: Who is the criminal in the unbiased eyes of the run of the mill Filipinos?

  28. In one case, the court found beyond reasonable that 1 + 1 = 3. A first grader protested: “No way 1 + 1 = 2, just look with your unbiased eyes at my fingers.”

    Who is telling the truth?

  29. Bencard,

    I will not anymore try to talk you into looking at it from our point of view. As nobody told me to do so in the past, I just studied the events and decided for myself. Please take a look at this video, as a picture can can paint a thousand words. I for one respect your stand and I believe the opposition can benefit looking at other angles, if we only listen to ourselves and limit ourselves to our own ideas and views it would result to “in-breeding” of ideas and we all know this is not a good thing.

  30. unbiased eyes are those that are not clouded by hate, prejudice, dislike, and envy, or by any other emotion. – bencard

    Maybe there’s someone like that in Mars.

    Even you betray your own unbiased eyes for La Gloria.

  31. thanks, ramrod.

    btw, to all others: i challenge anyone in this blog to point out specifically where i said i (Bencard), said i have “unbiased” ears or eyes or mind. in fact, i said i am “partisan” to the cause(s) that i choose to fight for. you can take my comments or leave them but please don’t mischaracterize what i say.

  32. “The only reason that the Philippines Leaders seem untouchable while in tenure because they hold the balance of power, the can buy the process on their favor, influence the courts and even the Police and the story change dramatically when the opponents take over the balance change hand”

    Therefore, the problem is not the President. It is everybody – the legislature, the justices, the police. You remove Gloria, you will have the same problem. The cycle can go on and on and on. Power grabbing as you suggested NOW – NOT LATER is obviously not a solution.

  33. “the case of President Arroyo, she can circumvent the process by paying the member of congress”

    Therefore, Congress is the problem, that is something that needs fixing, not the President.

    “Adolph Hitler, was never charged ”

    He was dead, you know. If he managed to survive war, he would be tried as war criminal.

    “There was Mao, Stalin and even Idi Amin…”

    They don’t get elected either. Get your facts straight please.

  34. “the case of President Arroyo, she can circumvent the process by paying the member of congress”

    Therefore, Congress is the problem, that is something that needs fixing, not the President.

    Dodong, don’t you mean the President isn’t the only problem, Congress is too? You can’t condemn the bribe-takers but absolve the bribe-giver, right?

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