Scuttlebutt update 4:51 PM:
Easing out of Executive Secretary Ermita moved forward to March but timeframe is still up to May. Ermita angling to be PAGCOR Chairman but remains to be seen if the President would risk easing out Genuino in exchange. More likely scenario is a face-saving but politically non-threatening ambassadorship for Ermita.
Winston Garcia said to be slated to be the next Chairman of the Commission on Audit.
The Speaker supposedly threatened a one-hour privilege speech that would get the President in hot water if he’s toppled from the Speakership. President backed off if JDV3 backs off; leaks about this apparently sourced from the Ermita and Bunye camps in the Palace. Congressmen (whether true or not or to drive up their market value) speaking of 1 billion Peso topple-the-Speaker fund at 2 million Pesos per congressman’s signature. But another view is that the President’s sons are just making noise about continuing the toppling efforts to save face.
The President is said to have to intimated that the time has come to put in place the system that ought to have been instituted in the Marcos years: a French style parliamentary system.
A likely story! I’m not hiding, says Neri who turns 58 on Friday. Of course the law-and-order types are silent in the face of Neri’s dodging a lawful warrant of arrest.
Other news: ) Corruption concerns block more US aid to Philippines. The transcript of the press briefing is available online at the US Department of Sate website. Here are the relevant portions on the Philippines:
QUESTION: My name is Jennie Ilustre from Malaya, Philippines Daily. My question is — I was reading this report — the Philippines is still under a threshold program.
AMBASSADOR DANILOVICH: Yes.
QUESTION: Is there any good news when it will qualify?
AMBASSADOR DANILOVICH: We have an excellent threshold program with the Philippines. As you know, it’s a $20 million program. Frankly, it’s all the more robust because the Philippine Government upon receiving the $20 million of our MCC threshold activity, pledged and participated with an equal amount of money — $20 million — to support this program. It’s working well. It’s been successful. It’s going forward. We want to see further results. We’re continuing to look at the Philippines as a positive example of cooperation with the MCC.
I had the pleasure of meeting with President Arroyo and her cabinet in New York in September to discuss the ongoing —
QUESTION: What year, sir?
AMBASSADOR DANILOVICH: This — 2007.
AMBASSADOR DANILOVICH: At the United Nations General Assembly when she was there for those meetings. We met for about half an hour and discussed the MCC threshold program and the continuing efforts of her government to perform well on the indicators. We will be meeting the delegation from the Philippine Government next week here in Washington. I believe it’s Mr. Teves who is coming, who we’re going to be meeting with. He and his team and the MCC team will meet together to discuss further continuation of the program. And we hope eventually that the compact eligibility will continue and that they will be rewarded a compact in due course.
QUESTION: Who will be on the U.S. side when you meet?
AMBASSADOR DANILOVICH: It will be our MCC team here in Washington.
Thank you. Yes.
QUESTION: Good morning, Mr. Ambassador. Bing Branigan from Manila Mail newspaper. When exactly next week Philippine Finance Secretary Teves is coming?
AMBASSADOR DANILOVICH: Secretary Teves — I think the meeting is scheduled for Tuesday.
AMBASSADOR DANILOVICH: Yeah. I’m not sure about that but I think it’s Tuesday.
QUESTION: What’s keeping the Philippines from getting the – into the full MCC — what’s the requirements they have not passed yet.
AMBASSADOR DANILOVICH: Sure. We discussed this with President Arroyo and with her ministers when we were together in New York in September. And although the Philippines technically is eligible for a compact, there has been in the last assessment, indicator assessment some serious declines with regards to corruption and some other matters with their performance on the indicators. This causes us some concern because the drop in performance in fact was very dramatic. And we want to understand more clearly why that dramatic drop has occurred, understand what circumstances caused that to happen, so we can have some clarity as to whether or not this precipitous drop is going to continue or if there was some indicator irregularity or if there are further strong reforms which the Philippine Government needs to take in this regard to make sure that at the next period of assessment this summer, the indicator shows an upward trend. The drop was from the 70th percentile down to the 50th percentile. I think the figure – don’t hold me on this, but it was something like a drop from 76 down to 54 or something of that nature. So it was fairly significant. Even though they were still above the median. So that is, in fact, the very reason for the meetings next week. We’re going to discuss this and see. We are going forward. We’re continuing our dialogue. We’re open to discussion with the Philippines.
QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, (inaudible) corruption (inaudible) is this part of it?
AMBASSADOR DANILOVICH: Well, part of it to the extent that, yes, it’s part of the democratic and – political and democratic assessments that we do in our country – do with our countries.
QUESTION: Thank you.
AMBASSADOR DANILOVICH: Yeah. Thank you.
Yesterday, the buzz in political circles mainly concerned whether the Speaker of the House would still be Jose de Venecia, Jr. by Monday or not. Basically, the President’s husband from overseas, and his two sons as the rallying symbols of the faithful, were relentless in pursuing the destruction of the Speaker: Kampi, Arroyo sons vote to oust De Venecia. Each new news item, for example 134 sign ‘no confidence’ paper vs Speaker–Villafuerte– would create a spike in the chatter. The message was, JDV urged to step down to save face but of course, Bluffing on numbers is House game. Everyone got in on the act: De Venecia-Nograles showdown inevitable–NPC. In the end, it became a question of who could shout they had the Mandate of Heaven: De Venecia: ‘I have Arroyo’s all-out support’.
Scuttlebutt was that the Palace’s preferred “win-win” solution was to appoint de Venecia ambassador to Washington this weekend, which would remove the need for a potentially messy showdown in the House. The problem with that proposal was that it was too insulting to be accepted by de Venecia -from No. 4 in the national hierarchy to a mere presidential appointee?- and would have put Lakas-CMD in too obviously a subordinate position vis-a-vis Kampi much too soon. In the end, the President apparently told her sons to back off on condition the Speaker did the same thing with his son: De Venecia buys time: Son’s silence for Arroyo support.
Also yesterday, during the investiture ceremony for Adel Abbas Tamano as President of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, I had the opportunity to talk to Liling Briones, former Treasurer of the Philippines. She said that the unwritten story (picked up, as far as I can see, only by the Business Mirror where she writes a column) is how Congress has spent two years coming to grips with the budget process and allowing greater participation by the citizenry in its formulation. She said that Rep. Edcel Lagman in the House and Sen. Allan Peter Cayetano went above and beyond the call of duty in bringing the public into the budgeting process. After last year’s efforts to bring legislators and the public together foundered, for the present budget, members of the public got their act together as early as May, when the first call for submissions came. In that manner, they were in synch with the legislators who discovered that the public was willing to follow their process, and had done their homework.
The 1.2 trillion stated by the President remained the grand total for the budget, but members of Congress were able to realign different appropriations under the framework of the millenium development goals: for example spending on public health was increased by something like 50%. The problem now is that the President has taken a dim view when it comes to some of these realignments and has apparently threatened a veto. She also argued that the power of the president to veto is a limited one, subject to stringent criteria, but personally I tend to disagree with that assertion, in the past, anyway, presidential vetoes have been based on constitutionality and legality questions but also in the basis of presidential policy. For more on this point, see Budget ‘warriors’ warn against veto.
A further complication is the proposed stimulus package.
I asked for her views on the proposed stimulus package. She replied that the institutional stimulus package is the national budget and for that reason, she opposed a special stimulus package. A national budget mandates spending, she said, and not only that, because it specifies what is to be spent where, it assists transparency in the spending of public monies. In contrast a stimulus package still has to be debated and then won’t be channeled with as much oversight as takes place with the budget: apparently, for example, the various government departments would have to craft the systems to track such spending if approved, unlike the budget.
She also pointed out that the stimulus package and the national budget will be competing for the same resources: the government assets to be sold to fund the stimulus package, she said, are those already identified as the sources to fund the government budget. This seems to have been addressed: Stimulus plan sourced from 2008 budget.
Also, she said greater public scrutiny is required, whether of existing budgetary items or proposed stimulus programs. A case in point is the proposed 6 billion peso feeding program for school kids. She said that government policy at present is hand sacks of rice to kids, which leads to a whole set of problems: kids staggering home with big sacks of rice, or kids being told they’re receiving 5 kilos, say, but actually being sent home with less, and then of families that sell the rice gift or who then divvy it up among elder members so the kids don’t benefit from the rice. An entirely different situation is that there are appropriations for feeding school kids, but the rice is handed out during the summertime, when the kids and the teacher’s aren’t in school! The point being that enough research and practical experience exists, she says, to prove that effective feeding programs for kids involve feeding kids in school, during class hours.
You will see on the chart above, which comes from a presentation of Dr. Michael Alba, that the line showing the country’s GDP is broken at one point. I asked him what that meant. He said, it represents a change made in the manner GDP is computed, which makes all previous data and all subsequent data not precisely comparable to each other.
In the blogosphere, the NYT blog The Caucus liveblogs the Democratic debate.
Writer’s Block compares the Philippines to Czarist Russia.