The Speaker has declared a ceasefire but that’s far from raising a white flag of surrender as Doronila thinks is the case. I had my misgivings about the rally, and the way it turned out, despite the bravura of all present, can only give the proponents of amendments before 2010 increased optimism. Before the rally took place, Mon Casiple had this to say:
The rally is not yet THE people power that would decisively settle the political crisis. Its importance is not yet in its number. Its significance is in its broad participation–ranging all the way from the Left to the anti-GMA groups in the Right of the political spectrum. GMA and her allies stand all alone, by their lonely selves, dancing in the twilight of power.
The rally throws the political gauntlet before the Arroyo administration. The line is drawn. Henceforth, all attempts to pursue the GMA charter change and imperil the holding of the 2010 elections will be met by a combined people’s opposition. Such is the stuff people power is made of.
Unfortunately, this situation also invites desperate countermoves. The people should be prepared for the possibility of violent reprisal by Malacañang as it confronts a wall of protests. The stakes are simply too high for GMA to back down gracefully without a compromise or a try at victory.
Picking up the gauntlet means setting the stage for some form of martial rule to disorganize the charter change opposition and terrorize the people. This means battening up to weather a coming storm.
Not picking up the gauntlet means powering down the charter change train and letting election scenario to develop peacefully.
Either way, the GMA administration loses.
Which may be so, and despite the lack of numbers, most groups were, indeed, represented and the message was sent that here was a dry run, and if the Palace wants more, the various opposition groups are prepared to put up a fight.
The question is whether the fight will be pursued to the bitter end; and in such a fight, not everyone in the ruling coalition has an incentive to fight to the bitter end.
Then again, sensing an opportunity for extracting concessions, there’s no reason to quit the fight while mercenary motives are still in play, as Mon Casiple broadly hints at in his follow-up post to the above:
This week counts as the last days of Congressional session before the holiday break. If Con-Ass is not passed now, it will have a more desperate timeline in the first quarter of 2009. It may require the iron hand then.
There is the suspicion that various accommodations by the GMA administration of Danding Cojuangco’s San Miguel point to a negotiated political agreement to use the Cojuangco influence in the AFP to augment its own. GSIS and other government shares in Meralco were given to the conglomerate. A favorable Sandigangbayan decision on the coco levy issue was then issued.
It may be that the GMA group is being taken for a ride on this but there is a need to be vigilant about military and police moves in the coming weeks. We are certainly entering a critical period in the political crisis.
Critical in the sense that everyone can thereafter relax and focus on the presidential campaign, or critical in that instead of limping along to 2010 in expectation of the President stepping down, she will, instead go for the constitutional jugular.
Meanwhile, she’s not the only one averse to permanently closing off options.
In fact, what the Speaker is preparing to do is to take the fight to the country-at-large, in the hope that provincial and municipal councils can arm the House with a mandate to pursue Charter Change. This helps explain his statement that the House will fight it out until March.
But then a report says the House isn’t inclined to immediately impose a ceasefire, and that there may be fireworks tomorrow in the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments, whose chairman, Rep. Victor Ortega, is supposed to be miffed over the way the Villafuerte-led Kampi campaign is being waged in such a way as to ignore his committee altogether, a galling prospect for a veteran legislator and who has some pretty strong ideas of his own about the process.
It seems to me the stubborness of Rep. Ortega has to be taken in the context of his feeling slighted by the Villafuerte effort. Committee chairman are zealous over the prerogatives of their committees and the need for any proposed legislation to go through the committee wringer prior to being reported to the floor for plenary debate. It would seem logical, too, that if Ortega has his own preference for a constitutional convention, and if that preference is in harmony with other party leaders, including the Speaker himself, then stubbornly insisting on the prerogatives of his committee makes sense from the perspective of every chairman’s desire to guard his turf, as well as from the general procedural points senior legislators take pretty seriously. Nor does this stubborn insistence close off other, perhaps more face-saving options. Including the option of a convention, yes, but prior to 2010 and composed of appointed commissioners as proposed by the President’s personal lawyer, Romulo Macalintal.
My column today, Like herding cats, tackles the ongoing debate over Charter Change from the perspective of a cultural difference between the two main factions of the ruling coalition: the take-no-prisoners approach of the President’s pet party, Kampi, and the more pragmatic wait-and-see attitudes of Lakas-CMD. By all accounts, solidarity within Lakas is stronger now that de Venecia is out of power, with Speaker Nograles running an apparently smoother and more consultative House leadership.
From that perspective, the point of division within the ruling coalition, is that Lakas can ultimately afford to bide its time, while Kampi is approaching the zero hour of its political life expectancy as the President’s pet party. And yet both sides of the ruling coalition have an incentive to cloak their own desire for a parliamentary government and even term extensions (more precisely, the lifting of term limits) beneath the President’s vast unpopularity. The whole thing boils down to calculating political risk, including the prospects of electoral blowback from pursuing a Charter Change gambit if it fails.
Now the question on everyone’s minds is, can the President afford to fail? On one hand, proving her critics wrong by stepping down in 2010 has to be tempered with avoiding the disgrace of arrest or years of being bogged down in legal cases -with the risk of arrest- after she leaves office. Since the President has always been inclined to game out various scenarios, all the better to take advantage of whatever possibilities open themselves up to her, it’s worth looking at what former Chief Justice Panganiban, as studied by Dean Jorge Bocobo, put forward as the President’s present menu of options:
ART PANGANIBAN (formerly Chief Justice of SCoRP, turned PDI Pundit) addresses Arroyo’s Options in case the chacha choo choo fails to leave the House. She could (1) declare martial law; (2) assume emergency rule; (3) run for Vice President in 2010 and assume the Presidency, again, like she did in 2001; or (4) play the new Kingmaker and control the next admin.
Caveats in reverse order:
Option 4 would be the conventional dismount and is probably the safest course. But it is fraught with risk because if her horse doesn’t win, and stripped of Presidential immunity, Gloria Arroyo could face years of prosecution.
Option 3 is interesting for its novelty and would be legal. She could run with Noli de Castro for example, win the Vice Presidency and have Noli resign for her to have six more years. (Yippee!)
Option 2, as Panganiban points out, would be highly unpopular and even face international censure.
Option 1 — the martial law option – is the most important and fascinating. Long before either the writ of habeas corpus is suspended or martial law imposed, Filipinos ought to familiarize themselves with the following provision of the Constitution. Although the 1987 charter is reputed to be full of anti martial law features, the reality is, under the present provision, the Lower House, by itself, in conspiracy with the President, COULD impose martial law indefinitely.
Option 4 could also be called the Mexican Model, which is how the ruling party in Mexico took care of its own for close to three generations. We also had a pretty well-developed tradition of leaving ex-presidents alone, however much they were demonized by those who eventually replaced them. Even Marcos was allowed, indeed, given no choice, to flee to avert a potential civil war and avoid the thorny problem of what to do with him.
When Joseph Ejercito Estrada was arrested, all the old rules were broken and every president thereafter, including Estrada’s successor, will have to live with the possibility of a post-presidential political vendetta being pursued. Another precedent established by the President -pardoning her predecessor, with conditions- may provide ultimate comfort but still leaves the possibility of detention for a politically-determined and convenient duration. When Edsa Tres took place, it gave us a glimpse of what might have happened had Marcos remained in the Philippines after Edsa, and how much worse it might have been, had that happened in 1986, and how much more violent it could have been in 2001 if led from the front and with more tactical cunning and resolution.
If you assume -as I assume- that there are two main camps within the President’s circle of advisors, the hard-liners, led by the President’s husband and her Secretary of the Interior, with their associated retired military and police generals, on one hand, and the pragmatists, composed of the other politicians in her orbit but who are also interested in cutting deals with a new administration, on the other, and if you were the President, who likes to explore all her options, the menu above sounds about right.
I think only lawyers will make distinctions about the emergency rule versus martial law options, rather, one will merge with the other: a crisis situation could create the conditions for emergency rule which would, in turn, lay down the basis for imposing martial law. The latest news on the Palace drum-beating a revival of the peace process in Mindanao, and the MILF making a ritual rejection of the prospects of a resumption of talks, helps expand the options for such scenarios to unfold, too. Solving, incidentally, along the way, the thorny question of the armed forces being more of a stickler for constitutionalism than the civilians who command them. A sudden deterioration in law and order, in Mindanao or elsewhere, opens up the military being trapped by their obligation to maintain law and order, and obey instructions from a government armed with legitimately-derived emergency powers. And it doesn’t require violence to accomplish: Boo Chanco (see below) describes Senator Angara’s budget sponsorship speech as saying, in so many words, “what may be described as the economic equivalent of a national emergency.”
Option three, to my mind, is remote: the President would be better off running for the House to represent her son’s district or for a seat as convention delegate for her region, enjoying parliamentary immunity until she could run for a seat in parliament.
But also, much depends on the composition of the Supreme Court, which already has a fairly reliable number -7- of Justices who vote along the administration’s lines in cases that count, with the prospects of appointing an almost equal number of dependable justices in 2009 (and if you recall the Kampi spokesman’s scenario, accomplishing Charter Change prior to 2010 might include putting in the Chief Justice as Acting President during the transitional period from the ratification of the amendments, to parliamentary elections in 2010, to the first few months of that new government, as parliament sorted out the election of the new Prime Minister: this would also, incidentally, purge the Court of a Chief Justice considered hostile to the President). Today’s column by Jarius Bondoc gives us a glimpse of why the Chief Justice is considered a thorn in officialdom’s side. More significant, though, is how heavily politicized the selection process for new Justices is becoming, with so much at stake, not only for the President but those putting forward particular candidates.
In such matters what’s actually going on is less important than what is perceived to be going on. Whether say, Chavit Singson, a force to reckon with inside the President’s official circle, is actually pushing forward the candidacy of one potential Justice while the President tries to pay old debts by going through the motions of supporting the candidacy of the Solicitor-General (if the President was hell-bent on appointing her, she would have been required to settle all her pending cases prior to entering the appointments process) is less important than legal circles avidly discussing the matter, putting pressure on members of the Judicial and Bar Council along the way, either to toe the administration line, or show independence. The postponement of the JBC’s decision on the matter can only raise eyebrows.
But rather than explore those darker scenarios, it’s easier for all concerned in the ruling coalition, to weigh its options concerning amending the Constitution ahead of the 2010 elections.
Going back to the House, the remainder of the week then, will be dedicated to tackling two pieces of legislation: the national budget and the proposed extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law. The former will be required to fund Charter Change and provide the basis for a government stimulus package for what everyone expects to be a lean 2009. In his column, Boo Chanco speaks glowingly of Senator Edgardo Angara, who says:
Our problem is serious because “by next year, of the 5.1 million Filipinos working abroad, 590,000 are at risk of losing their jobs.” Senator Angara identified the groups most vulnerable among our OFWs:
‘ 129,000 in the US under temporary working visas, particularly those in hotels, casinos as well as agricultural workers;
‘ 48,000 seafarers in cruise ships;
‘ 268,000 factory workers in South Korea, Taiwan and Macau;
‘ 130,000 household service workers in Singapore, Macau and Hong Kong;
The senator said some 50,000 to 100,000 are losing their jobs now to include:
‘ 30,000 to 40,000 holders of temporary working visas in the US;
‘ 5,000 to 15,000 seafarers in cruise ships and 15,000 to 30,000 factory workers in South Korea and Taiwan.
Strangely enough, the Secretary of Labor recently said we are still okay because the crisis has not affected the oil rich Middle East. He should subscribe to the Financial Times or the Wall Street Journal or tune in to Bloomberg TV. Last week, it was reported that massive lay-offs have begun in Dubai. Nakheel, a major property developer that built the Dubai Palm, recently shed 15 percent of its workforce, a bit of news Sen. Angara shared.
How should we react? Sen. Angara suggests “a two-pronged strategy: first, we focus our country’s limited resources to job creation and investments in human capital.” Recall that Gov. Joey Salceda also prescribed a big investment in human capital.
Secondly, the senator stressed the importance of coordinated spending among agencies. It was suggested that we should target our spending on basic infrastructure, education and health, housing and the environment. Impeccable coordination where government agencies work together like a well oiled machine to maximize benefits from our limited resources isn’t normally associated with our government today. We also need a minimum of corruption, another impossibility. Crisis requires good governance!
Sen. Angara thinks the 2009 budget debate is the best platform to warn our citizens of impending trouble. He has actually studied the budget submitted by Malacanang which the puppet House of Representatives passed by rote after assuring that their pork is protected. He shifted spending priorities to send a clear message that we are girding for a coming storm. Even if OFW remittances will be at a record high this year, the senator wants us to prepare for slowed remittances and weak export markets next year.
Sen. Angara wants government to pump prime the economy by investing in infrastructure. “Infrastructure spending is the best way to create jobs and stimulate consumption, especially in the rural areas where we need it the most. Public Works put money in the pockets of our citizens. This will provide us with a safety net for our people.”
He gave some specifics. “For 2009, we allocated P177 billion for infrastructure projects. Of this amount, thirty percent (30 percent) or P54 billion will be for direct labor. Since every P100,000 creates one job, this P54 billion means that 540,000 Filipinos will be employed.”
“The same approach applies to housing, whose total budget for 2009 is P5.3 billion. By using data provided by the shelter agencies, an additional 607,003 jobs will be created. These domestic employment opportunities will serve our people well in the coming year, when working abroad will start losing its luster and the outsourcing jobs we currently rely on will slowly shrink.”
Regarding the latter, blogger Jae Fever says the law’s in danger of being watered down:
After twenty years, the agrarian reform law is once more on the threshold of uncertainty. Without a new law, funding for land acquisition and distribution is set to expire. After December 31, 2008, the DAR will no longer be granted funds to continue the process of redistribution. After December 31, 2008, farmers who do not own the land they till will have no more hope of owning it. After December 31, 2008, yet undistributed landholdings will never go to the farmers and will forever be held by the original landowners.
Last week, on Wednesday, landed congressmen floated a new proposal, said to be their quid pro quo for passing the law: take away COMPULSORY ACQUISITION. My head spun upon hearing this. Without the compulsory nature of agrarian reform, agrarian reform is dead.
Agrarian reform is precisely the act of a State exercising its power to break up elite interests over huge landholdings, even amidst opposition of a self-interested few. Without compulsory acquisition, the Constitutional mandate of agrarian reform is rendered nugatory and the gains that can still be expected shall no longer be reaped.
It also bears emphasizing that most of the lands yet undistributed are located in agrarian reform hotspots, where landowner resistance has resulted not only in non-redistribution but also in oppression and outright violence. If they have succeeded in retaining their lands under a legal regime where compulsory acquisition is worded into the law, it is sheer foolishness to expect them to give up their lands when acquisition and distribution is at their option.
The thing is, does the reform constituency lobbying for land reform still have clout? Two Catholic bishops are going on a hunger strike to lobby for passage of the law.
There’s an intriguing item in Mindanews on the President saying Qatar could be a new ally in the peace process. Almost immediately, though, Ding Gegelonia blogged that the Palace was spurned not just by the MILF, but by Malaysia, too. But as I mentioned above, this may simply be playing into the Palace’s hands.