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Gloria’s Power Grab

Posted in politics with tags , on June 27, 2009 by MASP

The Philippine president will not leave office quietly.


Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is a lame duck struggling to stay afloat. With less than a year left in her constitutionally mandated last term, national politics is dominated by next May’s election and the president’s efforts to cling to power. In the meantime, policy efforts to address the country’s myriad problems are at a standstill.

Ms. Arroyo’s latest gambit is to run for her son’s congressional seat when her presidential term expires next year. Members of her cabinet have openly advocated this plan, and her son Mikey has said he would consider running for governor of their home province of Pampanga if Ms. Arroyo chooses this path. Last Monday, the Commission on Elections declared that there is no legal barrier preventing a former president from running for Congress.

There is only one reason why this sitting head of state — who previously served as vice president, a cabinet secretary and in the Senate — would be interested in a comparably lowly seat in the House of Representatives. She is angling to be prime minister in a restructured government composed of a unicameral parliament. Reformists assert that two contending chambers make the legislative process too slow, and the Philippines needs to implement fast-paced change that would be eased by removing gridlock caused by the inert Senate. The Philippine government currently is based on the U.S. presidential system with a bicameral legislature, so this conversion would require rewriting the constitutional charter.

For Ms. Arroyo and her supporters, maintaining power is not just about keeping the pork and perks of office. It’s a matter of survival. The leading contenders for the presidency all have said they will investigate rampant corruption in the Arroyo administration if elected. This poses an existential threat to Ms. Arroyo and her family, especially if the opposition wins. It has not been forgotten that the Arroyo administration put her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, in prison after he was overthrown, although she later pardoned him. Mr. Estrada is still one of the most popular figures in the Philippines; his many supporters have been waiting a decade for revenge for his ouster and seven-year incarceration.

It might sound implausible that the nation’s form of government could be altered to suit the president’s demand for power, but there is a precedent for such an action. Former President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law and suspended Congress in 1972, only to reopen the legislature as a unicameral parliament in 1978. At that time, he added the title prime minister to his previous position as president.

It’s ironic that Ms. Arroyo is pursuing the Marcos model because the authoritarian leader beat her father, Diosdado Macapagal, in the 1965 presidential race. There are many similarities between the Philippines today and the status of the country 44 years ago: the economy was in decline; corruption hobbled government; and national security was threatened by Muslim insurrection in the southern islands and armed Communist revolution in the mountains.

Mr. Marcos defeated Mr. Macapagal’s bid for reelection because the latter was perceived to be an ineffectual leader in a period of crisis. Today, the position of President Arroyo’s advisers is that the country is too unstable for a transition. There have been discussions at Malacanang presidential palace about the possibility of declaring a state of emergency to delay elections and thus stall Ms. Arroyo’s departure from office. One longtime Arroyo insider told me the main reservation is that administration officials are not sure they can pull it off.

It would be a risky strategem. Ms. Arroyo may not have a strong enough hold on power to declare and enforce a state of emergency. The public sends mixed signals. Street protests against the administration are routine, but voter apathy is a more prevalent national trait than serious opposition. Perhaps most important, Ms. Arroyo is backed by the military command structure. The support of the generals composed the balance of power that was necessary to oust President Estrada and install Ms. Arroyo in his place in 2001.

Changing the constitutional charter is a safer route to maintain power than declaring a state of emergency because it would instigate less public outrage. A constitutional assembly offers the veneer of legislative legitimacy, and a workable strategy to secure charter change has been crafted over the past few years. A little over two weeks ago, the House of Representatives passed a resolution to convene a constitutional assembly to work toward charter change. A three-fourths majority vote is needed to amend the constitution. House leaders are pushing to hold that vote next month.

There is disagreement over the makeup of that vote. Senators, who overwhelmingly oppose parliamentary change since it would abolish their chamber, argue that separate three-quarter votes are necessary in the House and Senate. House leaders maintain that the tally required comes from a joint session of both chambers. This view is convenient because the margin in the House might be large enough for passage over the opposition of a majority of senators. In any case, the dispute is likely to go to the Supreme Court, where 11 of the 13 sitting justices were appointed by Ms. Arroyo.

The president solidified her hold on the House of Representatives through patronage politics. As Senator Manuel “Mar” Roxas, a former member of the Arroyo cabinet and frontrunner to win the presidency next year if elections are held, explains, “The system created by the Arroyo administration has made corruption, official opacity and the dole-out culture almost endemic at all levels.” At one notorious meeting a few years ago, legislators were photographed leaving Malacanang presidential palace with shopping bags full of cash. The palace also allocates “countrywide development funds,” pork-barrel money that individual congressmen can direct as they see fit.

According to a poll released June 11 by Manila-based Social Weather Stations, only 31% of 1,200 Filipinos surveyed believe that Ms. Arroyo intends to step down in 2010 when her term is up. Staying in power may be the only way Ms. Arroyo can stay out of jail. The president is a political survivor who has beaten back numerous attempts to unseat her, so anything is possible. But whether through the bayonet or charter change, subverting next year’s presidential elections would set back the maturation process of the Philippines‘ fragile democratic institutions.#

Mr. Decker, a former editorial page writer for The Wall Street Journal Asia, is managing editor of the Opinion pages at the Washington Times and author of “Global Filipino” (Regnery, 2008).


DAVID VS GOLIATH — UP prof ready to run vs GMA

Posted in nation, politics with tags , , on June 26, 2009 by MASP

UP prof ready to run vs GMA

By Kristine L. Alave, Juliet Labog-Javellana
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:40:00 06/26/2009

Filed Under: Politics, Elections

MANILA, Philippines — His wife and four children are all against it, but University of the Philippines professor and Inquirer columnist Randy David declared Thursday that he would seriously consider running against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo should she seek a seat in the House representing the second district of their home province of Pampanga in 2010.

“If she runs, I will think about it very seriously. Yes, I think so. She will not go unchallenged. She will not go unopposed; we will oppose her every step of the way,” David, 63, told the Inquirer last night when asked about reports that he would pit himself against the powerful President in a local showdown.

“It’s probably the most foolish thing to do. I know it’s quixotic to run against the President—somebody who has no qualms about using all the powers of her office—but I think somebody has to stop her. And if we get to that point, I will do my part even if that may be myself,” said the sociology professor.


David said the moves to have Ms Arroyo run for a seat in Congress and to hammer out Charter change toward a shift to the parliamentary system were a “brazen” way of circumventing the constitutional ban on presidential reelection.

Under a parliamentary system, the prime minister is the head of state, he pointed out.

“I think what she is doing is really too much, and they have to be stopped,” he said.

David said that while the people of Pampanga were proud to have the President come from the province, this was not a justification for her to prolong her stay in power.

“I belong to the second district and we will not take this [candidacy] sitting down,” he declared.

David said Ms Arroyo had been frequenting Pampanga recently, distributing checks and food—“precisely the worst aspects of patronage politics.”

He said running against Ms Arroyo would also provide the opportunity to grill her on the corruption scandals hounding her administration.

“I will be very happy to challenge her to a debate and let the people know the answers to the many questions about this administration,” he said.

Most unpopular

On a national scale, David said running against Ms Arroyo would be “the easiest thing in the world because she is the most unpopular President.”

But when it came down to local politics, he acknowledged that he probably did not stand a chance against her.

Asked where he would get the resources to run against the President, if and when, he chuckled and said: “I don’t know. Maybe if you run, the resources will come.”

He said he had not talked with Pampanga Gov. Ed Panlilio about his plan or whether they would form an alliance against the President and her son, Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, the incumbent representative of Pampanga who has announced plans to run for governor against the priest-turned-politician.

David said his wife, former Civil Service Commission head Karina Constantino-David, and their four children, as well as his siblings, were vehemently against his running.

Weekend reunion in Betis

But should Ms Arroyo file her candidacy for congresswoman, “I will sit down and talk to my brothers and sisters and my wife and children and tell them ‘Eto na ang kinatatakutan natin (This is what we have been fearing),’” he said.

David said his father, Fiscal Pedro David, who was a lawyer of the Liberal Party, was close to Ms Arroyo’s late father, President Diosdado Macapagal. As early as when Diosdado Macapagal was a congressman, he was a frequent visitor at the David residence in Betis.

David said he did not get close to Ms Arroyo because she did not live in Pampanga.

He himself has been going home to Betis every Sunday on his motorcycle for weekend family reunions, he said.

‘We’ll not take it lying down’

In a media interview yesterday at Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, Panlilio let loose with fighting words in talking about Ms Arroyo’s purported planned run.

“People are sensing a political agenda in what she is doing. There is a growing notion that she’s using the second district of Pampanga for her political plans to protect herself from legal suits later on,” he said, adding:

“We will give her a good fight. We have some options. We will definitely pit someone in case she runs. We will not take this lying down.”

Asked if David was their candidate, Panlilio neither denied nor confirm it.

15 visits so far

He said he had only read of David’s supposed plan to challenge Ms Arroyo in the papers, and that he had yet to talk to the UP professor who backed his candidacy for governor in 2007.

But David can definitely run in the second district as he is a registered voter there, Panlilio said.

He said Pampanga residents had “mixed” reactions to Ms Arroyo and her frequent visits to her home province.

If the elections were held now, Ms Arroyo would definitely win the congressional seat in the second district because she has brought improvements there, Panlilio said.

But there are other constituents who see through her political agenda, he said.

Of the 17 times Ms Arroyo visited Pampanga this year, 15 were in the second district.

“I believe more and more people are having a growing consciousness of why she’s doing this. If she truly loves Pampanga, why doesn’t she run for governor?” Panlilio said.

“We don’t want Pampanga to be used,” he said.

Frat brod

In Malacañang, Gary Olivar, one of the President’s spokespersons, pledged support for her possible opponent in 2010.

Olivar, Ms Arroyo’s preferred mouthpiece on economic affairs, said he and David belonged to the same fraternity.

“So I would encourage him to run regardless of whether the President will run or not,” Olivar said. “And I will certainly campaign for him.”

Olivar took a different tack after being reminded by a reporter that he was a spokesperson for Ms Arroyo, who might end up contesting the congressional seat in Pampanga with David.

“He will have my moral support then,” Olivar said.

David will have “a bright future if he decides to go into politics,” according to Olivar.

But he said the sociology professor “should not condition [his decision] on the President’s plan.”

Ultimate intention

Lorelei Fajardo, another of Ms Arroyo’s spokespersons, questioned David’s motivation in considering running for a seat in the House.

“We should have the right intention and right motive in running, and I think there’s no better intention for us than to serve our country, serve our people and make a good difference,” Fajardo said.

“This should be the ultimate intention, and nothing else,” she said.

Olivar added: “I would like to believe that professor David shares the same intention.”

With a report from Christian V. Esguerra