International Information Programs
August 4, 2005

August 4, 2005





**  "The fate of the nation" and its "constitutional system" hang on impeachment process.

**  Outlets ask, "Can [Arroyo] sacrifice personal interests for the country?"

**  "Charter Change" reaction: "Our problems were not caused by the present Constitution."




'Preserving our democratic institutions'--  Philippine dailies almost universally called for the impeachment of President Arroyo to be carried out "constitutionally," arguing, "the political and economic future of our nation" depends on how "swiftly, peacefully and lawfully we can end this political crisis."  The center-left Philippine Daily Inquirer saw more at stake than "only regime survival but, in a larger sense, that of a democratic constitutional system whose being sorely pushed to the limit."  The moderate Philippine Star posited, "If Filipinos aren't pouring out into the streets again to demand the President's resignation, it is because they are pinning their hopes for truth, justice and national catharsis on the impeachment process."  Philippine commentators hoped the Senate would heed the "clear lessons from the Estrada impeachment" and not "brazen out the question as a matter of political muscle."


'A challenge to the President'--  Writers worldwide found that Arroyo has put herself and her country in a "sticky situation."  The business-oriented Australian Financial Review argued, "she has lost moral authority," but "with no realistic alternative candidate, the least worst for Mrs. Arroyo to hang on a bit longer."  Voicing the minority opinion, Tagalog-language Philipino Star Ngayon declared impeachment calls were going "unnoticed" by the public while all Arroyo is asking for is "a chance to show that she can lead the government well if her political enemies do not disturb her."  Regardless of whether Arroyo committed a "'lapse of judgment' or deliberate bid to corrupt the election process," Barbados' Advocate held "if she were a patriot, she would resign and spare her country the ordeal that awaits it."  The moderate Philippine Star declared, "Arroyo should be left alone by both sides" and allowed to come to a decision "guided by her own conscience;" it suggested, "we should give her the benefit of the doubt that deep in her heart and foremost in her mind is our country's best interest."


Charter change 'would make our problems worse'--  Philippine media saw Arroyo's call for "Charter Change" during her State of the Nation address as a "tactic meant to divert attention from mounting calls for her to resign or be kicked out.  It's so patently obvious."  The center-left Philippine Daily Inquirer editorialized that "Charter Change" would "make our problems worse and spawn new ones....  Instead of buying the votes of ordinary voters, the PM wannabe would buy the votes of his fellow MPs...where would he get the money?  Where else but from our taxes?"  Germany's center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine agreed, "the Philippines are not suffering from their governmental system but the ruling elite....  It is not clear how a parliamentary system could change this."  One Philippine paper opined, "the legitimacy of [Arroyo's] mandate should first be settled decisively before she can push through with her reform agenda;" another proposed, "we should change the President, not the Constitution."


Prepared by Media Reaction Branch (202) 203-7888,


EDITOR:  Louis S. Dennig IV


EDITOR'S NOTE:  Media Reaction reporting conveys the spectrum of foreign press sentiment.  Posts select commentary to provide a representative picture of local editorial opinion.  Some commentary is taken directly from the Internet.  This report summarizes and interprets foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government.  This analysis was based on 45 reports from 10 countries over 13 July - 27 July, 2005.  Editorial excerpts are listed from the most recent date.




GERMANY:  "Missed The Heart Of The Problem"


Peter Sturm commented in center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine (7/26):  "If a powerful president asks for his or her own disempowerment, extraordinary circumstances must exist.  This is exactly what the Philippine President Arroyo has just done.  She said the presidential system stands in the way of the country's development and leads to instability.  When a Philippine head of state talks of instability, the leader refers to two rebellions, which have brought down two presidents in the past.  These revolts had nothing to do with an allegedly inefficient presidential system, but were a result of the rulers' shortcomings.  Arroyo missed the heart of the problem…. The Philippines are not suffering from their governmental system but the ruling elite, which clearly stands opposed to reforms.  It is not clear how a parliamentary system could change this."   


AUSTRIA: "Manila's Truth"


Foreign Affairs writer Markus Bernath noted in independent daily Der Standard (7/20):  "We'll soon know more about charges of election manipulation that have paralyzed the Philippines politically for weeks and hurt the President's reputation. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo now wants to pacify the citizens and disarm the aggressive senators by installing a truth commission. What is the commission supposed to find out though? (...) The political system on the archipelago with its 84 million inhabitants is not functioning. Almost 20 years after the enforced resignation of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, democracy has not progressed beyond its beginning stage. Seen from outside, it is a soap opera with aging movie heroes who want to be President and politicians that tearfully reveal the tale of their marriages; inside, however, the family clans from the Spanish-American colonial era that have been hanging on to power, election after election, govern coolly. No truth commission and no impeachment will bring forth new politicians, simply more awareness of the seriousness of the situation. That would be a beginning at least."


IRELAND:  "Coup Threat In The Philippines"


The center-left Irish Times editorialized (7/27):  "President Gloria Arroyo of the Philippines has diverted calls for her resignation and impeachment by a parliamentary manoeuvre, along with a call for reform of the political system by making it more responsive to citizen demands. She faces a political crisis arising from her election last year, having been accused of cheating, electoral corruption and betraying the trust of those who voted her into a second term. There is not sufficient support for an impeachment, while systemic reform appears quite unrealistic. This political vacuum could well be filled by a military coup or another round of people power if the impasse continues.…..Earlier this month she admitted being to blame for corruption and then suffered the humiliation of a mass resignation from her cabinet in protest. Yesterday it became obvious that there is little prospect of any breakthrough for a reform agenda. There is insufficient support in the lower house of parliament for an impeachment motion, while it faces a prolonged consideration in the senate…..In abstract terms Mrs Arroyo's proposals to shift power from the existing presidential system towards a parliamentary one make sense - if only they could attract support from the political elite. But their interests are well served by the present regime, in which there is little control over corrupt campaign contributions, slack party discipline and minimal accountability to the electorate. Mrs Arroyo went on to propose that a federal system would better serve the nation's interests. It would accommodate the rebellious southern provinces, facilitate decentralization and rebalance state finances. But again this would not suit existing entrenched interests - including the multinational companies controlling Philippine resources who prefer to deal with a compliant government in Manila. In these circumstances rumors of army coups and street movements to force through reforms look more plausible.”




AUSTRALIA:  "Philippines Needs A Political Overhaul"


An editorial in the business-oriented Australian Financial Review read (7/15):  "We should be very concerned by the political and economic decline of the Philippines, a nation of 85 million people widely viewed as the weak link in the war against terrorism in South-East Asia....  Arroyo was once the Philippines' best hope to cut its crippling budget deficit and foreign debt and bring some political maturity to a country in the habit of overthrowing its leaders. But she has lost moral authority and will forever be tainted by the allegations that she cheated her way to victory in last year's elections....  With no realistic alternative candidate, the least worst option for the Philippines right now is for Mrs. Arroyo to hang on a bit longer. She is willing to work with the West on counter-terrorism. As a U.S. trained economist, she at least understands the problem her country faces....  Arroyo must radically change her style and think seriously about how to overhaul the corrupt political system that has failed the Philippines for so long."


INDONESIA:  "President Arroyo Cornered"


Leading independent daily Kompas (7/27) commented: “Arroyo is seemingly getting  cornered  by the impeachment process on charges of corruption, bribery and fraud in the 2004 presidential elections… Speculations arise that Arroyo’s power will end tragically as befell to Estrada’s…  So far, indications for Arroyo’s fall are not so clear. Opposition must gain support from at least one-third of the 236 parliament members in order for the impeachment process to be discussed in the Senate and the Congress… But it can no longer be belittled that demands for Arroyo’s resignation outside the parliament’s organizational mechanism are getting more perilous. Massive protests against Arroyo’s leadership continue to increase. Moreover, people’s power has proven capable of ousting Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Joseph Estrada in 2001. Arroyo’s position is in serious jeopardy.”


"Arroyo’s Lesson"


The independent English-language Jakarta Post commented (7/13):  "In many ways Indonesia's road to democratic reform emulated that of the Philippines. We both replaced all-conquering autocrats, forced the downfall of elected presidents and proved just how strong 'people power' could be....  Both countries have learned also that despite the utopian notions of democracy, it is by itself no panacea for malignant cancers such as systemic corruption and other abuses of power. Hence it is no surprise that Indonesians are again watching carefully the latest political crisis faced by Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo....  Whether or not Arroyo deserves to be ousted is a judgment Filipinos will have to make. Nevertheless it is clear that she did enough to violate the public's trust....  We call on our elected heed the lessons of Arroyo's predicament.”


MALAYSIA:  "Arroyo's Choice"


Y.K. Choo observed in Petaling Jaya-based leading government-influenced Chinese-language Sin Chew Daily (7/14):  "Perhaps, even if [Philippine President Gloria Macapagal] Arroyo resigns now, the politically turbulent situation in the Philippines will not ease, but if she does not go, the situation can only get worse. If she deeply loves the Philippines, she should take the initiative to propose a solution acceptable to all sides when the situation has taken a turn for the better, so that she can save face, and also solve the political deadlock, but can she sacrifice personal interests for the country?"


"Arroyo's Situation More Perilous Day By Day"


Government-influenced Chinese-language Nanyang Siang Pau argued (7/14):  "Just when she is facing constantly growing calls for her to step down, Arroyo's advisers on 13 July still insisted that even if mass demonstrations increased to 500,000 people, Arroyo would definitely not resign. But her public support has fallen to 20 per cent, the people who want her to resign have reached 58 per cent, the Philippine economy is worsening, her current situation is already besiegement on all sides, and it looks as though even if Arroyo insists on not leaving, she can only play for time and her future is not optimistic."


PHILIPPINES:  "Chaos Just Got Worse"


Quezon City-based tabloid Bulgar editorialized (7/27):  "Rather than explain her side about the "Hello Garci" tape, the illegal numbers game and the impeachment complaint against her, Big Sister Glo [moniker for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo] instead advanced Charter change [popularized by local media as 'Cha cha'] in her State of the Nation Address at the reopening of Congress on 25 July.  Cha cha will require a long process, and will waste valuable time spent in debates instead of this period being productively applied to resolve our economic crisis.  We cannot halt the increase in the prices of our basic commodities, the flight of investors, the oil price hike and the rise in the cost of our basic services--electricity, water, tuition, toll fees, and transport fares!  The Cha cha would only be opposed by the majority in the Senate. Before it is approved, it would first go through a plebiscite and if the "NO" vote wins--billions of pesos would have gone to waste.  Amid the ongoing debates that ridicule our Constitution, some patriotic soldiers who believe that the Constitution should not be despoiled to fulfill the interests of dumb politicians may yet build themselves into a strong force.  If the military has kept quiet over their /commander in chief's/ lack of propriety, would they still remain silent while the Constitution, which they swore on oath to protect, is being raped right before their eyes?  Answer this!"




The top-circulation widely-read center-left Philippine Daily Inquirer noted (7/27): ”…The strain, today, is caused by a presidency with a legitimacy problem, and which refuses to address the problem. Instead, the President suggests, ‘It is time to turn to the people, bring them into government -- and change the way that government is done.’  That sentence bears out everything that is wrong with the President's speech, and with her attitude to the crisis….  What the President attempted to do was seek a way out, both for her and the party she now needs to rally to her defense. That wasn't statesmanship or vision, it was a plea bargain like you see in the movies: in exchange for what the authorities want, the guilty party settles for a shortened sentence….  while a significant portion of the public is morally convinced of her guilt, the President still has to be judged by the system….”




The independent Manila Times commented (7/27):  “For a head of state said to be fighting for her political survival, President Arroyo was definitely not clutching at straws when she delivered her fifth State of the Nation address last Monday….  President Arroyo should be commended for playing down partisan politics in her address. She has been calling for less political noise, and she would be violating her own call by adding to the noise. Indeed, the political crisis would not be determined on who could shout a decibel higher but by allowing the constitutional process to take over….  The President’s term will end in 2010 unless she is impeached. Until then, she is duty bound to discharge her duties and functions as head of state. She deserves praise for toiling on despite the barriers placed her way, hoping to lead a country that would later be united.”


"Looking For More"


The independent Manila Standard Today opined (7/27):  “Those among us who support the President were gratified to see her at the top of her form and displaying strong leadership during the last State of the Nation Address. Looking confident and determined, the President called for a shift from a presidential, unitary system to a federal, parliamentary system of government, a move clearly favored by the House of Representatives and the provincial, city and municipal officials who were in the gallery….  We also welcomed the President’s sincere call for unity and fully subscribe to the view that the economy should be spared the worst effects of political bickering….  We applaud the President’s declaration, too, that economic and fiscal reforms will continue, regardless of the political cost….  What we missed in the last Sona, however, was some indication of how all this ties in - if it does - to resolving the worst crisis in the President’s administration….  Many sectors of our society have lost their trust in her government, and it wouldn’t have hurt to address these concerns. Ignoring these issues may have made for a sharper speech, but it did little to rebuild trust. Perhaps the President should look at that, first.”


"Great Debate?"


The anti-administration Malaya editorialized  (7/27):  “Gloria Arroyo’s shameless pursuit of self-interest regardless of the people’s will is the most eloquent refutation of the proposal to shift to a parliamentary form of government....  Gloria wants to shift to a system where it would be easier to kick her out because she has lost the people’s trust and confidence. Why doesn’t she just resign and put an end to the current crisis? And why do her allies in the House not just promptly impeach her to mercifully put an end to her agony?  And that’s where the deceit comes in. Gloria, we suspect, doesn’t even care whatever form of government is in place. Charter change is a tactic meant to divert attention from mounting calls for her to resign or be kicked out.  It’s so patently obvious. No wonder nobody is taking up her challenge to a ‘great debate’ or a ‘cheap debate’ on charter change for that matter.”


"Buying Time"


Rina Jimenez-David commented in the widely read center-left Philippine Daily Inquirer (7/27):  "It was short, the shortest speech of her presidency, and was entirely in English. It was obvious the address was targeted to specific audiences: to the English-speaking business community and middle class, who obviously have yet to make up their minds on the current controversy besetting her administration; and to her supporters inside the Batasan [legislative building], who certainly appeared to like what they heard....  It began on a boastful, confident note, with the President sweeping through her administration's economic achievements. The middle-class fear of uncertainty and looming chaos was stoked, with Ms Arroyo calling for an end to "divisiveness," and for all to "limit the collateral damage on a country poised for takeoff.  Clearly, the President and her advisers saw no need to directly address the country's poor, who have shown little inclination in her four years in office to grant her their overwhelming support or even sympathy. The Sona was no longer an opportunity for widening her base, rather, it became a chance to solidify her shrinking constituency, to prevent any further dissipation of support.  If her support is dwindling, that would not have been obvious to the President last Monday afternoon, with administration legislators and local government executives interrupting her address more than 30 times with increasingly fervid rounds of applause and cheers, culminating in shouts of "G-M-A! G-M-A!"


The Presdient spoke of a country divided, of how we are living in "two countries under the same name."  Indeed, those two countries were in full display last Monday. One country was that lorded over by the political elite, the well-dressed perfumed crowd inside the Batasan session hall driven to near-hysteria by Ms Arroyo's overt support for Charter change. She pandered to their specific interests: the legislators' favored means of extending their terms through a shift to the parliamentary system, and local government executives' pet measure of federalism, which could only mean increased power and wealth in their hands.  It was as if President Arroyo and her allies lived in another country altogether, one where her basic mandate is not under question, and where she herself is not under indictment for what she accused "politicians" (who were very much in evidence at the hall) of doing: "straining the present political system to its final limit."  It was certainly a different country on display along Commonwealth, where a record crowd of protesters gathered to demand the truth about the "Garci" tapes, and accountability from our President. It was certainly a different country around the various urban centers, where transport strikes and protest actions persisted despite the rains.  The Sona may well have been President Arroyo's last chance to finally come clean. That she chose to appeal to a narrow band of the faithful instead of reaching out to those outside of the circle may well be the epitaph of her presidency.


"A Model Of Deception, Appeasement and Evasion"


Neal Cruz opined in the widely-read center-left Philippine Daily Inquirer (7/27):  "President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo may have failed in governance, but her speech before Congress last Monday showed that she has other talents. Her State of the Nation Address was a model of deception, appeasement and evasion. The speech was short (only 4.5 pages long), too short for her to tell many lies, but she still managed to tell enough of them.  Her first claim of achievement-that she created four million jobs in four years, as though that solves the unemployment problem-was an outright deception. She did not say that there are 13.5 million unemployed in the country and that their number is increasing by 500,000 a year. Make that claim of four million jobs to the hordes of workers looking for jobs and not finding any.  She said she built 30,000 new classrooms all over the country. How come the media keep showing students in dilapidated classrooms, 70 or more to a room, or holding classes without classrooms?


She said she is solving the fiscal crisis. How? Her solution is to squeeze more and more taxes from the people who already cannot make both ends meet. She did not say that she would reduce government spending and abolish the pork barrel. I presume the fiscal crisis includes the foreign debt, but she did not say how we are going to pay the gargantuan debt or why she borrowed more than the four previous presidents put together.  She said the Muslim rebellion in Mindanao is nearing a solution. But she did not mention that the talks to end the other rebellion -- that of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People's Army -- has stalled because the rebels do not trust her enough to talk to her and would rather wait for her successor.  She said she has ended the rash of kidnappings. But that is probably because there are no more rich people to kidnap.  If I am not mistaken, she must also have claimed building tens of thousands of homes for the homeless. If that is so, why are squatters increasing everywhere?


Malaca drumbeaters will make much of the fact that Ms Arroyo received 33 ovations from the audience. But that was because the Batasan (legislative building) was packed with "palakpak boys" (applause boys). The "hakot" (hauled-in) crowd was a cheering squad. The session hall was full of local government officials who have been trooping to Malaca to get their Christmas gifts in July. How can the government pay its debt when Malaca is spending the taxes it has yet to collect?  President Arroyo went to Congress not to give the true state of the nation but to appease the local officials and congressmen by saying what they wanted to hear. She said she favors a constituent assembly to change the Constitution and shift to a parliamentary-federalist government. Only a few months ago, she said she favored a constitutional convention, not a con-ass (what an ugly name that says where we should shove it), but now, true to form, she has again changed her mind.


And this is the most dangerous part. It shows that she is no longer running the government, that she is hostage to an ambitious old man. For that was not Ms Arroyo talking but Fidel Ramos. The announcement was met with howls of approval and a standing ovation from the congressmen and local officials, for that has been their fondest wish all these years....  Ms Arroyo and the congressmen behave as if a parliamentary government is the answer to all our problems. It is not. On the contrary, it would make our problems worse and spawn new ones. Graft and corruption would increase. Instead of buying the votes of ordinary voters, the PM wannabe would buy the votes of his fellow MPs, at millions of pesos per vote. Where would he get the money? Where else but from our taxes?


Because the MPs would also be the members of the Cabinet and dictate who should be appointed to the Supreme Court, you can readily see the danger. There would be no balance of power. The majority party has all the powers. The government would be run by only one gang. It would be like Ali Baba and 40,000 thieves running the government. That is why we should all fight Charter change.  Our problems were not caused by the present Constitution. It was caused by an inept president. We should change the President, not the Constitution....  We do not need more laws. We already have a surfeit of them and many are not being enforced anyway.  GMA evaded mentioning the burning issues of the day: the Garci tapes, the impeachment case, the "jueteng" illegal lottery payola, graft and corruption. Yet these were what the people wanted to hear. She did not say how she would nurse the economy back to health, just a passing mention that it was "about to take off." Take off and go where? She did not say. More likely to hell.  As expected, she again asked the people to unite and help her for a better future. But the people are already united in asking her to step down. And what future? She has no future. And while she is the President, the nation has no future, either. So why doesn't she help herself and spare herself all the aggravation by resigning?"


"Crashlanding, Not Takeoff"


Manila's Daily Tribune noted (7/27):  "Don't expect foreign investors to come rushing in after Gloria Arroyo's State of the Nation Address (Sona).  Neither should the country expect the international rating firms to suddenly give the country an upgrade after that Sona. Matter of fact, don't expect at all that the political turbulence would end after Gloria spoke Monday [25 July] before Congress.  Don't expect any of these because Gloria's Sona was absolutely empty of substance and devoid of an important economic, social and political roadmap and she also failed to stir the Filipino people.  Sure, she had a one-liner on her focus on economic reforms--no matter the cost to her, she claimed, but she said this long before and no one was excited by it. Why then would her lapdogs in business be so gung-ho on this meaningless phrase, especially as the whole Sona showed it was her political survival that comes first? She was, and obviously still is, focused on her political survival, no matter the cost to the nation and the country.....  Gloria made no mention of the fiscal crisis, which has certainly deteriorated since. Is she then indirectly saying the fiscal crisis and the bigger economic mess are over, as she claimed the country is "poised for a takeoff" save for the two political Philippines?  And even as she delivered her address and spoke of a parliamentary system, she bared no budget particulars, and how the proposed funds are to be allocated, and for what purposes in her government program. No mention was made of reforms to be instituted even in the Commission on Elections, or on revenue-raising plans to get the country out of the debt rut she put it in. Everything was focused on Cha-cha, which she knew would be music to the ears of both the congressmen and the local government executives. All she and her image handlers wanted to convey to the public at large was that she had fantastic support and was highly appreciated by them, and ensured that, at the end of her every sentence, she would be greeted by applause and standing ovation and this, even before she uttered one word.  Gloria said the country is poised for a takeoff. Wrong. It's poised for a crashlanding."




Ana Marie Pamintuan editorialized in the independent, moderate Philippine Star (7/27):  "You know the warning: be careful what you wish for; the heavens have a way of giving you what you want.  President Arroyo asked to be impeached, and the opposition is obliging her.  The House opposition failed to fast-track her impeachment the other day, getting just a little over half the required number of votes to send the impeachment complaint directly to the Senate. But that was just Round One.  Administration officials should avoid looking smug, since the opposition isn't giving up easily. Yesterday opposition congressmen announced they would resort to "creeping impeachment." That I guess is a literal translation of gapangan--something akin to guerrilla warfare, or fighting in closed quarters for impeachment votes.  The opposition is 38 votes shy of impeachment. The failure to muster the votes bought precious time for the administration to marshal its forces for the President's defense.  But the President will have to be impeached and the complaint must reach the Senate, which will pass judgment on her fate. If Filipinos aren't pouring out into the streets again to demand the President's resignation, it is because they are pinning their hopes for truth, justice and national catharsis on the impeachment process.  The process must be allowed to take its course. The President's survival will depend on the credibility of this process. President Arroyo must be aware that the legitimacy of her mandate should first be settled decisively before she can push through with her reform agenda.... Both sides must act responsibly in this impeachment. The opposition cannot present a half-baked case that can easily be quashed, and then accuse the administration of railroading the dismissal of what is in fact a weak complaint.  The administration, with its massive information machinery, must make it clear to the people that impeachment is not synonymous with the President's ouster, which is the picture you get from the way certain survey questions are phrased.... It also must be made clear that impeachment is a political process even as it follows certain judicial rules, which is why it doesn't matter whether senators are for or against the President's continued stay in power....  Instead of providing distraction through a truth commission, the administration should just focus on ensuring the credibility of the impeachment process....   The impeachment process must be credible, and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo must do her part in making this possible. Even if it could mean the end of her presidency."


"FVR Made GMA Strong"


Danny Macabuhay opined in Tagalog-language Philipino Star Ngayon (7/26):  "The waning of the calls and criticisms against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo [GMA] is noticeable. The voices of those who created noise and called for GMA's resignation have continually weakened. If there are some who persists on the resignation of GMA and file an impeachment case against her, these are almost unnoticed and not given importance.  It is GMA and her camp that are now loud. A mixture of humility and nice words is what GMA is sending in her statements. She repeatedly said that she would not resign. All she is asking for is that she be given a chance to show that she can lead the government well if her political enemies do not disturb her.  Many thought that she could not handle the criticisms from the different sectors that are demanding her resignation. Even the 10 members of her Cabinet and President Aquino asked her to resign.  Former President Fidel V. Ramos had done much for GMA. There was a report that GMA already wanted to heed the calls for her to resign, but she suddenly changed her mind after conversing with FVR.  GMA suddenly became optimistic and was perceived to be strong after FVR's statement came out that he has a plan for GMA. Anyhow, the idea was good and many already agreed to FVR's idea. However, nobody knows if GMA has decided and will wholeheartedly implement the contents of FVR's plan."


"State Of The Nation: No More Law"


Jarius Bondoc editorialized in Pilipino Star Ngayon (7/25):  "Politicians who belong to the opposition complained last Wednesday. They said that policemen blocked the buses and jeepneys that carried demonstrators in Makati. They claimed that this is a violation of the right to converge. But the fact of the matter is that policemen apprehended the public utility vehicles [PUVs] that were out of line that day. PUVs can only change route on Saturdays and Sundays.  The following Friday, demonstrators attacked an office of the Department of Agriculture in Elliptical Road, Quezon City. They broke a glass door and hurt the employees as part of the opposition's campaign to compel President Gloria Arroyo to step down. The policemen just watched. No case was filed against anyone. The opposition did not complain.  It has been more than a month and Arroyo still does not want to make a statement regarding the Gloria-gate tapes. The tapes supposedly contain her recorded conversations with Commission on Elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano at the height of the 2004 canvassing. If the President will pay attention to the tapes' issue, it is like agreeing to trample the law since wiretapping is supposed to be illegal. But there, Chavit Singson, an ally of President Arroyo, brought out a tape to counter the aforementioned tapes. In his tape, it is now Joseph Estrada who came out as an antagonist because of his plan to kill Arroyo....  That is what we find difficult about politicians -- pro-administration or opposition. For them, the law should only be enforced if it favors their personal interests, but should be violated if it is against their intention.  Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay closed the major streets for the anti-Arroyo rally. Will he also do it for the administration?  It was Mrs. Arroyo who started that practice. When a Reserve Officers Training Course [ROTC] cadet died in the University of Sto. Tomas, she stopped the implementation of ROTC nationwide. Now, some local officials are planning to secede from the Republic if she will be toppled. But she did not stop that direct violation of the law.  The state of the nation now: No more law, only politics.


"Right To Converge And Protest"


Tagalog-language Manila Abante noted (7/25):  "The government's overkill in intensifying and sabotaging threats of widespread anti-Gloria and anti-State of the Nation Address rallies today is no longer good.  All sorts of maneuvers were done just to break, lighten, and calm the boiling sentiment of the people that is expected to be unleashed today.  First, the alleged "kill plot" of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was brought into the open. This prompted the Philippine National Police [PNP] to advise groups that will stage rallies to protect their ranks from possible /infiltration/ from bad elements who intend to carry out the 'slay plot' and sow chaos.  It has also been said that there are Abu Sayyaf terrorists scattered in Metro Manila. Communist rebels were also being linked to 'terroristic plots' after they pulled out from the peace process of the Arroyo government as a way to trash the '/legitimacy/' of this administration.  The Young Officers Union (YOU) also issued last week a warning to the President if she will not step down.  Not contented with the massive propaganda threatening rally participants, today was also declared as 'special non-working holiday' so that the whole Metro Manila can listen to the important things that the President will say in her state-of-the-nation address (SONA). If there are no classes, the students will not have an excuse to go out of their houses to join rallies.  After deploying 15,000 policemen in the vicinity of the National Assembly Complex, other tight security measures are still being implemented for Arroyo's 5th SONA....  Armed with guns, long firearms, smoke gun, teargas, and water cannon, they even had a competition two days ago in Luneta. The PNP also warned arrogant protesters that they would arrest them.  Amidst these threats, everyone should keep in mind that every Filipino has a right to converge and protest. It is not right for anyone, most especially for those who are in power, to counter this with threat and sabotage.  Nevertheless, it is important to remain calm and that actions taken in whatever way and anytime should be within the law so as not to give the authorities a reason to use force against the rally participants.


"Opting For A Trial"


The top-circulation widely-read center-left Philippine Daily Inquirer commented (7/26):  “…If we were President Arroyo and her political allies, we would agree to an impeachment trial to put a closure to the nagging question about the truth about the ‘Garci tapes.’ The nation cannot be held forever in suspense while the economy suffers and political turmoil disrupts the people's daily lives.”


"A Heavy Burden"


An editorial in the moderate Philippine Star editorialized (7/26):  “Two things were set in motion yesterday: the impeachment of President Arroyo, and the amendment of the Constitution through a constituent assembly….  Since the start of the worst political crisis to hit the administration, Filipinos have shown reluctance to resort to the usual quick fixes of the past….  This time people are watching to see if constitutional processes could be a better way out of yet another political crisis.   This could be a heavy burden for lawmakers who are chronically shortsighted and full of themselves. The idea of wielding power responsibly is alien to many legislators, whose concept of their job is limited to matters pertaining to their pork barrel. The nation is in a sorry state, and the presidential impeachment and Charter change could lead to long-awaited drastic reforms. But handled in the usual irresponsible way by Congress, they could spell national disaster.”


"Taps for the Republic?"


The anti-administration Malaya  wrote (7/26):  “…Nothing was said about Gloria’s cheating in the 2004 elections and about her kin’s and her listeners’ corruption. Degenerate is too mild a word for a political system represented by Gloria and her supporters from the party of thieves. The word is perverted, with all its connotations, including a total loss of moral mooring.  The people are against a power grab from either the Left or the Right. But at the rate Gloria and her supporters are acting as if they have a divine right to cheat the people and plunder the nation, the citizenry might just welcome that option.  Do we hear Taps playing? It’s not only for Gloria but also for the Republic.  And we have this deeply troubling suspicion we already know who will be revealed when Reveille is called at dawn."


"Let's Look For Reasons To Be Hopeful"


Quezon City Kabayan opined (7/26):  "President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's State of the Nation Address (SONA) yesterday highlighted the positive developments in the economic front and pointed out many reasons for Filipinos to be more hopeful about the future.  Many, especially opposition politicians, would not agree to the figures and the forecasts given by President Arroyo. But if we will be honest to ourselves, there is no denying that some positive developments indeed took place during the first phase of President Arroyo's economic reform program.  And this is primarily the reason why many business groups are reluctant to seek her resignation.  Of course, it is another story that President Arroyo's SONA appeared to be another attempt to quell the snowballing movement to oust her from the presidency.  But then the future of the Filipinos does not depend on the fate of President Arroyo's presidency. The political and economic future of our nation basically depends on how swiftly, peaceful and lawful that we can end this political crisis."


"A Challenge To The President To Regain The Initiative"


Amando Doronila wrote in the widely-read center-left Philippine Daily Inquirer (7/25):  "President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo delivers today her State of the Nation Address (SONA) in a tempestuous political atmosphere that contrasts starkly with the euphoric mood in which she launched her second presidency a year ago.... In today's SONA, Ms Arroyo is bunkered in Malaca and she has refused to be browbeaten by pressure from her adversaries demanding her resignation. The conflict has defined the tone and theme of SONA -- political survival....  At stake in the confrontation is not only regime survival but, in a larger sense, that of a democratic constitutional system whose resilience to mediate political conflict is being sorely pushed to the limit. The imperative of political survival sidelines concerns over economic disruption due to political instability.... Ms Arroyo faces the hostility of a large segment of the nation, seething with political unrest.  Although she was elected with a margin of 1.3 million votes in the May 2004 election over her closest rival, she faces the threat of impeachment in Congress over allegations that she cheated in the balloting.  She delivers her speech after surviving a near collapse of her administration on July 7 following the defection of 10 of her senior officials as well as the intervention by civil society leaders -- including former President Corazon Aquino -- and the President's erstwhile allies in the business community.  The impeachment threat looms as the darkest storm cloud hovering over the embattled administration although Ms Arroyo has survived demands for her resignation, which have now seemed to have lost steam after the politically influential Roman Catholic Church slammed the brakes on the resignation drive.  There is heightened public interest in how the President can use the SONA as a bully pulpit to lift the siege of demands for her resignation....  There is rising public concern that the conflict over how the President would be unseated could lead to extra-constitutional solutions, including another people power, and worst of all military intervention to break the stalemate....  There is fear that the next legislative agenda will be dominated by the crisis, setting aside new legislative initiatives directed at strengthening the economy."




Al Pedroche opined in Pilipino Star Ngayon (7/25):  "Based on the Constitution, if the President will be removed from her post for whatever reason, the vice president will take over. But why is it that many Filipinos do not like Vice President Noli De Castro to succeed President Arroyo if ever the latter is ousted? Why?  Many believed that they both cheated (President and Vice President). It is as if the cheating was done "wholesale" -- buy one take one. That remains to be proven. However, just like what we have always been saying, public perception weighs more in politics.  For example, a friend of mine said that he believes that the President and Vice President were helping each other in cheating. Because in the "Hello Garci" tape, Commission on Elections Commissioner Garcillano himself mentioned the name of De Castro's lawyer, Romulo Makalintal, while talking to the President regarding election fraud.  Many are also convinced by the evidences presented by former Sen. Loren Legarda, like the election returns from Pampanga and Cebu wherein only one and the same person made it, based on the handwriting in the /spurious documents/.  The revelation of Sen. John Osme recently that President Arroyo's votes in Cebu were padded by 400,000 adds up to the conviction. Is this a dirty political tactic? But Loren's and Osmer's evidences coincide with the contents of the "Hello Garci" tape.  One of the reasons why many do not like De Castro is the possibility that he will give preferential treatment to the businesses of the Lopezes when he sits as President.  If De Castro's victory is unstained, how come the delaying tactics carried out against the protest lodged before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal by Loren Legarda, his opponent in the election, is overwhelming?


"A Catastrophe In The Minds Of The Defeated Pols!"


Bobit S. Avila opined in the moderate Phillipine Star (7/25):  "When Sen. Panfilo "Ping" Lacson delivered his "True State of the Nation Address," he said that the reign of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was "catastrophic" for the country. Indeed, President Arroyo's election victory was catastrophic for the losers of that presidential elections and since people like Ping refuse to accept defeat (who was it who said that in this country there are no losers... only winners and those who were cheated?) with honor, the only recourse left for them is to discredit President Arroyo. For sure, they're doing a great job in that.  But like what we've been saying all along, the problem with the people who want President Arroyo out is they do not check what's going on in the rest of the Philippines. If there was a catastrophe in Metro Manila, I'm sorry to tell them that there's none here in Cebu and I was in Mindanao last month and I didn't see any catastrophe there either. No doubt, the catastrophe is in the minds of those defeated candidates like Ping. I'm sorry for them....  So now we can expect innocent blood to flow once more in the countryside, thanks to people like Joma Sison and his ilk who complain that the CPP-NPA has been tagged as international terrorists. But aren't they? If one conducts an armed struggle killing and pillaging villages from Utrecht, what is it then? As we've learned from the recent bombings in London, terrorism continues to be a worldwide threat and since the CPP-NPA is considered an international terrorist organization, it is time for the Philippine government to demand from the Dutch government to take positive steps in removing from their comfort zones people like Joma Sison who wage a remotely controlled war from their shores.


"Impeachment Viewed As A Trap"


Jarius Bondoc opined in Pilipino Star Ngayon (7/22):  "The impeachment complaint against President Gloria Arroyo over cheating in the election was filed by Oliver Lozano, lawyer of Joseph Estrada and Fernando Poe, Jr. This was polished by Rep. Ronaldo Zamora, member of the opposition who topped a bar examination. And Rep. Joey Salceda, adviser of Mrs. Arroyo, himself admitted that the impeachment complaint will progress in the House of Representatives and they have help from the Senate.  But still, in the view of House Minority Leader Francis Escudero, the impeachment is just a trap. Why is it?  Certainly, since Escudero, who is a lawyer, knows that the wiretapped tape is inadmissible as evidence of cheating. Wiretapping is illegal unless ordered by a court. The Gloria-gate tape is clearly not ordered by a court, but by a soldier. And no one wants to admit responsibility for wiretapping because the consequence is imprisonment.  Impeachment is a legal and political process. The participants at the House and Senate may disregard the legality of the trial, but they will find it difficult to disregard the rules of evidences and rules of court. And among these rules is that an illegally wiretapped tape is not acceptable.  Escudero can slip through if he uses the wiretap tape not as evidence, but only as lead to gather evidence. If he will examine every line of the transcript, he can look into some leads as to which precincts Mrs. Arroyo cheated.  This already happened -- in Joseph Estrada's impeachment last 2000. He was prosecuted in the House for accepting a 530-million-peso illegal numbers game payoff and for robbing 130 million pesos from tobacco taxes. But for the then Rep. Joker Arroyo, chief of congressmen-prosecutors, the case was weak. All were just rumors by Chavit Singson and his supporters. But Joker persisted in researching. He came to know about a bank account under the Jose Velarde alias where Estrada deposited money. Clarissa Ocampo and Manuel Surato came out to prove Estrada's signature.  In the end, Mrs. Arroyo's case will proceed through working, not through talking.


"The Lifesaver, Bow!"


Manila Abante editorialized (7/22):  "The government will release 1 billion pesos in order to save the pre-need industry and to supposedly help the policy holders who are victims.  We do not know where this move is heading for. There is no clear result. What is only clear to us is the intention. This is again a new lifesaver, and an expensive lifesaver at that . . . 1-billion-peso lifesaver.  Why a lifesaver? In the eyes of the critics and the opposition, this is again a new propaganda. There is no depth. There is no legitimate concern to the sector that will benefit from this because what is only in the government's mind is to recreate the image of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. For beauty purposes, so to speak!  Can the public be blamed if this is always their impression and reaction to the good programs of the Arroyo government? From the very beginning, there is already a problem in the people's perception of Arroyo. She leaves an impression of being insincere or, frankly speaking, a fake. It appears that behind her smile in front of a camera is her natural churlishness. Like a celebrity who has two faces -- one who is sweet in front of a camera but actually a snob if there are no press people around.  Even her job and programs are always doubted. When she does a good thing, everybody doubts right away, "what is again her intention?"  In fact, who does not like this decision? We have plenty of countrymen who are victims of pre-need firms. These are college education plans and pension plans that are paid in installments. Pre-need firms are having a hard time meeting their obligations now because of huge losses.  If the action is sincere and there is no other political intention or image-building for Arroyo, this is adorable. But because it is suspicious, especially the timing, we cannot be totally happy.  Another thing, we all know that our nation's coffer is empty. There is even a need to impose high taxes on us. And then now they will release 1 billion pesos right away for the industry?  Should not food and new jobs be prioritized first if and when government has this money since they are more basic?  According to Sen. Ramon Magsaysay, the government again is spending 1 billion pesos unwisely to save Arroyo. It even looks like this money will reach nowhere because in College Assurance Plan alone, the problem already reaches 15 billion pesos.


"A Shot At The Truth"


Widely read center-left Philippine Daily Inquirer commented (7/22):  "Depending on one's point of view, the country either has an emerging consensus or an ever-deepening confusion over the establishment of a "Truth Commission" to determine the nature and veracity of the accusations against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in connection with her victory in the 2004 election. Consensus because the truth agency has, after all, been suggested by respected sectors such as the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, University of Santo Tomas and Bishops-Businessmen's Conference. Confusion because there are questions about the commission's composition, conduct and powers.  Perhaps the first question is whether what the President has in mind is in fact what the bishops had in mind when they mentioned the possibility of a Truth Commission to get to the bottom of the issues hounding the presidency. Malaca has said it's more predisposed to call the commission a fact-finding one...or in the language of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) statement, "ferret out the truth, establish culpability, and impose sanctions and restitution." Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales said as much in his pastoral letter: "Those who seek forgiveness should be ready to be called to accountability.


Of course, legal experts have cited possible legal obstacles to its functions. But none of them has reasonably argued that establishing the body is against the Constitution or the law....  The President herself has indicated she would support an impeachment process so she could clear herself. And judging by the numbers she can muster in Congress, she might yet have her cake and eat it too. So does she still need to humor the bishops and Catholic universities by agreeing to a Truth Commission? Why risk her political fortunes by going along with the commission proposal?  Some of her critics warn that the commission may be a ploy to escape accountability if she resorts to dictating its conclusions and recommendations. The best insurance against that is to have the commission established independently of Malaca. The bishops would like to have an "independent" inquiry....  Former President Fidel Ramos said the Truth Commission would only contribute to the confusion and the uncertainty of the country, after noting that the impeachment proceeding would already be problematic. But the fact is that politics and politicking have only worsened the country's instability. And impeachment, as what we have experienced during the trial of President Joseph Estrada, is a thoroughly political process that would hardly stabilize the nation, much less establish the truth."


"One Shot"


Widely read center-left Philippine Daily Inquirer opined (7/21):  "The opposition is preparing up to 10 criminal charges, including electoral fraud and graft and corruption, against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Opposition lawmakers, assisted by private lawyers, are scrambling to gather evidence, line up witnesses and prepare the charges to be included in the impeachment complaint they will file in the House of Representatives immediately after Ms Arroyo delivers her State of the Nation Address at the opening of the session on Monday. "Our charges against her would revolve around the crimes of cheating, lying and stealing," said House Minority Leader Francis Escudero.  Impressive? Maybe yes -- to an impressionable public. But though it may be useful to marshal a whole array of allegations and charges to win the battle for public opinion, such a shotgun approach is really unnecessary, counterproductive and dilatory if the objective is to impeach Ms Arroyo and strip her of the presidency quickly. In an impeachment case, it doesn't matter whether the accused is found guilty of one crime or a dozen ones. Either way, all the punishment she will suffer is the loss of her high office.  One well-prepared, well-supported and well-argued case is all it takes to achieve this objective, so it's a waste of time and effort to file so many other charges that may prove hard to substantiate in the end. If the opposition wants to have an early resolution of this crisis, it should dispense with pyrotechnics, like filing so many charges, and focus on a couple or at most, a handful that can be built into solid cases.  Ironically, the more promising ones may not even directly involve the allegation that triggered the crisis -- electoral fraud -- since the most damaging proof of that available now is an illegal wiretap which cannot be used in legal proceedings. But there are some constitutional experts, Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J., among them, who say that just talking to an election official (which the President has publicly admitted) at such a critical time, already constitutes betrayal of public trust."


"Ready For Impeachment"


Independent, moderate The Philippine Star noted (7/21):  "With President Arroyo herself expressing readiness to be impeached, the process is gaining ground at the House of Representatives. As the joint opening session of Congress approaches, impeachment becomes more certain. Filipinos themselves appear open to allowing the current political crisis to be resolved the long, hard way – not through the President's outright resignation, but by subjecting her to the impeachment process.  Filipinos' memories of another presidential impeachment are still fresh, and the lessons learned from that case must be used by lawmakers as they prepare to satisfy a nation's thirst for truth. The public may not be as ready this time to gather at EDSA again for yet another show of people power on perceptions that presidential allies are suppressing evidence. But the consequences of turning the impeachment process into just another congressional circus could have dire consequences for the nation.


The basis for impeachment must be clearly established and grounded in law rather than the usual political hyperventilation. Each complaint must be clearly presented to a nation that is showing uncharacteristic patience and willingness to suspend judgment before all the facts are in. This process cannot rely on a case haphazardly put together by some publicity-hungry lawyer or politician in search of his 15 minutes of fame.  If the case reaches the Senate, the inordinate number of clowns in that chamber should have the good sense to stay in the sidelines while their competent colleagues tackle this matter of grave concern to the future of the nation. The chamber must be in firm control; it must never tolerate insulting behavior from witnesses or their grandstanding lawyers. But respect is also earned, not demanded, and senators must not give anyone an excuse to insult the chamber.  Once again the nation is pinning its hopes on the legislature to get the nation out of a sticky situation. The process failed the last time, and it led to a regime change so messy the nation is still reaping the consequences. This time lawmakers must know what to do. Both sides must present their cases clearly and behave responsibly. It's not just the fate of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at stake here. It's the fate of the nation."


"Whose Truth?"


Alex Magno, President Arroyo's political adviser editorialized in independent, moderate The Philippine Star (7/21):  "What exactly is the truth we want?  When the so-called "Garci tapes" first materialized, and the Palace refused to dignify the wiretapped material, the demand arose for a "Truth Commission". The idea was originally inspired by a body of the same name organized in South Africa to look into the sins of apartheid.  In the South African case, the institution of a Truth Commission was perfectly justified. The subject of inquiry was a dehumanizing social and political arrangement that persisted for decades and that could be removed only after the sacrifice of many lives and the incredible heroism of those who justly believed all men are created equal regardless of race, color or creed. There was a rich, complex story that needed to be told with all the courage that telling it required.  In contrast, the matter of the tapes is ultimately petty. It might be symptomatic of the decay that eats deeply into our civic culture. But that decay does not seem the matter of interest for those who want only lurid detail or some more fodder for partisan controversy.  When the President admitted to the conversations and apologized for the "lapse in judgment", the original inspiration for establishing a truth commission seems to have vanished....  If the purpose is to look into the wiretapping incident, this should be a matter our law enforcement agencies should be very well equipped to do. At any rate, there is always the venue of a congressional hearing on the matter – although this has, we have seen, tended to degenerate into a carnival for grandstanding.  If the purpose is to look into possible electoral fraud and, indeed, the validity of the President's mandate, then that would trespass into the constitutionally defined turf of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.  If the purpose is to check into the health of our electoral democracy, then that will have to be the academic lifework of our political scientists.  If the purpose is to look into possible breaches of public trust, then this is properly the concern of our legislators who will preside over the anticipated impeachment proceedings at the House of Representatives and, maybe, the Senate sitting as an impeachment court....  The fact that a truth commission becomes necessary to appease factional demands and satisfy public curiosity is a sad commentary on the level of trust our institutions now command. If none of our existing institutional mechanisms command trust that they will spring truth from confusion, and if ad hoc commissions need to be formed whenever controversies of every sort break out, our democracy is not truly healthy.


"The Truth, And Nothing But..."


Independent, moderate The Philippine Star commented (7/20):  "Following a suggestion of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, President Arroyo announced yesterday that a truth commission would be formed to determine if she rigged the votes to win the presidency last year.  "Some quarters immediately raised fears that the truth commission could create confusion by duplicating the functions of other bodies such as Congress, the judiciary and law enforcement agencies that may handle the scandal that has implicated the President and a former election official in poll fraud.  But given the glacial pace of judicial investigation in this country and the political grandstanding that often cripples the legislature, a truth commission could help speed up the resolution of this crisis.  Success will depend on several factors. The commission must be composed of individuals known for probity and impartiality in the ongoing political scandals. If they are to show any bias, it should be for institutions rather than individuals. There must be members who are knowledgeable in the Constitution and the law.  The commission must have the power to subpoena records and individuals, and the power to penalize anyone who ignores an order from the commission. If every person who faces the commission merely keeps his mouth shut, invoking his right against self-incrimination and demanding that the controversy be settled in court, this will be an exercise in futility.  The work of the commission must complement rather than impede the impeachment process, which grows more certain as the opening of Congress approaches. The findings of the truth commission must lead to accountability and contribute to justice.  A deadline must be set for the commission to complete its work. Those pushing for the creation of the commission argue that it can speed up resolution of the allegations against the President and reduce the instability generated by unresolved political scandals.  Finally, even if its own survival is on the line, the administration must give its full support to the commission. The President insists she did not cheat her way to victory and she wants the truth out. People will see through any attempt to turn the truth commission into a whitewash. The President must guarantee her full cooperation if she is sincere in presenting the truth.


"Get It Right"


The widely-read center-left Philippine Daily Inquirer editorialized (7/20):  "This week, by its own admission, the political opposition marks a make-or-break period in crafting credible articles of impeachment against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The week also marks a period of preparation for the majority coalition in Congress to determine in what manner it will handle the charges. After attempts to impeach Presidents Elpidio Quirino, Diosdado Macapagal and Ferdinand Marcos, more generous rules in the present Constitution finally made possible the trial of Joseph Estrada in the Senate. However, that exercise was, at best, half-baked.  This time around, no side can claim ignorance. There are clear lessons from the Estrada impeachment. On the part of the House of Representatives, the lessons are that ad hoc charges are not the way to go, and that the prosecution cannot afford to appear bumbling and amateurish. On the part of the Senate and the defense, the profoundly political nature of impeachment came as a shock to both defense lawyers and the senators, who were unaccustomed to their more serious role as jurors (in a country that doesn't have a jury system except for impeachment) and more interested in being judges, in an exercise in which the entire nation decided to be juror, too. The biggest demonstration of the flawed understanding our senators possessed at the time, was the question of the second envelope.  The senators were keener on being judges than on being jurors. Instead of referring the matter to the only active judge among them, Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., they decided to brazen out the question as a matter of political muscle. The disastrous consequences showed that the senators who triumphed on a minor point possessed a lack of understanding of the fine balance between fair play and politics required of them at the time. It was shortsighted law, and self-defeating politics.  In no small part due to the diminished intellectual caliber of the present Senate, its handling of an impeachment trial could lead to a more pleasant silence on the part of many of them, or even more vicious snarling and glaring. The fear of public revulsion is being put forward as an argument for expecting sobriety from our senators. We wonder how such an expectation can be put forward after seeing the recent Senate hearings on the "jueteng [illegal numbers game]" illegal lottery.  The overwhelming majority, we believe, have demonstrated a preference for constitutionally ordained procedures to prevail. There can be no finer demonstration of how deeply Filipinos have imbibed the democratic way of life. The problem is that in a political culture where self-restraint is a vanishing virtue, our elected representatives from both Houses of Congress aren't exactly known for understanding the term. And yet, despite all the skepticism and criticism they regularly face, an impeachment is really our representatives' finest moment: an entire society trusts them to do what is right, in the right way, despite every reason to assume the contrary.  And so we remind Congress: Even knaves can be heroes. Let us see heroes, for once....


Yesterday the President suddenly sent a letter to the bishops, saying she was open to having some sort of fact-finding commission. This, after she set up the entire political establishment to fight it out in an impeachment.


So what will it be? Does the President suspect she cannot successfully fend off an impeachment, so now, she wants to buy time by creating a commission whose mandate is not clearly spelled out, and whose composition is still up in the air? The sincerity of this letter is beside the point; for it has introduced instability into a situation that was, only now, showing signs of a predictable method for resolving it.


The commission idea was floated as a means to stave off a worsening crisis. However, the crisis is here, and not least because of the President's refusal to take an active part in clearing her name through such a body. When she herself managed to control the situation by arguing for impeachment, here she comes now piously pleading for a commission. Where was she when the idea made the most sense?


Now the country faces the possibility of two bodies -- the Senate and a yet-to-be-constituted body -- determining the same things. Divide and conquer?


"Confession Of Weakness"


Amando Doronila editorialized in widely read center-left Philippine Daily Inquirer (7/20):  "The statement last July 10 of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is a carefully crafted and delicately balanced document that put the Catholic Church in the Philippines at the fulcrum of contending demands arising from the current political turmoil.  The bishops' stand and pastoral role in crisis is spelled out in Paragraph 7, which says: "We declare our prayerfully discerned collective decision that we do not demand her resignation." They balanced this with the statement that said, "Yet, neither do we encourage her simply to dismiss such a call from others."  This statement steered the Church clear of what the bishops called "the welter of conflicting opinions and positions." It said the bishops' role "is not to point out a specific political option or a package of options as the Gospel choice, especially so when an option might be grounded merely on an speculative and highly controvertible basis." It added, "In the present situation, we believe that no single concrete option regarding President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo can claim to be the only one demanded by the Gospel."  In spurning the calls for resignation, the bishops did not yield to the passion from the streets lusting for the head of the President, on the basis of conversations in the tapes purporting to show that she allegedly cheated in the 2004 elections. This statement urges a cautionary approach to the contents of the tapes that have fueled the resignation demand-an option that "might be grounded merely on speculative and highly controvertible basis." Unlike the herd that has taken to the streets, after making rash judgments on the basis of evidence provided by the tapes, the bishops preferred to take a more prudent course.


As subsequent developments show, the bishops' middle-ground statement has, in effect, calmed the hysteria in the streets from developing into a lynching or a witch-hunt not unlike the one launched in the United States by Joseph McCarthy that smeared many people, including intellectuals, as "communists and fellow-travelers" on the basis of hearsay evidence collected by the overzealous anti-communist agents of J. Edgar Hoover's Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Thus, we have today a clamor for decapitation of a regime on the basis of controvertible evidence mounted by elements in society, who have appointed themselves the moral guardians of political rectitude with nothing more solid to buttress their action than their own conclusion that crimes against the Constitution have been committed, even before the side of those they accuse of breaching the Constitution has been heard.  It is a cardinal principle of fairness and justice, under the rule of law, that before any one is sent to the gallows the person, charged with an breaking the law, has a right to be heard and to defend himself or herself, and that a bill of particulars has to be presented. In the furor over the tapes, the public has not been given the benefit of specifying particular acts that are impeachable....  Before anyone can make a moral judgment of right or wrong on a pubic issue, it has to be shown the person accused has broken the law. Unless this is established, no one has the right make a moral judgment of wrongdoing in public office or lose of moral ascendancy. 


"Too Legit To Quit"


Robert Basilio Jr. wrote in the independent Manila Times (7/15):  "A week ago, various Arroyo Cabinet officials, including the core members of her economic team, resigned from their positions and asked the President to step down, in what appeared to be the most damaging political move ever to land on her lap.  As expected, the demand was conveniently ignored....  Calls for her resignation...gave her the chance to make history by being the first President ever to step down.  But she missed her chance....  Arroyo said that she intended to stay in Malacañang for the length of her term....  Like her followers, Arroyo believed that she still remains fit to rule....  To this day, Arroyo remains lucky to have finished her first term....  Her luck—or what remains of it—has held up so far....  If anything, the mass exodus from the Arroyo cabinet only woke up a fractured opposition and enabled what appeared to be the biggest demonstration so far, which demanded Mrs. Arroyo’s resignation.  Unfortunately, despite the huge turnout in Makati last Wednesday, the opposition failed to get its act together. And it might just be too late if and when it does."


"Preserving Our Democratic Institutions"


Jose C. Sison noted in the independent, moderate Philippine Star (7/15):  "It is just as well that Arroyo stood her ground and stuck to her post at the height of the most serious challenge to her rule last week....  Some may look at it as a manifestation of an inordinate desire to cling to power or of being deaf and oblivious to the overwhelming calls for her to quit....  But the decision to sacrifice for our country’s sake is hers and hers alone....  Any external pressure or force employed in arriving at that decision is contrary to the rule of law. If she succumbed to the mounting demand and quit her post, then her resignation is not valid and constitutional....  For all we know, this idea of quitting has already crossed the mind and heart of Arroyo.  But because of the incessant calls for her to step down, she realizes that doing so would only bring more chaos and instability to our country....  But just as the calls for her resignation should stop, so should appeals for her to remain in power be discontinued....  Arroyo should be left alone by both sides and allowed to make her decision guided by her own conscience. Let’s just give her the benefit of the doubt that deep in her heart and foremost in her mind is our country’s best interest....  She should likewise caution her partisans not to use inflammatory language...and conducting surveillance in anti-government rallies and organizing counterpart rallies with bigger crowds. These are all counter-productive as they are divisive. They lead to nothing but more strife and bitter recriminations.  Of course the anti-government rallies and the clamor for her resignation are likewise counter-productive and detrimental....  Arroyo should therefore concentrate and properly address for the truth on the audio tapes implicating her in an attempt to fix the results of the last election as well as the involvement of her family in the jueteng payola. Arroyo must see to it that there is a fair and expeditious process in arriving at a satisfactory and convincing conclusion to these raging issues that brought us into this crisis.  Otherwise, she might find herself staring at the same exit taken by the late US President Nixon."


"The Noli Factor"


The widely-read center-left Philippine Daily Inquirer editorialized (7/15):  "Vice President Noli de Castro may yet become the pivot in the crisis besieging the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo....  If the President is booted out of office, the constitutional mantle will pass on to him....  The prospect may be discomfiting to thinking Filipinos....  But the fact that a big majority of Filipinos are willing to have De Castro take over the reins of government only shows that they are committed to resolving the crisis within the bounds of the Constitution. It shows that people are repelled by calls to resolve the crisis by means that undermine our constitutional foundations....  .  The calls are diverse, but they amount to the same thing: extra-constitutional jabs that could only worsen rather than remedy the problem....  What all of these calls presuppose is a constitutional order that is a shambles....  As for the so-called 'progressive' bishops, there's a quixotic dimension in their initiative....  Since the group is envisioned to screen applicants for the highest government positions, it is nothing more than a talent search committee. Which may be well and good, but from where will the committee derive its authority?....  Is it within the competence of bishops and priests to run government or dictate how it is run?  All of these questions crop up because denying the succession and transition provided by the Constitution creates a black hole of ifs and buts, of trial and error, of hits and misses. It's a power vacuum that adventurists and interlopers will be eager to fill."


"Backed By A Solid Wall"


Ruther Batuigas asserted in Tagalog-language Quezon City-based tabloid Bulgar (7/15):  "If we compare her to a hospital patient...the recovery made by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as though from a surgery was really quick....  But, my friends, do you know what gave Big Sister Glo the inner strength not to be overcome by the calls for her to resign?....  It was the declaration by former President Fidel V. Ramos [FVR] of his full support for her. Which is why no matter how much she was heckled by the opposition and by many other groups to step down, it did not faze Big Sister Glo.  And do you know why, until now, our very reliable informants strongly believe that GMA will not be ousted?  Because whether her enemies admit it or not, the full support of the U.S. is still with Big Sister Glo....  The evil plans of leftist groups and Muslim extremists to sow terror during last week's opposition rally did not succeed. Their schemes were foiled by the very tight monitoring made by the police and soldiers dispatched to the site.  Let us commend them!  Until now, the issue as to who is really qualified to take over if President Arroyo resigns or quits has remained murky.  Many have expressed their disapproval of Vice President Noli de Castro to replace Big Sister Glo. Even the proposal made by certain quarters to set up a revolutionary government has also drawn much resistance.  But former President Ramos' proposal to give Big Sister Glo another chance until the system of government is changed and becomes parliamentary has attracted support from many.  Stay tuned!"


SINGAPORE:  "Church, State In Manila"


The pro-government Straits Times stated (7/15):  "It appears that Mrs. Arroyo will be able to weather the crisis sparked by allegations of vote rigging and accusations against her husband, son and brother-in-law. To be sure, these allegations must be settled. But this should be done through the law of the land, as befits a democracy. Now, with the influential Catholic Church pressed to abstain its hand from politics, the chances are much greater that this can happen....  The Vatican's insistence that they render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's is to be welcomed. No doubt, the Church does good work. But priests are not politicians. And it is improper for clerics to use the authority of the altar to attempt political change. It is a curious thing that the attraction of street politics has grown even as democratic institutions were being rebuilt after the fall of Marcos. Part of the reason is the moral force the Church lent people-power movements. Looking ahead, democratic institutions cannot grow under the threat of continual 'revolutions'. Admittedly, Mrs. Arroyo contributed to the temptation towards street politics through the way she initially reached the presidency. But her election last year should be seen as a break from the past. If there are questions surrounding this, there are proper channels through which this can be tested. She has already expressed willingness to proceed this way. The country needs the stability that comes from the predictable outcomes of due process. Now with the Church's return to its spiritual foundation, protests cannot anymore hope for its imprimatur. Hopefully, this will lessen calls for every political dispute to be settled by feet on the march."


"Need For Political Reform In Manila"


The pro-government business-oriented Business Times opined (7/15):  "President Gloria Arroyo will need to pursue constitutional reform if she is to pull her country out of the quagmire it now finds itself in, as a result of the latest political crisis in what was once one of Asia's richest countries. Mrs. Arroyo is not the first Philippine leader to face calls for her ouster.  It has been that way ever since mass protests and a military rebellion brought down the dictator Ferdinand Marcos....  Clearly, the business of government has been considerably impaired by these crises. What is it about the country that makes it vulnerable to such political convulsions? At the core is the presidential system implanted by American colonialists that exacerbates some of the worst traits of a feudal society. Without the discipline of proper party structures which might provide a tested means for a succession in the event one is needed, the current system has proven woefully inadequate. It has clearly failed to provide the country with the kind of political stability its weak fiscal position desperately needs....  In the meantime, Mrs. Arroyo has bought some time for herself after Mr. Ramos gave her his support and the influential Catholic Church remained silent at a weekend bishops' conclave....  If Mrs. Arroyo survives the impeachment process, the street protests peter out and she remains in a position to serve out her term, she would do well to spend the remaining years of her presidency working to find a more permanent solution to the country's deep-rooted political problems."


THAILAND: "Arroyo Must Not Cave In To Mob"


Top-circulation, moderately-conservative English-language Bangkok Post editorialized (7/25):  “But the street demonstrations being arrayed today against Mrs. Arroyo are a far cry from the 1986 protests that brought down Marcos, and then ousted corrupt president Joseph Estrada to make Mrs. Arroyo president in 2001.  In the first place, they are entirely partisan.  The left-led demonstrations against Mrs. Arroyo began on July 13, when fewer than 40,000 protesters heeded a call for a million demonstrators.  Five days later, Mrs. Arroyo's supporters staged a larger demonstration to back her decision to refuse to resign.  Today's protest will be third in what has become a match of the mobs…. Last year's election was close, and almost voted in the late actor Ferdinand Poe Jr., whose lack of ability was evident.  Mrs. Arroyo, as even her opponents admit, is the best qualified politician near the top of the administration.  Still, if her opponents believe she broke the law, they can institute impeachment and other legal charges.  If the Philippines is a democracy, it will leave Mrs. Arroyo in office until she is convicted of a crime or finishes her term in 2010.”


“No Worries”


Pseudonymous Zoom Lens commented in mass-appeal Daily News (7/15):  “Having Arroyo as the Philippine leader is a great comfort for the U.S. in its war against terrorist networks in Southeast Asia.  That Al-Qaeda has its arm in this region called JI is today a known fact.  Now the only thing left is to approach the Indonesian leader, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, which shouldn’t be too difficult if the national trade-offs are satisfactory.  It would not be unusual if Arroyo and her aides have extensive consultations with the U.S. on the reshuffle of senior officials in the armed and police forces to ensure support for their power.”





BARBADOS:  "On Government Corruption"


Gwynne Dyer opined in the Barbados Advocate (7/22):  "Only one political gaffe has a higher embarassment quotient(than a junior Brazilian official caught at an airport with $100,000 stuffed in his underwear):  being tape-recorded on the phone to a senior electorial official as the votes are being counted, asking him to boost your total...(Philippine President Gloria Macapagal) Arroyo's office immediately released the tape of her election day conversation with election commissioner Victoriano Garcellano together with an explanation that it involved 'the illegal bugging and subsequent electronic doctoring, alteration and revision of that conversation so as to introduce elements that were not really there....  At the very least Arroyo made the call.  She has publicly apologised for her 'lapse of judgement.' but for a candidate to call up an election official in the middle of the count is not just a lapse of judgement; it is, in political (terms) a hanging offense.  Yet is is the Philippines, not arroyo that will probably be left hanging....  Trying to steal the presidency, which is the crime she is widely suspected of committing, is more serious than just trying to grease the skids to get some legislation through Congress.  Moreover, constitutional order is a lot less stable in the Phiippines, which has seen two presidents romoved by street protests in the past twenty years.  But the likeliest outcome is that Arroyo will hang on in office, widely discredited and fighting off endless impeachment proceedings in Congress, while her country's economy and politics both go into a steep decline.  'Lapse of judgement' or deliberate bid to corrupt the election process - it scarcely matters at this point.  If she were a patriot, she would resign and spare her country the ordeal that awaits it."




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