Richard S. Solis
The Arroyo Court and Beyond
Outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (PGMA) seems to tighten her hold to power as June 30, 2010 (turn-over date to her successor) approaches. Her last minute appointment of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court after the overwhelming mandate given by the Filipino voters to Senator Noynoy Aquino as the new President of the country, points to her favor in case there will be electoral disputes and delayed proclamation of the new President and Vice-President. The Philippine Constitution says that the Supreme Court can function as Presidential Electoral Tribunal when the abovementioned situation does occur. PGMA is making sure that Supreme Court is and will be her Court because she has made sure that the two most senior Associate Justices, who are well-known critics of her administration and who did not make themselves available during the selection process for the new Chief Justice after the retirement of Chief Justice Reynato Puno last May 17, 2010 because they strongly believe together with almost sixty percent (60%) of the people of the Philippines that it is morally and common sensically correct that the new elected President has the right to appoint the next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The two most senior Associate Justices including the newly retired Chief Justice have been left holding an empty bag. It is very difficult to understand why the newly retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno has to give in to the unconstitutional and unethical move of PGMA more so that he (retired Chief Justice) has started the formation of the Moral Force Recovery in the country. But when he himself was confronted with a moral or even constitutional question of whether to give in or stand against the immoral action of PGMA, he became legally and morally impotent. In fact, he wanted to make the newly elected President recognize the Arroyo appointed Chief Justice. He (Puno) has delivered the Supreme Court to the Arroyo camp in a silver platter.
After the swearing in of Renato Corona as Chief Justice last May 17, 2010, it is as if signaled a new phase of conflict between the new Arroyo Chief Justice and the newly elected President while safely distancing GMA from the controversy she has created. And in a very unprecedented manner in the history of the Philippine Supreme Court, the new Chief Justice has to appear to media to explain many things which he wants to tell to the people that he is not an Arroyo’s lackey and he and the Supreme Court can be a good partner of the President and the Executive and not its enemy. The media offensive had lasted for three days because the more the former Arroyo spokesperson and chief of staff and the newly appointed Chief Justice tried to explain about his being independent of the outgoing President, the more people are convinced to believe the opposite.
National Canvassing to Proclaim or For Protests?
Last week, the Senate and the House of Representatives have met to start their Constitutional function as National Board of Canvassers but they have been bogged down because of several glitches on the conduct of the first automatic elections. Suddenly, the candidates, many of them belonging to the ruling Party of Arroyo camp and almost all of them have lost in the last elections, have surfaced and claimed that they were cheated by their opponents. Many have brought with them masked and unmasked witnesses to prove their allegations of being cheated but all of them did not report to proper authorities of the so-called attempts by these people to cheat for them with huge amounts of money as payment. And worst, they (belonging to the ruling Party) could have made them get arrested because such offer to cheat is a serious crime against the democratic process of the country or any civilized country for that matter. That is why, it is understandable and best for the country that these people have not won otherwise they will victimized once again the people of their transactional politics placing always paramount importance for their own interests above the peoples’.
The canvassing has been further bogged down because the lawmakers who comprised the National Board of Canvassers (NBC) have requested the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) and the automatic election contractor (SMARTMATIC) to educate them how the Precinct Count Optical Scanning (PCOS) machines work out (a pre-elections activity). But what is worst is that the leadership body of the NBC (Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives) has given attention to this request which is beyond the NBC works. The complains about cheatings should be addressed to the proper venue not to the NBC. And to make the people believe that the NBC has been doing their job while they are doing this pre-election testing on automatic elections, they started to canvass those votes manually done especially from the Overseas Absentee Voters (OAV) but soon they will begin to be confronted by the reality of canvassing the votes done in the automated manner.
Meanwhile, the level of people’s apprehension has become very highly agitated and can be transformed into street actions anytime whether the NBC can finish this Constitutional function before June 30, 2010, which is a question in progress or it can be a political disaster.
Governing beyond June 30, 2010
Meanwhile, the GMA camp has continued to make midnight appointments which when challenged, they (GMA) will have the ready answer of claiming that the appointments were made in March 9, 2010 for March 10, 2010 is the day which starts the 2-month period where the Constitution bans the outgoing President to make any appointment before the elections of May 10, 2010. And those who have been re-appointed or whose terms have been extended are with fixed term – which means that the Constitution defines the number of years of their office. A case in point here is the re-appointment of the Chair of Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) and its four Commissioners for another year. PAGCOR is the third highest source of revenues of the government after Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and Bureau of Customs and the term of its Chair and its four Commissioners is renewed yearly. It will be constitutionally or legally difficult for the new Administration to remove them from office unless it starts the complicated impeachment process.
Another midnight move of the Arroyo camp is to sell the precious jewelries of the former First Lady Imelda Marcos worth several millions of dollars. The Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) tasked to recover the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses and is the custodian of the recovered jewelries of the Marcoses, has been in the process of getting an updated appraisal of the ill-gotten jewelries when they were exposed to the public. The GMA camp was so embarrassed of this exposé that it has ordered the PCGG to stop the selling of the Marcos’ jewelries.
And as if not to be outdone, Arroyo’s favorite Defense Secretary and the concurrent National Security Adviser has ordered the purchase of arms and ammunitions and equipment for the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). The 300Billions of pesos worth of these hardwares are hastenly ordered (given that Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales has only few months in office) that the processes could have been shortcut and just like in the past, the quality of the purchase will be affected and the lives and limbs of the rank and file of the AFP will be at stake and the taxes of the people will be wasted. At present, Memorandum of Agreement has been signed by the Philippines and five (5) countries about the purchase.
The international community has been delivering a clear message to the Arroyo camp that it is closely following the whole processes of the Philippine politics from the automatic elections, the clear deliberate delay in the canvassing and the danger of continuous midnight political appointments which have been affecting the political and economic stability of the country and the international interests therein.
Almost all the ambassadors or representatives from the major countries with diplomatic relationships with the Philippines have intentionally forgotten diplomatic protocols and have paid visits to Senator Noynoy Aquino in his family residence.
The diplomatic visits have been meant to tell the Arroyo camp that as far as their (International community) countries are concerned, they know already who have won in the May 2010 elections and are ready to recognize the new government with or without the Congress through its National Board of Canvassers finish their canvassing and declare winners for the Presidency and Vice-Presidency.
Even in the sequence of the visits is not accidental but based on their country’s economic and political interests in the country. The visits were triggered by the Ambassador of China, Spain and the United States of America not necessarily by order of their interest and the country’s importance given to them.
The Arroyo camp and its allies in Congress, the Judiciary as well as in the Executive have been trying to cover up their tracks through Constitutional protections or sheer political blackmailing while buying their time to hold on to power up to the last minute of June 30, 2010 and beyond.
A peace offering or a trojan horse
They (Arroyo camp) have initiated moves to deliver message to the incoming President and his administration that they can give a smooth transition if they will be no prosecution of GMA and her family. For instance, Mrs. Arroyo and her husband (Mike Arroyo) have been cleared (for several times already) by the Ombudsman from corruption charges regarding the National Broadband Network (NBN) while giving go signal for filing a case against her former allies namely: Secretary Romulo Neri – the former National Economic Development Administration (NEDA) and currently the President of Social Security System (SSS) and former Commission on Election (COMELEC) Chairperson Benjamin Abalos, Sr.
This is a clear answer of the GMA camp to the campaign promise of Senator Noynoy Aquino of fighting through prosecuting corrupt government officials that GMA and her allies have laid down political blockages and landmines through the re-appointment of the Ombudsman, Merceditas Guttierez (closely identified with Mike Arroyo) and the recent controversial appointment of Chief Justice Reynato Corona in the Supreme Court, which will be the final Arbiter of cases filed against Mrs. Arroyo and her family after June 30, 2010.
Another move by the Arroyo camp which should be understood in the same framework is the granting of temporary release order of Brigadier General Danilo Lim, the former commander of the elite Scout Rangers of the Army and who ran as senator in the May 2010 elections under the Liberal Party under Senator Noynoy Aquino. General Lim (a West Point Academy graduate) joined other democratic forces in making a demand for GMA’s resignation as President after the “Hello Garci” scandal but who placed number 15 (out of 12 senators) in the recent senatorial race in May 2010. The act of temporary release (he posted bail of P200,000.00) of General Lim is a peace offering of GMA and the AFP Chief of Staff Delfin Bangit to Senator Noynoy Aquino in order to retain the latter in his position and to maintain GMA’s favored general as head of AFP. This is best understood in the context where President apparent Noynoy Aquino made mention of possibly retaining Director General Jesus Verzosa, the current head of the Philippine National Police (PNP) until he retires in December 2010. And there is a talk coming from the camp of Senator Noynoy Aquino that General Bangit will be replaced by an officer not identified with the Arroyo camp.
Meanwhile, the other message from what has been happening to the delayed results of the National Canvassing in Congress is that, the new automated form of a democratic exercise of freely choosing the rightful leaders of the country can be put to nothing if the existing system (political and economic) will be unchanged. Foremost of these will be the existing warlords and the transactional methods of politics in all levels in the political structures of the government.. Nothing will happen in any democratic exercise if corruption in all its forms cannot be greatly minimized if not annihilated. And nothing can be achieved even with the new popular President in place if nothing can be done to address the ever intensifying poverty situation of more than fifty (50%) percent of the country’s population. This is especially so that the Arroyo government is leaving behind almost 300billions of budget deficit out from P1.4Trillion 2010 National Budget, where P280Billion is the estimated amount that will be lost to corruption this year.
And one month before the Arroyo administration is leaving her office, its financial experts have already given their advice to the next Administration that a new round of taxes should be collected in order to weather the economic and financial difficulties ahead. They (Arroyo camp) are proposing to increase the new expanded Value-Added Tax from 12.5% to 15%. A surest move if followed by the new Administration of becoming unpopular in starting its governance. And this move is suggested by the Arroyo camp after boasting that in the second quarter, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has increased to 7.3%. Everybody knows that such increase in the GDP is mainly caused by the heavy spending during the recent synchronized local and national elections and the increased of the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) remittances for their families because of the graduation and the enrolment needs during the abovementioned period. It has nothing to do with the improvement of the quality of lives of the peoples in the country nor a reflection of an ability of the outgoing Administration of managing the country’s economy well.
To govern means to build
Meanwhile, the incoming government of Senator and President=elect Noynoy Aquino has started to form his government. This early, it has been known that aside from his close friend and legal adviser Paquito Ochoa, the old names and recycled personalities have cropped up as possible Cabinet members of the Aquino Administration like Dinky Soliman, Secretary of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) under the Arroyo Administration and is being asked to be in the same position under the Aquino Administration and Ging Deles, a Secretary of the Office of the Presidential Adviser of the Peace Process (OPAPP) under the Arroyo Administration but like Dinky had resigned during the “Hello Garci” scandal and is being asked to the same position by the Aquino Administration. But the people just hope that these recycled personalities will have genuine, vibrant and people-centered programs this time around.
During this period, it can already be felt the possible rivalries between the different groups which helped Senator Noynoy Aquino in the campaign in terms of Cabinet positionings which can affect the functioning of the new government in addressing and implementing programs which the Aquino government has promised during the elections. The danger for these groups of going after political positions for themselves rather than formulating people-centered program of government will always be present in the new government. Such dynamics, the new government can less afford while confronting the various and complicated scenario and problems erected and established by the outgoing Administration.
The consolidation of gains for effective formulation and implementation of laws supportive of the Executive programs should be given utmost priority at this period.
The dynamics and issues regarding the elections and selections of the leadership of both the Senate and the House of Representatives should be resolved and unity and consolidation of the Liberal Party (LP) and its broad Party Coalition should be developed.
The power and influence of the Executive (President) over the purse or the allocation of every lawmaker (in both houses) have been made by the Arroyo camp difficult to the next administration by inserting Section 67 in the 2010 General Appropriations Act where each lawmaker can automatically access their so-called Projects Countrywide Development Fund (PDAP) or the “pork barrel” without the Executive intervention. Aside from the phrase “subject to availability of funds” it seems that the incoming Administration will not have the same privileged positions as the outgoing administration to decide to give or not to give the PDAF, hence, total control of lawmakers who want to avail their PDAF. This proactive move of the Arroyo camp is to neutralize the use of pork barrel in choosing the next Speaker or the Senate President and remove the equity of the incumbent administration.
And even if the Aquino administration will get the Speakership of the House and the Senate Presidency, the numbers of the lawmakers like 30% can easily be maintained by Representative Gloria M. Arroyo. This number is enough to pass the impeachment process from the Lower House to the Senate for the Impeachment of President Noynoy Aquino.
This is the ultimate safety valve for the Arroyo camp to keep hostage the Aquino Administration every time it initiates the prosecution of Representative Gloria Arroyo and her family.
This is a sure assurance for difficult thing ahead for the new Aquino Administration.
Senator Noynoy Aquino has won the Presidency with a very wide margin of votes from its nearest rival mainly through people power which was clearly manifested last May 10, 2010, it will only be through people power that he and his government can survive from all the seemingly insurmountable and complicated conflicts and problems left behind by the “scorned earth” policy of the most unpopular President that the country ever had.