POSTSCRIPT / November 7, 2000 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Opportunists sneaking onto GMA’s wagon?

POLITICS is addition all right, but must Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo welcome all those shady characters deserting a bleeding Erap Estrada and scrambling onto her bandwagon?

Even from a distance, we cringe at the sight of known slick operators and opportunists sidling up to Arroyo now that she appears, to them, to be on her way to Malacañang.

These characters would destroy her administration, in the event she becomes the President, much in the same manner that the deadly combination of cronies and concubines destroyed Erap in two short years.

* * *

EVEN now, the people are watching with alarm, some with amusement, the vultures hovering over Arroyo as she gathers all anti-Erap forces under her wing.

Individuals linked to scandals in the Aquino and Ramos administrations are suddenly visible solicitously looking after Arroyo. We can imagine some of them whispering tips polished to perfection from their past money-making capers.

It is not difficult to imagine that some of these operators are plotting to ingratiate themselves to the incoming administration and establish points of influence.

As she is concerned with starting off with the right foot, not to mention the right impression, she should tell the scum of past administrations to back off.

* * *

THERE is another clutch of opportunists whom our colleague Mentong Laurel calls “Bantay-salakay.” We paraphrase his warning against them:

Some Ayala Avenue business clubs have called for the resignation of the President. They claim that allegations of illegal gambling payoffs to Malacañang have “created a leadership crisis that would bring worsening economic hardships, especially for the poor.”

Of course, we do not expect them to admit that they are the ones speculating against the peso, bringing about the hardships that they hope to topple Estrada with. At the center of this group are the Makati Business Club (MBC), the Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF) and the Financial Executives Institute (Finex) of the Philippines.

* * *

LAUREL said: “The MBC is the core of the comprador class, agents of Western transnational companies. In the Foundation for Economic Freedom are the professional economists who cannot earn a living on their own. They go around begging for foreign grants, scholarships and consultancies from the international financial institutions, like the IMF, World Bank, Western academic institutions and the subsidiaries of all these — to peddle “free trade,” liberalization, deregulation and privatization like snake oil. The Finex is the collection of the country’s biggest traders in the money, currency and stock markets — a.k.a speculators.

“It is most ironic that these people are fashioning themselves as the guardians of the nation’s financial and monetary health… As they pounce on the peso, they reap the windfall from the devaluation by buying and hoarding dollars. When the Bangko Sentral raises interest rates on Treasury Bills, they buy those bills and double their money. Then they go about sanctimoniously blaming every national economic woe on government.”

* * *

THERE were a number of developments yesterday that President Estrada may grab to shore up his precarious position. One was the dramatic appreciation of the peso to P48 to the US dollar from the previous week’s P51.

This unusual big jump, if followed by the continued improvement of the peso’s health, could create a psychological situation that would enable Erap to buy more time to stay in office and salvage the economy.

This week will give a preview of how political developments would affect the value of the peso and other economic indicators, including the performance of the stock market.

* * *

ANOTHER item is the report of the Social Weather Stations that, contrary to the impression propagated by the media, 44 percent of Filipinos of voting age want President Estrada to stay versus 29 percent who want him to resign as a consequence of the charges of Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis “Chavit” Singson.

The SWS survey, conducted Oct. 26-30 among 1,200 respondents randomly selected, also showed that only 20 percent of respondents were sure the Singson charges were true. Fifty percent said they were not sure if the charges were true, while 14 percent said they were sure the charges were not true.

The SWS survey results are being questioned by members of upscale economic sectors in the urban centers exposed to the media.

* * *

BUT whether reliable or not, the survey findings are expected to be seized by Erap as proof that the charges being leveled against him are being fanned by what he called the Makati-based “elite.”

This, in turn, can firm up his resolve not to resign as demanded by the United Opposition and the business community and a substantial sector of the middle class.

The decision yesterday of the House committee on justice to toss to the entire chamber the impeachment charges for endorsement to the Senate for trial hews to the line of Erap that everybody should just await the outcome of the impeachment trial in the Senate.

* * *

THE pressure is now on each of the 22 senators to make a stand according to conscience without regard for partisan and personal considerations. At least 15 votes, or two-thirds of the Senate membership, are needed to convict the President. As of yesterday, 13 senators are seen disposed to voting for conviction.

The opposition is banking on the possible change of heart of the remaining nine pro-Erap senators in the same way that the administration coalition in the House crumbled in the face of mounting anti-Erap public sentiments.

While only 73 (one third of the 118 members of the House) votes are needed to elevate impeachment charges to the Senate, 78 congressmen signed the impeachment charge sheet by the time the justice committee endorsed it to the chamber yesterday.

* * *

WHILE Erap vehemently ruled out resignation and asked that the impeachment process be allowed to take its normal course, we raised the possibility of his availing himself of Article VII, Section 11, of the Constitution providing for the President’s possibly going on a leave of absence.

Lawyer Leonard de Vera, former spokesman of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, explained that this section does not refer to the President’s going on vacation for medical reasons or physical disability.

This section, also called “7-11” by former President Aquino who first broached it as one of Erap’s options, says: “Whenever the President transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of this office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as acting President… Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall reassume the powers and duties of his office.”

* * *

DE VERA said the charter does not prohibit the President to go on leave. He pointed out that Section 11 simply uses the word “unable” (to discharge the powers and duties of his office). Nowhere does it say that the inability of the President to discharge his duties is due to medical or physical disability.

He recalled the legal principle “where the language of the law is plain and simple and makes no distinction,” we should not distinguish. We should not strain, he said, to read into the word “unable” something not found in it such as to suggest that it is for medical disability only.

He said that the disability referred to may be “for reasons of mental, emotional, spiritual need, or simply for purposes of taking a prolonged period of rest or meditation to relieve himself of tremendous stress and strain.”

De Vera added that the President may also choose to “go on a period of religious retreat to collect his thoughts and examine his conscience, or to diffuse the present mounting discontent and distrust of the people on the President.”

* * *

THE President’s taking a leave of absence is the “more immediate solution and the middle-ground approach” given the rising political and economic climate in the country, de Vera said.

Due to compelling national interest, the President could, by his own choice, go on a short period of a leave of absence or as soon as the Senate investigation on the Singson charges are completed, and allow the Vice President to temporarily act as president.”

Hopefully, this move would diffuse the mounting discontent and distrust of the people on the President; and rebuild the faith of those in the business sector. By this move, the Chief Executive would give assurance that he would not tamper with the investigation against him.

By going on a temporary leave of absence instead of resigning outright, the President keeps the door open to his returning and reassuming his powers and duties.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 7, 2000)

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