POSTSCRIPT / January 25, 2001 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Don’t leave ‘7-11’ loose ends flapping in the wind

IF the legal loose ends of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s hurried ascension to the presidency were left flapping in the wind, the misimpression that she was installed by People Power and not by a constitutional process of succession could be carried over as historical fact.

To concede that the basis of her presidency is mainly People Power, an idea being nursed to preeminence by the Left and coincidentally by Estrada stragglers, is dangerous.

If there was People Power I in 1986 and a People Power II last week — both of which installed a revolutionary president — the future is left wide open for a third People Power and then a fourth, a fifth, and then another….

Even now, some key participants of People Power II have pulled back from the mainstream to resume their self-imposed assignment as guardians poised to spill into EDSA and oust the sitting president if and when provoked.

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MUST we allow due process to be replaced by duress, or the threat of mass action, as the corrective mechanism for bad government?

A throbbing mass of a million warm bodies at EDSA and a half million in various plazas in the provinces, impressive as they are, are not necessarily the “We, the sovereign Filipino people” speaking in the preamble of our Constitution.

Neither can we extrapolate a mass rally of EDSA proportions to become the binding and ultimate reiteration of the declaration in Section 1 of Article II that “Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.”

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PRESIDENT Arroyo need not be bothered by the feeble attempts of Joseph Ejercito Estrada to cast legal doubt on the legitimacy of her presidency. But her lawyers should attend to this challenge with dispatch.

The ousted president is claiming that under Section 11, Article VII, of the Constitution (or what Cory Aquino called the “7-11” option) GMA was installed only as Acting President when Mr. Estrada stepped down upon realizing his inability to govern.

The implications are that (1) Mr. Estrada could still take back the presidency whenever he says he is able to do the job again, and (2) being president still, although on leave, he enjoys immunity from suit.

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THE camp of GMA should not show irritation or anger over the “7-11” option being raised. Instead, what GMA should do is press for the speedy resolution of the legal question by the Supreme Court.

We cannot shoo away the ghost of the Estrada administration by pretending it’s not there. Neither can we exorcise it by issuing press releases and discussing it ad nauseam over the radio and TV.

Somebody should file a case so the issues could be joined. The Supreme Court should be given a chance to hear the parties and hand down a formal and final ruling, not a press release, that would lay the firm constitutional basis for GMA’s ascension to the presidency.

With all the justices having supported GMA’s installation, there is no doubt as to the eventual verdict of the high court.

Let’s move the debate to the courtroom and toss the now irrelevant Mr. Estrada to where he belongs — the kangkungan — by giving short shrift to a petition regarding the legitimacy of the Arroyo presidency.

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WE want to see the same swift action that the Department of Justice under Secretary Nani Perez displayed when he ordered the freezing of questioned bank accounts of Estrada et al. and their being barred from leaving the country.

Similarly gratifying was the order of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, issued by a brave second-liner, for the Citibank branch in Greenhills to freeze Estrada funds deposited with it.

By this time, we should have learned our lesson. We should not commit again the same colossal blunder of allowing the Marcos big fish to get away (and come back to snap at us). Our net is again heavy with big fish. They should not get away this time.

The weak of heart among us should be reminded that prosecution is not persecution. And it’s not vengeance, but justice.

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ON the stalled impeachment trial, we agree that the hearing be resumed — not really to seek a final verdict of guilt or innocence, but just to formally close it.

Having developed the “Two O’clock” habit of tuning in to the televised hearing, we admit missing it. But the show cannot go on.

The issue of the guilt or innocence of the accused has been rendered moot and academic by the quick turn of recent events. Besides, how can the trial go on when there is no more impeached president to try?

Like the question over the legality of GMA’s installation, the status of the impeachment trial must not be left hanging. There are these administrative chores of history that must be attended to with dispatch.

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WE heard MMDA chairman Jojo Binay on radio yesterday expressing surprise over his impending removal from the Metro Manila Development Authority. Just the other day, he was happily telling whoever cared to listen that GMA had directed him to stay.

Since our UP Vanguard days, we have known Binay to be a good soldier. He gets an order and he does it. The commander-in-chief had ordered him to remove within a week the mounds of garbage dotting the capital, and he was busily doing that when told to pack up.

In his excitement when first told to stay, Binay failed to catch the “in the meantime” appended in parentheses to the order. Being a soldier and a politician, he should know that a commander under siege feels safer surrounded by her own lieutenants.

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IN her first day in office, President Arroyo said that she did not want to disturb the bureaucracy by the wanton uprooting of executives. In fact, she told some Estrada appointees to stick around while her search committee cast around for possible replacements.

Looking at those still on the job, we think GMA can safely retain Labor Secretary Benny Laguesma and Agriculture Secretary Ding Panganiban. They have proved their results-oriented professionalism and stayed long enough in the bureaucracy to qualify as career executives.

As for Dick Gordon, who was given the tourism portfolio, we think he should be shipped back to the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority to continue unfinished business.

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RAUL Roco, the only senator named to the Cabinet so far, has found a perfect platform in the education department for pursuing his presidential dream. He is actually on a collision course with GMA, who will run for president in 2004, but it’s too early for both of them to worry in advance.

Maybe Roco should not take his oath until the impeachment trial in the Senate is formally closed. Anything could happen and every vote counts in the chamber crawling with Erap’s crabs.

Once the impeachment distraction is out of the way, one of the senators from the South can be appointed Vice President. Among the three equally capable bets for the No. 2 post, we see Franklin Drilon as the best choice for being the least inclined to upstage GMA.

Sen. Serge Osmeña (the better Osmeña in the chamber) is not prominently mentioned, but he would make a good Vice President for GMA, in fact good enough for grooming for the presidency in 2008.

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OH yes, we heard somebody with the same accusatory accent as Sen. Miriam Santiago noting that her nomination to a United Nations human rights agency was now in peril. She thought aloud that the new administration would withdraw her nomination.

GMA need not bother, one way or the other, with Miriam’s delusions. The government should neither endorse nor withdraw her nomination. If she wins the UN seat, which we heard is somewhere in dark Africa, we can let Miriam go.

We cannot be more Junnish than Jun Santiago, Miriam’s bitter half, who we heard is actively endorsing the wife’s candidacy.

* * *

LEHMAN Brothers based in New York describes the Philippines under the new management of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as “on the brink of a turnaround.”

Lehman Brothers’ sovereign research analyst Robin A. Gvozden said the installation of a new president gave a new lease of life to the country, both politically and economically. He said the new situation has “a chance to reverse the steady decline in perceptions of Philippine sovereign credit risk.”

He noted in particular President Arroyo’s pledge of “leadership by example,” saying that nothing will stimulate foreign investor interest in the Philippines as much as a demonstration of the new administration’s ability to pursue legislative and administrative reforms.

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GVOZDEN gave three factors why the Arroyo administration has the opportunity to turn the economy around and impress foreign investors:

  1. The chronic fiscal revenue underperformance that has widened the budget deficit for the past two years is still manageable by international standards.
  2. Arroyo’s first Cabinet appointment, Alberto Romulo as finance secretary, sends a strong message that economic affairs will be given priority in the new administration.
  3. None of the credit rating agencies have changed their country rating on the Philippines since before the outbreak of the Asian financial crisis.

Gvozden sees a current account surplus worth around 9 percent of the gross domestic product in 2000, which “would allow the economy to accommodate a large fiscal deficit without requiring a proportional level of external borrowing.”

Lehman Brothers expects the current account surplus to shrink in 2001 but remain at a healthy 5 percent of GDP.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 25, 2001)

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