POSTSCRIPT / December 8, 2002 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Power blocs’ infighting leaves GMA bloodied

DE VENECIA FORMULA: Nobody quarrels with national unity, with having a variety of political persuasions helping shape national policy.

But the proposal of Speaker Jose de Venecia for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to form a “government of unity” by appointing representatives of the political opposition, and even extremists and secessionists to the Cabinet, is a bit far out.

And Joe de V wants this political chopsuey cooked in 90 days! We don’t know if President Arroyo has the appetite for that, but we think she is being offered a recipe for political constipation.

While it sounds good in theory, the De Venecia proposal for “national unity” will not work in the real world.

The simple reason is that, at this point when President Arroyo seems to be losing her grip, the opposition cannot be expected to enter in good faith into a modus vivendi that will salvage her administration and boost her chances in the 2004 presidential elections.

That’s just the political opposition. Then try calling in also the extremists — rightists and leftists — not to mention the anarchists. These groups are salivating for an invitation to join the Cabinet and find ways to advance their own agenda once inside.

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JDV TO RUN GOV’T?: If President Arroyo cannot even whip into line her present Cabinet and rein in the influence peddlers around her, the less likely she will be able to control a Cabinet stocked with political activists and oppositionists who do not really believe in her and would not want to see her administration succeed.

Maybe the only way, if there is any way at all, the De Venecia formula will work is for the President to install the Speaker as chief of the Cabinet who will run the government under some form of parliamentary setup.

We won’t be surprised if the Speaker has been waiting for an opening to whisper to the President that he could make the supreme sacrifice of taking on the difficult job of running the government for her.

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VICIOUS INFIGHTING: Another survey has just confirmed the continuing slide of the Arroyo administration.

Among the reasons why the administration’s approval rating continues to sink is that there are at least three factions fighting for supremacy in the Palace, and apparently the President is unable to rein them in for a “unified” administration.

The De Venecia proposal will just worsen the rift and the in-fighting in the Cabinet.

Even the problem of Justice Secretary Hernando Perez can be traced to the machinations of one power bloc whose core is a cabal of lawyers who want to grab the justice portfolio and spread their influence in the justice system.

While these lawyers have no love lost for Rep. Mark Jimenez, who has accused Perez of extorting $2 million from him, they are just using the Manila congressman to shame the secretary into resigning or for the President into firing him.

President Arroyo is caught in the crossfire as Perez and his allies fight back.

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LOYALTY CHECK: We think a loyalty check among the people orbiting round GMA and her husband is long overdue.

Using the Perez case as illustration, we sense that the lawyers’ bloc is bombarding Perez not really to help President Arroyo clean up her Cabinet, but to replace him with one of their own.

And based on everything we know about this group, we think that their loyalty is not really to President Arroyo but to themselves as a power fulcrum.

While this power bloc is waiting for the day when they can maneuver one of their own as president, they work hard to firm up their influence whoever is the sitting president.

Meanwhile, this power bloc uses influence to place its chosen operators in key posts in the three branches of government.

When GMA leaves Malacanang, you can be sure this group will still be around trying to control whoever is the next president — in the way that they had captured some Chief Executives before GMA.

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GMA SPLATTERED: As is expected, Perez fights back with everything he’s got. In the process President Arroyo necessarily gets bloodied as the political shrapnel flying around hit her and her husband First Gentleman Mike Arroyo.

Add to this the grievance of other Cabinet members and Arroyo loyalists who feel they have been victims also of a vicious power play. The overall picture that emerges is one of disarray within the core of the Arroyo team.

For her to salvage whatever is left of her administration, GMA must act quickly (the 90-day period suggested by De Venecia is too long) and decisively to cut and cast away whoever has been slowing down her administration and giving it bad marks in opinion surveys.

A big problem is, god forbid!, if one or two pressure groups have been able to compromise the President or her husband in some moments of weakness or carelessness.

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CANADA ADVISORY: Most readers know only that Canada and one or two other countries posted advisories to their citizens not to travel to the Philippines because it is unsafe to stray into these parts.

Here, from the Canadian government website itself are excerpts of that advisory. We are printing these quotes to give Filipino readers an idea of what they said about us. Read on:

“Canadians should not travel to the Philippines until further notice. The Canadian embassy in Manila is temporarily closed to the public due to credible and specific information regarding a terrorist threat against it. Essential services, including emergency consular assistance, will continue to be provided.

“Canadians in the Philippines should not travel to Puerto Galera, located on Mindoro, the Sulu archipelago (Basilan, Jolo/Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi) and the following provinces/cities on Mindanao: Maguindanao; North Cotabato; Lanao del Sur; Lanao del Norte, including Iligan City; Sultan Kudarat, including the municipality of Palembang; South Cotabato province, including General Santos City; Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga City; and Zamboanga del Norte.

“Canadians should carefully review travel plans to rural areas adjacent to Davao City. Where possible, seek advice from trusted local contacts prior to travel.

“Kidnapping incidents have occurred in Mindanao and other regions since April 2000. The Abu Sayyaf group has attacked and kidnapped tourists at resorts on Samal Island, Davao del Norte, Palawan Island, and in the Malaysian state of Sabah. Several people were held hostage and deaths resulted. A Canadian was kidnapped in Davao del Sur in November 2001 and held hostage for seven weeks.

“Some gangs have used extreme violence and have targeted business individuals and visitors throughout the Philippines, including Metro Manila and Makati, the business and entertainment district. Several foreigners were abducted and robbed at gunpoint by men in security uniforms at a well-known tourist hotel in Pagsanjan, Laguna, in southern Luzon in April 2002. Seven new kidnapping incidents were reported in September 2002. All were kidnap-for-ransom cases.

“Random bombings continue to occur in Mindanao, Manila, and other areas where insurgent groups are active. Bombs have exploded in shopping malls, on public transportation, at the international airport in Manila, places of worship, and in other public areas, some resulting in injuries and deaths.

“Several bombings have occurred recently in Zamboanga, including the Fort Pilar Christian shrine and outside a restaurant-videoke bar in Barangay Malagutay, near Zamboanga City. Eight explosive devices were discovered in Metro Manila in March 2002, including Makati. A bomb exploded on a passenger bus in Quezon City, Manila, on October 20, 2002. Two people were killed and 20 were injured.

“There have been two attacks on foreigners in the Mount Pinatubo area, the most recent in January 2002, resulting in one death. Canadians traveling in this area should exercise extreme caution. The Santa Juliana route in Capas, Tarlac, is considered safe. However, trekkers should avoid the Porac and Sapang Bato routes in Pampanga, which are unguarded and considered unsafe.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 8, 2002)

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