POSTSCRIPT / August 28, 2005 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Oil crisis heaven-sent for embattled President

HEAVEN-SENT: In the same way that the crash-bombing of New York and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, fell on the lap of President George W. Bush when his popularity was dropping, the current oil crisis appears heaven-sent for President Gloria Arroyo whose approval rating has been languishing in the cellar.

Exploiting 9/11 to the hilt, Mr. Bush beat the war drums to rally scared Americans behind the flag (and, by extension, behind their war commander). He succeeded in exploiting the shock of a people jolted to the fact that they are, after all, vulnerable.

Trotting out falsified intelligence and citing non-existent weapons of mass destruction supposedly aimed at America, Mr. Bush declared a war of self-defense against Iraq, a sovereign state halfway around the globe that never uttered a threatening word against the US.

His adroit handling of war propaganda, with in-bed US media collaborating with the White House, shored up Mr. Bush’s sagging popularity till he was hitting an incredible 80’s on his way to a narrow victory in the November 2004 elections.

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WEARING THIN: As his invasion of Iraq saved Mr. Bush at that moment of American vulnerability and won for him a second term, the rising price of oil — now creeping to $70 per barrel — may just pluck Ms Arroyo from her current crisis of survival.

If his boys are able to exploit the global oil crisis, Ms Arroyo may just be able to distract both the public and the political opposition from her problems arising from charges of electoral cheating and jueteng payola.

The congressional double-barrel blockbuster — the impeachment zarzuela in the House and the jueteng bola in the Senate — has run its course and is now fading into the fringes of the public’s attention.

If they have not noticed it yet, somebody should tell the honorable members of Congress that the public is now having a hard time paying attention to their prolonged anti-Arroyo antics. The public’s span of attention and patience are wearing thin.

It appears that the oil crisis and its debilitating effects on the economy — translated in the market into rising retail prices — will soon overshadow the overworked issues of impeachment and jueteng payola.

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GMA APPEAL: But while Mr. Bush waged war in the aftermath of 9/11, President Arroyo called yesterday for a political truce.

She explained: “The looming energy crisis that threatens the economy, already weighed down by heavy financial obligations, must be our singular point of focus.”

Addressing lawmakers, she said “Congress (must) fast- track the passage of the national budget for 2006, pass the anti-terror bill, and act on charter amendments to fix up our political system permanently.”

The President asked the people to cooperate in conserving energy and boosting efficiency. Local governments, she said, should focus on “sustaining countryside development, preserving peace and order, and providing basic needs.”

“All for one, one for all,” she said, adding that organized sectors, civil society and the Church must help the government ensure that the energy conservation campaign is felt at the grassroots.

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URGENT CONCERNS: Being more specific, local officials are urging Congress to end the ongoing impeachment proceedings against President Arroyo, since, they said, these are “irrelevant and doomed to fail” anyway.

Governors, mayors and other local officials called on lawmakers to focus on more urgent problems, particularly the specter of soaring fuel prices.

Eastern Samar Gov. Ben Evardone, spokesman of the League of Provinces, said the defeat of the opposition in the hearing last Tuesday of the House committee on justice was an indicator of things to come.

“After the first-round vote of 54-24 that went the way of the majority, it is now crystal clear that the impeachment complaint is a goner,” he said. “The defeat of the opposition in the first voting was a knockout and portends what will happen next.”

Evardone said the people are “sick and tired of unabated political bashing and fault-finding.” This is the sentiment of the people in the countryside, the governor added, appealing to the “sense of nationalism” of congressmen in winding up the proceedings.

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EXECS SPEAK UP: The Pampanga chapter of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines has passed a resolution asking Congress to end the impeachment proceedings for being detrimental to the economy, according to Mayor Marino Morales of Mabalacat, Pampanga, the group’s adviser.

“Note that some investors have pulled out because of the political crisis generated by the run-away impeachment debate,” Morales said. “The political turmoil gives foreigners a misimpression of instability.”

Bataan Gov. Enrique “Tet” Garcia said closing the proceedings would enable Congress to focus on the more critical issues such as the unabated price increases of oil products, the energy crisis and the imposition of value-added tax.

Sulu Gov. Ben Loong said the opposition is only trying to “prolong the agony of the Filipino people.”

“Congress must act now as one collective body to address the fuel crisis because any delay will gravely result in staggering consequences,” Albay Vice Gov. James Calinisan, chairman of the Vice Governors League of the Philippines, said.

Mayor Angelito Sarmiento of San Jose del Monte City, Bulacan, said the public is “no longer interested in the result of impeachment moves as they are more concerned about where their next meal will come from.”

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TAMA NA!: More local officials and other sectors pressed for the early resolution of the political crisis.

La Union Gov. Victor Ortega said “the sooner Congress can resolve the matter, the better,” adding that precious time spent in the proceedings can be better used for projects and programs affecting all sectors.

Dito sa amin, I tell local officials not to mind what is going on in Congress and should instead focus on smoothly running their areas,” Ortega, a former representative and 1971 Constitutional Convention member, said.

Southern Leyte Gov. Rosette Lerias said the impeachment proceedings, protracted as they have been, are only dragging the country down, costing the government precious time and money.

“We cannot afford to be divided at this time considering the energy crisis we are facing,” Lerias said. “We cannot eat and sleep impeachment as if this is the only thing that matters.”

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PEOPLE TIRED: North Cotabato Gov. Emmanuel Pinol said over the radio: “People are tired listening to the impeachment case.” Although he said he favors the process going through, “it has become a non-issue.”

Agusan del Sur Gov. Bong Plaza said Congress should get it (the impeachment) over and done with. “Ituloy na ang trabaho sa gobyerno at harapin natin ang dumarating na oil crisis.”

The pace of the proceedings is too slow, observed Tandag (Agusan Sur) Vice Mayor Rosario Dumagan. In a chat on radio, she said the opposition employs tactics unfair to the administration and ignores the rulings of the justice committee.

Mayor Ramon N. Guico Jr. of Binalonan, Pangasinan, said the Constitution allows only one impeachment complaint within one year. “Unfortunately, the illegally wiretapped recordings are the only issue against President Arroyo,” he said. The other charges, he added, are “plain black propaganda to destabilize the government and set the stage for a power grab.”

Other local officials who had aired appeals for the closing of the impeachment proceedings included Antique Gov. Salvacion Perez, Zamboanga del Norte Gov. Rolando Yebes, City Mayor Damian Mercado of Maasin, and Mandaue City Councilor Carlo Fortuna, president of the Philippine Councilors League.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 28, 2005)

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