POSTSCRIPT / July 12, 2005 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Other enemies of GMA crowding out opposition

SURE BET: The conventional wisdom is that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo appears to have won the latest round in the fight for control of Malacanang.

Don’t laugh, but that was the conclusion of many after former President Fidel V. Ramos went over to the Palace late last week in a public display of support for the embattled President Arroyo. You think the Tabako would have done that if Ms Arroyo were a goner?

General Ramos the sigurista bade his time assessing the field of battle before placing his bets. When he finally sided with Ms Arroyo, that meant — according to some observers — that in his estimate of the situation GMA is the likely winner.

Ms Arroyo’s tenuous hold on the presidency then tightened when the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines consisting of prelates from all over the archipelago closed ranks in refusing to join the orchestrated clamor for the President to resign.

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STOLEN PRESIDENCY: By now, the political opposition gravitating around former President Erap Estrada may have awakened to the cruel fact that, despite their investment in destabilization, the presidency has just slipped from their hands again.

The forces of Mr. Estrada, who has been preparing for a Take-2 this time as a transition president, have actually moved within striking distance of the Palace. But now it appears that the Ramos clique has beaten them to it — via the main gate no less.

But the war is not over yet. Coming up fast from behind is the so-called Civil Society whose visible front is the fifth column led by former Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima emboldened by subtle assist of American interests.

While the Purisima group may be capable of forging a tentative alliance with the Ramos forces, it is unlikely that they and their Big Business allies would want to have a repeat of the ill-starred Estrada administration.

In sum, these are now the core forces seen in the field of combat: the Arroyo loyalists, the Ramos military, the Civil Society operators, and what is left of the political opposition identified with Mr. Estrada.

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GMA COMPROMISED: How will Ms Arroyo, who cannot claim one formidable force ready to die for her, handle all those forces lusting after her presidency?

Operating on borrowed time, Ms Arroyo is forced to lean heavily on Mr. Ramos and military types already ensconced in the Cabinet (including Generals Eduardo Ermita, Angelo Reyes, Leandro Mendoza and Hermogenes Ebdane).

With the armed forces standing by the Commander-in-Chief to ensure the continuity of her presidency, Ms Arroyo may have fallen into the hands of the military and whoever is/are able to use it as a lever of power.

Ms Arroyo is forced to seek alliances elsewhere to widen her base of support — at the risk of making compromises and commitments that she would normally not make.

That dependence is rife with danger. Attempting to shore up her stability, the President could end up with more instability.

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CHRISTMAS DEADLINE: The decision of the CBCP not to be stampeded into joining the clamor for the President’s resignation may have given Ms Arroyo a reprieve, but not total relief.

President Arroyo is not off the hook yet. She has to work overtime to consolidate her small gains during the limited space and time afforded her by the support given her by Mr. Ramos and the bishops. Her foes are not sleeping.

This is very subjective and I have no data to go by, but I think that if the Arroyo presidency survives until December and is able to fashion a reasonably “merry” Christmas, she could be over the hump. This requires a happy mix of politics and economics.

It also means that the forces girding to topple her must work overtime to finish the dirty job before the end of the year.

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U.S. HAND?: There is this theory that part of Ms Arroyo’s problems may have been inspired by American operators.

A recent confidential memo from a ranking American diplomat to the home office has described President Arroyo as “weak and reactive.” This and other items gathered in the course of coverage indicate that Washington is not happy with the Arroyo administration lately.

Ms Arroyo scored big when she sent a token Filipino military-police contingent to Iraq and allowed the flag to fly alongside the Stars and Stripes in that war-torn country.

But a falling out began when President Arroyo decided to pull out ahead of schedule the small Philippine contingent to save the life of a truck driver kidnapped by Iraqi terrorists.

The US disappointment deepened as the Arroyo administration neglected to strengthen the security net that the US has helped throw across the Southern backdoor against the infiltration by terrorists.

Some US officials have noted that Mindanao has continued to be porous, with terrorists coming and going through the area at will, with the Arroyo administration looking on helplessly.

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GUARANTORS: There are indications that the Purisima group may have operated as a guarantor that the economic “reforms” suggested by the US to shore up Philippine finances would be put in place within the agreed schedule and implemented earnestly.

The US is anxious to see the Philippines improve its fiscal condition and be able to pay at least the interests on its mounting foreign loans, and to enable it to borrow some more (and sink deeper into the debt hole?).

Purisima was given a free hand in recruiting his own people to manage the customs and internal revenue portals to make sure collection targets were met.

When they resigned and publicly criticized the Arroyo administration, the Purisima group implied that the fiscal plan and timetable were going awry. It was that or there was an agenda with the objective of removing Ms Arroyo.

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PATRIOTS DAW: When word got around that Malacanang may have been behind the issuance of a Supreme Court temporary restraining order against the Value-Added Tax law that the US had wanted enforced, Purisima and his team resigned.

Coincidence?

Note that charge d’affaires Joseph Mussomeli of the US embassy said of Purisima and company: “You know, I know many of the Cabinet members who have resigned now, and the ones that I know are all very decent, and good people, patriots — people who are concerned for the welfare of the Filipino people.”

A diplomat normally does not comment on internal affairs of the host country. There must have been a compelling reason for Mussomeli to talk that way.

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SUPPORT: Another organization, the Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution Inc., yesterday joined the groups pledging full support for the 1987 Constitution and President Arroyo.

In a meeting, with Justice Secretary Raul M. Gonzalez as special guest, the group said in a manifesto that the victory of Ms Arroyo in the last elections is “unquestionably based on the records of the Commission on Elections (municipal canvass, provincial canvass and national canvass) and by reason thereof, the President was proclaimed by the Congress in joint session assembled.”

It added that “there is no genuine and valid basis, whether legal or factual, which will justify the resignation of the President as she was duly elected by the majority of the Filipino people.”

The manifesto was signed by Ernesto L. Pineda, president; Eligio P. Mallari, vice president for finance; Pedro A. Magpayo Jr., secretary-general; Pedro A. Genato, asst. secretary-general; Nestor P. Ifurong, treasurer; Vicente S. Pulido, auditor; Rogelio D. Evasco, national coordinator; Pascual T. Lacas, Marcial M. Magsino, Venicio S. Flores, Lawrence P. Villanueva, Manuel M. Maramba, Marlon Lacson, Romualdo A. Din and Jose A. Grapilon, governors.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 12, 2005)

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