POSTSCRIPT / July 14, 2005 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Assuming GMA quits, what awaits the nation?

OPTIONS LEFT: President Arroyo has said time and again that she will not resign. But, assuming the unlikely event that the headstrong Chief Executive would oblige her detractors and resigns, what happens?

My fearful answer: There would be more confusion, nay, chaos, considering the many spirited horses pulling us in various directions.

There are different scenarios suggested by various groups pushing different post-Arroyo agenda:

  1. President Arroyo resigns. Vice President Noli de Castro becomes president. The new president whose executive experience is near-zero then takes on the awesome task of guiding the unruly country back to normalcy while guarding against a rerun of the turmoil that installed him.
  2. Both Ms Arroyo and Mr. De Castro resign or are forced out. The Senate President (whoever he is by the time the vacancy in the Palace occurs) shall act as president until the replacement president and vice president are chosen in elections to be held between 45 and 60 days after a call from Congress.
  3. All elective posts from the president down to local executives are declared vacant. An unelected transition (it is not true Erap Estrada said “transistor”) president backed by a council takes over the reins of what would be an authoritarian setup while a new Constitution is being written.
  4. A junta dominated by military types grabs power. The junta lays down and enforces all the pertinent rules until it decides that the nation is ready for a return to civilian rule.

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READERS SURVEY: For statistical purposes, please take time to tell POSTSCRIPT which of the four options above you prefer. Add a short paragraph of not more than 50 words explaining your choice.

If you have another option that you think is better than the four listed above, tell us about it and give your reason. Or if there is not one that you like, say NOTA (None of the Above) and give your reason.

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TEVES HAILED: The appointment of Land Bank president Margarito Teves as the new finance secretary was applauded all around. And rightly so. There could not have been a better choice.

In naming Teves in the face of the abandonment of the office by his predecessor, President Arroyo started putting together a new economic team that would grapple with Herculean fiscal problems.

The country took another blow yesterday when international ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service downgraded its outlook on Philippine sovereign debt from stable to negative because of the political crisis bedeviling the country.

The action followed similar action days ago by Standard and Poor’s and Fitch Ratings. The downgrades will raise borrowing costs for the Philippines, which is relying on the global bond market to raise about $4 billion a year to cover budget deficits.

Moody’s cited “concerns that the political turmoil which has beset the Arroyo administration might have negative consequences on the budget and external payments position.”

Its action affected our B1 long-term foreign- and local-currency government bond ratings, the foreign-currency country ceiling for bonds and the foreign-currency bank deposit ceiling. The local currency country guideline remains at Ba1.

Moody’s also expressed concern over the Supreme Court’s order suspending the collection of an expanded value-added tax (VAT) that international creditors of Manila had pushed.

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SHARING BLAME: It is not surprising that Moody’s and the other credit raters gave us low grades after then Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima and his rebel group resigned en masse and called a press conference to explain their betrayal of the President.

Professionals do not do it that way. They had all the time to inform the President their problems and work out solutions together, but instead they rushed out to the front yard and starting telling the neighbors.

I do not think Purisima was operating alone in arriving at that decision to pull out and destroy his former boss.

In fact, my gut feel is that the credit raters themselves, among others, knew what was going to happen and had been primed to play their assigned part of downgrading the Philippines’ standing to force Ms Arroyo out of office.

More intriguing is US embassy charge d’affaires Joseph Mussomeli’s calling Purisma et al. “patriots” for doing what they did. This meddling will keep echoing down the corridor of RP-US relations to haunt Philippine presidents.

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THERE’S LAPUS: To complete a new economic team, President Arroyo is asking for suggestions. She does not have to look far. There is Tarlac Rep. Jesli A. Lapus, chairman of the powerful House committee on ways and means.

President Arroyo needs a seasoned and versatile executive with all-around exposure and proven effectiveness in the industry, finance and the public sectors. That’s Lapus.

A whiz kid in private business, Lapus the professional manager is recognized as having steered companies to undisputed leadership. He turned around foundering international and local firms into shining successes.

Tapped as president and CEO of the Land Bank in 1992, Lapus at age 42 steered the bank in six years from No. 18 to No. 3 among commercial banks. Earlier, as chief of the local subsidiary of Triumph, a century-old German multinational firm, he achieved at age 29 the highest global production efficiency standards, paid the highest wages in the country, delivered the highest profitability and paid the highest taxes.

Lapus served with distinction in the Cabinet of two presidents (Aquino and Ramos) and is now on his third and last term as congressman. An impressed President Ramos once said, “Jesli Lapus (then 36) is the priziest catch we’ve had from the private sector.”

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DRILON HIT: Back in Pampanga, GMA’s cabalen are smarting from the browbeating of the President by those plotting to grab the presidency by extra-constitutional means.

In Angeles City, Councilor Jay Sangil delivered a privilege speech in the council calling on Senate President Franklin Drilon to resign or face impeachment in the wake of his failed participation in a power grab.

The senator’s chu-chu praises for President Arroyo have not yet died down when he joined the camp moving to topple the President to install Vice President de Castro as interim president — with Drilon as concurrent executive secretary and vice president.

Drilon apparently wanted to position himself to just a breath away from the presidency because, as everybody expects, the plotters just want to use Mr. De Castro to capture Malacanang — and then shove him aside.

Sangil said: “It has become clear that the events of Friday that pushed our country to the brink of chaos were orchestrated by Senator Drilon to force out President Arroyo and position himself as a center of power in a new administration.”

“Immediately after the announcement of Purisima and his group that they have resigned and are asking the President to resign, Senator Drilon followed with his own press conference claiming the Liberal Party is also asking the President to resign or face impeachment,” he noted.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 14, 2005)

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