POSTSCRIPT / June 12 2005 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Estrada as transition president? Hear this...

TURN YOUR LIGHTS ON: For a timely wake-up call, let us have for our Sunday reading this deathless story of a diver:

A young man who had been raised as an atheist was training to be an Olympic diver. The only religious influence in his life came from his outspoken Christian friend. The young diver never really paid much attention to his friend’s sermons, but he heard them often.

One night the diver went to the indoor pool at the college he attended. The lights were all off, but as the pool had big skylights and the moon was bright, there was plenty of light to practice by.

The young man climbed up to the highest diving board and as he turned his back to the pool on the edge of the board and extended his arms out, he saw his shadow on the wall. The shadow of his body was in the shape of a cross.

The man felt a strange feeling, like someone was speaking to him. Instead of diving, he knelt down and finally asked God to come into his life.

As the young man stood up, a maintenance man walked in and turned the lights on. The pool had been drained for repairs.

“Without Him, I am nothing, but with Him I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me.” Phil 4:13. (You might want to share this story with a friend.)

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LAST ACT: Per timetable of the leading lights of the political opposition, today’s June 12 speech should be President Arroyo’s last official act preparatory to her making a forced exit.

If opposition plans and projections do not miscarry, the wife of Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo will either resign, agree to a snap election or be knocked off her unsteady perch by an angry and hungry mob crying for change.

Or if the end does not come this weekend, it could happen by the end of this month — per calculations of the opposition.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, described in a US embassy memo to the home office as weak and reactive, has been trying mightily to project to the watching world that she is still in control even as the nation goes through the throes of disintegration.

Alas, as of yesterday, this observer has not seen any indication that she is in full control. She cannot even control the people around her.

* * *

ALBATROSS: What went wrong?

Like iron being devoured by its own rust, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s administration has been ruined, perhaps beyond repair?, by some rapacious kith and kin.

The biggest piece of rusty junk hanging from her neck has been husband Mike, whose incredible blundering is enough to sink a Titanic even without an iceberg catching it by the bow.

I have never understood why Mr. Arroyo, an amateur photographer, insists on inserting himself and ruining what could be a passable presidential picture. It has not dawned on him, or maybe nobody dares to tell him, that he has no official duties as First Gentleman except probably to escort his lady.

What drives Mr. Arroyo? Let me just point out that the Arroyo presidency has been virtually blown out of the water by accusations of massive jueteng payola and election cheating, both allegedly involving Mr. Arroyo.

We can endlessly argue his guilt or innocence, but his defense has become irrelevant. The damage to the presidency has been done. While legally he could squirm his way out, he might not be just as successful acquitting himself in the public mind.

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RALLYING FIGURE: President Arroyo is lucky that the opposition still has no singular figure to rally and lead it to victory. This nation is searching for alternatives, for credible leaders.

The US embassy points this out in its report to the home office on the Philippine situation. It notes that opposition elements are drawn to either former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada or Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson.

The tug-o-war prevents the opposition from putting up a viable alternative leader. Without a rallying figure, the opposition will not be able to unite and deal a deadly wallop in a showdown with the incumbent President.

As I see it, Erap Estrada — whatever the middle class thinks of him — is the best bet for the opposition in the absence of any other.

At this point, after four years of detention that took away his presidency, Mr. Estrada is still credited with at least 35 percent of the warm bodies comprising the electorate dominated by the C-D-E classes.

To prove this point, we just have to look at how, in detention, he was able to win a Senate seat each for his wife Loi and his son Jinggoy.

* * *

ERAP PREPARING: Mr. Estrada knows that despite his exile to his rest house in the wooded hills of Tanay in eastern Rizal, he is still the opposition figure to contend with.

People close to him say the man has been preparing assiduously for a possible return to — no, not to the scene of the crime — the Palace by the Pasig.

Part of his routine, which includes the feeding of his 200 or so ducks in a languid pool, is studying and synthesizing papers being submitted by a panel of experts helping him prepare for a chance to lead a transition government.

Having learned his lesson, Mr. Estrada is not hankering for a full-blown presidency that he claims was grabbed from him. All he needs, I was told, is just one year or at most 18 months to guide the country back to course.

After his short stint, he retires.

* * *

REVOLUTIONARY: But then the return scenario described to me looks more like a revolutionary setup, not a natural sequence in a constitutional transition. That may pose some problems.

The revolutionary government playing in Mr. Estrada’s mind begins with the removal of President Arroyo and Vice President Noli de Castro. How do we do that?

For optimum results, the purge will have to drag out most of the core of the functioning government, including Congress that has been eating up some P60 billion annually in what is seen as wanton waste of scarce resources.

In place of a Cabinet, Mr. Estrada wants a multi-sectoral junta with 9 or 11 members nominated by stakeholders from key sectors. The non-partisan junta will recommend what the President (or whatever title he uses) must do or must not do.

After the return to normalcy, a constitutional body will write a new Constitution. The new charter will disqualify Mr. Estrada and all the delegates to the constitutional convention from holding public office for life.

Topping the agenda of his brief transition presidency of 12-18 months is the restoration of peace and order in four to six months. He has said a number of times that any program will fail without a foundation of stability to support the superstructure.

* * *

MANY-SPLENDORED THING: Operating on limited time, Mr. Estrada may have to resort to short-cuts to meet the urgent expectations of the long-suffering population.

I see his moving for a possible return to Malacanang as a revolutionary transition president via an extra-constitutional route as a many-splendored dream:

  1. To make up for the shortcomings of his abbreviated presidency, now with the benefit of hindsight.
  2. To clear the socio-political landscape to prepare it for the planting of reformist institutions tailored for Filipino values.
  3. To reiterate his point that the presidency was illegally taken away from him.

* * *

CHARTER CHANGE: Immediately, one sees this Estrada formula for saving the country as revolutionary. Without hesitation, he admits it is indeed revolutionary.

It will mean, for one, that the present Constitution under which Ms Arroyo and Mr. De Castro serve will be cast aside while the transition president and his junta take the bull by the horns.

But will it mean also the throwing out of the plunder case being pursued against him at the Sandiganbayan? I guess that is implied.

He might be willing to drop his questioning the legality of the presidency of Ms Arroyo. Anyway the legal dispute has been rendered academic by the lapsing of the original 1998-2004 Estrada term and Ms Arroyo’s election to her own six-year term last year.

His taking the presidency anew and throwing out his plunder case will not sit well among the more thoughtful members of the community. I think the best sequence would be for an arrangement to be worked out first quashing the plunder and other cases to clear the slate before his exercise of virtually dictatorial powers.

Mr. Estrada as a dictator of sorts? How does that sound to you?

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

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