POSTSCRIPT / June 26, 2005 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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GMA options: Go on leave or change charter

HANGING DRY: If President Arroyo does not want to say yet whether it was her or not in the famous wiretapped phone conversation, she should at least tell us what she wants this nation hanging on the ledge to do.

Do we play along and pretend that everything is normal and the situation under control? Do we just hang on by our fingernails, and wait till the President decides if it is her voice or not?

My guess is that the President is about to speak up on the matter. The signal I see comes from DENR Secretary Mike Defensor, one of the presidential gofers, who is already laying the basis for that scenario.

Defensor let it known that (1) the President has been advised to break her silence as soon as possible, (2) she agrees in principle, but (3) she first wants to be sure the repercussions of her disclosure will not lead to bigger problems for the nation.

When close-ins like Defensor start talking in public this way, which they never did in the last few weeks, you can be sure the President is about to open up as suggested.

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OPPOSITION LINE: You can be sure also that the opposition are busy sharpening their knives. Whatever President Arroyo says (whether that was her or not on the tape), the other side will surely find fault and go to town with it.

Give me just one reason, or even half a reason, why the opposition will suddenly quiet down and call back their marchers, when Gloria Macapagal Arroyo finally finds her voice, and the courage, to speak up on the tapes.

This one-track line of the opposition is one of the reasons why the President hesitates to talk. She knows she is being pushed into a no-win situation.

If she says it is her on the tape, they would throw the book at her, and if she says it is not her, they would call for her crucifixion as a liar. Whatever she says, the opposition would proceed anyway with their set demolition plan.

But as the leader claiming a mandate and presiding over a nation being ripped to pieces, she has to do something fast. If she still can.

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TWO ROUTES: President Arroyo says she will never step down. Even if she feels in her bones the possibility of her having to resign in disgrace, the President should never say it or even give a hint of it.

One little hint of a hint and the whole scaffolding of her presidency collapses.

But what if stonewalling fails and the time eventually comes for her to step down to prevent further damage to the nation?

There are two ways to confront the crisis: the constitutional way and the extra constitutional way.

Most men of goodwill will agree that the first route, constitutional succession, should have precedence. The second route outside the charter is to be taken only as a last resort.

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VEEP IN RESERVE: Going by the Constitution, either the president resigns on her own volition or she is removed by some process (such as impeachment) preordained in the charter.

Whether she resigns or is removed, and a vacancy occurs, the vice president becomes the president. In our present situation, the person marked as legal successor is Vice President Noli de Castro.

If pushed to the limit, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo might just resign and turn over the presidency in a peaceful and orderly manner to Vice President De Castro.

Surely, there will be those who will object to Mr. De Castro becoming president. But such scattered objections (most of it we can expect to come from the political opposition girding to recapture Malacanang) are irrelevant to the constitutional process.

The opposition would not want the presidency again eluding them, so Mr. De Castro has had to be added as another demolition target to get him out of the way.

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GOING ON LEAVE: The problem (for GMA) with resigning and allowing the Vice President to take over is that such succession is irreversible. It will erase forever the possibility of her regaining the presidency.

If she is not ready for a total and final surrender of the office, President Arroyo can take a half-move in the same direction by going on leave for some plausible reason.

She can go via Article VII (Executive Department) whose Section 11 says: “Whenever the President transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice-President as Acting President. xxx

“Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall reassume the powers and duties of his office….”

If only to prevent the presidency from falling into the hands of the opposition when she is no longer able to hold on to it, President Arroyo could use Section 11.

Nobody can be sure of anything in politics, but Mr. De Castro would be a “safer” caretaker or successor of GMA than anybody from the opposition.

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REVOLUTIONARY?: The President’s possibly resigning or going on leave would be acceptable to those who are not ready to play with the fire of a revolutionary alternative.

A revolutionary government, like what took over upon the ouster of President Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, would mean scrapping the Constitution, replacing all incumbent officials, and one person or one junta (or one with the other) taking the reins of government.

It could also mean the speedy prosecution (maybe even execution) of all perceived “enemies of the people” — roughly meaning those who had contributed in a big way to the corruption and plunder that led to the crisis.

It is difficult defining what a revolutionary government is, will be or will do, precisely because it is revolutionary. It will define its own existence, draw up its own rules and generally do as it pleases.

With its dark implications, a revolutionary government may not sit well with most people, except probably those who feel they have nothing to lose anyway or those who are desperate for change, any change.

Any group advocating this may have a hard time finding mass approval, especially if there is hint that the change will just mean the takeover by another set of traditional politicians propped up by a motley military group.

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SNAP POLLS: A snap presidential election as advocated by some politicians will fall into the same rut. It can be just as problematical.

In the first place, we cannot have a snap presidential election if there is no vacancy. You think President Arroyo will oblige the opposition, roll over and play dead?

Forcing an out-of-season election without a vacancy would be taking an extra-constitutional route. That could compromise the legitimacy and the viability of the snap president.

(Btw, in the only case of a snap presidential election being held, during the time of President Marcos, there was no Vice President to provide continuity when the President put his office on the block.)

In the second place, how do we hold a credible snap election with the state of our Commission on Elections? With the results suspect, we would just be compounding the problem.

In the third place, many people believe that changing the President — or changing the Arroyo camp with another gang of politicians — is not the solution to our problems.

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CON-CON OPTION: This brings up another option still open to the President — that of calling a Constitutional Convention to change the system and, hopefully, clean up the debris of a discredited system that has failed us.

(Others, such as Sen. Richard Gordon, point out that what we need is a change in us constituents, not so much a change of Constitution. This will have to be discussed separately when time permits.)

President Arroyo could announce a ConCon timetable, rush preparations and hold the charter convention early next year. The political thunderclap may just snag the momentum of the ongoing demolition of her regime.

To add to the impact and ease tension, she could announce that she would step down from the presidency upon the adoption of a new Constitution, or something like that.

With widespread disenchantment with the present system, the Con-Con alternative is likely to attract significant supporters.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 26, 2005)

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