POSTSCRIPT / October 18, 2005 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Form triumvirate of past 3 presidents to help GMA

PARALYSIS: The country is hardly moving forward. We see symptoms of creeping paralysis, with near-total collapse a possibility within two years.

There is an impasse. The opposition wants President Gloria Arroyo to resign and pay for her “sins.” But she refuses to quit, even shifting to offense as her best defense. She has dug in, raising a mailed fist to her tormentors.

The Church, meanwhile, has bumbled into the crossfire. Some of her bishops, political novices all, now find themselves having to wrestle in the mud with the noisy mob. Alas, that may have eliminated the Church as a possible honest broker.

Seeing President Arroyo’s desperate search for a way out, some ageing politicians have succeeded in making her consider as a face-saving exit the revamping of the system via Constitutional amendments.

The opposition in tandem with radical elements has stepped up street marches. They are not only testing the limits of state patience and power to defend itself but are also baiting Malacanang to commit a blunder that could spell disaster for President Arroyo.

Meantime, the country continues to sink and suffer.

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TRIUMVIRATE: With that, there is one idea that I wish President Arroyo would consider: Her creating after due consultations a Presidential Advisory Council composed of all living former presidents — Cory C. Aquino, Fidel V. Ramos and Joseph E. Estrada.

Our last hope may just be in the combined wisdom of the three former presidents and a sitting president — all of them renouncing personal gain to attain the common goal of saving the Philippines and moving it forward.

Cory Aquino has publicly asked President Arroyo to resign. It is implied that she has in mind Vice President Noli de Castro taking over as president along the succession line in the Constitution and letting the rest of the pieces fall into their proper places.

Fidel Ramos has gone on record as pushing for a shift to a parliamentary system that could mean cutting short President Arroyo’s 2004-2010 term. He has not defined what role he may have in mind in such a parliamentary setup.

Erap Estrada is amenable to a suggestion that, being the only opposition leader who has maintained his mass following despite his detention on plunder charges, he be installed as caretaker president backed by a council of sectoral wise men while the country prepares to elect a regular president to replace Ms Arroyo.

Can they still work together with — not for — President Arroyo? For the sake of the country, I think they can.

I think they should, so the nation can profit from their collective wisdom, their rich experience, their patriotism, and the benefit of hindsight.

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SAMPLE FUNCTIONS: As its name implies, the triumvirate’s function is just advisory. But its real political powers will be defined both by the executive order creating it and the willingness of President Arroyo to defer to it and heed its counsel.

President Arroyo, in consultation with the former presidents, can flesh out this proposal if they find it meritorious. But off hand, these are some of the items that I think should be written into the order creating the council:

  1. GMA will not issue any major Executive Order with serious economic and political implications without the prior approval or acquiescence of the council.
  2. GMA will submit to the council for approval all contracts involving P50 million or more, as well as any contract that would mean the exploitation of natural resources or the sale of any part of the patrimony.
  3. GMA will not enter into any undertaking, sign an enactment into law, or approve any government act or project that will raise the public debt by at least 1 percent or the national budget by more than 10 percent without the approval of the council.
  4. GMA will not enter into a bilateral or multilateral agreement with other countries over the objection of any one of the members of the council.

Et cetera — depending on what the four presidents would agree to include in the executive order creating the Presidential Advisory Council.

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NONPARTISAN vs BIPARTISAN: By putting Presidents Aquino, Ramos and Estrada in the same room with a common agenda, together with their respective political baggage, we are not forming a bipartisan or a multipartisan council.

What we will have, hopefully, is a nonpartisan (not bipartisan) council. It may be difficult to do, but the three former presidents — as also their co-operator the incumbent President — will have to leave their partisan biases at the door.

One good thing about the personality mix in the council is that the three former presidents represent diverse political groups and interests. They also imprinted on their respective presidencies their peculiar management styles.

Despite their varied public positions vis-à-vis the Arroyo administration, I would like to think that all three former presidents are not beyond being reached by reason, patriotism and earnest prayers to make them work together — even just this once — for the common weal.

If the idea in its broad sense is acceptable in principle, the details can be worked out in the give-and-take of negotiations and the good faith of consultations.

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WHAT ABOUT ERAP?: There will be some tough preliminary questions as we try making all four presidents talk directly to one another.

Without posing the questions, I will try suggesting answers specifically in the case of Mr. Estrada.

I can imagine Mr. Estrada will balk since he has been smarting from his having been “robbed” of the presidency, dragged to the Sandigambayan and detained like a criminal. And then, how do we interrupt that music in his ears, that suggestion of his possibly becoming a transitory president?

If the administration wills it, Mr. Estrada could be allowed to post bail and move to his San Juan residence. That would be fine since it would lessen the physical problems of his meeting with the troika, assuming he joins it.

As for his plunder case, the Ombudsman can continue dribbling the ball while the timer is sent out to buy suka (native vinegar) somewhere.

This accommodation should not prove too difficult since Mr. Estrada has not taken any life, nor has he been proved as having stolen any public funds.

In fact, if one takes seriously his official letters to the Senate and to the House of Representatives sent before he left Malacanang in 2001, he has been only on vacation from the presidency.

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RESPITE NEEDED: The proposed council will have to work within the framework of the present Constitution. Since such a body is not in the charter, it would have to be inserted or grafted into the system by presidential edict.

This could dilute the President’s powers, depending on the final accommodations.

But if creating the presidential council would mean a respite from the political combat and give the country a chance to find its way back to stability, peace and progress, it is worth trying.

The mere creation of the proposed council would be a big thing in itself. It would contribute immensely to easing the political tension ripping the country apart.

Immediately, I can see that the idea will be opposed by Arroyo loyalists who want the whole cake to themselves, and by opposition elements who might have started to have delusions that victory — meaning their return to power — is at hand.

We can let both camps continue to nurture their dreams, biases and taste for more blood, but where would that lead us? Can the nation withstand any more wear and tear?

* * *

WORKING RULES: Depending on the final outcome of the negotiations, the triumvirate could meet by itself minus President Arroyo during its working sessions. Or she could be right there with them whenever they meet.

If they meet by themselves, the three members can agree on a rotating presiding officer so each one will have a chance to guide discussions.

The council may adopt either a majority or a unanimous rule in making decisions. “Majority” means assent of two of the three former presidents will carry a motion. “Unanimous” means that no one of the three must veto an idea if it is to be carried.

The council may either vote on a pending question or simply arrive at a consensus after some discussion. “Consensus” means there will be no voting to divide the house, but they merely feel one another in their deliberations and whoever is presiding announces at the end of the exchange a binding consensus.

Will they publish their recommendations to the President or defer to her to make the announcement herself? Will they be allowed to disclose to the public or to the media how they voted or what they thought of matters brought before them?

What happens if President Arroyo, still the Chief Executive in the final analysis, disagrees with the triumvirate’s recommendations?

This is an entirely new ball game. Only the four presidents — if they are willing to explore this idea — have the answers.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 18, 2005)

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