POSTSCRIPT / February 1, 2007 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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With JV in, UNO can't bar Allan Peter & Koko

UNO SLATE: Now that the United Opposition has revealed its tentative 12-strong senatorial slate, let the administration announce its own team. So the May Games can begin.

As I write this, the UNO ticket appears remarkable in three aspects. First, it insists on keeping three “dynasty” candidates — J. V. Ejercito, Allan Peter Cayetano and Koko Pimentel – who could just end up joining their brother, sister and father, respectively, in the Senate.

Second, it is likely to absorb the four-man “Wednesday Group” in the chamber – Joker Arroyo, Kiko Pangilinan, Ralph Recto and Manny Villar – who could have been with the administration “unity ticket” had they not found endorsement by President Gloria Arroyo a “kiss of death.”

Third, with those four reelectionists (a full third of the ticket) poised to cast their lot with the opposition, Malacanang is now hard pressed to scrounge around for “winnable” warm bodies to complete a lineup of 12.

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MONEY & MACHINE: Administration strategists predict that the UNO senatorial bets would be decimated in the countryside where money and machinery, they said, would prevail over faint-hearted volunteers and prelates who are novices in the art of political combat.

After the fall from power in 2001 of President Joseph “Erap” Estrada, campaign contributions reportedly dwindled. Campaign contributors in this country are generally not issue-oriented but behave more like gamblers with an eye for winners.

Whatever billions Mr. Estrada may have been able to gather during his suddenly abbreviated presidency will have to be carefully spent. This is assuming he would play a key role in the coming campaign of his camp attempting to bounce back to power.

But the inclusion of his son San Juan Mayor J. V. Ejercito in the UNO ticket despite the dynasty issue raised by former senator Francisco S. Tatad and other political analysts will ensure the elder Estrada’s commitment to the costly campaign.

With JV in, the opposition will have to be consistent in its defiance of growing public opinion against political dynasties and allow the inclusion of Cayetano and Pimentel in the opposition ticket.

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WATCHDOGS CRUCIAL: Money and machine will be crucial factors in the countryside campaign partly because the midterm elections will focus, as far as provincial voters are concerned, more on local candidates and hometown issues.

Even the candidates for congressmen, governors and mayors that the administration, or any national party for that matter, may support with funds are likely to pay more attention to ensuring their own victories than looking after their senatorial candidates.

With this reality, the opposition which has an almost empty war chest and a rusty nationwide machinery (assuming it has one) will have a hard time mounting an effective campaign for its senatorial lineup.

By itself, the UNO is virtually powerless to thwart organized cheating on the national level. The opposition will have to rely heavily on the involvement of the church and civic poll-watch groups in protecting the votes of its senatorial candidates.

The Church is not getting involved in the May elections for or against any party or specific candidates. But it can help level the field by ensuring there is fairness and that the votes are protected.

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PREDICTABLE: Don’t hold your breath while three congressmen journey to Munich to find out from a German bank if any member of the First Family had or has an account with it as claimed by Cayetano, the opposition lawmaker from Taguig-Pateros.

Everything is, ho-hum, so predictable.

In a few days, the Three Musketeers will come back with a report that First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and members of his family, including President Arroyo, do not have any account with the Bayerische Hypo-und Vereinsbank AG.

Representative Alan Peter Cayetano, who is House deputy minority leader, had claimed in a privilege speech and press statements that some members of the First Family were hiding secret accounts in that bank.

To make sure bank certifications will look credible, the trio sent to check are expected to see to it that all documents are sealed and signed by appropriate bank officials and authenticated by the Philippine consul-general in the area.

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USELESS MISSION: If the three congressmen are using public funds, that fact-finding mission would be a junket of the highest order. Each lawmaker is expected to spend at least P200,000.

Instead of sending to Munich administration congressmen Roberto Cajes of Bohol and Antonio Cerilles of Zamboanga del Sur and Alagad party-list representative Rodante Marcoleta, the House could have merely sent an official written query to the bank.

With lawyers lurking everywhere, including those of the bank sworn to block any and all attempts to break the confidentiality of clients’ transactions, the precise wording of the questions is crucial.

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PRECISE WORDING: Before the six-day mission left, the ethics committee should have studied and approved the precise wording of the questions to be asked the bank.

The Germans may end up denying in a general way the general questions thrown their way. That will make the bank certification useless in ferreting out the truth about the alleged Arroyo accounts.

Or if the bank is asked only about a specific bank account, its response could pertain only to that account and no other that might be current or existing but which were not asked.

This is one of the reasons why Cayetano had asked the Arroyos to write a waiver that would authorize House investigators to do a blanket search. Mr. Arroyo has refused to give one.

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MAKING A MARTYR: But even with the expected denial of the bank that the Arroyos have (present tense) deposits with it, would its certification warrant the expulsion of Cayetano from the House for “disorderly conduct”?

The administration has enough members in the House ethics committee as well as in the plenary to expel the tormentor of the First Gentleman — even on the flimsiest of reasons — but the wisdom of such a disciplinary move is another matter.

Depending on how both camps play their cards, Cayetano (who happens to be running for senator under the opposition banner) could end up being perceived by the public as a victim of the tyranny of numbers of an administration gone berserk.

If they are not careful, administration gofers in the House might just ensure the congressman’s election to the Senate for a family reunion with his sister senator Pia Cayetano.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 1, 2007)

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