POSTSCRIPT / January 30, 2007 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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GMA's big problem: A viable exit strategy

END-GAME: The biggest problem of President Gloria Arroyo is how to devise an enforceable exit strategy.

She cannot be president for life. Per the Constitution under which she was elected in 2004, she will have to leave Malacanang in 2010 — assuming there are no disruptive events that would advance or delay her exit.

Once out of office, she would lose her presidential immunity from suits. Depending on who takes over after her and how deep was the hurt of politico-business kingpins whose fortunes suffered during her incumbency, she could end up being harassed no end.

While she still has the chance, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has to buy insurance that whoever comes after her would be willing to cover her tracks or at least treat her family kindly after they leave Malacanang.

While, and if, she could still negotiate from a position of strength, the President should work out a modus vivendi with her fiercest political enemies.

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ACCOMMODATION: Are the Arroyos at peace with the Marcoses, with Erap Estrada, the victims of human rights abuses, and Big Business that fell into the red because of her administration? Has Ms Arroyo settled Danding Cojuangco’s cases?

These questions and the answers can help explain many of the moves and motivations of GMA, especially in matters affecting business empires and political kingdoms, as she navigates the shoals of the remaining three years of her term.

Actually, there should be no transition or exit problem since the big political families in this country protect one another.

Stripped of their chameleon-like hide, Filipino politicians are all the same. Their kindred spirit makes them turn a blind eye on one another’s excesses while in office.

To the extent that the unsuspecting public would tolerate it, whoever is on top is usually willing to grant sporting accommodation to whoever is out of power that is in legal trouble.

In this context, the odds are for the Marcoses and Erap Estrada getting off the hook under the Arroyo administration.

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SAFE MARGIN: The need for an exit strategy is being mentioned here, because we are moving fast into the election period that culminates in the May mid-term polls some 105 days from now.

The need for an exit strategy and the negotiations involved will influence many of the major moves of Malacanang in settling disputes of coalition members over turf, in entering into alliances, and the putting together of a senatorial ticket that may include some erstwhile opposition elements.

But while the national Senate contest will be high-profile, the bloody close-quarter infighting will be in the congressional districts. Malacanang must have its finger on every district.

The Palace must help enough congressional candidates to win if it wants to muster a safe margin of at least two-thirds plus one of the resulting membership of the incoming House of Representatives.

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IMPEACHMENT: As sure as Oliver is Lozano, a rehashed impeachment complaint will be filed against President Arroyo in the new Congress. The impeachment charges will reach the Senate for trial only if at least a third of all House members will approve of it.

Impeachment, even if unsuccessful, and its destabilizing stress on the presidency will affect the demeanor and direction of the rest of the Arroyo presidency — and the overall mood of the country.

It will also determine to some extent how successful GMA would be in working out mutual accommodations and peace settlements with the big politicians who, rightly or wrongly, feel oppressed under the Arroyo administration.

Making peace all around is crucial to GMA’s being able to buy a viable exit plan.

The May elections will decide if she could still piece together such an end-game strategy.

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STERN WARNING: So here comes President Arroyo, fresh from the Davos dialogues and a tickling talk with President George W. Bush, declaring that the May elections will be peaceful and clean.

What else can she say, after the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines said in a short but strongly worded pastoral letter that the country cannot afford another election tainted with fraud and violence?

If the bishops’ letter sounded like a warning, it is. There is a growing consensus that if we fumble the May elections again, that is the end of this fair country.

We all have to take seriously our shepherds’ call for the flock to “come together and organize ourselves more effectively than we have done in the past.”

One big question is if, in the short span of three months, we could still reeducate all sectors — candidates and voters, as well as officials and their followers — to give the country a chance.

My answer to that is: Puede pa, kung talagang gusto natin!

* * *

GOOD FAITH: At this point, we have to grant President Arroyo’s good faith when she said in response:

“The Bishops and I are on one track for clean and peaceful elections; and the administration will continue to work with all institutions and sectors to see that this happens.

“For starters, I urge a four-party summit between the Commission on Elections, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, poll watchdog groups and the Philippine National Police to come up with a comprehensive plan on stabilizing election hot spots, focused monitoring in possible areas of fraud, transparent poll procedures, and checks on illegal spending.”

“We assure the CBCP and the Filipino people that this administration will police its own ranks to protect and advance all democratic processes.”

Amen.

* * *

TICKLED PINK: Calling President Arroyo when she was in Davos grappling with all those big issues on the global agenda, President Bush praised her for the Philippine government’s successful strikes against terrorists groups in Mindanao.

That was a smart thing to do. As many management gurus tell us, it is best that we praise our personnel in public and criticize in private.

It was a personal call, so we do not know what reminders, if any, Bush may have hinted at about sticking with the US in its global campaign against terrorism and, huh, other concerns like trade globalization where the Philippine and ASEAN votes are important.

Considering how she and her spokesman were gushing over the well-timed call, Ms Arroyo must have been tickled pink. Mahusay talagang manligaw yang si Bush.

* * *

JACKPOT: Some dude using the name “Recardo d ocampo” informed me yesterday by text (SMS) that my cellphone number had won P2 million “from GMA K-4 foundation 2 Central BANK of the Phil. DTI-Permit #3306 january 27, 2007.”

For somebody promising P2 million, he should at least have a decent grasp of grammar and spelling, plus some formality, to be credible.

Besides, his offer is chicken feed. The past several months, years actually, I have been receiving via email eye-popping notices of my supposedly having won various prizes, not to mention some grants and access to secret bank deposits, all of which could total around $100 billion!

You know the usual line. A strongman in some remote country had died, leaving a gold hoard or some secret dollar or euro account in the millions that could be withdrawn or transferred by his widow or his attorney only with the assistance of a reliable third party – and it happens to be me daw! — who will agree to use his (my) bank and accept a generous commission!

* * *

DELETE IT!: Many times I have won, daw, computer-generated lottery prizes in the millions that would shame PCSO’s paltry jackpots (that some skeptics claim sometimes have to be shared with fictitious winners).

Last week, a service advisor at Honda asked me for advice, because he got an email announcing his winning a lottery prize and the sender was asking for his bank account number so they could send him the dollars.

He had responded, indicating in a general way that he was interested, but failed to give his bank numbers. Now he is frantic, because the other party is demanding that he pays back their expenses resulting from his having initially agreed to receive the prize.

To him and the many others in the same sticky situation: Delete such messages the moment you spot them in your email or cellphone inbox. Do not look back and keep wondering if the prize was for real. It is not.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 30, 2007)

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