POSTSCRIPT / July 23, 2009 / Thusday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Noli as post-2010 transition president

THE RESURRECTION: “It’s gone with the wind,” Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile told PhilSTAR editors last Monday. “It” referred to the relentless attempt to convene congressmen as a Constituent Assembly (Con-ass) to propose Charter changes (Cha-cha).

Cha-cha may have been dealt fatal blows by the harsh winds of public opinion, but its corpse still keeps stirring in the imagination of both its proponents and opponents in and out of the Congress.

Described below, for instance, is another resurrection of the Cha-cha idea that refuses to die among congressmen working for their own term extension and the transformation of President Gloria Arroyo into a Prime Minister.

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THE TRANSITION: It is often said that a post-2010 shift to a parliamentary system is problematic because whoever is elected president in next year’s elections will not give up his newly won position unless he/she takes over as Prime Minister.

A new Cha-cha scenario hurdles that obstacle by using Vice President Noli de Castro as a transition president. As the wags have it, De Castro – described as lacking the self-confidence to take on the awesome responsibilities of the presidency – is willing to play the lightweight role of ceremonial president.

It is uncanny that this ploy conforms to the White House desire that (1) the 2010 general elections be held as scheduled and that (2) Gloria Arroyo will not stay as president beyond her term ending at noon of June 30, 2010.

But while Ms Arroyo will cease to be president under this new post-2010 scenario, she may just emerge on top of the heap after the Cha-cha dust settles.

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THE PLOT: This is more or less the plot of the emerging transition scenario:

President Arroyo strikes a deal with the Vice President that she would help him win as president in the May 2010 elections while he commits to help her become Prime Minister.

De Castro, consistent topnotcher in popularity surveys since way back, runs for president as an independent candidate with the administration quietly helping him in the background. At the same time, Ms Arroyo runs for the second congressional district of her native Pampanga where she is a sure winner.

In the first year of De Castro’s term as newly elected president, and under his general direction, the Constitution is revised. The nation shifts to a parliamentary system under his aegis as transition president. Ms Arroyo will work it out that she, representing her district, is chosen Prime Minister.

Of course the newly elected members of the Congress will be carried over as the members of the new Parliament. That has to be part of the deal, otherwise they will not play along.

As President, De Castro will be the chief of state, while Prime Minister Arroyo is head of government. The President will be mainly ceremonial, a role that newsreader Kabayan Noli can perform very well, while the hard executive powers are to be exercised by Prime Minister Arroyo.

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CLARIFICATION: My journalistic scars remind me at this point that I should make a quick clarification — that my reporting this possible scenario does not mean I am supporting or advocating it, or that I am saying that it will come to pass.

Neither am I now changing my long-held assessment that President Arroyo will not dive and run for a congressional seat in the second district of Pampanga.

I want to take this opportunity to point out also that unfolding events seem to confirm my prediction repeatedly made since last year that the May 2010 elections will take place as ordained by the Constitution (and, lately, also by Uncle Sam).

I reiterate my other forecast, also made as early as last year, that there will be no Cha-cha BEFORE the May 2010 elections. The Cha-cha drawn up in the De Castro transition scenario comes AFTER.

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RICAFORT REPORT: When long-time Clark Development Corp. director Benigno N. Ricafort assumed on Aug. 1 last year the position of CDC president and chief executive officer, the cloud of the global financial crisis was there hanging over his head.

Although he knew the negative impact of the crisis, Ricafort took on the assignment from President Arroyo. Giving us yesterday a preview of his first annual report, he said among other things:

* Since August 2008, CDC has signed 73 new investment projects that will infuse fresh capital with a projected commitment of $280 million or about P14 billion.

* Clark has 417 active locators with some P70 billion in investments, more than 55,000 workers, and exports of close to $1 billion.

* The biggest investment gain this year came from new tourism projects and the expansion from the International Container Terminal sector with P11.2 billion committed investments.

* While there was a decline in foreign direct investments of close to 50 percent for the first quarter of 2009, second quarter data showed a big leap with more than a billion-peso worth of contracts signed.

* Local and international civil aviation authorities have allowed the processing of 22 withheld projects in the western section of Clark after declaring the area a “no-fly zone,” thus lifting building height restrictions there.

* The CDC has just concluded its road show for stakeholders in the Next Frontier, a legacy project of President Arroyo that will develop more than 10,000 hectares in the Sacobia Valley south of Clark proper. Expected investments could bring in $5 billion and employ 143,000 more workers.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 23, 2009)

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