Jolly hamsters on parade
By Bill Huang
Forget all you may have heard about Filipino crab mentality. This week that was, newsmakers looked more like hamsters on their own treadmills, in their individual cages, still trying to race each other. How busy were they? Let’s just put it this way: if we could only hook them up to generators, we wouldn’t need Independent Power Producers. Hamsters on speed.
Chief Hamster says she won’t run, winds up running anyway. To our mind, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was Chief Hamster this week, and not just by virtue of her high position in the government and the automatic respect that entails.
If she thought she had quieted the political storm by announcing last December 30 that she wouldn’t run in the 2004 presidential election, guess again. With her announcement, her fellow hamster, Lakas co-chairman Speaker Jose de Venecia, wasted no time in bombarding the newspapers with his tired and trite "government of national unity" idea, which wants to invite not just opposition figures from here to eternity, but insurgents of various stripes too, to join.
The net result: The President has yet to make her major policy announcement on government reform, but she finds herself running—scrambling, even--to keep the Speaker from setting the agenda with his "government of national unity".
And so, this week that was saw the President meeting with Lakas officials in Malacañang to set up a Council of Unity, which we think sets a higher standard for its members than de Venecia’s "government of national unity". After all, membership in her Council of Unity requires acceptance of fundamental principles: adherence to the Constitution, national sovereignty, territorial integrity, and rule of law. The main requirement for membership in de Venecia’s government of national unity appears to be immunity from prosecution.
About the only other good thing we’ll say about it is this: If it keeps charter change—and the Speaker’s political ambitions--on the back burner, it might be of some use after all. Otherwise, we’re setting the snooze alarm for 2004.
Not that we’re being overly cynical, but let’s just say we have a different take on the institutional reforms necessary to convince the people the President is sincere. On the topic of reforms that the President allegedly gave up her reelection chances to pursue, sometime during the previous weekend, several civil-society groups reportedly brought a letter of concern to the President, urging her to take decisive action against certain people, particularly tax evaders. The President, it was reported elsewhere, was not too pleased at being given such pointed suggestions on how to pursue meaningful reform. The suggestions were reportedly regarded by some as either vengeful or opportunistic.
Our advice: Policy announcements on government reform don’t sound as good as they used to in general, but especially around here. We suggest she takes the advice of the civil-society groups and start getting tough on corrupt officials and tax-evading tycoons and politicians. The truth of the matter is this: Around here, people get the idea that reform is just another code word for whitewash, as in reform is necessary to prevent any recurrence of wrongdoing, meaning if we make enough noise about reform, you’ll forget all the wrongdoing that already took place. Guess what? The international Financial Action Task Force hasn’t bought that line, which is why we’re still on its blacklist.
If the Chief Hamster is running, the deputy underassistant associate junior hamsters are asking, how far and how fast? In the meantime, as the President was running to stay ahead of Speaker Joe, it seems her deputy hamsters in Malacañang Palace were doing their own scrambling, as the Cabinet revamp really does look like a game of musical chairs.
The Metro Manila Development Authority’s Bayani Fernando was offered the post of Public Works Secretary, but he either turned it down or wanted to serve as head of both bodies concurrently, depending on who you believe. As the smoke clears, it now appears that he’ll stay at MMDA, but will be acting head of the DPWH, as current Public Works Secretary Simeon Datumanong heads to the Justice Department.
In accepting the offer to head the Justice Department, Datumanong reportedly asked for a little more time to take care of unfinished business at Public Works, which he apparently did this week, when he fired 13 Public Works officials for their participation in a P182-million vehicle-repair scam in the department.
Sounds like a good example, sir, now can your investigators and prosecutors at Justice find out exactly how baseless the charges against your predecessor Hernando Perez were? After all, considering that the damage done to the entire Arroyo administration may have stemmed from the "baseless" charges leveled against Perez by Congressman-in-US-detention Mario Crespo/Mark Jimenez, we’re curious as kittens to find out. Wouldn’t you be?
Agrarian Reform Secretary Hernani Braganza, after some reported hamster infighting at the Palace, appears set to become Press Secretary, as current Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye becomes Presidential Spokesman, replacing Presidential Spokesman Rigoberto Tiglao, who becomes Presidential Chief of Staff.
Meanwhile, it was reported this week that was that hamsters in Malacañang also offered Senator Rodolfo Biazon the post of Public Works Secretary, which Biazon turned down, but not before he turned down the Secretaryship of the soon-to-be-created housing and urban development department and the commisionership of the Bureau of Customs.
At any rate, Biazon may have been wise to turn down the housing department because if our memory serves us right, that housing post was first offered by then president Joseph Estrada to his Presidential Management Staff chief Leny de Jesus, in order to get her out of the way during her turf battles with Executive Secretary, now-Congressman Ronnie Zamora. Where is she now, and more importantly for Biazon, where is the department? Our question: Why is the Arroyo administration so desperate to have him in the Cabinet? To get him out of the Senate? Or just to secure his loyalty, come what may? At any rate, all this frenetic activity smells of desperation.
First in the hearts of migrant workers, now first in the hearts of taxi drivers. In the laugh-out-loud story of this week that was, First Hamster Mike Arroyo was caught distributing balut (boiled duck eggs) and free accident insurance policies to 200 taxi drivers on TM Kalaw St. in Ermita the evening of Monday, 06 January. He denied he was starting a campaign to gather 5 million signatures urging his wife to reverse her no-reelection pledge and run in 2004.
The First Gentleman claimed he was just fulfilling a promise that he and his wife had made earlier to cab drivers. Oh yeah, when? And why would you have to distribute them at night? Think of it, if you had distributed them during the day, they’d have had valid excuses for snubbing people trying to hail them. Oh yeah, that’s right: there’s that no-more-politicking pledge.
Our advice to Mike Arroyo: The "will-of-the-people" canard didn’t work when Fidel Ramos tried to manufacture it for his charter-change bid in 1997, the "will-of-the taxi-drivers" gambit won’t work for your wife, especially if you’re seen to be anywhere near it. Or do you think we’ve forgotten the brief but knee-jerk firestorm that erupted when the President tried to make you her "special envoy" to migrant workers?
Malacañang was in damage-control mode, but it was the classic "damned-if-we-defend-him, damned-if-we-say-we-have-no-idea-what-th
Hamster wants to look like he’s not running, gets someone else to run for him. Speaking of the former President, Fidel Ramos spent this week that was denying that he was interested in running for president again. Trouble is, his credibility was severely undercut when a self-declared Ramos supporter came out of the woodwork and filed a petition for declaratory relief before a Quezon City Regional Trial Court, on the matter of the presidential reelection prohibition spelled out in the 1987 Constitution.
These hamsters may not be running, but they want to make a deal with the hamster that wins. On the topic of presidential posturing, it was reported that two parties in the People Power Coalition, Lito Osmeña’s Promdi and Renato de Villa’s Reporma, back former Senator and Education Secretary Raul Roco’s bid to become president in 2004. Promdi and Reporma weren’t the first groups to embrace Roco, as even newly dismissed--este, voluntarily resigned--Justice Secretary Hernando Perez said he would endorse Roco’s name to the Lakas board as a presidential candidate worthy of Lakas’ endorsement. Even hamsters have to deal with premature ejaculations, it would appear, or do we smell a desperate bid for immunity from prosecution, just in case Roco runs and wins?
This hamster is running like crazy, and he’s proud of it. This week that was, there appeared to be one hamster who was openly running, and proud of it. It was reported that people close to Senator Edgardo Angara claim he has the votes that will bring him the Senate President post come Monday, when the Senate resumes its regular session.
The talk of a Senate coup was spurred by the confluence of two events: the growing move among congressmen for charter change, which Drilon has gone on record to oppose, and the apparent unraveling of the previous Senate-Presidency-sharing deal between Franklin Drilon and Rene Cayetano, due to Cayetano’s inability to assume the post for health reasons.
It’s been reported that Angara supports charter change, but only if the 2004 elections push through. Qualifiers or no, if the reports are true, Angara’s ascension to the Senate presidency will only fuel speculation that the President, without whose imprimatur none of this nonsense can prosper, may have sworn off a re-election bid in 2004, but remains interested in staying in power through a change in the system of government.
Given the move in the House to push for charter change, which now borders on frenzied desperation, it will take a tremendous act of political courage and will on the part of our senators to send a message to one and all: that the problems of the Philippines do not lie in a faulty constitution, they lie in faulty politicians. And the solutions to the problems caused by faulty politicians are not going to be provided by the faulty politicians themselves.
Be wary of 1,495 hamsters who offer to scratch your back. In other news this week that was, 1,495 municipal mayors-hamsters vowed to help President Arroyo accomplish her objectives for the next 18 months, as they also declared their support for initiatives to shift to the parliamentary form of government. At first glance, this looked like the municipal mayors were being tugged in two different directions. Now we’re not so sure.
Smells like team spirit. In the other major news of the week that was, the Bubby Dacer-Emmanuel Corbito kidnap-murder case of November 2000 reared its ugly, unsolved head again, as the good news of a surrender of a suspect in Cebu, PO2 Tomas Sarmiento, was punctuated the next day with the bad news of the murder of another suspect in Cavite.
Senior Superintendent Teofilo Viña, regarded by government investigators as the point man in the double-kidnap-murder case, was gunned down in public at a party in a Cavite councilor’s home.
All the people involved in the abduction-murders appear to come from the Estrada-era Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force, which was headed by then-National Police chief, now Senator Panfilo Lacson. Perhaps he should be called in to shed some light on the PAOCTF connection. Frankly, we’re surprised he and his lieutenants—Sr. Superintendents Michael Ray Aquino and Cesar Mancao who are believed to have left the country and remain at large--haven’t rushed in to defend whatever good name they think PAOCTF still has left.
Our advice to government investigators: better invite the Senator to answer questions now, because if you think he’s been a busy hamster all this time, think of how much busier he’s going to be should he become President.