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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Inquirer Editorial

Editorial : Suspicions

COLUMNIST Lito Banayo blames the Inquirer, in a way, for the collapse of reconciliation talks between the administration and former President Joseph Estrada. Banayo suggests that the Inquirer banner last Saturday infuriated Estrada and the Catholic charismatic group El Shaddai's Bro. Mike Velarde. Whether this is true or not, instead of dying down, the idea that some sort of "unity government" can be forged refuses to die. Both sides continue to nibble at the bait.

The proposal, as articulated by Velarde, consists of a majority of Cabinet positions going to the Estrada-led opposition (specifically, 60 percent of Cabinet portfolios) as a sign of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's "sincerity"; amending the Constitution to permit early presidential elections in 2007, effectively pre-terminating the President's term; lifting the limitations on successive terms of elective officials; and "easing some restrictive economic provisions."

The proposal would allow the President to find a graceful exit. It would accord the Estrada-led opposition what it most wants: access to the levers of power. It would allow Estrada to proclaim his proposals for constitutional reform have been vindicated. And it would allow President Arroyo to free herself from the iron grip of the Lakas-CMD, a party that has never liked her, and from the influence of former President Fidel Ramos and Speaker Jose de Venecia, who want a different kind of constitutional change from what both Ms Arroyo and Estrada have espoused in the past.

Some civil society groups claim the President wants to announce the formation of a coalition government by this weekend, which is why immense pressure has supposedly been exerted on congressmen regarding the impeachment complaint. MalacaƱang, of course, denies all this, but what is certain is that the Velarde proposal has put a new wrinkle into the political scheme of things.

Politically, it is understandable for the Estrada camp to grasp at whatever straw is being offered. It may even be understandable for the President's people to be seen trying to work out a way to secure her political future while providing her more leeway by finding a new set of allies to replace the civil society forces that have abandoned her. However, the Velarde plan indicates that both sides will stop at nothing to get what they want.

What Estrada wants is an end to his detention and a chance to go home. The President wants to avoid, quite obviously, impeachment, with all the uncertainties inherent in the process. This betrays a fundamental insecurity about the process that may suggest a guilty conscience. After all, political observers have pointed out how the opposition's handling of the impeachment complaint in the House of Representatives has verged on ineptitude. And yet, despite the inability of the opposition in the House of Representatives either to secure signatures or come up with a coherent case, the President still fears for her political life.

If the Velarde proposal reveals anything it is how thoroughly all sides distrust the President. The idea that the proposal can be made, and taken seriously, shows that in the eyes of those trying to broker such a deal, the President has neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies. Only her interests are permanent, and when it comes to those, apparently the guiding principle of all other politicians is to be permanently on their guard. The proposal presumes that the President is willing to turn her back on her public pronouncements on Charter change; that she is prepared to turn her back on whatever meaning Edsa People Power II has for her; that she is quite happy to accommodate in her government those expelled from government for incompetence and abusing the public purse; and that her challenge to be impeached was an empty one.

A trial balloon such as Velarde's has a limited life. If an ironclad deal isn't reached very soon, it will have to be publicly rejected by both sides to prevent a revolt by the allies of both sides. The Lakas-CMD, Ramos and De Venecia must be alarmed by such talk. Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis "Chavit" Singson has already reacted angrily to it. The tenuous alliances within the opposition will be hard-pressed to survive an extended Estrada sellout that is there for all the world to see. And the civil society busybodies left out in the cold will be tempted to revive their alliance with a Left, which could be rendered irrelevant by an Arroyo-Estrada alliance.

What a mess.

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