Thursday, September 29, 2005

Congress Powers Clipped

Posted by Luz Rimban 

PRESIDENT Gloria Arroyo today issued Executive Order 464 clipping the powers of Congress to conduct hearings and to summon officials of the executive department to testify before congressional inquiries.

The order requires cabinet members, police and military generals, senior national security officials, and "such other officers as may be determined by the President" to first seek her approval before appearing before any inquiry of the Senate or the House of Representatives.  

The President invoked "the constitutional guarantees of the separation of  powers of the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government" to justify her decree. She also cited Article VI Section 22 of the Constitution which allows cabinet members and other officials to testify at congressional hearings with the permission of the President.

The order was issued as two military officers appeared before the Senate Committee on National Defense which began hearings on the "Hello, Garci" scandal and allegations the President committed fraud  in the May 2004 elections. 

It also comes a week after National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales faced a Senate inquiry on the issue surrounding the government contract with Washington-based law firm Venable LLP.

Read the full text of Executive Order 464 here.  

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Inquirer Editorial

Editorial : Empty doctrine

THE CONCEPT of a national security doctrine owes to initiatives undertaken by US President Harry S. Truman in 1947. There were profound changes in the American defense structure (Department of National Defense replaced the Department of War), foreign policy and intelligence agencies (particularly the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency), with the National Security Council made as the vehicle for coordinating national security policy. The American concept of national security and the apparatus to sustain it were rapidly copied by other governments all over the world. President Carlos P. Garcia became the first Philippine president to establish a National Security Council. We have had an NSC ever since.

Executive Order No. 292, otherwise known as "The Administrative Code of 1987," was enacted during the time of President Corazon Aquino, while she was yet vested with sweeping powers, prior to the ratification of the 1987 Constitution. It retained and formalized the National Security Council (Title VII, Chapter 2), assigning to that agency the following responsibilities: "The formulation of integrated and rationalized national, foreign, military, political, economic, social and educational policies, programs, and procedures vital to the security of the state." Its members include the President, Vice President, the Executive Secretary, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, the Secretary of Justice, the Secretary of Labor, the Secretary of Interior and Local Government, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the National Security Adviser, and such other government officers or private individuals that the President may appoint. Traditionally, beginning with President Carlos Garcia's invitation to former President Sergio Osmeña to be a member, former presidents have sat in the National Security Council.

Going back to the United States, which started the national security apparatus idea, it has periodically revised its national security doctrines, publishing these for the guidance of the American officials and the public, and the rest of the world.

The latest revision was undertaken by the present Bush administration. The principles behind the new doctrine boil down to the following salient points: an "Overview of America's International Strategy"; "Champion Aspirations for Human Dignity"; "Strengthen Alliances to Defeat Global Terrorism and Work to Prevent Attacks Against Us and Our Friends"; "Work With Others to Defuse Regional Conflicts"; "Prevent Our Enemies from Threatening Us, Our Allies, and Our Friends with Weapons of Mass Destruction"; "Ignite a New Era of Global Economic Growth through Free Markets and Free Trade"; "Expand the Circle of Development by Opening Societies and Building the Infrastructure of Democracy"; "Develop Agendas for Cooperative Action with the Other Main Centers of Global Power"; and "Transform America's National Security Institutions to Meet the Challenges and Opportunities of the Twenty-First Century."

These headings by themselves give a rather thorough overview of American strategic interests, available to friend or foe alike. Which leads us to ask: Where is the Philippine equivalent? The Philippine concept of national security seems to be more obsessed with cloak-and-dagger operations rather than with genuine policy-making. We have been subjected to the workings of a national security adviser; Norberto Gonzales is the latest in a line of advisers who seem to think they should simply dispense advice on a case-to-case basis, rather than according to the thought-out and spelled-out security interests of the country.

If, for example, the rescinded Venable contract was a matter of national security (which presumably it was, since the national security adviser signed it), why, then, did Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, all of whom are members of the National Security Council, all claim not to know about the contract? There are many questions that still need answering; but the most fundamental question of all is: Does the Philippines have a national security policy? If so, where is it? Even in broad strokes, the public has not been informed of one; neither has it been given access to such policy. Whichever, both cases are definitely wrong.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Book For Bloggers

Bloggers' handbook released to help dissidents

Agence France-Presse

PARIS--A bloggers' handbook aimed at helping dissidents in repressive countries avoid detection when they publish on the Internet was released Thursday in Paris with the support of the French government.

The press rights group Reporters without Borders (RSF) said the 86-page book -- which is also available at its website -- offers "handy tips and technical advice on how to to remain anonymous and to get round censorship, by choosing the most suitable method for each situation."

"Bloggers are often the only real journalists in countries where the mainstream media is censored or under pressure. Only they provide independent news, at the risk of displeasing the government and sometimes courting arrest," RSF said.

The handbook offers advice on the best ways to get blogs picked up by search-engines and how to "establish credibility through observing basic ethical and journalistic principles."

It also includes personal acounts from bloggers in countries such as Iran, China and Nepal, and a list of states judged to be the "champions of Internet censorship."

The book was produced with help from the French foreign ministry.

Reporters without Borders

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Tipping Factor

Human Face : Why isn't it tipping?

Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
Inquirer News Service

I RECEIVED varied feedback via e-mail on my Sept. 15 column, "Why isn't it tipping?" That piece was on Malcolm Gladwell's bestseller and page-turner, "The Tipping Point"; and on why the eagerly awaited or much-dreaded (depending on which side you are) tipping point that would lead to the Arroyo administration's fall was not happening. Gladwell's book presents events in history, real-life examples and studies that show how the tipping point phenomenon works.

I'm sharing portions of some letters:

From "Xcathedra":

"Social cybernetics is one specialized field of discipline that might give other interesting leads on why there still is a prevailing 'social feedback stasis' before and following the 'oust Arroyo' initiatives.

"In mathematics (fractals and Chaos Theory) and physics, that 'tipping' point is known as the advent of entropy/chaos. You might want to read James Gleick's book (it's old in today's standards, but still grippingly enlightening) titled 'Chaos.' You can have a whiff of an analytical framework for dissecting social change.

"I suspect the stasis has something to do (partly) with the current state of equilibrium of the 'system' (public reaction and feedback). To explain: For every introduction of a (change) variable that would induce disequilibrium (or 'chaos') leading to an adjustment or total change of a system, the adjusted or changed system will always emerge stronger than before (whether in the negative or positive sense).

"Having been exposed to several 'Edsa events' and propaganda of agitation, the usual recipe to induce the tipping point/entropy/chaos will not work. It has to have something more potent, something that can weaken the 'inured' (or stronger) new state of equilibrium of the ordinary people's collective response. The pond has endured too many small stones that another one will just create small ripples. You need a bigger stone or a new object that can induce the pond's waters to roil.

"Truth with a capital T matters. But the collective response system of ordinary people is in a stronger state of equilibrium in the different versions of truth-tired as they are of the long, wasteful string of investigations, accusations, and lawsuits (all of which led to more lies) that characterize how their leaders run the country."

From Ronald Cagape, IT professional:

"It, the bid to remove Pres. Arroyo, is not moving because it doesn't have all three elements in place.

"First, there are no people who fit the Law of the Few. Now it can be said that former President Aquino and Susan Roces actually have minimal impact. Whoever is backing them ought to notice that by now. With the passing of Cardinal Sin, the influence of the Catholic Church has diminished. The Church is currently being led by committee... Sadly, there is no one in the opposition who could proclaim himself a Connector, Maven or Salesman.

"Actually, there are people who fit the Law of the Few but they work for the President. Speaker De Venecia is a potent Connector and Salesman in political circles. So is former President Ramos. I'm sure, the Mavens in the presidential think-tank worked tirelessly to ensure the impeachment vote didn't go the other way. This is the team that has to be overcome if you want to tip the movement to the other side.

"Second, the Stickiness Factor in the movement is not compelling enough. All they have is 'Hello, Garci.' It doesn't evoke an image repugnant enough to move people to action. All I remember is a disgruntled former NBI man with personal grudges proclaiming he has the 'mother of all tapes.' He could be a Maven, if he could be called Maven, but he did not stand for anything. He was not an embodiment of principle, integrity or honor. He had no credibility...I couldn't even remember his name.

"If (they) want the President removed, they should find something despicable and make it sticky, such as the dancing Tessie Oreta-Aquino in Edsa 2. Now THAT was sticky. Or 'Tama na, sobra na' of the original People Power movement. These sticky factors riled people enough that they vented their anger in the streets ...Is cheating really all that bad? Which leads me to the last point.

"The Context has no Power. In an environment where everyone knows that all politicians cheat anyway, finding out your President cheated is not powerful enough to generate anger. So what if she cheated to be President? Every senator and congressman bidding to remove her also cheated...

"I don't see this tipping anytime soon."

From Ernie Adaya:

"Why isn't it tipping? The answer is very simple: 'Because (President Arroyo) is tipping' and tipping generously for survival. In the Philippines, politicians, the influence peddlers, etc. are always on the lookout for the tipping point, because, like the waiters and waitresses in restaurants, they know that at the tipping point, the 'tips' will start flowing generously.

"Gladwell fails to realize that in the Philippines, there is a fourth rule of the Tipping Point, that is the Power of the 'tip' or the 'Tipping' Factor."

From a hard-up reader named Jori, for bleeding hearts out there:

"ma'am, where can i possibly find the book you're referring to in your column... i found it interesting... nabasa ko rin mga reviews about the book sa net. kaya lang baka di ko kaya ang price (in the red kc ako sa ngayon). i'm only good at second-hand books right now. can i possibly borrow one from you? sorry po... wala kc ako kilala mahiraman. thank you po.''

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Inquirer Editorial

Editorial : Fuel of the future

AS THE PRICE of international crude oil inched closer to $70 a barrel last month, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced a number energy conservation measures to soften the impact of a developing oil crisis. "This is not a simple test of our resiliency but a real challenge to economic survival," she said.

Yet the crisis should not have come as a great surprise. Everyone who cared enough to give it a thought would have realize that the world's supply of fossil fuels could not last forever.

Neither was the crisis completely unpreventable. Conservation measures and environment-friendly, renewable, indigenous, alternative energy sources have been there for the tapping and the taking. Since the 1970s, there have been intermittent calls to lessen the country's dependence on oil. But no administration gave them serious consideration.

Even today, there still seems to be no real serious or orchestrated, high-impact program to address the crisis. For instance, while the administration has announced reductions in energy consumption in government offices and the fielding of a team to ensure compliance, the fleets of gas-guzzling cars that congressmen and other public officials ride to work or to ferry their families to malls and vacation resorts have not diminished.

The country has to come up with more than stopgap measures to address the crisis. And such an enterprise will entail the resolve and cooperation of all sectors, Congress not the least among them.

Car and planes in Brazil are now running on ethanol -- 100 percent or mixed with gasoline or diesel. Other fuel-hungry economies are following in Brazil's footsteps. According to Newsweek, the United States now uses 2 percent ethanol and wants to expand its use. The European Union is eyeing biofuels for 6 percent of its fuel needs. South Korea and Japan are importing ethanol from Brazil. Thailand is constructing over a dozen facilities to extract ethanol from sugar cane and rice husks. And China has joined more than 30 countries building ethanol facilities and growing crops from which ethanol can be extracted.

It is not just the dwindling reserves and the increasing prices of oil that have made the use of alternative fuels imperative and urgent. There are also environmental concerns over the extensive use of the highly polluting oil. Not only that, biofuels, which are extracted from plant oils or animal fats, can be produced by almost every country in the world (unlike oil which can only be produced by the few countries where it can be found), and thus can create jobs in economically lethargic agricultural areas. Brazil, the No. 1 producer of ethanol -- definitely a cleaner, renewable alternative fuel -- "is revolutionizing both the countryside and the auto industry," Newsweek says.

But as usual we are lagging behind, both in terms of promoting the use of ethanol and other biofuels and their local production. True, a couple of small oil companies have announced plans to import ethanol and market it locally. Also, one local company is setting up an ethanol plant in Negros. But these attempts to include biofuels in our energy mix amount to little more than a drop in the bucket.

The country consumes 345,000 barrels of oil per day. It has been estimated that for transportation alone, which accounts for 58 percent of our oil consumption, our annual oil bill amounts to P170 billion. That amount is nothing to sneeze at. If local ethanol producers can be assured of just 10 percent of that market, there may be a lot more interest in investing in ethanol plants and the crops that would supply their needs.

Bukidnon Rep. Miguel Zubiri is looking in that direction. Last month, he filed a bill that seeks to jump-start the ethanol develop program. He has been quoted as saying the program would seek to expand the use of ethanol to 10 percent of the transportation sector's fuel requirements within five years. He has also been talking about establishing at least 27 ethanol factories in different sites across the country, at a cost of P1 billion each.

The details of the Zubiri plan still need to be fleshed out. For instance: What incentives or assistance will an ethanol producer get? Will he be assured of a market even if oil prices go down? How can the welfare of consumers be balanced against the need to make investments in biofuels attractive? But at least someone in Congress is thinking about the oil crisis and proposing one very promising solution. It's time others contributed to the effort.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Debt Solutions

Editorial : Conversion

AS IT STANDS, THE AUDACIOUS PROPOSAL TO convert as much as half of the world's external debt into equity in poverty-reduction programs still leaves some important questions unanswered. But as it stands, the proposal may be the last best hope for countries such as the Philippines to pry themselves loose, finally, from the trillion-dollar debt trap.

At the heart of the proposal-first raised by Speaker Jose de Venecia last July, and then again two weeks ago at the World Conference of Speakers of Parliament in New York City, and then reiterated by President Macapagal-Arroyo last week at the UN General Assembly-is the principle of conversion.

The proposal seeks to convert part of the debt payments of a highly or moderately indebted country into equity stakes in Millennium Development Goal-related projects. The proportional stakes will be owned by the lenders, but the projects will be located where they are most needed: inside the indebted country itself.

De Venecia told a UN forum organized to discuss the proposal: "We plead not for debt forgiveness, not for debt cancellation, not for debt moratorium, not for debt discounts. Our proposal requires no new monies from the parliaments and governments of rich nations. Nor do we envision any reduction or loss of face value in the creditors' financial assets. What we propose is a global conversion of debt for MDG projects ... a plowback of up to 50 percent of debt payments received."

The principal Millennium Development Goal is the halving of poverty levels by 2015. But countries like the Philippines set aside as much as 60 to 70 centavos of every peso of the national budget for debt payments; this leaves precious little for poverty-reduction programs.

The fundamental idea behind the conversion proposal is to free up much more of a government's budget for necessary investments, say in new school buildings, or in farm-to-market roads, or in children's nutrition programs. "We can address the problem of poverty if we have the money with which to finance anti-poverty projects," De Venecia said.

But will the lenders-such as the Paris Club, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank, and certain commercial banks-accept the proposal? It is easy to see what countries like the Philippines will stand to gain from conversion; in the case of the Philippines, and according to De Venecia's own computations, as much as P112.5 billion in redirected funds. But what will the lenders get for their pains?

The idea of acquiring equity or an ownership stake in certain assets may be financially appealing for some, but it is best to face up to the truth. The real benefit of the conversion proposal is longer-term, and macro-economic. The bottom-line appeal, in other words, is Kennedyesque: a rising tide, the proposal assumes, will lift all boats. A surge in funds available to reduce poverty will raise incomes and improve the quality of life. And that can only be good for everyone concerned.

The Freedom from Debt Coalition has already criticized the proposal, because instead of helping prove that much of the country's foreign debt was illegitimate and therefore condonable, the proposal fudges the issue. Clearly, the loan the country assumed to pay for the useless Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, for example, was legally defective and morally offensive. But that particular debt was securitized almost a decade ago; in other words, the original lenders had already been paid, and government has no choice but to pay the new lenders who had assumed the debt.

It is precisely this stark reality, this reminder of the brutally unforgiving nature of international finance, that recommends the conversion proposal to us. To be sure, other debt-relief initiatives must continue, including some version of the five-year moratorium outlined in the "Blueprint for a Viable Philippines." But think of it: If this conversion proposal actually results in reversing the flow of hundreds of billions of pesos out of the country and back into the countryside, we should all be glad to call ourselves converts.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Inquirer Editorial

Editorial : Untenable

THE contract National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales Jr. entered into with a leading American law firm, to secure American support for "the Charter Change initiative of the President of the Philippines," does not become less objectionable merely because, as Gonzales claims, private money and not public funds will pay for it. On the contrary, it makes the transaction an even bigger outrage.

Gonzales sought to defend the P50-million contract with Venable LLP by justifying the need for the government to hire its own lobbyists. "We're looking at certain grants, aids, programs between the two countries, and my own observation is that some of these are not forthcoming when they should be coming [sic] already. I thought that we should look into the situation there and the normal practice in the US is that you get a lobby group."

Then he invoked his own boss, saying that President Macapagal-Arroyo had given him a specific piece of advice. "The government could have a lobby group but we should not spend money for this," he recalled her saying so.

But those cautionary words do not and cannot excuse the very idea of soliciting a foreign power's assistance in changing our Constitution; in fact, they make the notion even more inexcusable.

Getting the private sector to foot the bill for a project of this kind is not a Solomonic decision. It is, instead, Herodian: It involves getting somebody else to do one's dirty work.

Palace initiatives become matters of great public concern when they are blithely explained away as being funded by private money. For one thing, the real reason is government officials do not want to account for the expense, not because the national government is cash-strapped. For another, private donations always come with strings attached.

It was for these same reasons that we objected to the expensive, privately funded refurbishing of the presidential yacht during President Joseph Estrada's time. Our own history teaches us that the generosity of cronies comes at a price.

But Gonzales cannot even name who the Venable contract's cronies-to-be are. He said he does not yet know who they are, because his job was merely to "sign the contract and monitor the specifications of the contract."

This is an explanation that not only does not explain; it undermines the credibility of the explainer himself.

As the original report of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism made clear, none of the senior Cabinet officials who ought to have vetted the contract had even heard of it: not Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, not Presidential Legal Adviser Merceditas Gutierrez, not the highest officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs, not the Ambassador to the United States. Not even his deputy at the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency knew about the lobbying contract Gonzales had entered into.

In that case, it must have been an off-the-books affair, like special operations during elections. But if Gonzales himself does not know who the private donors are, then who would? Is he saying it's the President alone who knows who's donating and by how much?

That can only deepen public concern, about the real costs of the Venable contract.

Gonzales sought to dampen the growing public indignation over the arrangement by saying that Venable was committed to render many other services for the government, and that the Charter Change provision was a mere add-on. The contract, he said, specified "mostly ... defense matters."

But a look at the contract itself, easily available on the Internet, shows that lobbying in the United States for constitutional change in the Philippines is no afterthought; in fact, in the list of "specific tasks" which Venable "will undertake and use best efforts to accomplish," it comes first.

"(1) Secure grants or congressional earmarks for support of the Charter Change initiative of the President of the Philippines, which would reshape the form of government in the Philippines from its current structure into a parliamentary federal system."

The "capability enhancement program for the Armed Forces of the Philippines" only comes in third. So much for defense matters.

Gonzales' latest statements convince us not only that the contract must be scrapped, but also that the circumstances that led to it be thoroughly investigated.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Google Alert - leo lastimosa

Google Alert for: leo lastimosa - The Filipino Global Community
ARANGKADA By Leo Lastimosa The Freeman 09/12/2005 Kon may uwaw pa silang Dr.
Jose Sal Tan ug ubang mga opisyal sa Cebu State College of Science and ...

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Cha-Cha Lobby

The PCIJ's latest story, a one-part report by Malou Mangahas, a member of the PCIJ board of editors, uncovers a million-dollar contract signed by the Arroyo government to retain the services of an American law firm to lobby for charter change in the U.S. government.

The contract was signed by National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales Jr. on July 25, the same day that Mrs. Arroyo delivered her State of the Nation Address and announced that "it is time to start the great debate on charter change."

The PCIJ has copies of the contract and other disclosure documents filed with the U.S. Department of Justice by Venable LLP, the U.S. law firm that will get paid $75,000 per month plus expenses for one year.

We got in touch with Venable, who confirmed the contract's existence but declined to give details. None of the government officials we talked to, however, have any knowledge of the contract, which was apparently made in great haste and secrecy.

ON THE same day that she delivered her State of the Nation Address and summoned the nation to start "the great debate" on charter change, President Arroyo awarded a million-dollar lobbying consultancy contract to an American law firm to "secure grants and (US) congressional earmarks" for her initiative to "reshape the form of government…into a parliamentary federal system."

On July 25, 2005, Mrs. Arroyo hired the lobbying and representation services of US-based Venable LLP, one of America's top 100 law firms, for a substantial sum of $75,000 a month, or $900,000 (P50.4 million) for 12 months.

The amount excludes "costs for travel, telephone, fax, copying, etc." and "professional services" of up to $720 per hour for Venable's senior associates. These expenses, for which no ceilings were mentioned, could double the contract cost.

The contract was signed at a time when the government is reeling from a gaping budget deficit and calling for belt-tightening measures.

Former President Fidel V. Ramos, who inspired Mrs. Arroyo's charter change initiative on July 8, the day the Hyatt 10 group of secretaries bolted the Cabinet, thinks the idea of getting foreign consultants is not good. "There is no need to spend government money for that purpose because we must do it all ourselves and persuade ourselves genuinely and truly without foreign participation, " he said.

The contract does not state why US support for constitutional change is needed at all. Nor does it say what specific charter amendments the President needs US support for. The contract also includes lobbying for loans and grants from the US government, especially assistance to upgrade the capabilities of the Philippine military and police.

The US law firm confirmed the contract exists but none of the Philippine officials contacted for this report, including Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, whose job is to scrutinize contracts authorized by the President, know about it.

In disclosure documents it filed with the US Department of Justice, Venable listed "Maria Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo" and the "Republic of the Philippines" as "the client" that contracted its services to "represent the interests of the Philippines in the United States." The PCIJ has copies of the contract and other disclosure papers submitted by Venable to U.S. authorities.

National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales Jr. signed the three-page agreement as "the authorized representative of the President of the Philippines," while lawyers James T. Pitts and James George Jatras signed for Venable. Pitts is a transport sector expert, while Jatras' experience is in homeland security and Eastern Europe affairs.

The contract was apparently done in precipitate haste and shrouded in secrecy. Apart from Gonzales and Mrs Arroyo, senior executive officials and legislators did not know about it.

Two months after the contract's signing, these officials have not yet been informed of its existence by either Mrs Arroyo or Gonzales.

The contract does not specify which government agency is footing Venable's bill. For sure, the National Security Council that Gonzales heads could not afford it. The NSC's entire budget for 2005 is just P49 million. The agency's approved confidential, intelligence fund is a measly P2 million.

The contract is a big expense item given Mrs Arroyo's fresh calls for citizens and civil servants to tighten their belts amid surging oil prices. She said she herself has had to make do with using her hair dryer just once a day to save on electricity.

Why Gonzales, and not the President or a full-fledged Cabinet member, signed the contract with Venable is a big question. Venable's contract lists the NSC office on V. Luna in Diliman, Quezon City, as the address of its "foreign principal" — "The Republic of the Philippines."

Gonzales could not be reached for comment, even via his mobile phone. He flew last week to an undisclosed country in the Middle East, and for days now has shut off his mobile phone. Even his staff could not contact him. He is expected to return to Manila Tuesday night.

In phone calls and a questionnaire sent by email, Venable lawyers Pitts and Jastra were not forthcoming either.

In a joint mail, they stated: "Thank you for your inquiry. As we have indicated to you by telephone, for reasons of attorney-client privilege, we must decline to answer your questions regarding our representation of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines in its relationship with the United States."

"We suggest that any other inquiries be directed to the appropriate authorities of the Government of the Philippines," they added.

As national security adviser, Gonzales also serves as director-general of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA). Before the NSC, he was Presidential Adviser for Special Concerns from February 2001 up to January 2004. He chairs the Partido Demokratiko Sosyalista ng Pilipinas, and Kaunlaran ng Magsasaka Inc.

A policy review and staff unit under the Office of the President, the NSC's mandate in law is to coordinate "the formulation of policies relating to or with implications on the national security." Whether such a mandate includes contracting a US law firm to lobby for charter change is questionable.

The NSC has no offices or personnel in the US that could enable it to monitor Venable's work for the Philippine government. It has about 80 personnel, all based in the country.

The scant details of Venable's engagement with the Philippine government come from a copy of the contract it appended to disclosure documents it filed in compliance with the US Foreign Agents Registration Act or FARA.

Apart from Gonzales, few knew about Mrs. Arroyo's deal with Venable.

Those kept in the dark about the contract included the President's legal counsel Merceditas Gutierrez, the most senior foreign affairs officials, the Philippine ambassador to Washington, and even Gonzales's deputies and staff in the NSC.

Ermita was at first incredulous, insisting that all contracts authorized by the President should pass through him, as a matter of course. Told that Venable lawyers had confirmed the authenticity of the contract, Ermita said in jest, " Tatanungin ko si Bert (Gonzales). Sasabihin ko, ikaw pala may tinatago ka, ha!" (I will ask Bert. I will tell him, so you are hiding things from me now.)

Even without reading the contract, Ermita explains that it's normal for governments to seek the assistance of foreign experts, given that Mrs Arroyo has declared charter change as one of her priorities.

All documents and issuances for signing or release by the President must pass the legal scrutiny of Gutierrez. Venable's contract was a singular exception. On her request, PCIJ faxed Gutierrez a copy of the contract that she says she knew nothing about.

"We don't know anything, we have no participation in that contract," says Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Policy Franklin Ebdalin. DFA Spokesman Gilbert Asuque adds, "I've asked those in charge in the DFA and our records show we have no information about that contract."

Another official in the DFA's Office of American Affairs says even the Philippine ambassador to Washington DC is clearly "out of the loop." Not a single piece of paper has moved from Washington advising head office that such a contract existed, the source says.

Retired General Victor Mayo, NICA deputy-general who keeps house at the NSC during Gonzales's occasional trips in-country and overseas, has not read nor seen the contract with Venable.

"Nobody in the NSC could give you answers. The DG (director-general) could have done it without us," Mayo explains.

Gonzales "sometimes does things by himself, nagugulat na lang kami (we are just taken by surprise)."

Mayo recalls, however, that sometime in July, "he asked me in a very casual tone if there is anything wrong with him signing up a PR firm, and I told him maybe none."

"I did not see anything wrong with it but after that, I was not privy to what he signed, when he signed," Mayo adds.

This is not the first time that Mrs Arroyo acquired the services of expensive foreign consultants.

Since 2002, Burson-Marsteller, a leading global communications firm with expertise in crisis-issues-reputation management and media relations, has helped Malacañang's public-relations team spruce up Mrs. Arroyo's public image.

Secretary Rigoberto Tiglao, Presidential Management Staff chief, had acknowledged that Burson-Marsteller's 12-month contract fee was $800,000, an amount supposedly paid by pro-Arroyo businessmen.

But the contract Mrs Arroyo assigned to Venable goes beyond personal makeover. On top of Venable's multiple tasks for the Philippine government is "securing grants and congressional earmarks for charter change," even before the President could spell out what provisions she wants amended.

In addition, under the contract Venable is also expected to lobby for and represent the Arroyo administration in facilitating the Philippines re-inclusion in the credit facilities of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, secure a Philippine credit ratings upgrade in the US Eximbank, "create a capability enhancement program for the Armed Forces" and acquire up to $800 million in credit under the US Defense Loan Guarantee program, and "achieve a similar upgrade program" for the Philippine National Police.

But before Venable could do this, Mrs Arroyo has to deal with both critics and supporters back home.

Opposition Sen. Sergio Osmeña III deems the contract with Venable flawed for various reasons — "lack of transparency" in the negotiations, "lack of due diligence" in getting the best value for "an unauthorized expenditure," and the questionable capability NSC's Gonzales to monitor Venable's compliance with the contract's provisions.

"Congress has not appropriated funds for this," Osmeña avers. The secrecy surrounding the contract's signing could not be justified because, "charter change does not fall under national security."

In Osmeña's mind, the biggest irony of all is, "the American people know about it but the Filipino people who are paying do not."

Inquirer Editorial

Editorial : Great achievers

THE DEATH last Tuesday of Haydee Yorac, lawyer, activist, educator and public servant -- a cause for national mourning -- comes at a time the women of our country are commemorating the centenary of the Feminist Movement, and the 68th anniversary of the formal promulgation of women's suffrage in the Philippines.

It was in 1905 when La Asociacion Feminista Filipina was founded, with very specific objectives: prison reform, particularly on behalf of women and minors; visits to factories and shops employing women and minors, in order to recommend labor reforms; educational reforms; anti-vice drives mainly aimed against prostitution, gambling and drinking; religious-oriented campaigns in schools; and establishing healthy recreation facilities for families. Accompanying their efforts was the creation of organizations, such as the Gota de Leche, to promote scientific nutrition and natal care. The many women's clubs we know today began to be formed at around the same time.

Women's groups were at the forefront of the campaign to secure the right to vote for women that began in earnest in 1918, with bills filed in the Philippine legislature. (During the hearings, Concepcion Felix Rodriguez, Pura Villanueva Kalaw, Rosa Sevilla Alvero, Rosario Lam, Encarnacion Alzona and Natividad Almeda Lopez -- all names honored today by Philippine women's groups -- spoke.) In 1920, a concerted effort was made to make the women's suffrage movement nationwide and by the next year, the National Federation of Women's Clubs was established, its campaign given voice by Women's Outlook edited by Trinidad Fernandez Legarda in English and Purita V. Kalaw in Spanish. That same year, women joined the independence movement with the organization of the National League of Filipino Women by Dr. Maria Paz Mendoza Guanzon.

These efforts bore fruit when a law was finally passed by the Philippine legislature in 1933 extending suffrage to women. It was, however, superseded with the establishment of the Philippine Commonwealth. Women again had to lobby for their right to vote during the deliberations of the Constitutional Convention. The National Federation of Women's Clubs created the General Council of Women, led by Pilar Hidalgo Lim and Josefa Llanes Escoda, to make sure a provision in the 1935 Constitution would permit women's suffrage. The Constitution instead required that the women vote either for or against granting themselves the right to vote, and so a law was passed in 1936 setting the date for a plebiscite.

Women who were campaigning for the right to vote again organized themselves in order to overwhelmingly approve suffrage for themselves. Half a million Filipinas across the nation registered for the plebiscite, and 447,725 voted yes.

On Sept. 15, 1937, suffrage was formally extended to women over the age of 21. And in all our constitutions since then, suffrage has been considered a right of all Filipinos, regardless of sex. (The significance of the Filipino women's struggle and its success perhaps can be better appreciated if one considers that women in France gained the right to vote only after World War II.)

The political gains were immediate. In November 1937, two months after women gained the right to vote, Carmen Planas was elected as member of the city council of Manila, along with three lady members of provincial boards, two mayors, 13 vice mayors and 306 municipal councilors. In 1940, the number of women elected to office reached 800, led by the first congresswoman to sit in the National Assembly: Elisa R. Ochoa of Misamis Occidental. The first congresswomen of the Republic were Remedios Ozamiz Fortich of Bukidnon in 1946, Medina Lacson de Leon of Bataan in 1949, and Carmen Dinglasan Consing in 1953. The first senator of the Republic was Geronima Pecson who was elected in 1947. Asuncion Perez, as social welfare administrator during the time of President Manuel Roxas, was the first woman to hold Cabinet rank. In the judiciary, Natividad Almeda Lopez became the first woman judge and the first woman associate justice of the Court of Appeals, while Cecilia Muñoz Palma became the first woman associate justice of the Supreme Court.

One hundred years after they began their struggle, it is only fitting to remember with gratitude the many great Filipino women whose efforts then, as now, have enabled other women, like Yorac, to play a big, positive role in our national life.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

2 RP Spies?

Two Men Are Charged With Passing Secrets to Philippines
NEWARK, Sept. 12 - A Federal Bureau of Investigation intelligence analyst and a former top Philippines law enforcement official were charged in federal court on Monday with espionage.
Arrested were the F.B.I. analyst, Leandro Aragoncillo, 46, of Woodbury, N.J., a naturalized United States citizen who was born in the Philippines, and Michael Ray Aquino, 39, of Queens, a former deputy director of the Philippines National Police under the government of the former president Joseph Estrada. The two men are accused of passing classified agency information to government officials in Manila in a case that appeared related to the Philippines' fractious internal politics.
According to affidavits by F.B.I. agents, Mr. Aragoncillo passed copies of classified F.B.I. documents about the Philippines to Mr. Aquino between February and August of this year by way of cellphone text messages and e-mail messages through Hotmail and Yahoo accounts.
Both men were ordered held without bail by United States Magistrate Judge Patty Shwartz. Mr. Aquino, who was in the United States on an expired six-month tourist visa that was issued in 2001, also faces possible deportation.
Messages intercepted by investigators were heavily edited in the court affidavit but appeared to deal with F.B.I. information about the domestic political turmoil in the Philippines. The ultimate destination of the information, according to the court papers, were three unnamed public officials in the Philippines.
United States Attorney Christopher J. Christie declined to characterize the information that the two men are said to have passed. While the information did not involve terrorism or national security directly, he said: "Crimes like these strike at the heart of our national security because they involve our keeping our secrets secret. These defendants will face the full weight of federal prosecution."
Mr. Aquino has long been the subject of attempts by the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to link him with the 2000 kidnapping and slaying of a Manila public relations executive and his driver. While he has never been officially charged, Mr. Aquino has, in his absence, been at the center of several court proceedings to implicate him and a current opposition lawmaker, Senator Panfilo Lacson, in the 2000 crimes and other corruption charges.
Officials at the Philippines Embassy did not return two telephone calls seeking comment on the arrests and their possible implications for the country's politics. Recent news reports from Manila have portrayed the Arroyo government as under political siege by a number of former Estrada administration officials and Senator Lacson, who have joined in a coalition with former members of Mrs. Arroyo's cabinet, the Catholic Church and supporters of the former president Corazón Aquino.
Mr. Aquino is not related to the former president.
According to United States Marine Corps records, Mr. Aragoncillo joined the corps in 1983 and served as a unit diary clerk for much of his 21 years in the service. He retired as an administration chief. During that time he was stationed in Japan, at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, and in the Quantico, Va., headquarters of the vice presidential security detail. He earned six good conduct medals and other citations.
Leslie G. Wiser Jr., the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.'s Newark office, said Monday that the agency's investigation of Mr. Aragoncillo began after he contacted American immigration officials on behalf of Mr. Aquino, who had overstayed his tourist visa. Mr. Aragoncillo identified himself to immigration officials as an F.B.I. employee, according to Mr. Wiser, and attempted to vouch for Mr. Aquino, who was facing deportation hearings.
Immigration officials notified the F.B.I., Mr. Wiser said, and the agency began an audit of Mr. Aragoncillo's computer activities.
Asked if Mr. Aragoncillo's motive was financial or political, Mr. Christie said early indications were that both were involved, but that the investigation was continuing.

Gloria: Make me a good president

To my fellow civil servants:

Through all periods of political turmoil in our past, the public servant has always been the great stabilizer of the nation and keeper of the people's welfare. Through this latest episode of partisan conflict, I thank you once more for keeping governance on an even keel.

I seek an active partnership with you — from our pubilc school teachers, men and women in uniform, to our medical and social workers, field personnel, messengers and clerks — those who wear the badge of public service with great pride and honor.

Help me be a good and just President. Let us offer our people a fresh start by giving them the best services possible — marked by professionalism, courtesy, and integrity. Let our team spirit be enhanced by open dialogue, more opportunities for growth and knowledge, and a system of rewards and incentives to those who excel in the line of duty.

It is time for the Filipino civil servants to take center stage as we brdige the gap between government and the people, by being the best servant-leaders that we could become. I call on you to be by my side as we redouble our efforts to fight poverty, prevent corruption, and promote a system of laws, and not of men, for the greater good of the nation.

Let us have a fresh start based on mutual respect, commitment, unity and teamwork. Let us lead the nation and serve the people, and take them to the threshold of a brighter future.

Thank you and God bless the Philippines!


President of the Republic of the Philippines

Thursday, September 08, 2005

People Power Awakened

There's The Rub : Justice begins

Conrado de Quiros
Inquirer News Service

HOUSE Speaker Jose de Venecia tried to be magnanimous after the vote last Tuesday. It would take time for the nation's wounds to heal, he said. But with the impeachment complaint settled, he and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (a phrase he kept repeating, "President Arroyo and I," an illusion of partnership he will soon be disabused of) could now turn to pushing the nation along. Before the vote last Tuesday, he said, Ms Arroyo could not do anything without constantly looking behind her back. But with that over, "President Arroyo and I" could now move on.

That task lay specifically in shifting the country into a parliamentary one. With a unicameral body, he said, all the problems we have now, including the problem of impeachment, would disappear.

He could never have been more wrong.

To begin with, if the congressional deliberations on impeachment are anything to go by, turning the country parliamentary is not a promise, it is a threat. It guarantees that mob rule, or a political Mafia, will hold sway in this country, squashing all opposition to it, the way Congress squashed the move to impeach Ms Arroyo. Of course, De Venecia dreams of being the "Don" of this Mafia. Well, he does not know the true character of the person he currently deems his partner. Or he lusts after power too much, he has become oblivious to the fact that he will get to control it only over Ms Arroyo's dead body. And probably not even then.

But more than that, he has never been more wrong about being able to move the country forward. It is not merely because he has always been confused about the direction of forward and backward, it is also that he deludes himself into thinking that the questions about his partner's legitimacy as President will now go away. Garci may have gone away, but not so "Hello Garci." All the murder of the impeachment complaint has done is to show that the law in this country is no longer held by the blindfolded Lady Justice, it is held by the very seeing Lady Macbeth. All it has done is to throw the question of an illegitimate President from the parliament in Batasan Road to the parliament of the streets.

Congress did not douse water into the fire the other day, it poured gasoline into it. It's one of those ironies that almost make you believe heaven truly intervenes in the affairs of earth. Clearly, the reason "President Arroyo and I" killed the impeachment move was to prevent a repetition of the events that led to Joseph Estrada's ouster. What triggered it then was the decision of Erap's allies in the Senate-turned-impeachment court not to open the second envelope because it threatened to doom him. In fact, their decision to not open it doomed him. Angered by what they did, the people took to the streets. And the rest, as the old folk say, is history.

To prevent that -- in the inevitable form of a new impeachment court refusing to "open" the "Hello Garci" tape -- "President Arroyo and I" stopped an impeachment from taking place at all. But as it has turned out, they merely hastened Ms Arroyo's doom. Angered by what Congress has done, the various groups at least, if not as yet the populace, are taking to the streets. It shouldn't be long before Ms Arroyo becomes, as the young folk say, history.

It's almost like that Arab story where a man is told by a seer that death awaits him on a journey to the east; he will lose his way in the desert during a sandstorm and die. So the man decides to journey to the west instead, where a band of robbers falls on him and kills him.

But I don't know that you really need to believe in destiny, or divine intervention, to see why this fate is bound to fall on Ms Arroyo. Monumental wrongdoing has a way of hounding people pitilessly. Wherever they turn, they are bound to meet up with the avenging angel. Garci may have disappeared from the face of the earth, but Ms Arroyo will keep running into him wherever she turns.

Some things do trigger it. The murder of the impeachment complaint last Tuesday shares one thing with the metaphorical murder of the second envelope during Estrada's time and the very literal murder of Ninoy Aquino during Ferdinand Marcos' time. It is a dirty finger thrust in the face of the nation. It is an act of overweening arrogance, saying as it does "We have the power, we can do any damn thing we please." No, more than that, it is an act of perversion, saying as it does, "We are the law, we can do any damn thing we please, and call it lawful."

In a country that responds powerfully to myth and symbolism, the image of Darth Venecia's storm troopers routing a small bunch of Jedi Knights holds boundless emotional provocation. I said it before, some defeats are shining victories. Some victories are merely the feeling of euphoria that people who jump off the roof of a tall building feel before they land on the cement.

Jose Rizal actually warned about it more than a century ago. We, Filipinos, have a threshold, he said. We can stand to have our bodies flogged, but we can't stand to have our pride pricked. The Spaniard, he said, had oppressed the "indio" [native] for centuries, heaping abuse upon abuse on him, and the indio had taken it meekly. But the Spaniard did more, heaping upon him the final abuse of making him understand that he was not only powerless to stop the abuse, he deserved to be abused. And suddenly the mists that had roiled in his brain disappeared, and he woke up from his stupor seething with rage.

Rizal might have issued that warning not just to this country's foreign oppressors but to its local ones. Nearly 100 years after Rizal said that, in "The Philippines, A Century Hence," it took on the luminous words, "tama na, sobra na, palitan na" [enough, too much, time for change].

We are hearing those words again today. It is the sound of a people rousing from stupor.

Impeachment ends, justice begins.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Noli's Statement

Let me reiterate my support for the search for the truth through peaceful, legal and constitutional means. With the present communications technology, the people have actually become witnesses to a constitutional proceeding to determine the truth. As the ultimate repository of the nation's sovereign will, the people will themselves be the final judges if the cause of truth has been justly served. I call for sobriety and prayerful discernment as the people exercise their democratic rights. I believe that the free and proper exercise of one's constitutional rights will only serve to strengthen our democracy.

Gloria's Day

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo welcomed today the decision of the House of Representatives throwing out the impeachment complaint against her by a vote of 158-51 with six abstentions, as she extended to the opposition her hand of reconciliation for the good of the nation.

"The Filipino people mark a glorious day in history, when instead of forcing a President out of office through people power, they chose to keep a President through voting in the halls of Constitutional Democracy," she said in a statement.

The nation must now move forward to a brighter tomorrow and put politics behind, she said.

She described the impeachment process and its outcome as a grand display of political maturity and resilience as the country battles the vagaries of a challenging age, and poised for takeoff.

"I thank my allies in the administration for their faith in my leadership and in the good future of our country," she said.

The President pointed out that the "opposition put up a good fight and I now offer my hand of reconciliation for the national interest."

She expressed her gratitude to her family who quietly stood by her through the months of political crisis, and "most of all to the Filipino people, here and in the four corners of this earth, who have stayed the course of responsible democracy."

"Let us move on to a brighter tomorrow with the grace of God, ever grateful for His guidance and His blessings. Mabuhay ang Pilipinas," she said.

Inquirer Editorial

Editorial : Slow burn

EVEN though the voting concluded much later yesterday, history will record that the fateful move to approve the House of Representatives' justice committee report throwing out the impeachment complaint against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was made at 3:37 a.m. At about a similar hour, the move to proclaim Arroyo the elected President of the Philippines was also made last year.

It may be clever in terms of parliamentary strategy to do such things in the dead of night, but it sends a grim message to a public that equates the light of day with fearlessness and the courage of convictions. The President won, then; she has won now. But again we ask, victory at what price?

The price was shutting off the only means for an institutional inquiry into the serious charges leveled against the President. The proponents of impeachment who issued a statement last Monday, under a fragile alliance called Bukluran para sa Katotohanan [Alliance for Truth], proved prophetic: "We all seek the truth. We want the truth to come out. And yet every means for seeking the truth has been frustrated; every avenue for arriving at the truth has been blocked; and every opportunity to find the truth is being closed." The House majority moved heaven and earth to ensure that any popular protest would face a fait accompli.

The President employed every means at her disposal to secure the vote she needed, including the power to appoint. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism revealed appointments benefiting the families of prominent anti-impeachment personalities in both houses of Congress. To name just a few: Nelly Favis-Villafuerte, wife of Rep. Luis Villafuerte, was sworn in as member of the Monetary Board on July 4; Datu Zamzamin Ampatuan, cousin of Rep. Simeon Datumanong, was appointed to the National Anti-Poverty Commission on July 14; Armand Arreza, cousin of Rep. Prospero Pichay Jr. (and a protégé of Sen. Richard Gordon), has been named administrator of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority; and Nenalyn Santiago, sister of Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, was appointed commissioner of the Commission on Higher Education last Aug. 1.

There have been suggestions that pro-impeachment personalities were approached as well. Rep. Alfonso Umali Jr. says the appointment of his brother as deputy commissioner of the Bureau of Customs was offered if he withdrew support for impeachment. Rep. Reynaldo Uy is said to have recounted to Liberal Party members a meeting where the President showed him a piece of paper ordering the transfer of Brig. Gen. Jovito Palparan, former head of the 8th Infantry Division based in Catbalogan City, capital of Western Samar province, to the northern province of Nueva Ecija.

If Ms Arroyo can't be begrudged for doing things that would help her keep the presidency, then the public should not be begrudged for looking closely henceforth to see if other blessings will start flowing to anti-impeachment congressmen. Will their districts suddenly get millions in additional pork-barrel funds like some of their colleagues allegedly did earlier? Will disgraced former President Joseph Estrada suddenly end up back in his San Juan home? What other political accommodations will we see?

When Pichay told his colleagues that "we must bury this six feet under the ground … in order to unite," his puzzled countrymen, though perhaps not his constituents, might have been tempted to ask: What sort of unity is there in a congressionally sanctioned burial? Party unity, presumably, but certainly not a unity of intent between the congressmen and their constituents, whom they claimed to have consulted. For if the President's defenders pointed to surveys as proof of her undeniable victory, then they must also admit that recent surveys prove not only the President's indubitably deep unpopularity but also the overwhelming desire (80 percent in Metro Manila and 60 percent nationwide) that she be subjected to an impeachment trial. Something in the communication between congressmen and their constituencies must have been lost in translation. Could it be that the survey numbers had far fewer zeroes than the checks they anticipate to be released soon? How else explain their willful -- and insolent -- refusal to heed public opinion?

As the French general said of the charge of the Light Brigade, "It is magnificent, but it is not war." For the majority, yesterday saw a magnificent display of party discipline, but it was not statesmanship. What their vote may have done was to set off a slow burn in our national life. The avenues to constitutionally resolve the crisis of legitimacy have been barricaded. And the barricades are manned by the members of the House.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Vidal Is The Poor?

There's The Rub : Clean conscience

Conrado de Quiros
Inquirer News Service

I HEARD the joke some years ago in reference to Ernesto Maceda. It said Maceda holds the record for the fastest open-heart surgery in the country. The doctors opened his chest and then closed it right back again. They found no heart.

I remembered that last Sunday when I read about the outgoing president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Archbishop Fernando Capalla saying it wasn't wrong for the Catholic Church to accept money from state-run gambling operations. He is one of those accused of doing so. "My conscience is clear," he said. Well, that is because he hasn't got one.

Someone from the government casino form Pagcor earlier tagged Capalla, along with Cebu Archbishop Cardinal Ricardo Vidal and Pampanga Archbishop Paciano Aniceto, as being beneficiaries of Pagcor Chair Ephraim Genuino's beneficence. "The principle of morality does not apply in this situation," says Capalla. There is nothing wrong with accepting money from gambling operations, so long as it directly benefits the poor. Quoting Vidal, he said, "I'd rather be criticized than let the poor die of sickness or hunger."

Well, the principle of morality has never had a narrower range of application than during his time as head of the CBCP. Quite fortuitously, at about the same time he was defending taking Pagcor money to help the needy, the local government officials who had gathered in Puerto Princesa City for a meeting under the aegis of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines were complaining about one thing. Why was it, they asked, that when the bishops took money from the illegal lottery "jueteng" it was called aid, while when they did so it was called a bribe? Good question.

That reminds me of the time I appeared in a talk show ages ago. The topic was whether it was all right for entertainers who had been voted into office to continue doing movies or appearing in television. Joey Marquez proceeded to say it was fully justified in his case because he used his earnings as an entertainer to give to the poor. The budget of mayor of Parañaque City just wasn't enough to improve the lives of his constituents, he said, so he needed to supplement it with his personal income. I confess I was taken aback, being completely unprepared for that argument. I just said vaguely that he must be exceptionally altruistic, a veritable saint, since not every entertainer-cum-mayor did that. I couldn't very well say, "Goddamn man, I didn't know you could lie through your teeth barefacedly."

As it is, there is a difference in claiming that you are giving the money you earn as entertainer to the poor and claiming that you are giving the gambling money you receive as bishop to the poor. Money derived from entertainment is at least legitimate, however you can raise all sorts of questions about the propriety of earning it while serving as a public official. Money received from gambling lords -- and Pagcor is the biggest gambling lord of all -- is plain blood money.

Experience, if not medicine, has at least determined that accepting blood money produces the pathological effect of robbing you of three of your five senses: sight, hearing and the use of your mouth. You see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. It affects even archbishops. In fact, I don't know, as suggested by the case of Capalla, that it doesn't rob archbishops in particular of all their senses, including smell and touch. Capalla for one can't seem to smell the stench surrounding Malacañang, which has nothing to do with its proximity to the Pasig River. Or touch it.

It was Capalla who rushed to say, along with Benjamin Abalos, chairman of the Commission on Elections, and Bill Luz, secretary general of the election watchdog Namfrel, that the 2004 elections were as pure as holy water, give or take a contamination or two, and committed the entire congregation of bishops to it. Abalos at least you can excuse for not knowing how to count votes, even if he probably knows how to count bills. Hell, he couldn't even count the number of weeks the illegal bidder he awarded the contract to computerize canvassing to had been in existence. And Luz at least had 83 percent of the election results, largely from Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's bailiwicks, to rely on, give or take an improvement on reality or two. Capalla had nothing to go on but the word of the lord. I don't know which lord.

It was Capalla who left Archbishop Oscar Cruz twisting in the wind during the latter's exposé of the involvement of top government officials in jueteng. At no time did Cruz get help from his favorite congregation of bishops, even as his witnesses began disappearing from him, which he presumed to be the product of Pagcor et al. donating to his witnesses' favorite charities which were themselves, and even as he wept at the sight of a country turning into Sodom and Gomorrah. At the time, Cruz wasn't just showing the presidential husband and son to be the godfathers of jueteng, he was showing that if you wanted to help the poor, the divinely and humanly blessed route was not to accept gambling money to give to the poor but to stop gambling which was making the poor poorer. What little Ms Arroyo left behind, Bong Pineda and ilk were siphoning off with a vacuum cleaner.

The notion that it is all right for an archbishop to accept gambling money because he is desperate to give to the poor makes about as much sense as the notion that it is all right for presidential candidate to cheat in elections because she is desperate to serve the people. The premise voids the conclusion. Experience again, if not medicine, has determined that receiving gambling money produces the pathological effect of making you think when you say, "I'd rather be criticized than let the poor die of sickness or hunger," that you are the poor.

I remember yet another joke told by a friend who smokes heavily. The doctor, he said, had just declared him to have clean lungs: no more lungs.

Nice to have a clean conscience.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Inquirer Editorial

Editorial : Last stand

PRO-IMPEACHMENT congressmen see in today's plenary session a do-or-die situation. "We will make our last stand at the plenary," House Minority Leader Francis Escudero declared last Thursday.

The administration majority may not necessarily oblige them. Even if-as has been widely reported-the committee on justice under Rep. Simeon Datumanong submits its report to the plenary today, the Constitution allows the House of Representatives to calendar the "consideration" of the committee's resolutions "within 10 session days from receipt thereof."

It is quite possible that, in an attempt to arrest the momentum the pro-impeachment camp gained since the justice committee voted down all three impeachment complaints against the President last Wednesday, the House leadership will opt to delay the moment of reckoning.

Possible, but not likely. The decision of the House leadership to accelerate the pace of work in Datumanong's committee after the controversial walkout on Tuesday convinces us that the administration's strategy at this stage remains image-oriented: The plan is to ensure that President Macapagal-Arroyo does not face any formal charges when she presides over a rare UN Security Council summit on Sept. 14 in New York City.

Delaying consideration of the justice committee's report may mean moving the day of reckoning to after Sept. 19, when Congress resumes its session after a nine-day break. But we can see this happening only if the coming together of anti-Arroyo forces-symbolized by the meeting of former President Corazon Aquino, opposition icon Susan Roces, and Hyatt 10 leader Dinky Soliman at the inter-faith assembly in De La Salle University last Friday-gathers enough momentum by this afternoon to threaten the administration's strategy.

The real focus of attention, of course, remains the pursuit of the 79, or one-third of the House membership. But it is no longer enough to get their signatures. The pro-impeachment bloc in Congress needs at least 79 congressmen to show up today, ready to vote.

If the committee report is considered today, the pro-impeachment bloc needs to do either of the following: Muster at least 79 votes against the resolution rejecting the second and the amended complaints (thus keeping the amended complaint alive). Or muster at least 79 votes against the resolution finding the original Lozano complaint insufficient in substance (thus keeping the impeachment case itself alive). If the 79 votes are there, then in the view of constitutional expert Joaquin Bernas, S.J., the complaints will be returned to the justice committee for "formal investigation."

Will the young congressmen running the impeachment bloc rise to the occasion? We are not too sure, judging by Escudero's own pendulum metaphor. "We get three more [signatures], but two are deducted," he said. "This is probably the story of impeachment in the country."

But as Escudero knows all too well, this seesaw battle is most emphatically not the story of impeachment in our country. He himself was a part of the ultimately unsuccessful second impeachment case against Chief Justice Hilario Davide, which gained the support of more than one-third of the House membership before Speaker Jose de Venecia called for an early recess. The complaint against President Joseph Estrada reached the one-third mark in about two weeks. On the other hand, the complaints against election commissioner Luzviminda Tancangco and Ombudsman Aniano Desierto never came close to breaching the one-third level. The point is: In previous impeachment cases, the trend, whether for or against, was clear.

But the case against President Arroyo is a completely different kind of political conflict. Are Escudero and other young guns fighting this war with the wrong lessons from the past? It is unfortunate if they are, because the public's need remains the same: The most serious charges against the President must be formally investigated. That is the only way to end the crisis of legitimacy that now surrounds her. Does it really matter that she presides over the UN summit without the stain of impeachment charges? That is the price of democracy, which many other nations cannot even pay.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Opposition's Incompetence

Analysis : An empty victory

Amando Doronila
Inquirer News Service

THE LAST hope of the opposition to revive the impeachment action against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, after the three impeachment complaints had been trashed in the House Representatives committee on justice, hangs on the slender thread of the ability of the opposition to muster the six critical votes to reach the 79 signatures required for the transmittal of the amended complaint to the Senate for an impeachment trial.

Impeachment proponents have until Monday to deliver the 79 signatures at the House plenary and breathe life back to the amended complaint, which was rejected by the justice committee last Wednesday.

On Monday, the committee will submit a report to the plenary on its decision last Wednesday that only the original complaint filed by lawyer Oliver Lozano on June 27 had complied with the legal requirement of impeachment proceedings. This ruling, in effect, excluded two other complaints-one filed by lawyer Jose Lopez on July 4, and the amended Lozano complaint filed on July 25.

The committee held that the two subsequent complaints breached the constitutional rule that only one impeachment proceeding may be initiated against an official within a year. After disqualifying the two complaints, the committee delivered the blow that killed the first Lozano complaint by voting that the complaint was "sufficient in form," meaning it was properly filed and endorsed, and then declaring it in a second vote to be "grossly" insufficient in substance.

These decisions virtually killed the impeachment action at the first stage of the process and demonstrated capacity of the administration to deploy its resources to mobilize its parliamentary majority to crush attempts to oust the President through the impeachment process.

The defeat did not slam the door completely on the impeachment move. If the opposition can secure the six critical votes by Monday, it can then ask the plenary to overturn the committee's decision, thereby allowing it to revive the amended complaint (its strongest card) and to push for its transmittal to the Senate, bypassing the committee on justice.

But there are two big ifs. The first is whether the opposition can secure the six additional signatures. The second is that it faces fierce resistance in the plenary where the pro-administration members are not expected to give up the advantages of numbers.

The strangling of the complaints in the administration-dominated House committee has given rise to accusations that the administration has undermined the impeachment process and was not allowing it to reach the stage of a Senate trial where the allegations that the President rigged the 2004 elections and committed other serious offenses could be proved or disproved in a proper forum through due process of law.

The virtual death of the complaints in the committee is not without dire political consequences to the President. The quashing of the complaints is an empty victory for the administration. It merely demonstrated that the administration has the capacity to deploy the advantages of incumbency to save the President from being unseated. Until the President stands trial where she can defend herself and where it can be shown that the accusations are false and do not constitute impeachable offenses, it would be hard for her to regain public confidence and reestablish the legitimacy of her government.

What is at stake in this impeachment action is the credibility of the impeachment process as a mode to remove officials accused of abuse in office. It would have been ideal if the complaint had been transmitted to the Senate, but part of the failure stems from the incompetence of the opposition.

To begin with, the complaints suffered from slipshod preparation. The first Lozano complaint was prepared in a hurry and appeared to have been filed to jump the gun on other impeachment plans. For another thing, the effort was unfocused and the opposition took a carpet-bombing approach that bunched up a wide range of every conceivable offense against the President. When the President's supporters scented the weaknesses of the complaint, they did not lose time in encouraging its hasty initiation, hoping that it would stew in its own fat.

This has given rise to the suspicion that the Lozano complaint was an administration-inspired stratagem to push a weak impeachment case. But this suspicion appears to be unwarranted, given Lozano's record for being trigger-happy in initiating impeachment action. As early as 2000, before the crisis broke out over the revelation of the tapes alleging presidential interference in the election process, Lozano had the distinction of filing an impeachment case against Ms Arroyo.

The second fatal error was that, after the opposition groups realized that they had a weak case in the Lozano complaint, they sought to remedy the mistake with the filing of the Lopez complaint and an amended complaint that sought to make up for the weaknesses of the original Lozano complaint. These two subsequent complaints were vulnerable to attacks on constitutional grounds that they violated the constitutional principle against the initiation of multiple impeachment proceedings within a year.

The impeachment proponents are now suffering the consequences of their incompetence. This incompetence led them into a trap of their own making. It would have been better if their preparation had been more competent. Then their chances of moving the complaints past the obstacles in the committee would have been better.

Since events can no longer be reversed, we can only hope that the opposition will get the six critical votes that will send the amended complaint to a Senate trial where the outcome is uncertain and unpredictable.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

SC's Aide Sought

Posted by Alecks Pabico 

THE lawyer for whom the much-(mis)quoted Supreme Court doctrine in the debates during the impeachment hearings of the Committee on Justice has come to be called has again petitioned the Court to stop the House of Representatives from excluding the amended impeachment complaint filed by pro-impeachment congressmen against Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Atty. Ernesto Francisco Jr. filed a petition before the High Court in November 2003 to stop what he called as an "unconstitutional" impeachment case filed against Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. He also sought redress for having been "himself a victim of the capricious and arbitrary changes in the impeachment rules of procedure in the 12th Congress" when he filed a complaint against then Ombudsman Aniano Desierto in relation to the tax credit scam. This time, he is seeking the same action for certiorari, prohibition and mandamus from the Court in the impeachment case against Arroyo.

In a 33-page document, Francisco argues that the justice committee committed a grave abuse of its discretion in barring the amended complaint in favor of the original Lozano complaint, which, without the amended complaint, he says, would be easy for the committee to dismiss — which it just did yesterday — for being insufficient in form and substance.

Francisco's petition points out the defects and infirmities of the original Lozano complaint, namely:

  • it has not been verified but merely sworn;
  • it had no endorsement by a member of the House at the time it was filed on June 27, 2005;
  • it used a form foreign to the standard complaint or affidavit-complaint prepared and used by lawyers; and
  • its allegations may not be able to meet the standard of sufficiency of substance.

In fact, he adds, by filing a total of six supplemental affidavits of complaint to support his original complaint, Lozano admits as much to the insufficiency in substance.

Saying it is unfortunate that the "Francisco ruling" was being used by pro-Arroyo congressmen as their battlecry to block the amended complaint, Francisco argues that the said doctrine is not applicable to the impeachment proceeding before the House justice committee.  

He said that in light of the recent developments, the Francisco ruling should be re-examined since by deeming an impeachment proceeding initiated by the mere filing of an impeachment complaint and its referral to the committee on justice makes it clearly susceptible to abuse and "will effectively shield a corrupt, impeachable official  from impeachment."

"All that an impeachable official needs to do is to yearly ask somebody to file a sham impeachment complaint or a complaint which can easily be declared insufficient in form and substance and have it endorsed by an ally-representative," he added.

Francisco's petition also seeks the Court's clarification on the issue of a "creeping impeachment," whether or not the one-third majority for filing an impeachment complaint is required at the first instance. 

Read the full text of his petition here.

Inquirer Editorial

Editorial : Two new arenas

BY WALKING out last Tuesday, opposition members of the House of Representatives' committee on justice did everyone a favor. The walkout will, at the very least, mercifully cut short the committee hearings, giving the whole country a breather from a bad "telenovela" [TV soap] that has long ceased to be entertaining. At the same time, pro-administration lawmakers will be spared the pain and embarrassment of continuing to display on national television how they can mangle the rules, the law and logic to keep President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in Malacañang. For the opposition, on the other hand, the walkout simply proved what most Filipinos already know: that the administration is determined to spare no resource or effort, as well as to employ every trick in the book, to get the President off the hook.

After walking out of the hearings, the question is, where will the pro-impeachment congressmen go next? Apparently no one wants to go back to the committee where they could again be gagged and surely outvoted by the majority. The hotheads among them are probably hoping they would soon be marching in the streets with the kind of huge and angry crowd that would make Ms Arroyo flee in fear. But the consensus seems to be that they will take their fight to the floor where the House, meeting in plenary, will debate and vote on the committee's final recommendation. Marinduque Rep. Edmund Reyes said that instead of taking part in a "bastardized process," their group would concentrate on convincing more of their colleagues to sign the impeachment complaint so that they could get the 79 votes needed to override the committee's recommendation.

They better work double-time. The pro-Arroyo express has shifted to high gear, with the committee on justice fast-tracking the vote on the two "prejudicial questions" left briefly hanging by their walkout. Late Tuesday afternoon, in fact, the committee voted to consider as separate the three complaints that had been endorsed to the committee. Yesterday, it voted to consider only the original complaint filed lawyer Oliver Lozano, which has all the earmarks of a stalking horse designed to stop on its tracks the third and much stronger amended complaint put together by various opposition lawmakers and groups.

Gathering signatures to reach the magic number of 79, however, may be only one half of the battle. The other half may have to be waged in the Supreme Court. Consider the most likely case where the committee on justice reports to the plenary that it found the Lozano complaint insufficient in form and substance. Will the pro-impeachment congressmen then vote to override the committee recommendation and send the very weak complaint to the Senate for trial? If they cannot settle for that pathetic excuse for an impeachment complaint, how then can they ensure that the stronger amended complaint will be the one transmitted to the Senate as the articles of impeachment? In other words, can the votes of one-third of the House set aside everything that the committee on justice has decided?

If the President and her allies think she can leave for the United Nations with a clean bill of (political) health later this month, they are wrong. The opposition congressmen and their allies may have abandoned the justice committee and its proceedings, but their cause is far from lost. They have two arenas in which to continue their fight: the Supreme Court and the plenary. After being outflanked, outmaneuvered or simply outnumbered in the committee, they can be expected to come better prepared this time. Ms Arroyo will remain stuck in the muck for a long time yet.