Tactical openings

Cracks in the wall, they aren’t, at least not yet, but a few stories in the last few days have suggested that all’s not necessarily, well, united, inside Malacanang. Consider the following:

Item. Senate President Frank Drilon is currently engaged in an effort to put an opposition stamp on yesterday’s Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council meeting, but it’s hard to argue with his statement of fact.

In an interview with Senate reporters later, Drilon denied that the senators had “softened” on the issue of Charter change. It was Malacañang, he said, that had backtracked.

Drilon said Ms Arroyo did not refer to the people’s initiative during the meeting.

He said the President had apparently accepted the Senate’s position that such an initiative was “patently illegal” because of the lack of an enabling law for its implementation.

Let’s set aside that "apparent acceptance" by the President of the Senate’s position; that seems to me the art of spin at work. But if it is indeed true that GMA did not once refer to the so-called people’s initiative during the rare meeting (the last one was held in September), then that would be a tactical opening for the opposition.

In the same report, Speaker Jose de Venecia rebutted the claim that the President had abandoned the initiative, but we can already imagine the consequences of Drilon’s assertion: When JDV makes the rounds of local politicians, he will be hard-pressed to explain away the President’s resounding silence, in the Ledac meeting, on the initiative.

Item. One of the Speaker’s close allies in the House has just given Malacanang uncomfortably frank advice.

SAYING President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo needed independent-minded legal advisers not sycophants, an administration congressman Tuesday urged Malacañang not to rely too much on the Department of Justice which had taken the “path of legal extremism and political rigidity.”

That’s Cebu Rep. Antonio Cuenco, saying a mouthful. Cuenco — a former deputy speaker, a key player in the politics of Cebu (GMA’s million-vote-margin bailiwick), and a former colleague of Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez — now wants the President to heed the advice of the likes of Solicitor General Ed Nachura (another former colleague), in order to avoid more defeats at the hands of the Supreme Court.

Cuenco urged Malacañang to rely more on Solicitor General Antonio Nachura and legal luminaries in the House instead of the DoJ, saying this would prevent “another serious loss in its legal battles and policy advocacies such as what happened in the cases of EO 464, Proclamation 1017 and (the calibrated preemptive response policy against street protests).”

The Supreme Court recently ruled against the Palace on several provisions of Executive Order No. 464, which barred government officials from attending congressional inquiries; Presidential Proclamation No. 1017, which placed the country under a state of emergency, and the CPR, which banned street protests.

“Malacañang badly needs men and women with legal expertise who can boldly tell the President that a legal standpoint is wrong and who can call a spade… a spade,” Cuenco said.

Item. Jueteng is back, and if Archbishop Oscar Cruz and at least two politicians speaking off the record (unfortunately, I cannot find the story on the Net) are right, it’s because political players are starting to raise funds for next year’s elections.

THE Roman Catholic bishop leading a campaign against “jueteng” said he was convinced the illegal numbers game has returned to help finance the campaign kitty of some politicians in next year’s elections.

“Not far from now is the envisioned 2007 elections,” Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz said in a statement. “It is not surprising at all that jueteng is once again back in business.”

Next year’s elections? This must mean that politicians, even those involved in jueteng who are almost by definition allied with the incumbent administration, are hedging their bets. The odds are increasingly against the Charter change express making it to the station; when political fortunes are at stake, even seasoned gamblers find it less risky to, well, call a spade a spade. And start shoveling.

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