Column: The case, maybe, for People Power

Published on February 26, 2008

What do we know for certain? If we were to take a page from Descartes and doubt everything about the continuing political crisis, perhaps we can draw up a short list of incontestable facts that reasonable people, from whatever side, can readily agree on. It is hard to take anyone seriously, for example, who disputes the following:

Ben Abalos, when he was the chairman of the Commission on Elections, was personally involved in a government project — the national broadband network — that had nothing to do with elections.

The NBN contract awarded to the Chinese state firm ZTE Corp. was problematic, as even President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has belatedly acknowledged.

The Arroyo administration cooperated — or conspired — to prevent Jun Lozada from testifying about the ZTE-NBN deal before the Senate.

Romy Neri, the socioeconomic planning secretary at the time of the signing of the ZTE contract and a key witness in the Senate investigation, has touched base with members of the political opposition.

An over-assertive Executive has narrowed the public’s options for holding the Arroyo administration accountable for any anomalies arising from the ZTE-NBN controversy. (Perhaps the President’s men will quibble with “over-assertive,” but there is no question that the administration’s hard-line stance, in place since at least the “Hello, Garci” scandal broke in 2005, assumes greater scope for Executive discretion.)

Unfortunately for Malacañang’s many spokesmen, these undisputed facts justify the growing public disgust that can be seen even from behind the wrought-iron walls of Malacañang.

We are not even talking about other facts which the administration and its allies will dispute, but from which we can draw reasonable inferences. When we add these to the mix — the all-but-apparent cover-up after the administration failed to prevent Lozada from testifying before the Senate, the obvious vendetta against ex-Speaker Jose de Venecia on account of his son Joey’s role in exposing the ZTE-NBN deal, the continuing effort to rationalize constitutional revision as a mode of political survival — the stench becomes unbearable The only question becomes: If we ask for truth and do not get it, if we demand accountability and do not get relief, how do we show our outrage?

I get the sense that, for many members of the Arroyo opposition and even for some who did not support the calls for resignation in 2005 but now believe the President too politically damaged to be worth the trouble of saving, “outrage” necessarily translates to People Power.

This is a serious misunderstanding. Let me explain.

When we say that Lozada is the Clarissa Ocampo or Chavit Singson of the ZTE-NBN controversy, we are speaking either loosely or analogically. Either all we mean is that Lozada is a crucial witness or credible-because-self-implicated whistleblower, or we specifically mean that he will play the exact same role Ocampo or Singson did in the impeachment and eventual ouster of Joseph Estrada.

I think it is fair to say that, for many who are now outraged by the abuse of power and immoderate greed revealed by the ZTE-NBN scandal, the analogy for today’s crisis is that turbulent 100-day period between October 2000 and January 2001. If true, then taking to the streets should quickly lead to a decisive People Power moment.

But it is also possible that the real analogy goes farther back in time. The highly esteemed Torn and Frayed blog, for instance, posits the idea that Lozada is today’s Perfecto Yasay — the Securities and Exchange Commission chairman who dueled with Estrada a year before Singson saw the light (the headlight, that is, of an unfriendly police vehicle). We should remember that the road to EDSA People Power II wound through Ayala Avenue too; in August 1999, over 100,000 people thronged the famous intersection to denounce Estrada’s attacks on press freedom.

I think the real analogy may be to that even more turbulent 1,000-day period between the Ninoy Aquino assassination and EDSA People Power I. We took to the streets almost every week then, driven by the need to confront the evil in the system, but acutely aware that the dictator’s fake hero persona would not allow him to cede control peacefully. People Power as we know it now was not even a dream then.

So, yes, we should take to the streets; we should repair to our churches; we should fill the public square. But we should let People Power take care of itself.

* * *

It has since become clear, at least to me, that Super Tuesday was not a draw for Hillary Clinton, as most analysts read it, but an actual loss. Because the primary calendar that stretched out after Feb. 5 favored Barack Obama, Clinton should have won the Super Tuesday delegate contest outright. It doesn’t look likely that Obama will gain the majority of delegates he needs to close the nomination before the Democrats convene in Denver in late August; it is still within the realm of possibility for Clinton to roar back to life with emphatic wins in Texas and Ohio next week (possible, but unlikely). But Clinton’s strategy at this point rests on winning enough “superdelegates,” who will be daft to choose her over the more popular candidate. Perhaps it is time she considered an Obama-Clinton ticket.

* * *

Advertising’s Creative Guild (under Merlee Jayme, the current president) will host its annual conference this week. I will speak tomorrow on the national situation. The conference, unfortunately, will be held on Boracay — I know, I know, it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

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2 responses to “Column: The case, maybe, for People Power

  1. primer pagunuran

    Ex-speaker Jose de Venecia

    Recent developments as they unfold in the political scene must be read from the outline – a purely peripheral view. Such is the case of JDV who personally initiated an impeachment move against GMA but which, quite dismally, failed to clinch the required votes so it may be endorsed to the Senate. It was expected to fail as every impeachment attempt before it has failed simply because, as JDV himself claims, Malacanang bribes each congressman with a P.5 million bounty to buy legal protection in favor of GMA. Thus, this happens if again – not once, but twice – with every kind of bogus article of impeachment complaint being endorsed at the House of Representatives purposely intended to dissatisfy the requirements of form and substance, however merely procedural legalese.

    It is hard to believe that JDV can file an impeachment complaint that would be found lacking in either form or substance, or both. It cannot be made to apply since JDV has been fifth-term speaker who would know how to differentiate between apples from oranges. In other words, for anyone to say that what JDV has filed in the committee was a mere scrap of paper must be coming from Mars. But if the House of Representatives only exists today to produce the votes required to overturn every position contrary to that officially embraced by Malacanang, then doesn’t that make of our legislature a mere rubber stamp of the executive? This is why JDV’s conscience call really has to fall on deaf ears especially so since bundles of money have become a fair inducement to side with GMA. JDV is first to know what Impeachment 101 is.

    The equivocation is such that voting against an impeachment complaint would mean half a million peso reward. Also, voting in favor of any administration bill that may be introduced from time to time would probably mean another bounty of P.5 million. Further, voting in favor of a bill where lobby money is being infused by giant monopolies would be another rewarding experience. This is not to mention of congressional franchises being approved under secret concessions. If voting is then determined by how much a congressman can juice out of it, chances are, legislation no longer has to be issue-driven nor does it have to be based on any kind of judgment or conscience call. Worst, given the same set of stimuli, it appears that every species of the House would behave in much the same way – most tend toward money, only few tend away from it. In the end, lawmaking has become a very profitable cottage industry this part of the world.

    JDV now claims corruption has infected the presidency itself and this has become his new battle-cry to the point he is willing to lay his life on the line. It is hard not to believe JDV now that he dissociates himself from GMA, disowns the president, and owns – wittingly or unwittingly – to his level of participation in a grand scam. FG calls him a liar and even one other Pichay in Congress telling us that nobody amongst them likes JDV because he accuses everyone as if he were the only one clean. If that didn’t sound as direct admission stated the other way around, I don’t know what is. Truth is, that Pichay should rather have shut his mouth up. The first thing that could result from what JDV has thrown in the waters is for other congressmen in the House of Representatives to bite the bait – state for the record – that JDV is likewise guilty of the accusations he is trying to hail against GMA. But will anyone dare do such a suicidal act?

    With his long years in politics, JDV could not have known only two major scams – one, the $329 million ZTE controversy and the other, a Malacanang payola at P.5 million each House Member to buy legal protection against possible impeachment – as a yearly activity – now on its fourth. First, JDV’s son is a stakeholder into this ZTE controversy had it not been that FG finally asked him to back off and bribing him for P10 million only. Second, JDV did actually get the bag of money sent to him by Malacanang albeit now used as evidence of corruption. It is not far removed that since JDV’s son did not get any gain from the business deal, JDV now has to cry wolf since he became privy of the anomalous negotiations attendant to the ZTE where FG had the upperhand and young Joey de Venecia being shoved aside. JDV learned that some $130 million will be siphoned off in kickback or commission by FG and by implication – GMA.

    JDV has to be handled with skill by Malacanang’s veteran political subalterns. For now, it seems old JDV is not one rudderless ship steaming in the open seas. He is seen in the global radar screen and whichever course he takes in relation to other regional world leaders will be the subject of international reaction. In short, JDV has shifted his one-man led crusade beyond RP’s geo-political frontiers. The world is there to watch and GMA can do only so much. If JDV gets assassinated, general suspicion will be that it was the handiwork of GMA’s patronizing generals. Truly, they may unseat JDV from the LAKAS as its chair or president even maybe attempt to expel him from the 14th Congress. Unseating JDV as speaker as they did with Villar has always been an official practice – if and when – one has chosen to go his own way and be his own man. Where signs indicate, JDV might just be calibrating his punches – one impact at a time.

    JDV ought to have prepared himself for whatever backlash his apparent act of betrayal may create. His former supporters will morph to be his enemies, his old former allies his own tormentors. JDV’s well-stated expose of corruption is supposed to undo him with just one House Member coming out with a personal testimony that he too was bribed by JDV to get whatever favor may have been asked. Probably, all sorts of possible accusations against JDV are now in the production line of Malacanang’s demolition department. If they don’t come up with trumped up charges these coming days only tells us that perhaps, JDV has cut himself clean – each and every time – he is supposed to be in cahoots with the powers-that-be.

    JDV might drift – depending on where political currents will bring him – to bid for the presidency instead, come 2010. Young Joey de Venecia batting for senator can just be an unintended by-product. Fighting corruption right at the heart of Malacanang has all the makings of an Obamic ideal and indeed – change must come to RP. With a determined change of heart after a long period of futile sycophancy, JDV might come as a catalyst now that he will expose all the excesses of a government that failed to moderate its greed. With anti-corruption stance high in his personal agenda, we can only wish JDV succeeds in his one-man crusade. From Marcos to Cory to Ramos to Erap to Gloria – no doubt, JDV knows how to re-engineer the bureaucracy – if guided as he should – with clean conscience to embrace a new contemporary culture against corruption. From where I stand, it is a hope against hope – this evolving mob rule called majority. A Congress that is nothing but a vendo machine has become an entirely useless public spending at the expense of taxpayers money. Maybe it is high time to abolish the House of Representatives and let there just be a Senate of few but more honorable men and women.

    PRIMER C. PAGUNURAN
    UP Diliman, Quezon City (Email: nielsky_2003@yahoo.com)

  2. primer c. pagunuran

    An anti-climactic US presidency

    Nothing alters the fact that as soon as votes have been counted, the Americans have spoken – catapulting to power – one Democrat Barack Obama as the 44th US president. And few more days before Obama should assume office come January 20, 2009, a looming question on whether or not he is a natural born citizen to be an eligible president is gathering adherents in the internet by every tick of the hour to the point it is seen to end in a constitutional crisis.

    Barack Obama is a US senator alright but apparently the US constitution has not set the same requirement for the Office of the President. It sets the higher standard that the candidate should not only be a US citizen but a natural born citizen at that. Thus, if official documentary proof will show that Obama is not a natural born citizen of the United States, then the issue should first be resolved. No less than the Supreme Court should step into the scene and to lay final judgment on whether or not Obama should assume watch to the office 64 million Americans have placed him – the White House.

    The US Supreme Court has been perceived to have taken varying attitudes to the lawsuits that have already been filed – refuses to take up the citizenship issue, declines to make an opinion on the question of eligibility, holds off decision to grant hearing, and so forth. However well the camp of Obama can hide the vault copy of Obama’s birth certificate from scrutiny, until shown, not few Americans will always press that Obama himself speaks the truth surrounding his citizenship and eligibility as stipulated in Section 1, Article 2 of the US Constitution (USC).

    In all likelihood, it is going to be Catch 22 – case of damn if you do, damn if you don’t. If Obama admits to the fact that he is not a natural born citizen of America, then his political detractors can easily prepare the menu for his possible impeachment – if and when – he insists to take oath and assumes office. On the other hand, if Obama claims that he is a natural born citizen under specific provisions of the US Constitution other than Section 1, Article 2 of USC, then there may be special judicial course of action at the disposal of the newly elected president, just maybe. It is not far removed either, that the Supreme Court can assume a rather activist stance to ‘rationalize’ when it takes to the view of defending Obama from what maybe a judicially overstretched perspective.

    The idea that confronts every average American is the simple requirement that the truth be revealed since the issue has been thrown in the intellectual landscape. And it does not have to be mired in the realm of pure legalese as when it must compel the Supreme Court to rule over the case. In the end, the internet that is largely responsible for making sure Obama wins in this presidential election might be the same vehicle that could in fact, unmake Obama. But this is full of implications in the higher scheme of things.

    Not remotely, observers find it strange that America has voted for that one who would later on be proven to be one who is not eligible to become US president on account of his citizenship requirement. The new president of the strongest nation in the world that is America has been elected and yet will be ejected even before he assumes official watch. The strongest legal argument against those who press on the eligibility issue is yet to be discussed in any forum in the internet. Thus, until the issues are joined, the American people have no way of making their own judgment as to which theory to believe.

    There ought to be two schools of thought on this controversy: one commits to the thesis that Obama is not a natural born citizen of America and the other embraces this prevailing claim’s antithesis – that Obama is a natural born citizen. There is the bar of public opinion if the Supreme Court is found to be slow in the action. A host of questions will remain unanswered until Obama confronts the lingering doubt in the minds of the American public that he is possibly not a natural born citizen of US and therefore should be held accountable for every patent violation of the Constitution.

    Certainly, Obama cannot be a mere guest at the White House since he must be its lawful occupant in order to be able to exercise the powers of the President. The US Constitution cannot be set aside without a final answer to this citizenship question. Until addressed, the seeming controversy might divide a wedge among the American people in what would evolve as the new – Great Intellectual Divide. There might just be one more day left to save the pond where water lilies double in size each day choking other life forms underneath. US does not deserve to be in the kind of situation it is in at the moment. It bears watching how Obama can clear his way out of the noose. Perhaps, there shall not be any farther obstacle to the new president-elect to assume the vast reservoir of presidential powers since the presidency of America cannot operate in a vacuum.

    PRIMER C. PAGUNURAN
    UP Diliman, Quezon City Email: nielsky
    _2003@yahoo.com

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