Tuesday, August 12, 2008


I remember the months after her "election" in 2004. A high official sought a meeting with me. In so many words, and after several bottles of beer, the messages delivered were one, healing, and the other, legacy.

The first was standard refrain after every electoral battle. At the time, our impression was the opposition lost because of the preponderance of resources used by the incumbent against an admittedly divided opposition, the main candidate of which was unable to muster the organizational strength required to prevent an avalanche of "command votes" in areas where they could still be produced. Little did we know then that Hello Garci happened.

The other message, was "legacy" or better put, her desire to spend her "elected" term, defined in the Constitution as her one and only six-year term, which would nevertheless make her the longest-serving president after Ferdinand Marcos (three years, five months and ten days of Erap’s truncated term plus six years beats Quezon, Quirino and Garcia, who served more than their four-year elected term, and Macapagal, her father who served only one term of four years, plus Magsaysay and Roxas put together, whose terms were cut short by death. And more years than Cory, who served for six years, 4 months and 4 days, FVR for a single term of six years, and of course, the unfortunate Estrada). More than enough years to "make good" or "do good" and be remembered in history for contributing, in the words of her own father Diosdado, "a stone upon the edifice" of nation-building.

But as you and I and at least 83 percent of the nation based on surveys here and surveys there would show, to our eternal regret, "legacy" was not meant to be the lofty aspiration it was painted then.

"Legacy" would be, take your pick: presiding over the most corrupt administration in Philippine history; presiding over the most acute period of hunger and deprivation in a time of peace, not war; destroying our democratic institutions; and last because it is the worst – being an unelected and therefore, illegitimate leader of the land. Now we are about to add another stone to her "edifice" of destruction, masterminding the willful dismemberment of the Republic.

Now let me flash back to another time, no less perilous to the Republic, but under hands decidedly more decent. The recollection comes of a conversation in 1986 among Mamintal Tamano, yet to be elected to the Senate of the post-Marcos Republic, Vice-President Salvador H. Laurel, and myself, at the latter’s office, then in the Executive House, now the National Museum.

Tamano was talking about a recent trip President Cory and several others had, to Sulu, where she was to meet Nur Misuari, the MNLF leader, in the first of attempts to forge peace in Moroland. He, as a Muslim leader who supported democracy against his friend Marcos was asked to join the trip. As the President’s plane approached Zamboanga airspace, two PAF jets (yes, they had fighter jets yet in those times) zoomed and escorted them. It was probably the first time President Cory witnessed something like that, according to the gentle Mike, as he reported to us how she said "iba pala ang maging presidente!" experiencing, as any mortal would, the exhilaration of pomp and circumstance that power headily brings.

As those were early days, President Cory, observed Tamano, was getting a "feel of the presidency."

Two days after Edsa Dos, upon the other hand, Gloria’s new justice secretary, through a legal opinion signed by him, extended sovereign guarantee to the loans that Impresas Metalurgicas Pescarmona de Argentina, Sociedad Anonima (IMPSA), won during the Ramos administration, to rehabilitate the Kalayaan power plant in Laguna. The project could not take off the ground as financing was withheld by foreign banks which needed "sovereign" guarantee, which, simply put, meant that the Philippine government would pay for the loans, if IMPSA was unable to honor its obligations. That guarantee would have to be extended already by the Estrada administration. But in the wake of the Asian financial crisis, and the discovery that there was excess supply of energy from the combined capacities of several power plants contracted during his predecessor’s term, Estrada’s economic team balked at the extension of any further sovereign guarantees for BOT projects.

To be sure, Pescarmona pulled all the stops in trying to get the guarantee from Estrada. A state visit was arranged for Estrada to the land of the pampas, with President Menem a gracious host. Before flying to Argentina from Santiago in Chile, where our party was also feted in another state visit after the APEC Summit in Auckland, New Zealand, we landed first at the province of Mendoza, headquarters of IMPSA. There, after a tour of their facilities, undoubtedly intended to impress Estrada that they had the capability for the Kalayaan project and more, a sumptuous lunch complete with a tango performance was hosted by the Pescarmonas in their beautiful hacienda home.

But back in Manila, the financial managers were adamant, and the "ligaw" by IMPSA’s foreign and local agents still could not secure the needed sovereign undertaking. Then the political world of Estrada collapsed, after revelations of Chavit were climaxed by the revelations of Clarissa. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo found herself president, not as it turns out, by a confluence of events, but through a conspiracy that ran into good luck.

Two days after stepping foot in Malacañang, the first "stink" in what was to turn out to be the most stinking palace beside the stinking river, was signed, sealed and delivered, to Pescarmona–the sovereign undertaking of the new Arroyo government.

Cory Aquino is remembered for having re-established democracy, after suffering the indescribable pain of losing her husband to an assassin’s bullet. Like any human being suddenly thrust into the apex of political power, she must have turned giddy at the trappings of absolute power, as that vignette from the late Mike Tamano showed. She was likewise tempted by the blandishments of such power. But if there is anything history would fault Cory Aquino for, it would be her lack of appetite for the opportunities that power extended. She was, after all, a virtual dictator by the terms of the Freedom Constitution forged and promulgated days after her ascension. She was on top of the world then, and if she had prolonged the life of her absolutism, the country would have approved. But she did not. She wanted a Constitution, and she, sooner than expected, proclaimed an independent Congress. As she ran under the 1973 Constitution, she could have easily run for another term under the 1987 Constitution. Barristers and even the Supreme Court would have found that too difficult to deny. But she did not. She presided with grace and dignity over democratic transition when she handed the reins of power to Fidel Valdez Ramos. That is legacy.

As fighter escorts made Cory feel the pomp of power, so too did the IMPSA deal make Gloria realize the circumstances that come with power. Those circumstances and its attendant benefits were soon to multiply, as the nation discovered one stinking deal after another, from the overpriced Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard to the unexplainable ZYE-NBN deal. Thus, what former Speaker Jose B. Laurel attributed to the "narcotic effects of power" in the case of Marcos, may well be used to describe the obsession of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to remain in power.

But now she has gone a step much too far. As she dreads the possibilities of prosecution for crimes against the people, not the least of which is usurpation of power by conspiratorial cheating, she would allow anything, even the potential dismemberment of the Republic, if the same would serve as justification for her remaining in power. Thus, the sleight of hand that foisted the MOA on ancestral domain with the MILF, forged under her watch and with her approval, stands as testament, not to a desire to bring lasting peace, but as a ploy to change the Constitution in order to allow the full implementation of the terms of the concordat. What may have started as a sincere initiative for peace on the part of negotiators led by Rodolfo Garcia, is now perceived as a devious scheme presided over by her new peace adviser, not too coincidentally, the former chief of staff of the armed forces whose credentials to promotion were forged on the anvil of the 2004 electoral conspiracy.

Now the scheme has backfired, and pushed the country further away from peace, and closer to renewed hostilities and the beginnings of aggravated civil strife. The Christians in Mindanao despise her. The Moros with whom she parlayed this agreement smell treachery.

Certainly, they could not believe how a unanimous TRO from the Supreme Court materialized, with at the very least five toadies who would do as she bids. Did she bid them to do as their judgment and conscience dictated? Why, her Esperon was too anxious to board the plane Tuesday afternoon, confident that the Supreme Court would not stop his misadventure, or so it seemed to even those who were on the same plane with him to Kuala Lumpur that afternoon.

Now what began as an earnest desire for lasting peace on the part of negotiators, and what was deviously schemed into as a ploy to prolong her term, has metamorphosed into frightful Armageddon.

And so, the final curse, on top of what the FSGO on the eve of her SONA described as the seven curses arising from a "stolen republic" – dismemberment. Such would be the legacy of Doña Gloria.

As this article could not be transmitted in time for last Saturday due to technical difficulties, I couldn’t help but notice, while watching the live CCTV coverage of the spectacular four-hour opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympiad, that while heads of state or even lower-ranked officials who attended were focused upon by the cameras as their national athletes marched, when the small Filipino contingent led by Manny Pacquiao in aqua blue barongs marched in among the last, the cameras failed to pan on the Philippine head of state. Why, even officials from small principalities and dirt poor African countries were seen waving to their respective delegations, but CCTV cameras refused to show Dona Gloria.

Well, might as well be. That would have spoiled what little national pride welled in as our small band of athletes marched by.

Malaya, August 12, 2008