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Friday, March 20, 2009

The Philippines in 2009

Note: Article by Sarj Rojo

When Filipinos look back at EDSA II, they readily concede: the GMA cure was much worse than the Erap disease. Under GMA’s watch, the Philippines has gained notoriety as one of the world’s most corrupt countries. As a result, Filipinos are now experiencing poverty and hunger at levels never before seen except during wartime.

And this is not just another crisis that will pass in due time. Because the entire Earth is already reeling from the twin challenges of economic recession and climate change, the Philippines cannot hope that other nations can extend a helping hand. Thus, Filipinos need to closely and quickly review their options – and act decisively.

EDSA II Revisited

What brought the Philippines to this? Many may trace the beginnings to the Marcos declaration of martial law in 1972. Others may blame EDSA I, at least in part. But more likely would be the more recent EDSA II. Let’s revisit that time…

In late 2000, quarrels among members of the “Midnight Cabinet” of President Joseph “Erap” Estrada over illegal gambling spoils led to a botched rubout of Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis “Chavit” Singson. This incident turned Singson into a whistle-blower. Claiming to be the least guilty party in illegal gambling and tobacco industry irregularities, he ponted to Erap and Atong Ang as jueteng manipulators and fund extortionists from projects of the tobacco fund.

Shocked by the revelations, activist and elitist groups led by Jaime Cardinal Sin and 2 past Presidents (Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos) swiftly joined hands to demand that Erap resign. Impeachment proceedings began in the House of Representatives went up to the Senate for trial. Then, with massive street demonstrations and televised impeachment hearings feeding a media frenzy and whipping up public anger, the Senate voted not to open an envelope that was supposed to contain key evidence. This vote sparked a swift civilian-military uprising that forced Erap to vacate Malacanang Palace after no less than Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado and Chief of Staff Angelo Reyes became the first defectors from the Erap forces to join the EDSA II forces. Citing Erap’s “constructive resignation” as causing a vacancy, Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide swore in GMA as President.

Thus did EDSA II elevate Vice-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to the Philippine presidency in a wave of euphoria: twice had the country booted out a thieving President by peaceful means! That was eight years ago.

As soon as GMA took over Malacanang Palace, the traditional politicians (trapos) and other bureaucrats previously identified with Erap switched to the GMA camp, repeating the characteristic turncoatism and opportunism, not wanting to be left behind by GMA’s gravy train. Months later, Erap was arrested – and eventually “imprisoned” in his own Tanay farm and rest house. After a trial of several years by the Sandiganbayan, Erap was convicted in September 2007 and pardoned by GMA in October 2007, with no less than Erap’s erstwhile DILG Secretary Ronaldo Puno being the same DILG Secretary (this time of GMA) who delivered the document of GMA’s executive pardon to Erap.

Even before Erap was pardoned, however, the politics and governance (or lack of it) of the GMA administration already precipitated several impeachment attempts against GMA which her allies in the legislature voted down by sheer strength of numbers. This has gravely weakened the foundations of truth and justice of Philippine democracy. But neither GMA nor her allies care – as long as they can plunder with abandon and not be bothered by niceties of decency and fairness. Thus has EDSA II and GMA tarnished EDSA I and the luster of Asia’s first democracy.

The GMA Legacy

In a very short time, GMA has destroyed all Philippine institutions. The Executive Department (including military and police), both houses of Congress, most of the judiciary, majority of media and even the Church have all been compromised by the unprecedented corruption, fraud, bribery, blackmail, kidnapping and even killings.

Here’s a quick sampling of the performance of the GMA criminal syndicate that is posing as a national government.

Kickbacks & Bribes

Within weeks of entering Malacanang, the first kickback-laden deal was made, care of the IMPSA power plant supply deal pushed aggressively by GMA’s first Secretary of Justice Hernando Perez. The well-documented (by no less than a former Congressman, Erap’s “corporate genius” Mark Jimenez and the Swiss and Hongkong governments) case filed against Perez was trashed by GMA Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez in 2008 on the technicality that Perez was supposedly denied a quick trial. Many deals involving kickbacks and bribes marked the dawn of the GMA era (such as the grossly overpriced Diosdado Macapagal highway in the Manila Bay reclamation area).

And of course GMA’s military and police cohorts won’t be outdone, A “conversion” scam was perfected by AFP comptrollers (the best known of whom is Gen. Carlos Garcia whose wife and sons were intercepted by US Customs carrying hundreds of thousands of dollars into the US). And there’s also the very sloppy EuroGenerals of the PNP who were actually apprehended by Russian authorities for currency law violations.

There were also many other deals that prejudiced government assets and accounts (including the non-collection from CAP/Fil-Estate of P2 billion owed to BCDA-John Hay during a time when GMA brother Diosdado Macapagal Jr. sat as a Director in the CAP Board). A much-publicized Jose Pidal account surfaced, supposedly belonging to First Gentleman Mike Arroyo but brother Rep. Iggy Arroyo valiantly came forward to claim said account. It is also certain that well-funded offices (PAGCOR, PCSO, GSIS, SSS, OWWA, LTC, PCGG, LBP and DBP, to name a few) have been plundered by GMA henchmen. Evidence of all these will come out once GMA leaves office.

International Irritants

Neither are smelly contracts limited to local ones. An internationally-celebrated legal case is the Fraport airport contract that remains a sore point between Germany and the Philippines to this day. The natural gas contract in Malampaya is a severe irritant to RP-UK relations and was the subject of a visit by Great Britain’s Prince Andrew. There are also the infamous Northrail and ZTE contracts with the People’s Republic of China (which also has many onerous natural resource deals signed by GMA, including an oil exploration contract said to have violated the Philippine constitution). And there’s also the MoA-AD with the MILF that has offended both Malaysia and the OIC and again made a mockery of Philippine sovereignty.

And aside from the sudden pullout of the Philippines from the coalition of the willing in Iraq, there are many issues with the United States. One is the possibility that US rice donations were mishandled by the NFA and the DA. Another is that no less than the FG violated some money-laundering laws of the US – supposedly the reason behind the very abrupt return flight to Osaka during GMA’s late-2008 trip to Peru for APEC. And yet another case that spilled over to the US was the Jocjoc Bolante fertilizer scam, which is being heard by the Senate a second time as this is written.

Electoral Fraud

Talking of flying, one activity that involved many flights were the 2004 and 2007 vote-buying shenanigans.

The 2004 version is well-remembered as “Hello Garci” and involves many military officers (starring Hermogenes Esperon, Tirso Danga and a few other generals) and COMELEC Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano. It also needed a special ballot-box switching operation in Congress that is now corroborated by no less than former Speaker Jose de Venecia. The object of “Hello Garci” was to make sure GMA would beat FPJ by at least 1,000,000 votes in the presidential race.

What the 2007 poll cheating achieved was to position Team Unity candidate Migz Zubiri as the 12th senator-elect, edging out oppositionist Koko Pimentel by blatantly re-documenting the Maguindanao results. Still, all the cheating didn’t stop the election of detained Oakwood mutineer Antonio Trillanes.

Cover-ups & Disappearances

As odious as all the above already are, the human rights abuses of GMA may well be what will galvanize the international community to move against GMA.

To cover up the malfeasances in the foregoing litanies of GMA crimimnality, it seems that some GMA loyalists have had to resort to blackmail, kidnapping and even murder. Names like Udong Mahusay, Sandra Cam, Ador Mawanay, Jun Lozada, the Manalo brothers, 2 UP coeds and slain journalists like Marlyn Esperat.have come out – but one can only guess how many haven’t. And one name that has come out many times but who still can’t be located is Jonas Burgos, son of the well-loved journalist Joe Burgos, icon of Philippine journalism.

Salting the wounds of the disappeared is the recent consideration by GMA of the designation of Gen. Jovito Palparan to assist the PDEA’s drug campaign. If this will come to pass, watch how many of GMA’s critics will be discovered to be either drug users and pushers!

Remembering GMA

Given the foregoing survey (which surely missed many GMA criminal acts), it is somehow fitting that the latest scandal that has led to the closure of many rural banks as well as exacerbated the survival problems of pre-need firms is caused by a business group that has adopted the name Legacy.

It is fitting because Legacy’s headman seems to fully subscribe to the GMA formula of hiding behind an elective position to escape accountability for earlier crimes. After accumulating a lot of cash as a jueteng operator, political candidate, NHMFC officer, rural banker and pre-need entrepreneur, Celso de los Angeles has become a municipal mayor in the province of Albay.

Perhaps this will be the town that can provide asylum to GMA when the time comes.

Immediate Options

Reflecting on the previous sections of this paper, we see four possible end points of what the Philippines is now going through.

The first – and farthest off – is to wait until the 2010 elections. But if we don’t get to that point, it could be because the GMA Cha-cha train will already derail that election as early as early 2010 or late 2009. But there are also 2 other possibilities, whose dates can’t be forecast as yet. One is a really bloody revolution. The other is a blitzkrieg by young officers.

The 2010 Elections

This early, many people are already attracted by this option, which is also by far the top choice of trapos. The proliferation of parties and candidates creates a festive mien that masks the hunger and poverty with a circus and some piddling cash. And if there are at least three presidential candidates fielded, then the winner is going to be whoever will be anointed by GMA or her party.

If somehow, fortune will smile upon the Filipino and only 2 tickets will reach the homestretch, the likelihood is that the administration slate will have LAKAS, KAMPI and NPC bundled together to support Noli de Castro for President and Chiz Escudero for Vice-President. It can become really interesting if the remaining parties will get together to field an Erap for President and Mar Roxas for Vice-President.

But with GMA controlling the printing of ballots and COMELEC, not even the Erap magic can match the “Hello Garci” technologies.

The GMA Cha-Cha

This may be the real GMA preference. Change the constitution so that it allows GMA to run in Pampanga for a federal parliamentary seat that lands her as Prime Minister.

If this happens, then sorry to all the other presidentiables: only GMA would qualify to become Prime Minister. And that’s why this may take a bit of doing. But she makes the rules, so she’d really have a big advantage in such a scenario.

A French Revolution

The rising rural and urban hunger and poverty has resulted in record NPA recruitment numbers in Bicol, Southern Tagalog, Central Luzon, Northern Luzon and many parts of the Visayas. This is a real concern for the AFP, which already has its hands full with the war in Mindanao. And this seems to be the reason for the US Balikatan exercises being shifted to Bicol, to protect the National Capital Region.

And that’s why the management of the commodity distribution and consumer prices (for items like food staples, LPG, petroleum supplies and transportation) is becoming especially critical. A shortage in a major urban center can spark flash riots that can jump quickly to other areas and possibly trigger violence born out of desperation. Should this happen, the French Revolution could inspire a Philippine version. And at the very least, such an eventuality will end in either a civil war or a Somalia-type warlord fragmentation of the Philippines.

The Young Officer Option

There is a fourth option. Until very recently, this was dismissed as being impossible. But it may yet end up as the most reasonable – and doable.

This is the move of young officers to save the republic by taking over the government from the jaded and decrepit trapos and corrupt businessmen. Until now, said young officers have stayed beneath the radar, concerned about two things. First is the problem of what to do if they succeed in taking over: many of them realize that they may not have the competence to plan and implement a national purpose and program. Second is the fact that the group will need a certain level of seed funding that can propel them to the takeover point.

Considering that the third option may become too bloody and that the first two options will just perpetuate injustice and trapos, this last option becomes more attractive with each passing day of watching crooks thumb their noses at all of us during the Senate and House hearings.

Let us pray that yet another deus ex machine option materializes. But let us also be ready to support the young officers should they make a move before such an option can develop. It could be out last chance so that GMA won’t have the last laugh.

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