04 September 2005

New Domain

This blog has now moved to www.rickycarandang.com

Speaker Puno, part 2

Assuming that after impeachment is killed, President Arroyo takes seriously her state of the nation promise to convene Congress into a consituent assembly, how can she deliver when the numbers for a conass just aren't there in the senate?
Conventional thinking has it that without the senate's approval conass is dead.
But unconventional thinking says there may be a way.
The law says that two thirds of Congress can convene itself into a consituent assembly in order to amend the constitution. Today's thinking is that "two thirds" means two thirds of the senate and the house voting separately; meaning 161 members of the house and 15 members of the senate must approve.
But there is a legal argument that goes like this: a two thirds vote of congress could mean two thirds of the senate and the house COMBINED. Meaning with 240 reps and 23 senators, you would need 176 members of congress--regardless of which chamber--to approve conass. Under this interpretation, even if every single senator voted against conass, all you need is 176 congressmen and you've got your conass.
Although the framers of the constitution apparently meant two thirds per chamber, the document itself is silent on this specific interpreation of a two thirds majority.
One can expect the senators to argue strenuously against this interpretation, but a determined administration, with the help of a complicit Lower House could turn to the ultimate arbiter of the law to get a clear cut ruling that not even the senators can defy: The Supreme Court.
IF the Supreme Court ruled that two thirds of the congress combined could form a constituent assembly the senate would have no choice.
But would it do that?
The High Court is expected to rule on the merits of the legal arguments put forth by the petitioners and oppositors. But cynics think the justices--- being merely human despite being clothed in papal-like powers on legal infallibility--- would be vulnerable to the same pressure, the same stick-and-carrot maneuvers, that the palace and its allies exert on lawmakers when it wants its way with them
JDV and FVR would have very little direct influence with the Justices, but cynics may argue that most of the High Court would have been appointed by GMA and would thus be susceptible to pressure, coercion, or even positive inducement by her.
Cynics would point out that resigned secretary Cesar Purisima suggested that the TRO on the VAT was issued by the Supreme Court at the behest of Malacanang.
Cynics would point out that the Court, did not address the question about their integrity, but chose instead to cite Purisima on contempt rather than explore the allegation.
Cynics would point to quiet talk in high legal and political circles about how this or that Justice are the sometimes the "ponente" of Malacanang when it comes to making rulings that the palace wants.
Cynics would claim outright that the Supreme Court's decisions in some controversial cases were made to simply please the palace.
Others would say "Damn the cynics."
"Damn the conspiracy theorists. How dare they question the actions of the Supreme Court."
As a character in my favorite movie once said, "I'm shocked! Shocked to find that there is gambling in this establishment!"

Speaker Puno

The next two or three days could be the end of the road for impeachment. With President Arroyo scheduled to leave within days for the United Nations, the informal deadline for her allies to kill the impeachment is fast approaching.
I understand the president is very closely monitoring the events...not just on TV but by calling her allies in the House several times a day. She seems increasingly anxious about the much anticipated final vote scheduled for Tuesday or Wednesday. I'm told she's not sleeping much.
Understandably so. No head of state wants to address the UN with a cloud about their legitimacy hanging over their head. Even if her allies in the House manage to kill the impeachment Tuesday, that would only be a temporary reprieve for her.
That is because there is a price to be paid for the cooperation of Lakas CMD. And that price will be apparent a few months after the impeachment is killed.
That price is for her to deliver in one year on her promise of irreversibly beginning the process of shifting to a parliamentary form of government.
For people like President Fidel Ramos and Speaker Jose de Venecia who have risked much political capital and even their place in history to support GMA now, the deadline is not extendible. If the constitution is not amended ASAP, JDV's third and final term ends in 2007 after which he will have to sit on the sidelines for an excruciating three years. FVR believes that this is probably the last good chance the country has to shift to a parliamentary form of government, something he has always felt is in the country's long term interest. So if she does not deliver IN ONE YEAR, I suspect JDV himself will move to impeach her after the one-year ban on impeachment cases expires in July 2006.
But how can GMA deliver on her promise if she cannot win the support of the Senate? That's something I will explore in a future posting.
In the meantime, this current scenario is not without risk for the Speaker. If GMA has no intention of shortening her term to accomodate JDV and FVR, she will surely be working in the next year to remove the threat of impeachment by ousting JDV from power and replacing him with a more friendly and supportive Speaker of the House....someone like Rep. Ronaldo Puno.
As the pro-impeachment bloc creeps closer and closer to their goal of 79 votes by Tuesday, our two protagonists will get more and more worried. More pressure will be brought to bear on members of Congress. Perhaps an attempt will be made to kill the complaint on Monday and not Tuesday or Wednesday as scheduled. In which case many of the opposition's maneuvers, scheduled for execution Tuesday, will be rendered moot and academic.
Given all of this I suspect GMA is not the only one who will have sleepless nights this coming week.

01 September 2005

VAT's All Folks

As expected, the Supreme Court lifted the TRO on the VAT today and markets will heave a sigh of relief that President Arroyo's much touted fiscal reform program is not completely in shambles. But that sense of relief will be short lived.
If they're lucky or if they actually try, the VAT will allow the BIR to pick up P15 billion in additional tax revenues this year. That is, if their estimates are correct. Do i sound I skeptical?
Well, despite warnings by almost every single economist in the country, the sin tax measure--which the government estimated would bring in P15 billion in additional revenues this year --has only brought in some P800 million in incremental revenues.
Excise tax collections on tobacco products actually went down. At the rate they are going, the higher sin taxes will bring in a measly P2 billion in added revenues this year...if they are lucky.
Why the dismal revenues? Ask the UP 11. Ask former undersecretary of Finance Nene Guevarra. Ask the Foundation for Economic Freedom. Ask anyone with a college degree in economics. Just don't ask President Arroyo, former finance secretary Cesar Purisima, Senator Ralph Recto, or Congressman Jesli Lapus. After all, a multi-tiered tax rate based on cigarette prices in 1997 was their idea.
Now repeat after me: "We told you so!"
Given the discrepancy between government estimates and actual collections on the sin tax, any logical person must now take the estimates of the revenue from the VAT with a gigantic grain of salt.
The problem is, when those revenues start falling woefully short about a year from now the authors of those brilliant tax measures will come back to us...the middle class taxpayer...and
look for ways to raise taxes once again in order to prevent the national government from going bankrupt.
With more than half of the country believing the president stole the election and the outrage in many parts of the country over the way the impeachment was handled, will President Arroyo have the political will and the capital to go back to ordinary people and ask them to pay more taxes?
Even without the Garci tapes hanging over her head it took a full year for her to convince Congress to enact her deeply flawed tax measures. And these measures were only passed after special interests found ways to ensure that they would bear a disproportionately smaller share of the tax burden.
Now with the issue of election cheating unresolved in the public mind, fears of another public backlash, a largely hostile senate, and an opposition sure to challenge her, can President Arroyo muster the political courage to come up with new taxes to impose on the public before its too late?

21 August 2005

Black and White

I spent Sunday morning at La Salle Greenhills listening to different speakers from the Black and White Movement. The movement is really an attempt to unite and inspire the various middle forces opposed to President Arroyo's continued occupation of Malcanang. Given the extensive list of participating organizations, I believe the Black and White Movement is the most serious attempt so far to rebuild the middle.
It wasn't so much the number of people who attended---the Makati rally in whch Susan Roces spoke probably had more people---but the broad groupings that were represented there.
Alongside the usual suspects--the Hyatt 10, the Makati Business Club, the clergy, the university students, etc, there were representatives from the FPJ for President Movement, Akbayan, and a smattering of people associated with various factions of the opposition.
Many of these people, while united in their stand against GMA, have actually never really sat down together because their differences kept getting in the way.
Of course there were some anti-GMA forces that were not represented (like young officers in the AFP, who for obvious reasons were not present), but the Black and White event by far has been the most successful attempt to bring together the diverse and scattered anti-GMA groups.
Some often cited reasons for the failure of anti-GMA forces to rally a greater number of the silent majority is their lack of a viable alternative plan for the country, their disunity, and the absence of a key rallying figure.
Sunday's gathering saw some of those issues being addressed.
By being more inclusive and inviting groups of different persuasions together, the Black and White movement has begun the effort to unite the various factions.
Some of the speakers began to try to forge a common consensus about what inital steps a post-GMA government should take. Gerry Bulatao painted the broad strokes of six key areas of reform that people could unite behind; starting with the most obvious, a cleanup of the Comelec. In doing so, the anti-GMA forces are taking the first steps to forging a viable alternative to sell to the still confused silent majority.
And so it seems that the middle forces are now moving towards addressing their weaknesses. One thing though that stood out is amidst all these ideas and initiatives, it seems the anti- Arroyo forces are still lacking the one critical element that could put them over the tipping point: the emergence of a leader (or leaders) who can rally the troops into battle. Someone who they can trust and believe when he or she says "Follow me. This is the plan. and We will achieve it." Someone in whom they can invest their hopes and aspirations. After years of dashed hopes and betrayed aspirations, its going to take a lot more than what they've mustered so far.

20 August 2005

Crunch Time for JDV

Next week will be crunch time for Speaker Joe de Venecia.
As the pro-impeachment bloc's campaign to convince 79 congressmen to sign the impeachment complaint nears its final stages, JDV will have some critical choices to make.
Will he and his lieutenants allow the amended impeachment complaint to be brought to the Senate or will they throw it out and risk the political consequences? Right now, JDV holds in his hands the fate of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's presidency.
Which is why JDV is the best friend Arroyo has right now.
The most important thing for Arroyo now is to contain the impeachment complaint at the House, where they have a better chance of having it killed. Given the current level of support for her in the senate, she stands a good chance of being removed from office if the impeachment complaint is left to the Senate to decide.
JDV is the most masterful parliamentarian in the country. A decision by him to transmit the complaint to the senate could spell the end for GMA, in just the same way that a decision by him to kill the complaint in the Lower House could mean her survival in office.
Many observers believe that President Arroyo has asked JDV not to allow the complaint to reach the senate in exchange for her support for an accelerated timetable for charter change through a constituent assembly, as indicated in her state of the nation address.
Sounds like a classic JDV type win-win solution. JDV gets his parliamentary system in place and President Arroyo saves herself from being removed from office in disgrace. Granted she will have to shorten her term of office, but better to willingly step down than to have the presidency pried from the grasp of her cold, dead hands.
The dilemna for the Speaker is this: He cannot dribble the ball on impeachment forever. Sooner or later he will have to transmit it to the senate or kill it. Once he has acted, he loses any leverege he may have to force the president to live up to her promise to support conass. The key then for JDV is for the president to irreversibly put the wheels in motion for conass by convincing her allies in the senate to support it BEFORE he acts on the impeachment complaint. Something that has not yet happened.
And the longer it takes for conass to be put in place, the harder it becomes to kill impeachment. As the clamor for impeachment mounts, pro-impeachment forces in the House are nearing the 79 signatures needed to fast track its transmittal to the senate. If that happens, JDV may have little choice but to transmit the complaint to the senate. If he chooses to kill the complaint despite the 79 signatures, he will be the main target of the political whirlwind that will arise from throwing out the complaint. He will also have played his final card. Without the threat of impeachment, President Arroyo will have absolutely no incentive to support JDV's dream of a shift to parliamentary government. Except for her word.
Forced into a corner, JDV will just have to have faith that the President will keep her word. Given her record of keeping promises, that's not a comforting thought.

14 August 2005

Mike Defensor Saves the Day for Impeachment

First of all, thanks to everyone who has logged on to this site. Its my first blogging effort and I know that a lot can be done to improve the site. Will work on improving the visuals and posting more often. In the meantime, any suggestions would be welcome.

The buzz among pro-impeachment legislators is that the majority will move to kill the impeachment complaint in the justice committee next week. The thinking is that Malacanang cannot afford to let the proceedings reach the point where evidence will be presented or witnesses will be called to testify.
The problem for Malcananang is that an effort to kill the impeachment at this early stage could anger the public.....most of whom apparently want to see the process move forward. Majority congressmen were apparently asking for some political cover to allow them to justify killing the complaint to their constituents.
Enter Mike Defensor.
In a hastily organized press conference last Friday, Defensor sought to question the authenticity of the "Hello Garci" tapes by presenting expert testimony claiming the tapes were spliced or otherwise tampered with. Included in the expert testimony were a number of audio engineers and the written findings of US forensic audio expert Barry Dickey, an expert that even Senator Ping Lacson says is credible.
If the Defensor presscon had gone according to plan, the authenticity of the tapes would have been called into doubt, giving congressmen the ammnunition to justify voting down the impeachment upon resumption of the proceedings Tuesday.
Unfortunately for Malacanang, Defensor may have done more harm than good. Under intense grilling from a skeptical media, Defensor was forced to concede that Dickey did not review the entire tape but only two tracks that had President Arroyo talking to Garci about her votes ("Yung dagdag, yung dagday" and "So I will only lead by One M?"). Two of the audio experts on hand refused to categorically say that the tapes were fake. Lacson, who had already had the tapes analyzed by the University of Queensland in Australia, chimed in and said he would send the entire tape to Dickey for analysis and promised to personally apologize to President Arroyo if Dickey found that the tapes were tampered with.
To make matters worse, Saturday saw one of the audio experts, Jim Sarthou, claim on ANC that he was deceived into attending the presscon and was not prepared to say the tapres were fake. Also on Saturday, radio station DZXL's US correspondent Don Lino Selle spoke to Dickey himself who denied claiming that the tapes were spliced or tampered with.
Given Defensor's botched attempt to discredit the tapes, will the House majority still try to vote down the impeachment next week? I asked Majority Leader Boy Nograles today and he said he did not think they would....at least not on Tuesday or Wednesday.
So it looks as if the impeachment complaint will survive another week, thanks in large part to Mike Defensor.

07 August 2005

Witnesses for Sale

The battle for public opinion took another turn last night when former Assistant Secretary Ahmad Bayam disowned former officemate Michaelangelo Zuce.
Bayam....whose name and signature appear prominently in the documents Zuce used to support his claims that he was an accomplice to President Arroyo's purported scheme to rig the presidential election....says Zuce's claims were "completely false."
So what else is new? It seems for every "witness" one side comes up with, the other side will have a counter witness to deny the allegation.
In his press conference yesterday Bayam said he was contacted by representatives of Atty Liway Chato and Makati Mayor Jojo Binay and offered money in exchange for testimony corroborating Zuce's claims.
Offers which he claims he refused.
Last night I spoke to Chato who said that she did indeed exchange calls and text messages with Bayam. Yes, she did ask Bayam to corroborate Zuce's testimony. And yes, there was talk of some sort of financial compensation.
But here's where their stories diverge.
Chato says it was Bayam who asked for money in exchange for his testimony. To be exact, P700,000. Chato said she didn't have that kind of money to give away and so she refused. She says Bayam was also in touch with Mayor Binay who may have given him around P50,000; an amount far short of what he wanted. After which Chato says she lost contact with him.
Suddenly, yesterday, Bayam comes out and claims the exact opposite of what he told Chato he would say.
Is Chato telling the truth? Did Bayam ask for and receive compensation from the other side in exchange for his testimony?
Chato claims to have saved the text messages from Bayam. A check of the phone number will see if that was indeed Bayam's number.
Zuce's documents also contain a memo from Bayam to Joey Rufino with a signature....presumably from Bayam. A comparison of signatures could be made to see if they match.
The Zuce-Bayam claims come closely on the heels of Richard Garcia's rambling, often incoherent press conference in which he apologized to President Arroyo for dragging her family's name into the jueteng allegations but insisted that his testimony was the truth. Huh? Garcia also talked about how he was being set up by the opposition and how it was getting hard for him and his family to deal with the aftermath of his testimony before the senate.
By the way, Garcia was quickly denounced by Boy Mayor and Sandra Cam, who they say abandoned him. Mayor and Cam's public rebuttal of Garcia came one or two days after Garcia's reversal while Bayam's rebuttal of Zuce came after almost a week.
Is it possible that some enterprising minds are taking advantage of the battle for public opinion by selling their testimony to the highest bidder?
Both sides should be careful. Buying witnesses, whether it be done by Malcanang or its detractors, will not help them win the public. In this day when testimony can apparently be bought, the public tends not to believe anyone unless thay have evidence to back them up.