Thursday, June 18, 2009

Prime Minister, anyone?

One reason, it is said, why Ferdinand Marcos stayed in power far beyond his unprecedented second term was because he had seen how badly our former presidents and especially former first ladies were treated by the snooty rich and he would have none of it. Now, one question being put to our prematurely campaigning presidential aspirants in some inane TV forum is, “If elected, will you send Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to jail?”

That is no incentive for the outgoing and termed-out president to think of riding into the sunset or writing her memoirs. One current text message fires its own bullet: “Amend the Constitution now and allow two terms for the President: the first one in office, the second in jail.” Mrs. Arroyo has to think of life after Malacanang, and that’s what we are seeing right now.

It would be a violent trampling of the Constitution if Mrs. Arroyo tried by any means to extend her term as president. She knows it will not fly, so she won’t do it. But nothing prevents her seeking a change in the Constitution to allow her to stay on. The Russians and some Latin Americans have done it, so Mrs. Arroyo’s allies in the House of Representatives are eager to have a constitutional shift to parliamentary government where she could----not necessarily would---- become prime minister (PM).

There are several steps. 1) The House proposes the appropriate constitutional amendments without the Senate; 2) the Supreme Court (SC) rules that the procedure, if and when questioned, is constitutional and correct; 3) a plebiscite is held and the people ratify the proposed amendments; 4) parliamentary elections are held in which Mrs. Arroyo is elected Member of Parliament (MP); and 6) Mrs. Arroyo is elected PM by her peers.
The plan could miscarry if: 1) the House excludes the Senate from the process and the SC says no, it cannot be done; or 2) the SC says it is all right but the people rise in protest and throws out the entire government, including all the justices; or 3) the process goes all the way up to a plebiscite but the people reject the proposed shift, and their votes are counted and reported accurately by the Commission on Elections (Comelec); or 4) their votes are misreported and they rise in revolt.

The parliamentary scenario is repugnant to many, not necessarily because of what is being proposed but rather because of its timing. Not now, says the sign in many places. They do not want Mrs. Arroyo to benefit from it, that’s all. “Kami naman,” they say. Despite her reputed unpopularity, however, Mrs. Arroyo remains the strongest political player who is in a position to dictate her terms. She has survived all challenges and left no real challengers standing except for a few showbiz-oriented characters who are busier posing for their TV ads than having a real impact on our people’s lives.

She will stay in power if she can, and we will just have to stop her if we can. As the process is constitutional, we will have to use constitutional means. That means meeting the parliamentary proponents in open debate on the floor of the House, in the media, and ultimately in court. Should we fail, we could either submit gracefully or take up active resistance. But the result of the latter is not predictable and the consequence of failure incalculable and usually more than unpleasant. And what if the people do not respond at all?

Should the initiative prosper and the people accept it, we will have to elect MPs, one for each district. Mrs. Arroyo could then run in Pampanga, Pangasinan, Quezon City or Iligan. If Pampanga, which is our best bet, Governor Ed Panlilio, the priest-turned-politician who now wants to become president also, will have a rare opportunity to frustrate her bid, if he is truly as popular in Pampanga as he appears to be in some unorthodox small circles in Metro Manila. That would cut her off the prime ministership, without necessarily making the giant-killer a prime ministerial candidate.

Should Panlilio fail to stop her, she surely becomes material for PM. But only if her party wins most of the seats, or failing that, if her party coalesces with other parties to form the majority bloc. Becoming PM then is not a given and cannot be assumed as such. It will be up for grabs, and Mrs. Arroyo will have to fight for it. Others could contest the prime ministership.

For example, Danding Cojuangco of NPC, who missed the presidency in 1992, could become an MP and seek the PMship. So could former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, without having to worry about the legality of his becoming head of government again. So could former President Fidel V. Ramos, if he’s still strong with Lakas. So could Manny Villar, Mar Roxas, Makati Mayor Jojo Binay, MMDA’s Bayani Fernando and everyone else who wants to become president. Even Smart’s Manny Pangilinan and former Speaker Jose de Venecia could also join the fun. They could all coalesce just to deny Mrs. Arroyo the PMship, if they want.

The only real problem is that these are politicians divided by a common ambition, and they seem to have carved their political motto upon stone: “Divided we stand, united we fall.”

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