Saturday, November 14, 2009

GMA for Vice-President? Don’t scoff at it

Because of the rash of defections plaguing the ruling party, the opposition may be tempted to dismiss President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as a spent force. That would be a big mistake. She is still very much in the game, and the opposition cannot take anything for granted.

The earlier spin was that Mrs. Arroyo would run for Congress, seek the Speakership if she wins, and push for a constitutional shift to parliamentary government and become its prime minister. Even under extremely favorable conditions, that looked like a very long shot.

But conditions are not favorable now, and the old assumptions may no longer hold. Between now and the May 10, 2010 elections, many congressmen would have changed their political affiliations and alignments; they could return to Congress with the same old habits, but a change in the presidency may not leave certain congressional practices unchanged.

Mrs. Arroyo could win a House seat in Pampanga hands down, but winning the Speakership could be something else. I would not worry about it too much; I would worry more about her running for Vice-President, despite Lakas-Kampi’s badly diminished ranks.

Although the idea was first floated rather petulantly by Rep. Danny Suarez of Quezon Province, it does not look like he did it on his own just to spice up the political gossip. It seems more likely that the idea had been incubating within the administration for some time, and Suarez was simply allowed to leak it. All previous talk about GMA running in Pampanga, fueled by her constant visits to Lubao, may have been intended solely to mislead some sociology professors and the press.

The apparent inspiration is the Putin model. This refers to Vladimir Putin who, at the end of his term as president of Russia, opted to become prime minister to his protégé, President Dmitry Medvedev, whom the Western media like to depict (unfairly in my view) as Putin’s shadow or stooge.

In Russia as in the Philippines, the real power is lodged in the president. But a former president who becomes prime minister, whether or not his name is Putin, and a former president who becomes vice-president, whatever his name, are likely to project more power and influence than they actually wield. In Singapore, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew continues to project such power and influence long after he had stepped down to become senior minister.

This alone should not make us lose sleep. But there would be nothing innocuous in GMA running for vice-president. Especially since it coincides with the shift to automated voting which has raised serious concerns about the real possibility of the system failing, resulting in the inability of the Commission on Elections to proclaim any winners.

By June 30, 2010, all incumbent national and local officials shall have ended their term, except for the 12 senators whose term began in 2007 and ends in 2013. If by then no president and other national officials shall have been elected and qualified, a power vacuum would have occurred. That could prompt Mrs. Arroyo to try and hold over, which is not provided in the Constitution. The military could decide to support her, as they have done so until now, or they could take over on their own, without her, as “the protector of the people and the State.”

But what happens if Mrs. Arroyo runs and is elected vice-president while the Comelec is unable to proclaim a new president-elect and other elected national officials? Under the Constitution, the Vice-President-elect becomes the acting President until the President shall have been elected and qualified. But the Constitution sets no deadline for the election and qualification of the President.

All this, of course, is purely hypothetical. It could happen, but I am not saying it would. Still the mere possibility of it occurring is enough to make some people climb walls. For despite GMA’s badly eroded trust rating, her ability to use the legal and extra-legal powers and resources of the presidency is unequalled and undisputed.

What then should the opposition do? The most intelligent thing for them to do would be to meet GMA head-on by fielding their most popular bets for vice-president. Assuming the reported surveys are real and correct, Noynoy Aquino and Mar Roxas could exchange places so that Noynoy, rather than Mar, should take on GMA, while Manny Villar could probably persuade former President Joseph (Erap) Estrada to sacrifice his own presidential bid and become his running mate instead.

This may sound absurd to the parties concerned, but it may be the only way of preventing a great calamity afflicting the land. It may also be the only way to help Noynoy Aquino rid himself of those strident, unenlightened and irreverent critics who have the temerity to proclaim that his being the modest son of Ninoy and Cory Aquino of happy memory and the even more modest brother of Kris Aquino of popular entertainment tv is not enough basis for him to want to become president of this benighted country. It may also be the only way to help Erap get out of a second presidential run that seems to lack all the promise of his first successful run and which he may not be psychologically prepared to lose.

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