WE feature on the blog this latest paper written by Dr. Joel Rocamora, chairperson of the Akbayan party-list group and former executive director of the Institute for Popular Democracy. In his paper, Rocamora presents his reading of the current situation in light of the recent call for the setting up of a “new government” by some Catholic bishops, including Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, the president of the influential, albeit divided, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

Is There a Storm on the Horizon?
Joel Rocamora, October 31, 2008

The bishops did it. Their call for a “new government,” then building hope around “liberators” who are “just around the corner” got everyone worked up. A “new government” in advance of the 2010 elections, of course, means the extra constitutional removal of the Arroyo administration. Everyone assumes the bishops are not talking of the Second Coming. Maybe those knights in shining armor who are a long time coming.

Conspiracy theorists are having a field day. The impeachment initiative, cha-cha (charter change), and the arrival of Jocjoc Bolante primed the public for the bishops’ statement. Are these moves linked? Is there a master conspiracy behind these linked moves? Did the bishops light the fuse for a coming explosion? Is it a short or a long fuse? The nice thing about conspiracy theories is that we can enjoy dramatic tension even if we cannot find out if there’s anything to the theory.

Whether or not the bishops are, consciously or unconsciously, part of a conspiracy, what they’ve done is important because it reminds us that moral outrage does not recognize the political calendar. Practical politicians on both sides of the pro-anti-Gloria (Macapagal-Arroyo) divide say talk of liberation have to make way for preparations for the 2010 election, only a year and a half away. The moral sensibility asks why we have to wait. If we can, let’s get rid of her now.

Which bishops set the impact. Archbishop Oscar Cruz, the constant warrior, tilting endlessly against jueteng. Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, president of the CBCP, perennially frustrated by the CBCP’s conservative majority. Bishop Socrates Villegas is bishop of Balanga-Bataan, but he is well known to Manila reform circles from serving as the late Cardinal Sin’s able assistant. Two others signed the statement, Masbate Bishop Joel Baylon, and Legazpi Bishop Emeritus Jose Sorra.

Who was not with them might also be revealing. The bishops of KME (Kilusang Makabansang Ekonomiya) who were not there have in the past been accused of supporting coup attempts. If the KME bishops have been the more public of the Catholic Church’s progressive section, the AMRSP (Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines) has more resources. AMRSP sisters have been Jun Lozada’s bodyguards for most of the last eight months. The bishops’ initiative was apparently at the behest of the AMRSP.

Whether intentional or not, the bishops also weighed in on the 2010 elections. Two presidential contenders, Vice President (Noli) De Castro and Senate President (Manuel) Villar, are clearly not in the bishops’ support list. The two leaders they prefer, Chief Justice (Reynato) Puno and AFP Chief-of-Staff (Alexander) Yano, are not running for elective office, but could come in as leaders of an extra-constitutional post-GMA (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) leadership.

On its own, the bishops’ initiative is not likely to result in the kind of change they hope for. But it does raise the incendiary potential of other ongoing developments. Bolante’s return has been avidly anticipated. His attempt to avoid having to talk, resulting in two years of imprisonment in the U.S., indicates the explosive potential of his telling the truth. But early indications are that he’s not going to talk.

There’s an apparently coordinated effort to prevent his testimony in the Senate. Even before he returned, his lawyer petitioned the Supreme Court to prevent the Senate from reopening hearings on the fertilizer scam, arguing that the investigation is finished. This argument is backed up by administration allies in the Senate led by Sen. (Edgardo) Angara who says that the Senate long ago submitted its recommendation to the Ombudsman for Jocjoc’s prosecution. For two years, the Ombudsman did nothing, acting only on the day after Jocjoc returned.

The positioning of administration lackeys in the Senate is understandable. What needs explaining is the hesitation of Senate President Villar who only moved to have Jocjoc arrested by the Senate the moment he arrived after LP (Liberal Party) senators threatened to attack him. Villar is also problematizing what committee would investigate. Since the Committee on Agriculture is headed by Sen. Angara, the only logical committee is the Blue Ribbon Committee headed by Villar party mate Senator Alan Peter Cayetano. Senator Mar Roxas has proposed that the Senate convene as a committee of the whole.

Maybe this is where the explanation for Villar’s hesitation lies. He does not want to give Mar Roxas a platform. Villar supporters might also be worried that a Bolante expose would put some life into the impeachment complaint. In the unlikely possibility that GMA does get impeached, it would greatly strengthen the position of another Villar competitor, Vice President De Castro, who would become president. A combination of administration senators and Villar allies, together with the more than one week lapse before the Senate reconvenes could defuse the Bolante issue, even if the Supreme Court refuses to act on Bolante’s petition.

The competing political calculations of 2010 election coalitions are also likely to determine the fate of the impeachment complaint. The minority in the House has not, so far, endorsed the complaint. While there is no such thing as impossible in the shifting coalitions of Philippine politics, the complaint is not likely to get the one-third of House members needed to move the complaint to the Senate. If its proponents succeed in at least debating the substance of the complaint, that will, under current circumstances, already be a victory.

The administration’s move to advance its cha-cha agenda is potentially more explosive. The attempt, whether it succeeds or not, is proof of opposition suspicions that GMA intends to stay in power beyond the end of her term in 2010. Led by House Speaker (Prospero) Nograles, the administration is mobilizing to secure charter change without involving the Senate. Quite openly, administration stalwarts are saying that if they can get three-fourths of the members of both the House and the Senate, they can pass constitutional amendments.

For now, the amendment would only remove the prohibition on foreign ownership of land. If Nograles succeeds in getting the 196 votes of House members he needs, the issue will then be raised to the Supreme Court. If GMA allies in the SC affirm the constitutionality of this mode of amending the constitution, there will then be no legal obstacle for GMA and her allies to make the kinds of changes that would keep GMA in power past 2010. The conditions for maximum polarization will then have been set.

These kinds of conditions should facilitate the revival of the mass movement. Whether they like it or not, the anti-GMA opposition will be forced to reunite as the likelihood of 2010 elections recedes. It will also force leaders of key political institutions, in particular the SC and more importantly, the AFP, to decide whether their allegiance to the Constitution extends past its being mangled. If the Chief-of-Staff decides he has no obligation to obey a mangled Constitution, the door will be opened for “liberators.” It could then be “a walk in the park.”

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