MAX V. SOLIVEN: A 'HURTING' PRESIDENT UNDER CRUEL SIEGE

MANILA, September 5, 2003 (STAR) BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven  - The President yesterday hunkered down in her command bunker in Camp Aguinaldo and spent all day conferring with armed forces generals and police senior superintendents, fulfilling her concurrent role as Defense Secretary and Commander-in-Chief.

From her office in the Department of National Defense (DND), GMA appears determined to be a "hands-on" AFP and Police Chief – learning the structure and workings of both the military and PNP from the top down.

She’s not even recruited a new DND Secretary (although she indicated to us that Peace Process Secretary, former Batangas Congressman, and retired General Eduardo Ermita is her first choice. There’s many a slip yet twixt cup and lip, since GMA still hasn’t announced the appointment).

In any event, when I spoke to her yesterday, the President hinted that, with so many pressing matters on her plate, she may yet postpone her scheduled trip to the Middle East to next January.

She had been scheduled to visit Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, on Sept. 21, then Jeddah, and finally Dhahran in the Eastern Province, where oil had first been discovered in the 1930s, and where the Arabian-American oil company Saudi-ARAMCO, the partner of PETRON, is located. Then, she would have crossed the King Fahd Causeway into neighboring Bahrain.

The Saudi-Bahrain visit, obviously, had political implications, since at least one million OFWs, Overseas Filipino Workers, are employed in the region.

The Chief Executive’s considering a delay in that visit clearly demonstrates the gravity of the current situation. As for her trip to New York, which very few people knew about, that might be scrapped, too. But who knows? It’s early days yet.

Certainly she will have to be in Paris on September 29th to address the opening session of the biennial conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in which the leaders and fo-reign and education ministers of 129 nations will be participating. Since GMA is the keynote speaker representing Asia-Pacific, this is a trip she cannot forego.

On the other hand, she can’t afford to be out of the country for too long a period, when the nation – let’s face it – is in crisis. She’s staying home to command the troops, that’s already a given.

The President is hurting personally for reasons on which we need not elaborate. Beyond that, she’s faced with challenges within and outside the armed forces.

Sensing her vulnerability, her enemies are circling around her like a pack of wolves. It’s the way of politics and power-grabbing. The litmus test of her leadership qualities and chutzpah will lie in her ability to rally both civilians and soldiers to her banner and repel the agitators and troublemakers.

It’s easy to remark that she brought this trouble on her own head, but in this very iffy situations we don’t have the luxury of wasting our time casting blame, indulging in the smugness of "I-told-you-so", or gloating over the travails of our Queen and her Palace coterie. We must all row together in the same leaky craft – and GMA is captain of the ship.

The Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Gen. Narciso L. Abaya (West Point, 1971), has come out with the public announcement that unnamed persons are offering huge amounts of money to provoke a military coup to topple the government.

The sums mentioned are interesting. One million pesos are said to be offered generals, while P50,000 per man is being dangled before enlisted personnel. Now, it’s conceivable that there are sectors – from dethroned politicians to drug lords – which have the financial resources to finance this kind of "Buy-a-Coup" undertaking. But if blood money buys a coup, it’s clear the resulting "government", whether a military junta or one featuring civilian puppets, will not be desirable.

Do you really want the military to take over, as they did during martial law on September 21, 1972? For more than 13 years, swaggering corporals and sergeants were the most powerful street bullies in every barangay. Any military "messiahs", no matter how idealistically some of them started out, would soon become petty local despots.

My warning, though, is that by so melodramatically trotting out such allegations, those who cry out about an impending military putsch might be promoting a self-fulfilling prophecy. The armed forces, in a way, are like a labor union. When they see their employers jittery, this encourages the union leaders, stewards, and rank-and-file to make increasingly outrageous demands.

I saw the former Intelligence Chief, Brig. Gen. Victor Corpus, being interviewed by Gene Orejana on ANC/ABS-CBN the other night. Corpus, who used to head ISAFP, but is now in Malacañang as Presidential strategist managing the "war room" (a promotion, not a "resignation", for him to Malacañang), said that the early discovery of the coup plot last July had stampeded the conspirators into abandoning their larger operation and taking premature action by a desperate fallback operation, to a diminished "Plan C" ("Charlie") by which only 350 or so young officers and men occupied the Oakwood on July 27.

When asked to explain, General Corpus pointed out that "Plan A" (Able), if it had been implemented, would have involved capturing Camp Aguinaldo, Camp Crame, Fort Bonifacio, Villamor, Sangley in Cavite, and other objectives in Mindanao, including General Santos City. This revelation, certainly, must have gotten televiewers to thinking: If "Plan A" had been scuttled, where were the thousands of men, with their officers, who had been supposed to implement it? Since only a few have been arrested or interrogated here and there, possibly there could be three to four thousand would-be putschists or mutineers lurking in the ranks of the AFP. Don’t you think so?

There are too many loose ends, and too many loose lips in this conundrum.

* * *

As for the current, noisy Senate investigation into the "Jose Pidal" issue, I believe it should be shut down. An inquiry into such matters is not a spectator sport, nor within the purview of the legislature, although the Senators are delighted to be given the opportunity of mugging it up, acting like Grand Inquisitors, and preening on television.

How in heaven’s or hell’s name can grilling Mike Arroyo, Iggy Arroyo, NBI and Police handwriting experts, "Udong" Mahusay et al. be "in aid of legislation"? This inquiry must be left to the investigative agencies, the police, the National Bureau of Investigation, and, ultimately, to the courts of law.

Having to abandon their role of television stars or stage villains would spoil the fun for our senators, but this is not a season for fun and games. Our nation is hurting, not just the President. There’s a growing climate of unease, disgust, disappointment, cynicism – and utter frustration. Our population is becoming numbed by all those crushing "revelations" and the histrionics of our solons, and the people may, in a very short time, be shouting: "A pox on both your Houses! Down with ALL you scurvy politicians!"

This would be a gift-wrapped invitation to the Communists, the Radical Left, political "disturbers of the peace", anarchists, troublemakers, and the Islamic rebels to grab control by stirring up clashes and demonstrations in the streets, and agitating the disgruntled in our military and police. This is the classic manner in which V. I. Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and their Bolsheviks, suddenly seized power in October 1917, with a few Red soldiers, marines and navymen from the Cruiser Aurora, and the rampaging of street mobs in Petrograd (St. Petersburg, later Leningrad). Madness and mayhem are the midwives of Revolution – and already, on TV Live, we can spot the madness.

Opposition Senator Panfilo Lacson has made his point – and, indeed, the group surrounding "Jose Pidal" appear to be crooked and avaricious as all-get-out, and some of them deserve to be hanged, drawn and quartered – but it’s time to strike the tents and close down this self-destructive circus. Ping Lacson may think that the publicity engendered by his truly impressive and shocking disclosures will propel him to Malacañang, but – while providing widespread entertainment – his exposés aren’t improving his own standing in the surveys. His savage attacks have damaged the Greedy Bunch, it’s true, and their scruffy and arrogant legal blackmailers, and inspired a hundred "ano ba it-Toh?" jokes, but enough is enough. Samson by his might, in truth, toppled the walls of the Temple, but it brought the roof down on his own head, too. (This was done, in the Bible, to serve the purposes of the Lord; how will the current Passion Play on TV serve the cause of the nation? Not favorably, I’m afraid.)

Lacson has, at least, demonstrated the theme of Tom Clancy’s latest adventure novel: "If you want to kick the tiger in his ass, you’d better have a plan for dealing with his teeth."

The GMA Administration kicked Lacson in the ass, with its one-two-three attacks on him. Now, he’s bared his fangs and is biting back. It’s time, I submit, to get out of the jungle.

When all is said and done, it’s a kick-and-drag-out fight between enemies. The late Mayor of Boston, James Michael Curly (a grand-uncle, I believe, of the Kennedys), used to quote an Irish proverb: "If a man has a thousand friends, he has none to spare – for if he has one enemy, he will meet him everywhere."

Lacson has become the "one enemy". And the one thousand friends of the Administration seem to be diving for cover themselves.

* * *

The Chief Executive’s travails have garnered international attention. In yesterday’s Financial Times, published from London, correspondent Victor Mallet wrote an article headlined: "Embattled President Accuses Desperate ‘Politicians’."

Here’s what Mallet said:

"Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Philippines’ embattled president, yesterday blamed the political turmoil in her country on the electoral ambitions of ‘desperate politicians’.

"Mrs. Macapagal has been beset by rumors of an impending coup d’etat since a short-lived military rebellion in Manila in July. She is also under fire because the Senate is investigating her husband, Miguel A. Arroyo, over his handling of campaign contributions for her election.

"‘We do have some politicians who are desperate and therefore they need to make the election period longer, which is not right,’ Mrs. Macapagal said in Brunei, where she addressed a meeting of the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council."

GMA had told Mallet that "I do not want to be drawn into a political debate." Observed the journalist: "The president put on a brave face on the July mutiny in which disenchanted soldiers seized a luxury apartment building and wired it with explosives . . . But the incident, like the earlier escape from custody of Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, a prominent terrorist suspect, further dented the Philippines’ reputation among foreign investors. The coming election period, with rival politicians jostling for power, is unlikely to improve the economic outlook."

The FT quoted Brig. General Victor Corpus as having "predicted Mrs. Macapagal’s opponents would continue their destabilization efforts ‘up to election time’."

President GMA, for her part, declared: "I have been hard as nails on the battlefront, whether we are talking about young officers thinking about mounting a coup, or the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), but at the same time with regard to the MILF I am also working on the conditions for peace."

She concluded: "We have a democratic tradition. We were the first democracy in Asia, over a hundred years ago."

A century, perhaps, may be proof that our kind of "democracy" doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s really adhocracy, sometimes dynasty, and too often family relations. Somebody, for sure, is now "outside the kulambo" (mosquito net) in the Palace – a more colorful equivalent of the US expression, "in the doghouse".

But this won’t solve the problem. I hate to say that more drastic surgery is needed – but that may be the only option. Should have been done a long time ago, many of my friends have said.

As for Iggy, does he really have the key to the piggy bank?


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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