SOLIVEN: WILL GMA RUN? DOES PING LACSON FACE 'ARREST'?

MANILA, September 18, 2003 (STAR) BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven  - Many are now saying, "Yes, she will." Almost an equal number are predicting: "Yes, he will."

Let’s start with the second prediction. Insiders say that an undated "warrant of arrest" has already been drawn up for the naughty opposition Senator Panfilo Lacson who has been hurling all those "bombshells" concerning the "Jose Pidal" case, and is expected to detonate more "explosions" when he returns shortly from the United States.

The arrest warrant has to do with the Kuratong Baleleng case, which was resurrected earlier by the Supreme Court and is supposed to be handled by a lower court. In any event, the word on the street is that Ping’s goose is cooked; pan-fried, in fact.

Where could Lacson appeal? To the Supreme Court which reopened the case? Not only did his nemesis, President Macapagal-Arroyo, appoint eight sitting Associate Justices of the High Court (the last four belong to her heart and soul, although one of them has neither soul nor heart) – the truth is that GMA can count on the support of eleven Justices of the Court.

Malacañang will, naturally, declare that Lacson’s prospective "arrest" has nothing to do with his "Pidal" attacks and the embarrassment suffered by the First Gent, who’s back in the official "social" circuit apparently. (Has he moved his clothes back into the Palace?)

Well, let’s see.

* * *

Alikabok tells me that almost as soon as Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo arrived at the airport yesterday morning from the collapsed World Trade Organization conference in Cancún, Mexico, he was called to Malacañang.

Although the 146-nation conclave broke down in Cancún, which the New York Times and IHT pointed out was a place aptly named because it means "snakepit" in the local Mayan language, Lorenzo – in his report – called it a "victory of the Filipino farmer".

How so? Cito noted that, at least, "for the first time, the feeble whispers of the poor nations speaking in unanimity, broke the sacrosanct halls of the affluent countries that have lorded it over world trading under WTO rules for the past five years." Oh well. Cito’s hard work and sincerity are quite evident, although his flowery English was obviously learned at the Ateneo, which the late columnist Joe Guevara used to tease as the "old Arrneow".

In translation: Lorenzo asserted that the WTO’s "imperial reflexes had been opposed and rejected and the organization has been turned into a more democratic outfit in which the developing countries have now closed ranks against the bullying of the "rich" nations. He said the Philippine delegation had been "omnipresent in all the deliberations" (Fabilioh the Arrneow turn of phrase!) and had battled for "the three pillars of agricultural reform . . . namely, domestic support, market access, and export reform".

He disclosed that there will be a new meeting convened not later than December 15 this year in Geneva, Switzerland, in which the Philippines must push through its agenda even more resolutely.

"I wish to appeal to political cannibals, ideological charlatans, dilettantes and demagogues in Philippine society, to leave the language of anarchy and despair, abandon empty bombast and name-calling, and constructively rally behind our clear, transparent and deliberate efforts to find a more equitable environment for our farmers and fisherfolk." That’s what Lorenzo averred in his peroration.

He must be running for Senator, or for first prize in the "Voice of Democracy" contest. Thank God, Cito knows how to plant, fertilize, irrigate, harvest and market agricultural produce.

He has helped create one million jobs. (Maybe he can get more jobs for the 4.35 million who are currently jobless). Let him go then and do what he knows best.

He can always hire a better speech-writer.

* * *

Back to the query: Is GMA going to make a U-turn from her December 30, 2002, pledge not to run in 2004 and declare she’s running afterall? Remember the old quip: If it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck, quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck – it must be a duck. Well, from waddle to quack, GMA looks like a candidate.

She has taken over the acting portfolio of Secretary of National Defense and yesterday met with her generals once more, ostensibly to plan the security measures to be taken in preparation for the Bush visit, but also to "take the salute" and observe anew whether or not she has the loyalty of the Armed Forces.

These days, she has the Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Narciso L. Abaya in tow – very visibly so. Abaya, the 32nd AFP Chief of Staff (West Point 1971) is not merely very buddy-buddy with the Americans, but some who attended the original meeting have just told me, he had even assured GMA in October 2001 that, if given the chance, he would work for her "reelection". That disclosure came as a surprise to me, but some West Pointers claim they were present when Narcing said it. Is this true?

Is this why Mrs. Susan Abaya, the general’s wife, is an official of the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) in Malacañang?

Wheels within wheels. No wonder we’re all dizzy.

Another "power" in Malacañang is Marita "Mai-Mai" Jimenez, the new MJ. Some habitués of the Palace say she’s simply called "Mai". Whatever the case, it seems that MJ has three offices – one in Malacañang, one in the Bangko Sentral building and another in the Magsaysay building on Roxas boulevard. On occasion, Alikabok alleges, she’s even taken a Palace helicopter when rushing from one office to another. Sus, what clout!

The other week, Metro Manila mayors who attended a meeting in the Palace presided over by GMA, couldn’t help but notice Mai-Mai, the Presidential Adviser on Priority Programs and Official Development Projects, always positioning herself by the Chief Executive’s side. Some critics claim that she even looks a bit like Mark Jimenez, but that’s downright silly, although admittedly she is a bit on the heavy side. After all, she frequently accompanies GMA when the Boss Lady "works out" in the improvised Palace gym on the third floor of the building. (Especially when she needs to get some papers signed.)

When GMA visited Malabon last month for the groundbreaking ceremonies of the flood control project there, MJ was again at her elbow. When the President went to Tondo to announce she was programming more houses for the poor at the government housing project in Smokey Mountain, who was beside her in a light-green overblouse with dark blue dress underneath – but MJ?

Mai-Mai was recently interviewed on Channel 21 and she maintained that her relationship with GMA dates back to their days together in the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), which means they met over 12 years ago. Anyway, she’s nudged herself into a niche that is best parodied by the Cuban expression, delegados del Capitan. When she speaks to people, the impression is created that she speaks for the President.

In any event, MJ has – as already mentioned in this corner – one of her protégés in the Land Transportation Office (LTO). This is her staffer, Ms. Anna Lei Lontoc, who replaced former PNP Director General Bobby Lastimoso, and edged out DOTC Secretary Larry Mendoza as acting LTO chief. In case you don’t realize how pivotal being head of the LTO is, just chew on this: The LTO earns P6 billion (yep, six billion) per year – from vehicle license fees, license plates, renewals, fines and penalties! Indeed, this P6 billion represents half the revenues of the entire Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), which come to more than P12 billion per annum. By the way, that P12 billion yearly makes the DOTC the fourth biggest income-generating agency of the government, after the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Customs Bureau, and the PAGCOR.

Now comes another lady, just appointed by President GMA to head another frontline, money-generating agency of the DOTC: Namely, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). Replacing the honest and competent LTFRB Director Dante Lantin, who’s run that agency for many years, Ms. Ma. Elena Bautista, who also comes from the Presidential Management Staff (PMS), is now boss there. It’s interesting that control of the entire land transport sector has been taken over by two formidable femmes from GMA’s Palace pangkat just seven months before the elections.

Imagine the income-making potential of those agencies, with 14 million drivers’ licenses to be renewed, five million vehicles to be licensed, and 20 million "clients" to be serviced in a single year. The two other big-income earning agencies of the DOTC are the Air Transport Office (ATO), which pulls in P2.2 billion a year, and the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), about P4 billion. Now you can understand why the fees and levies imposed on the transport sector are so important.

Can "campaign funds" be realized from the above-mentioned sources? At least, we can say that these will not end up in the "Jose Pidal" bank accounts.

* * *

THE ROVING EYE . . . A newspaper headline yesterday: "Fiery Welcome for Bush in RP: Militants Set to Burn 100 US Flags." Oh well. Like many flags now flying in the United States, most of the US flags the radicals will burn were manufactured in the People’s Republic of China. (That’s what the Americans are complaining about: That the Chinese have taken more than two million jobs away from American workers.) Sanamagan. Does this mean that Beijing, in competition with "Dollar Imperialism" is practicing "RMB Imperialism"? Will they finally allow the Renminbi to float?


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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