Arroyo’s options

THE Charter change (Cha-cha) express via the constituent assembly (Con-ass) is being derailed by a defiant Senate, a delayed test case on the “joint or separate vote” issue, a Supreme Court trying to maintain its heroic place in history and other legal obstacles.

Arroyo’s options. However, the more formidable block is our people’s scorn for term extensions. A recent SWS survey shows that a whopping 64 percent of our voters reject any Cha-cha at this time. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, El Shaddai, Jesus Is Lord Movement and other groups capable of mass action echo this public aversion. The “showdown” rally in Makati last Dec. 12 is a preview of more massive ones to come.

But to me, the most foreboding is the open resistance of the usually low-key Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales. The 1,252-school strong Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) quickly seconded his stance unanimously. The late Jaime Cardinal Sin’s secret weapon in launching People Power I and II was the lethal combination of parishes and Catholic schools in Metro Manila that produced a vast army of disciplined demonstrators who followed the beat of a single drummer. This multitude brought its food, sound systems, placards and other logistics and stayed indefinitely at the rallies until the government succumbed.

This army is now ready for action under Cardinal Rosales and Msgr. Gerardo O. Santos, the president not only of the CEAP but also of the Manila Archdiocesan Parochial Schools Association, which—together with the Manila parishes—was Cardinal Sin’s source of warm bodies.

So the big question now is: if the partisans fail in their Cha-cha bid, as they probably will, what are Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s options if she wants to stay in power beyond 2010?

First, should there be any terrorist attack here in the magnitude of Mumbai, or a demonstration as pervasive as the yellow takeover of the Bangkok airport, or similar large scale disruptions caused by rebels, rightists or even Arroyo allies—whether real or concocted—the President may be tempted to impose martial law.

True, the present Constitution limits martial law’s duration to only 60 days. But Congress, by a majority vote of all its members, “voting jointly,” may extend it. Certainly, this joint majority vote could easily be obtained by the Lakas-Kampi juggernaut. With the country under martial law, the Con-ass would be able to install the parliamentary system. This is the tried and tested Marcos formula.

If the disruptions will happen during this long Christmas vacation when Congress and the Supreme Court are on recess and the Church, schools and our people are on holiday mood, martial law would indeed be very tempting. The only real foil would be our politics-free military headed by the respected Gen. Alexander B. Yano.

Her second option is emergency rule. However, this is very risky, as it will set aside the Constitution. Any unconstitutional regime would be extremely unpopular and would be denounced by the international community.

Third, GMA could run for vice president in the 2010 elections and take over as president if and when the new president abdicates or resigns. This is not impossible. For instance, Joseph Estrada has been heard to say that if elected president, he would serve only the unexpired three years of his original term. As they say, anything is possible in politics.

Fourth, GMA commands a powerful political machinery. She could use it to elect a new face to the presidency like Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, and to retain her hold on Congress. Her appointees dominate the Supreme Court, Commission on Elections, Ombudsman and the other independent bodies, which could shelter her from her political enemies. After June 30, 2010, she will no longer be chief executive, but she won’t be a spent force.

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BIR rescinds directors’ VAT. Internal Revenue Commissioner Sixto S. Esquivias IV has just issued Revenue Memorandum Circular 77-2008 (dated Nov. 24, 2008) that “repealed” an earlier order signed by his predecessor imposing a 12 percent value added tax (VAT) on the “fees, per diems, allowances and the like” received by corporate directors.

The business community, I am sure, deeply appreciates the immediate response of the new commissioner to the lament of the Institute of Corporate Directors that I wrote about last Nov. 9. It shows the keen sensitivity of the Bureau of Internal Revenue to public opinion.

I am confident that corporate directors will reciprocate this prudent correction made by Commissioner Esquivias and approved by Finance Secretary Margarito Teves by promptly paying the correct income taxes due on their aforesaid fees. Mabuhay po kayo Mr. Commissioner!

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Filipino jurist in Hong Kong. After attending a board meeting of Metro Pacific Investments Corp. in Hong Kong last Dec. 11, I was invited to visit Justice Anselmo T. Reyes at his chambers in the Hong Kong High Court (equivalent of our Court of Appeals). Born in Manila in 1959, he finished his BA, cum laude, from Harvard and his Doctor of Laws from Cambridge University. He was admitted to the English bar in 1985, the Hong Kong bar in 1986 and the Singapore bar in 1995.

Dean Raul C. Pangalangan, who is now a visiting professor of law at Hong Kong University and who himself holds a doctorate from Harvard, introduced him to me. Well-respected and well bred, Justice Reyes is young enough to reach the Court of Final Appeal (Hong Kong Supreme Court).

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