Friday, March 14, 2008

Threats and ultimatums

This was my column last Wednesday, March 12. I know, very late post. Long story.

Exactly one week ago today, a group composed of former Cabinet secretaries who had banded together to form an association called Former Senior Government Officials issued an ultimatum to the President of the Republic.

They called on the President act on five “recommendations.” They gave her one week (some reports shortened the timetable to five days) because according to former Civil Service Commissioner Karina Constantino David, “one week was a reasonable time” for the President to act on their recommendations. Otherwise, they said, they would join calls for her resignation.

The automatic reaction of MalacaƱang was to accuse the FSGO of blackmail.
If it were another President sitting in power, I am sure everyone would have been outraged at the idea that the ultimate symbol of power and sovereignty in the country could be subjected to threats.

Of course, the statement of the FSGO was welcomed by the anti-Arroyo camp. The group is another potential addition to the roster of individuals and groups that can be added as signatories to a future manifesto to be published as a full-page ad in the papers.

In case you haven’t noticed, there is now an ongoing contest as to which side comes up with the most number of full-page advertisements containing a list of names that support their cause. So far I have noted that the government is winning by default. There are just far too many provincial, city, and municipal boards in this country that can be tapped as potential authors of manifestos of support and who seem just as willing to lend their names and their exalted positions to the cause. It is an utter waste of money but hey, it makes good business for newspapers. But I digress.

There were those who saw the move of the FSGO as brazen and naked display of arrogance. What right do these people have to make “recommendations” that they insist on being implemented, anyway? The recommendations were actually demands; let’s please make no bones about it.

However, it is one thing to make demands; it is an entirely different thing altogether to force a timetable and to issue corresponding threats of mayhem if the demands are not met. Making demands is entirely within the right of any citizen of this country. Issuing threats, however, smacks of superiority and ascendancy.

Others wonder at the conflicting messages. On one hand, the statement conveys a “wait-and-see,” “we’ll-give-you-another-chance-to-redeem-yourself” tone.

On the other hand, the aggressive stance, the verbal pronouncements, and the actuations of some members of the group before, during and after the press conference leaves no doubt as to where their real feelings lie. Duplicity is pretty evident as some of the members of the FSGO have already been actively calling for the President’s resignation as early as two years ago. Some of them were already at the forefront of rallies calling for the President’s resignation.

The deadline set by the FSGO was up yesterday and obviously, the Palace has not acted on any of the five so-called recommendations. In short, MalacaƱang has not committed hara-kiri yet—as many have been praying for.

Foremost among their demands was for the President “to order Secretary Romulo Neri to testify at the Senate without restrictions and limitations.” That demand floored me down and threw me off the wall. Testify without restrictions and limitations? At the Senate? These FSGO people are either senile or simply nuts. Why will Gloria Macapagal Arroyo want to do that? Why would she want to shoot herself in the head?

It’s a ludicrous idea because Neri has already been burned badly and vilified enough by the senators and by anti-Arroyo forces to turn around and offer himself as a friendly witness. It’s an absurd idea because the Senate has never made secret the real goal of all these investigations: To skewer Gloria Macagapal Arroyo and hang her in the bar of public opinion. Thus, ordering Neri to testify without restrictions and limitations at the Senate is like throwing a docile buffalo into a den of lions that haven’t been fed for months.

And of course, it won’t happen because this President has never made secret her desire to stay in power, at least until 2010, or until she and her cohorts have made sure that their tracks are well-covered and that they can enjoy retirement outside of prison.

The FSGO called their demands “sincere offer of help” that will enable the administration to resolve the political crisis. This kind of doubletalk is not only confusing; it is counterproductive. Sincerity, my foot! What sincerity are they talking about when their rhetoric is laced with vitriol and their stance is that of warriors already prepared to fight to the death?

The FSGO likewise erred in demanding for the outright suspension of Cabinet secretaries and government officials who were implicated in that monumental foul-up in securing Gretchen Barretto-wannabe celebrity witness Jun Lozada.

The former Cabinet secretaries forget that there are laws in this country that impose due process before any official or employee, whether in government or in the private sector, can be meted disciplinary action. It is particularly disturbing to note that among those who advocated the demand for outright suspension of certain officials including Environment Secretary Lito Atienza and Police National Chief Avelino Razon, was the former chief of the Civil Service Commission, the very government agency tasked with protecting the welfare of people who work in the government bureaucracy.

Having said that, however, let me state for the record that I am in complete agreement with the FSGO that the government’s inaction, which continues to this day, on Lozada’s abduction was and is unacceptable. Atienza, Razon, Gaite, and company fouled up big time in that bungled attempt to secure Lozada.

And yes, darn it, it would have been a good time to witness someone blowing her top and giving everyone the riot act! At the very least, these government officials should have been subjected to an investigation. Their suspension or termination could also be meted out by the appropriate bodies if there are enough bases to merit doing so, but only after due process is afforded to them. But Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has not done anything on the matter and thus, the demands of the FSGO and other citizens become legitimate —even if they don’t make sense.

Therefore, now that we are experiencing what amounts to the proverbial calm before the storm, it would be a great opportunity for this administration to show real proof that it is serious in addressing the grave allegations that have been made against it. Sorry guys, but the usual evasive tactics won’t hack it. We’re still not seeing what we need to see. I guess it will take more than an ultimatum then.

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