Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Yet Another Palace Initiative (PI)

Yet Another Palace Initiative (PI)
By: Gladstone A. Cuarteros

First they denied involvement but soon enough the tenants of Malacanang bared their
true colors. Slowly as the issues surrounding the so-called Peoples Initiative
unfold the smoke screen of Malacanang is quickly fading. It is crystal clear now
that the GMA administration is orchestrating this most recent maneuver to amend the
1987 Constitution. In fact without the formal petition yet with the Commission on
Elections (Comelec) GMA has already endorsed the peoples initiative. She declared
that the Cha Cha train have left the station and that ' it is time for old-time
politicians to step back or get run over' by the speeding Cha Cha Express.

Is GMA's declaration a plain expression of support on the peoples initiative? Well
that is what her allies want us to believe. That the initiative is genuine clamor
coming from people. But as we can later conclude her strong declaration reflects
that indeed she knows what is happening and is going to happen on the
DILG-ULAP-Sigaw ng Bayan-led peoples initiative. She could not claim innocence
because if she is, she should have waited at least for the Comelec to take
cognizance a formal petition to be filed. At maximum she should have deferred on
whatever ruling the Supreme Court makes once the peoples initiative is questioned
in court.

But that is least of her concerns. What is important to GMA and her allies is to
undertake charter change now and avoid being subjected to another impeachment
compliant in July this year. Another impeachment proceeding could be more
difficult to ward-off this time. And in so doing the charter amendments she hits
two birds with one stone. Forever she will no longer need to answer questions on
her legitimacy but will continue ruling until 2010 at least (God forbid) and
secondly she will deliver on her promise to Speaker Jose de Venecia for the shift
to a parliamentary system.

With the way the current peoples initiative is carried out by the administration
we can say there is a DILG-ULAP- Sigaw ng Bayan conspiracy, if not Malacanang plot
itself. Well that is using only this administration's language - one that is fond
of accusing other groups of conspiracy, plots, destabilization, etc.

When Rep. Ronaldo Puno was appointed to head the Department of Interior and Local
Government (DILG) it was suspected that the real intention is for him to set into
motion GMA's version of charter change. Especially now that the ConAss proposal of
the House of Representatives is stalled in the Senate. Using his acumen as an
expereinced political operator Puno will again make use of his network at the DILG
to realize GMA's Cha Cha. For the uninitiated, Puno maintained his network within
and outside the DILG – network which he developed during his time with the
Department in the Marcos years. DILG used to be Ministry of Community Development
and Local Government. Some of his colleagues then are by now in the upper echelons
of DILG bureaucracy, serving as assistant secretary or regional directors. While
some others has since retired and are officers of the retirees association.
Remember also that Puno served as DILG Secretary during Estrada's short-live

It goes without saying this made him in close contact with his DILG network again and
perhaps enabled him to expand it further. It is said that this same DILG network
was the backbone of the political machinery which helped Puno in the presidential
campaigns of Ramos, Estrada and in 2004 GMA herself.

The suspicion that Puno will work to expedite GMA's Chacha prove right. The haste
we are seeing now in the signature campaign is not at all accidental. Nor is it
because the people are so 'hot' about GMA's chacha. A key factor is Puno at the
DILG. Before literally warming his seat in the Department, DILG issued Memorandum
Circular 2006-25 directing all local officials to hold barangay assemblies
nationwide. In these assemblies the people are supposed to discuss issues
affecting them, one of which is the proposal to amend the 1987 Constitution. The
holding of barangay of assemblies is required under the Local Government Code of
1991, and so taking the DILG memorandum at face value there is nothing sinister
about it. But considering the context and the intense involvement of the
Department in the holding barangay assemblies which was absent in previous years
then one smells something fishy in all this.

Take for example the allegation that it is DILG personnel who distributed the
forms being used in gathering the signature. With it are copies of voters list per
precint and a matrix on the advantages of the parliamentary system. The DILG
Regional Offices furthermore formed special project team to work in gathering the
targetted 5.6 million signatures (5.2 million is the minimum requirement). All
these are supported with adequate funds. Sources from the DILG reveal a
surprising increase for the budget on monitoring barangay assemblies. It can be
recalled that in early February this year even before Puno took his oath as DILG
Secretary he is said to have convened a two-day conference of DILG field officials
in preparation for their role in the peoples initiative to amend the 1987 Charter.

Strategy-wise inserting the signature campaign in the barangay assembly is a smart
move by Puno. A skilled operator as he is, the requirement under the LGC in the
holding the barangay assemblies is a perfect cover against allegations that the
Palace has a hand on this. It conveniently camouflages the hidden intentions DILG
has by reminding the barangays to hold regular assemblies. Because supposedly
barangay residents are going to discuss issues affecting their community anyway.

The peoples initiative is led by Sigaw ng Bayan, a multi-sectoral grouping of
purportedly civil society organizations. Closer scrutiny however shows that these
are same organizations that which were involved in the GMA presidential campaign
in 2004 and those who issued paid advertisements in support of GMA at the height
of impeachment against the President. They were part of the political machinery
then. Thus they are all supporters of GMA so nothing new. Only recycled
organizations taking issues for the President at different times. After the
election campaign, these groups were mobilized again last year to defend GMA
against the impeachment enjoining us 'to stop all the destabilization/trouble '
(Tama na ang Gulo, Tama na ang Pulitika) campaign line, now they want to impress
on us sort of ' people power' by gathering millions of signature supporting the
peoples initiative.

One can only wonder how these organizations seems to be overflowing with money that they can easily fund the pro-GMA campaigns they had launched and that they also can so often afford whole-page paid advertisements in major newspapers. This is not to
mention flooding of Metro Manila with pro-GMA streamers and tarpaulins during the
impeachment. Of course they also commemorated EDSA I last February but were spared
of the truncheons and violent dispersal the more progressives have to endure in
their rallies.

With the assistance of local officials through the Union of Local Authorities
(ULAP) which vowed to strongly support GMA and her Chacha through peoples
initiative, Sigaw ng Bayan can solicit the 5.2 million signatures. In fact with
the combined resources and machinery of the DILG and ULAP, as of today, Sigaw ng
Bayan claims to have gathered 7 million signatures already.

Yet there are significant opposition against the people's initiative. Surprisingly
local officials of Cebu province which has overwhelmingly voted for GMA in the
past election rejected the peoples initiative and GMA's version of charter change.
The Cebu Municipal Mayors League believes the signature campaign is illegal and
unconstitutional. There are also the other local executives who are members of the
opposition parties and party-list like Akbayan have not joined gathering
signature. Hopefully this minority of local officials can still prevent Sigaw ng
Bayan from satisfying the minimum requirement of three percent signatures for each
legislative district.

Aside from Puno another revealing link of Malacanang in this peoples initiative is
the designation of Atty. Raul Lambino as spokesman of Sigaw ng Bayan. Who is Atty.
Lambino? He is said to be coming from the infamous 'The Firm' Villaraza Law Office
and is among the members of the Consultative Commission (ConCom), a body formed by
GMA to study and recommend amendments to the Constitution. The most notorious
their recommendations is the cancellation of the 2007 elections. After the ConCom
which was given only three-months mandate, Mr. Lambino was again made part of the
Charter Change Advocacy Group that Malacanang formed. While serving in the said
Advocacy Group he is at the same time Sigaw ng Bayan spokesperson. What a

Clearly what these linkages indicate that members of Concom and the Advocacy Group and those working for peoples initiative – the supposed civil society component (Sigaw ng Bayan) are more or less in the same loop. They are not different and
exclusive groupings as what the Palace wants to project to the public. After all
they were part of GMA's political machinery.

And why is Mr. Lambino made their spokesperson? That is the problem when a
political machinery is abruptly transformed into a supposed civil society
organization or movements. It is not as fast to train a PO leader that can be as
erudite and articulate as a lawyer. Especially with the intricate issues that
needed in explaining, much more linkages to the 'powers that be' that should
remain hidden from the public. And so they have to depend on their seasoned
operators – the like of Lambino as their mouth piece.

Gleaning from all these brouhaha is an elaborate and concerted effort of GMA and
her lieutenants in leading the peoples initiative. Obviously we see the hand of
Malacanang. And this made through the DILG, ULAP and Sigaw ng Bayan- the civilian
component, to use their language. For sure the Palace will distance itself from
this peoples initiative but is futile already. The links are there for all to see
and thus the GMA camp can no longer erase the fact that such peoples initiative
is in fact a Palace Initiative.

05 April 2006

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