Arroyo’s Charter-Change Gambit: Longer Rule, Assured Immunity, Divided Public

“With the passage of HR 1109, Mrs. Arroyo can harness all government resources and military backing to steamroll her way to surpassing the dictator Ferdinand Marcos as the longest ruling president in Philippine history,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares.

Bribed Legislators

The key in Arroyo’s gambit are her congressional allies. These are the same legislators, Cenpeg noted, “who voted down four impeachment complaints filed against Mrs. Arroyo since 2005 over allegations of election cheating in 2004, culpable violation of the constitution, human rights violations, and other crimes.” Since 2005, it added, “it has been their singular role to support the retention or extension of the besieged president in power.”

“They don’t have to think of any bill or law to make them legitimate congressmen,” Lim, the political scientist, said of Arroyo’s allies. “All they have to do is to say hallelujah to what the president says.”

Arroyo has certainly been making her allies extremely happy, he said. This is the reason why, despite the clear objection by the public through protests and as shown in numerous surveys, the administration has been relentless in pushing for charter change.

Lim said Arroyo’s allies view charter change as a win-win solution. “They found it as highly profitable. There’s one more budget season, they will get their pork barrel. If efforts to change the charter would not be successful, they have large money in their pockets” for use in next year’s elections.

There have been allegations that money changed hands prior to the passage of HR 1109. Assistant Minority Leader and Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza had said some legislators received money or were promised money, to the tune of 20 million pesos, in exchange for voting for the resolution.

Taguiwalo said the public is not at all surprised with the passage of resolution. “Arroyo’s allies in Congress have always worked together to cover up the transgressions of the Arroyo regime,” she said. “Arroyo and her minions dance together.”

Deception and Coercion

Alongside making sure that her allies are happy, Arroyo has been using a combination of deception and coercion to intimidate critics or try to soften the opposition to her regime, Taguiwalo said, citing the passage of particular bills in Congress.

House Resolution 4077, or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER), Taguiwalo said, aims to diffuse the political enmity between Arroyo and the public, particularly farmers, peasants and their supporters, by pretending to heed the demand of some pro-CARP groups.

But CARP, Taguiwalo said, is a hoax. “It is partly concession but it is an empty legislation. There is nothing new with the extension of a bogus agrarian reform program.”

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has supported the CARP extension. Taguiwalo said because of the passage of the CARP extension bill, the influential CBCP might be appeased.

The same goes with the Salary Standardization Law 3 that Arroyo signed into law last week, Taguiwalo said. “They want to make it appear that government employees will get substantial increase in their salary but for many rank-and-file employees, it would only mean a P3,000-hike in four years,” she said. High government officials will benefit the most from the proposed bill as they stand to get more than 100 percent increase, Taguiwalo added.

Taguiwalo also pointed out that the House Bill 3306 or the Right of Reply (ROR) bill aims to intimidate the press and prevent it from doing its job.

House Bill No. 3306 seeks to force media outfits to publish or broadcast the replies of individuals or parties subjected to critical reporting or commentary. Congress adjourned its session this month without passing the bill but media groups say they could tackle it next month.

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