Charter Change Causing Rift in Arroyo Camp

The appearance of pictures of former President Fidel V. Ramos meeting with opposition leaders Senate President Franklin Drilon, former Sen. Vicente Sotto III, and former Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr. days after the New Year sparked speculation about an emerging rift within the political camp supporting the embattled President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Bulatlat.com

The appearance of pictures of former President Fidel V. Ramos meeting with opposition leaders Senate President Franklin Drilon, former Sen. Vicente Sotto III, and former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, Jr. days after the New Year sparked speculation about an emerging rift within the political camp supporting the embattled President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Macapagal-Arroyo has been facing calls for her ouster early on for her government’s imposition of what cause-oriented groups describe as “anti-national and anti-people” policies. These calls intensified in mid-2005 due to renewed allegations that she cheated her way to victory in the 2004 presidential race.

Sotto is identified with the camp of ousted President Joseph Estrada. Guingona, who served as vice president from 2001 to 2004, had been critical of Macapagal-Arroyo particularly on foreign policy, and supported the presidential bid of the late actor Fernando Poe Jr.

Drilon was an ally of the president until the eruption of the so-called “Hello, Garci” scandal, triggered by the surfacing of tapes in which a woman with a voice similar to Macapagal-Arroyo’s is heard instructing an election official – widely believed to be election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano – to rig the polls. (Macapagal-Arroyo has admitted talking to election officials during the counting period, while Garcillano has admitted talking to the president during the same period.) He called for Macapagal-Arroyo’s resignation shortly after the scandal broke out.

In contrast, Ramos came to Macapagal-Arroyo’s defense when many of her erstwhile allies – including former President Corazon Aquino and the group of resigned cabinet officials known as the “Hyatt 10” – began issuing statements calling on her to make the “supreme sacrifice” of stepping down.

The former president also revived his proposal for constitutional amendments changing the form of government from presidential to parliamentary. Under the scheme, Macapagal-Arroyo would be staying on as a “transition president” until 2007 – when the shift to parliamentary government is supposed to have been completed. That would cut her term by three years.

Though he has denied any further political ambitions after completing his term in 1998, Ramos is widely reported as aspiring for the post of prime minister under an amended Constitution.

FVR and the no-election scenario

Ramos began meeting with opposition personalities a few days after the Consultative Commission submitted to Malacañang last Dec. 16 its proposed amendments to the 1987 Constitution.

The commission also called for the cancellation of elections scheduled in 2007, with the first election under the new Constitution to be held on the second Monday of 2010. The plan would extend the terms of elective officials to 2010. In effect, the scheme saves Macapagal-Arroyo from the original Ramos proposal of cutting her term.

Macapagal-Arroyo hailed the whole draft of proposed amendments to the Constitution. “Today you have presented a roadmap towards the fulfillment of our goals,” she said of the 51-man Consultative Commission in a Dec. 16 statement. “I commend all the members of the Consultative Commission for their patriotism, dedication, and perseverance in crafting this framework of change.”

This apparently did not sit well with Ramos, who days after that started meeting with opposition leaders.

Drilon, Guingona, and Sotto have all declined to divulge to the public the details of their meetings with Ramos. Sotto has been quoted in news reports as saying that their conversation centered on “good French wine” while Drilon has kept referring inquisitive reporters to Ramos, saying the matters they discussed are “too sensitive” for him to comment on.

Ramos is reported to have also met with other politicians close to Estrada, as well as with Aquino.

But the no-election scenario was already public knowledge a few weeks before the Consultative Commission completed its report.

At about the same time that news of the no-election proposal came out, retired Army general and former defense secretary Fortunato Abat declared “the existence of a revolutionary transition government and the formation of a transition government council to administer the affairs of government.” Ramos declared, at that time, the no-election proposal as a “monumental blunder.”

The crack deepens

Macapagal-Arroyo has called for a meeting of the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats party which she chairs, in an effort to consolidate the party. Ramos has been invited to this meeting as Lakas-CMD’s chairman emeritus.

Meanwhile, Lakas-CMD spokesperson Heherson Alvarez has been quoted in the news as saying that there is an “emerging consensus” among the party’s members to support the holding of elections in 2007 but without cutting Macapagal-Arroyo’s term. Gabriel Claudio, presidential adviser on political affairs, said Ramos had agreed to Macapagal-Arroyo’s assertion that she would complete her term.

But Ramos has gone on record as insisting that Macapagal-Arroyo step down in 2007.

Macapagal-Arroyo faced impeachment complaints at the House of Representatives third quarter last year. The administration camp was able to shoot these down with the numbers of Macapagal-Arroyo’s political allies in the House.

But Macapagal-Arroyo and Ramos are equally influential on the ruling political clique, and the brewing conflict between them on the no-election issue is threatening to break up the vessel of political support that proved very beneficial to the president in the heat of last year’s political crisis.

If things proceed along their present course, things could come to a head and the vessel that Macapagal-Arroyo banked on would disintegrate. This would leave her vulnerable to the next intensification of the crisis, which has momentarily subsided but is far from resolved. Bulatlat.com

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