By Inquirer Staff
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:22:00 12/01/2009
Filed Under: Inquirer Politics, Eleksyon 2010, Elections, Charter change, Churches (organisations)
MANILA, Philippines—Within hours of her declaration that she was running for Congress in May, a firestorm of criticism swirled around President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, with one critic accusing her of being drunk with power and others saying her aim was to shield herself from “a landslide of lawsuits.”
The criticisms, as well as concerns, came both from her well-known political enemies and from some Church leaders.
The biggest worry of Ms Arroyo’s political foes appeared to be that she might use a seat in Congress as a launching pad to become prime minister, in case of a shift to a parliamentary government
Roman Catholic Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz, for so long a vocal critic of Ms Arroyo, said the framers of the Constitution did not think of imposing a ban on an outgoing president running for a lower office simply because it was unthinkable.
“There appears to be no reasonable cause for such a constitutional prohibition as really there is no person in his or her sound mind who will do such a funny and demeaning political circus,” Cruz said.
Cruz denounced Ms Arroyo’s “addiction to power.”
Temptation of power
Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), wasn’t caustic but his message was also clear—he said it was time for Ms Arroyo to retire.
“I wholeheartedly suggest she give others a chance to serve and not give in to the temptation of power,” Lagdameo said.
Sen. Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, running mate of Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, claimed Ms Arroyo’s bid for a seat in the House of Representatives was meant to reduce her successor into a mere transition president.
“Her ultimate goal is to become House Speaker and ram through her burning desire to change the Constitution,” Roxas said.
“Since she cannot hope to beat Noynoy, her next best option is to render his victory useless and lead the change in the form of government,” he added.
Protect her back
Running for Congress would also allow her to use her House seat to defend herself from a “landslide of lawsuits” that would be filed against her after she leaves the presidency, Roxas said.
Sen. Francis Escudero said that while it was well within Ms Arroyo’s right to run for a lower post, “it surely leaves a bad taste in the mouth.”
“What else does she need to prove and accomplish?” Escudero asked.
It’s her desire to hang on to power and “protect her back” that pushed Ms Arroyo into deciding to run for the House of Representatives, other senators said.
“She still wants to be in power,” Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada said in a phone interview.
Estrada, whose father Joseph Estrada was jailed for plunder and later pardoned by Ms Arroyo, said she probably wanted to have control of the House so she could be installed as prime minister if a change in the form of government ensued.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said on the phone that Ms Arroyo’s decision was designed to “protect her back from the innumerable charges that are bound to come her way.”
This “sets a horrible example for politicians to follow,” he said.
United Opposition president and Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay voiced the same fears.
“The real agenda is to ... shift to a parliamentary form of government and snatch power from whoever is elected president in 2010 by becoming prime minister and head of government,” Binay said in a statement.
In a spot
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo said Ms Arroyo’s decision would put Pampanga voters in a spot. Ocampo is a resident of Pampanga’s second district and thus may end up being one of Ms Arroyo’s constituents if she wins.
“The main burden there would be on the voters,” Ocampo said. “It may be a bit hard to explain if they will vote for her and put her in Congress considering the nationally consistent rejection of her as shown by the surveys.”
Ocampo said he suspected Ms Arroyo would fund the candidacies of many administration allies so that she could control majority of the House if she won.
“She is drunk with power and can’t get enough. I think she needs professional help,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño.
The militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said in a statement: “This is a dark day for the Philippines.”
Arroyo son’s sacrifice
Sen. Edgardo Angara, an ally of Ms Arroyo, would rather accept at “face value” her explanation that she was running for Congress so she could continue to serve the people.
Still, Angara said there were “many more meaningful ways” that Ms Arroyo could do other “than stepping down to a lower position.” He said she could do philanthropy or charity work or go into teaching.
Ms Arroyo’s elder son, Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo said that he “sacrificed” another term in Congress to yield to the clamor of his constituents who wanted his mother to take his place.
“I was the one who insisted she run for Congress as we believe she is more [able] to serve better given her political expertise and technological know how,” Mikey said in a text message to reporters.
Administration standard-bearer Gilbert Teodoro Jr. distanced himself from the uproar.
“I am focused on my own candidacy... her plan doesn’t mean anything to me because it’s a decision made by the President,” Teodoro told the Inquirer.
More Church comments
Other Catholic Church leaders also spoke out against Ms Arroyo’s plan to run for a congressional seat. The prelates’ comments were posted in the news website of the CBCP.
Catarman Bishop Emmanuel Trance said that while there was no legal prohibition against her seeking a lower office, “she would have shown some statesmanship or political delicadeza if she does not run.”
Laoag Bishop Sergio Utleg said Ms Arroyo “should retire.” Basilan Martin Jumoad said: “It’s not proper for a former president to seek a lower position.”
Virac Bishop Manolo Delos Santos said that since there was no legal impediment for her to run as congressman, “let her constituents decide.”
Legazpi Bishop Emeritus Lucilo Quiambao said Ms Arroyo’s “self-demotion” as a congressional candidate “might be interpreted (as an act) to cover up for something.” Reports from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., Dona Pazzibugan, Christine O. Avendaño, Leila B. Salaverria, Allison W. Lopez, Jocelyn Uy and Nikko Dizon