First Gentleman tells foes: Be patient
‘Just a few months’ before President steps down
By Christian V. Esguerra
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Bear with us for a few more months.
That was the message President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s husband gave on Monday to her detractors who had voiced concerns that his wife might hang on to power even after the elections in May.
“It’s just a few months. All they have to do is wait,” First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo told reporters during a courtesy call that boxing champion Manny Pacquiao made in Malacañang upon his return from a successful defense of his boxing crown in the United States.
Arroyo dismissed as “speculation” talk in opposition ranks about a possible failure of elections or what the President might do if she won in her bid for a congressional seat.
Ms Arroyo’s political foes have warned that she might maneuver to win the speakership in the next Congress so she could be in line for the post of prime minister, assuming the Constitution is changed and the Philippines switches to a parliamentary form of government.
Opposition fears about Ms Arroyo’s intentions were heightened when deputy presidential spokesperson Charito Planas herself recently said that a failure of elections might pave the way for a military junta to take over power in the country.
Arroyo said he and his wife were looking forward to “taking care of our grandchildren” even if Ms Arroyo won a congressional seat in Pampanga.
“(Being a) congresswoman is easier than (being a) President. The duties are less,” he said.
Commenting on the talk that Ms Arroyo was eyeing the speakership post and the position of prime minister, the President’s husband said: “That’s up to the congressmen, whether they’ll elect her as speaker or not.”
Why be scared?
Press Secretary Crispulo “Jun” Icban made it clear that Ms Arroyo was “turning over the government to … whoever is going to be elected.”
“It’s only a little over two months and the President has not done anything to indicate [that she would stay on],” Icban told reporters.
Gary Olivar, deputy presidential spokesperson, criticized the political opposition for speculating “about so many things.”
“There’s no need for them to be scared of the President,” he said in a media briefing.
“She’s stepping down. She will be a congresswoman from Pampanga,” Olivar said.
He added: “So I’m wondering where that fear is coming from.”
The Palace on Monday outlined scenarios intended to show that a failure of election would be a “statistical impossibility.” Olivar said such a failure would require a “confluence of events so unique that it defies any reasonable odds.”
“We are talking about all the counting machines going bust at the same time, all the multiple sources of power conking out at the same time … all the transmission lines going down at the same time and isolating all the precincts nationwide from Comelec (Commission on Elections) headquarters,” he said in a statement.
“Why do I say ‘all’? Because if any number of votes—no matter how small—get to be counted and canvassed by our tried and true manual methods, there will always be a basis—no matter how small—for the Comelec and the Presidential Electoral Tribunal to declare election victors,” Olivar said.
He added: “And if the alternative to such a declaration—no matter how narrowly based—is a leadership vacuum and the risk of instability, what else would a responsible election official do but proclaim someone as the new leadership?”
No power vacuum
Olivar said the legislative branch would not be “powerless” in the event of a power vacuum.
“To cite just one scenario, the holdover members of the Senate—assuming nobody gets elected among the (senatorial candidates) as well—could simply elect a new Senate president from among themselves between election day and June 30,” he said.
“That person could then step up as No. 3 in the presidential line of succession.”
Speaking at the 113th founding anniversary of the Philippine Army in Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City, Ms Arroyo vowed to keep out of involvement in the May 10 elections and to focus her energies on governing the country in the last remaining months of her nine-year administration.
She also took the opportunity to thank the Army for supporting her administration in both the “best” and “worst” times.
With only three months to go before she steps down, Ms Arroyo told the soldiers she was working on them getting their pay increases before June 30, when her term ends.
Talking of the role of the military in the May elections, Ms Arroyo said: “We all know it is the Comelec’s job to ensure the new voting machines work, the votes are protected and counted, and the results are delivered in a manner to the satisfaction of voters. You are deputized by Comelec but for myself, I will be staying out of that process.”
She said she would “remain focused on governance and advancing the key programs that we advocated.”
She said her administration would turn over to the new administration “rock solid” achievements, including an “unprecedented” 36 quarters of consecutive growth and 1.7 million jobs in the past year despite the global economic crisis.
She reiterated that her administration was “devoted” to ensure a smooth transition to a new government. With a report from Christine O. Avendaño