How firm is Gloria sans The Firm?
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo 2006-11-09
THE loss of Avelino Cruz as secretary of defense does not carry as much erosive and destabilizing impact on the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime as the loss of the Avelino Cruz who was one of the chief architects of the making of the regime itself.

Following the decision that his former fellow partner in The Firm -- Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio -- penned that shot down the so-called People’s Initiative for Charter Change, the resignation last Sunday of Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz cannot be regarded as simply another changing of the guard in the Arroyo Cabinet. It marks a major realignment in the Arroyo regime’s power structure.

In all six years of the Arroyo regime, The Firm was considered the primus inter pares among its power wielders. The big question now that begs to be answered is whether The Firm is simply lost as an ally or is now poised to take an adversarial position against the regime it once served. Losing a friend is not as severe as gaining a new powerful enemy, especially one who knows your darkest secrets.

I have noted in this column that when the Supreme Court decisions against Presidential Proclamation 1017 (the proclamation of a state of national emergency in February), Executive Order 464 (banning administration officials from testifying at the Senate) and the “calibrated preemptive response” (CPR) policy on street protests were handed down, the relationship between the Arroyos (Gloria and Mike) and The Firm (the original law firm of Antonio Carpio, Pancho Villaraza and Avelino Cruz that formed the core group of Gloria Arroyo’s political organization) bears watching.

It was surprising enough that Justice Antonio Carpio voted against the Arroyo regime in those important Supreme Court decisions. Carpio was Arroyo’s the very first appointee to the Supreme Court -- an appointment that others who were also close to Arroyo coveted.

A good friend of mine from Ateneo de Manila University Grade School days, Rene Corona, who was Arroyo’s chief of staff at the time, was one of those who aspired for the first Arroyo appointment to the Supreme Court. I believe it had to do with gaining seniority over others who would be appointed later, seniority being an edge when vying for the position of Chief Justice.

What shocked me was what a high government official, who is from the same Sigma Rho fraternity to which Justice Carpio belongs, confided to me: that Carpio played a key role in pushing for the unanimous decisions on PP1017 and CPR. To me, it spelled the difference between a simple conscience vote and a potentially hostile act.

My late friend Teddy Benigno wrote reams about The Firm in his newspaper column and the role The Firm played in the Arroyo regime. Teddy and many of those who later formed the Council on Philippine Affairs (COPA) were collaborating as the campaign planning team of then-senator Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when she was being groomed for president in 1998.

A falling-out with Arroyo happened when Teddy’s group discovered that contrary to what she promised them -- that they would be the core group of her campaign team -- another core group was operating in Mike Arroyo’s LTA Building in the Makati business district. That was the group that is now known as The Firm, and its big chiefs were Antonio Carpio, F. Arthur Villaraza and Avelino Cruz.

Now, it is not surprising that the political opposition is relishing the recent developments and is courting Cruz to join its ranks as a senatorial candidate; the Duke of Wellington would have wanted to enlist the Imperial Guard of Napoleon’s Grand Armee instead of having to fight them in the battlefield.

Our politicians are not known to have ideological moorings or principles that will inhibit them from collaborating with people who until days ago were their biggest political enemies. With the prospects of gaining access to the Arroyo regime’s innermost secrets and vulnerabilities -- its “assets and liabilities,” as it were -- the opposition does not seem to mind proclaiming as the “new heroes” those who it once attacked as the Rasputins behind every questionable deal in town.

The crude and sloppy oversights and blunders of the Arroyo regime can be traced to the transfer of operations from the hands of The Firm to the Palace clique that now wields the baton in the corridors of power. The regime’s moves that were associated with Cruz and The Firm, notably in the period before the 2004 presidential election, were made with finesse and smart legal cover.

Lately, ever since Cruz left the Palace and took over the Department of National Defense, brute use of force and flagrant abuse of authority characterize the regime’s moves and methods. The use of the stiletto has been abandoned for the messy ax.

This, I believe, will spell the difference whether the Arroyo regime will survive the ever-increasing pressures caused by bad governance, rampant corruption, deepening poverty that does not match claims of improved economic performance, unrest among the military officers and the raging questions on the legitimacy of Arroyo’s presidency.

Ferdinand Marcos could use force as the foundation of his political power but only because he was able to craft a semblance of legality and legitimacy around the muzzle of the gun. Without the semblance of legality, brute force manages only to provoke popular revolt.

* * *

You may email William M. Esposo at:

  Previous Columns:

It had to happen on The Ides of March and Holy Week

Suggested guidelines for liability- free Internet posts

Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

All Excited by Pope Francis

A great disservice to P-Noy

[Click here for the Archive]

Home | As I Wreck This Chair | High Ground | Career Brief and Roots | Advocacies | Landmarks Copyright 2006 The Chair Wrecker by William M. Esposo