LAST Friday, during our meeting in his office at the Exportbank Plaza Building, which lasted for two-and-a-half hours, former president Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) made his point repeatedly: "I'm not pro-Gloria."
FVR was of course referring to Madame Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her persistence to remain in Malacañang amid pervasive doubts about her legitimacy to rule in the face of widespread belief that she cheated and did not win the 2004 presidential elections.
In my July 13 column ("The ordeal and last hurrah of Fidel V. Ramos"), I questioned FVR's continued support for Arroyo -- set against the backdrop of his momentous withdrawal of support of his cousin, the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, which triggered the 1986 People Power revolt.
FVR wrote in his July 23 column in the Manila Bulletin: "It is already almost too late in the day, if the Philippines is to move on in today's interactive, competitive world of the 21st century. Enough, nay, more than enough, time has been frittered away by those elected to lead us – from the top down to the grassroots. Fortune, goodwill, unity and teamwork that have been lost can be restored or regained. But time lost is lost forever
-- and our people can wait no longer." He told me the same, and then some, during our meeting.
The following five (of eight) priorities that FVR listed would strike one as powerful tirades against Arroyo (note that these were his exact words and the highlighted portions are also his):
1. Restoring people's faith in government and its credibility, in order to facilitate "the healing of the wounds;"
2. Instituting effective reforms in the 1987 Constitution to eliminate policy gridlock and to prevent the intervention of the Armed Services in political undertakings;
3. Addressing for good the allegations of illegitimacy or fraudulent nature of the Arroyo presidency, which is the root cause of a second series of impeachment complaints against her;
4. Effecting electoral reforms in preparation for the May 2007 elections by way of eliminating "dynastism," "turncoatism," and vote-buying by a more stringent body of penalties and prohibitions while, at the same time, speeding up the electoral process; and
5. Reinforcing the nation's stability by the judicious -- not dictatorial -- handling of coup plots, conspiracies and scenarios, without impairing the operational capabilities of our Armed Forces and National Police.
FVR had also strongly opposed the promulgation of Presidential Proclamation 1017, which declared a state of national emergency in February, and the new anti-insurgency policy, particularly the all-out-war aspect and the setting of an unrealistic two-year regime self imposed deadline to end it.
FVR's view of US role in Bolante detention case
When I asked FVR about what he thought is going on regarding the detention by US authorities of the Fertilizer Fund Scam central player – Jocelyn "Joc-Joc" Bolante -- he replied: "This may be a US way to ferret out the truth regarding this issue."
"The US has valid reasons to be get involved in the investigation of the Fertilizer Fund mess. US aid money was channeled to that and the Americans do not like their aid to the Filipino people to go to the pockets of a few or to be spent for other things." FVR added.
FVR thought that the US was already seeking an exit mechanism for Ferdinand Marcos as early as when Senator Richard Lugar came here in 1986 to lead a delegation of US observers of the "snap election." Now he suspects that the detention of Bolante, a known Rotary Club crony of First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, may be the US indirect way of creating a situation here that will lead to a termination, an exit point for the festering
Philippine crisis that was spawned by the "Hello, Garci" tapes.
In 2004, the US also exposed the hoard of Major General Carlos Garcia through a similar airport detention. And in both the Garcia and Bolante cases, US aid money was involved. In my October 2004 one-on-one meeting here with US top foreign policy adviser for Asia and the Philippines, Bob Scalapino, Bob commented on the Garcia case and expressed the same US concern over their aid money going to private pockets.
A US investigation that could expose just how much money was stolen, misused or went into private bank accounts will be more explosive to the Arroyo regime than the detonation of a nuclear bomb.
In perspective, Marcos enjoyed tremendous support from the Ronald Reagan administration and yet when it became clear that Marcos had become effectively the biggest recruiter for the Communist Party of the Philippines -- then said to be close to achieving a point of political stalemate in two years -- the US did not hesitate to push for the 1986 snap election, which became the exit scenario for the Marcos regime.
On the other hand, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo enjoys no such support from the George W. Bush administration and with neo-conservative hardliners Paul Wolfowitz and Condi Rice in the World Bank and Department of State, respectively, it does not take too much intelligence and imagination to see what a US move against Arroyo can do.
Marcos agreed to hold a snap election in 1986 mainly owing to pressures from the World Bank. However, our fiscal problem in 1985, when Marcos agreed to hold the election, was nowhere as grave as our fiscal problem today. A US investigation on the Fertilizer Fund Scam that will reveal its cast of characters can justify a World Bank tightening of the screws on an Arroyo regime whose credibility -- not much left to begin with -- would
have been totally annihilated.
Such an event would not only erode whatever is left of Arroyo's political base here but it can also encourage military adventurism. Military adventurists here check and test the water as to how Washington will look at their planned move before they take the plunge. In fact, many of the rebels who were involved in the 1989 failed coup against Cory Aquino say that if you get US support, you must win within twelve hours or they will
shift to the other side.
FVR and I agree on the desperation of our situation. He recognizes the absence of a real road map to recovery, with regime efforts mainly focused on day-to-day self-preservation. To my surprise, he shares the late columnist Teddy Benigno's fears of social conditions here nearing that point, which will lead to "the storming of the Bastille" that marked the start of the French Revolution.
The one area where I continue to fault FVR is why he still has not made a similar momentous move, like his defection from the Marcos regime on Feb. 22, 1986, and join the ranks of patriots who are trying to steer the country to safer, more progressive political waters. I told him that all his efforts to build a better home for the Filipino are negated by the efforts of the current leadership to set that home on fire, wittingly or
unwittingly. Unfortunately, fire razes a house to the ground faster than anyone can build one.
A bright ray of hope
What elated me tremendously during our meeting was when I found out that FVR and I were eyeing the same person to lead our country to the Promised Land after the Arroyo regime. All the while I thought that he still harbored plans of putting House Speaker Jose de Venecia (JDV) on the throne. I was pleasantly surprised when he said that JDV had passed his chance in 1998 and that we should look at a new leadership. My spirit
soared when I learned that he and I, without consulting each other, saw redemption for our country in the same person.
This man -- yes, rejoice all ye who now vow not to elect another woman president (though I would not assign the blame to Cory Aquino who was true to her mandate and was a faithful champion of democracy) -- is one instance when I am open to supporting a member of the Lakas-CMD Party despite my deep distrust of many of its leaders and members.
FVR was so enthused to see this man run the country that he said, "He must be the next leader, whether as president or prime minister."
Indeed, he must be the next president, whether by election in 2010 or sooner in a snap election, if I may add. I do not trust the proposed parliamentary setup and I do not think our traditional politicians will elect this man, should we have a parliament.
Who is this man? Why him and why now? I will share that with you in my next column.
You may e-mail William M. Esposo at email@example.com.