Beware of GMA promoters hosting the debates
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2007-03-08
I favor having debates and in fact I’m proposing that debates be made mandatory and set by law for all those vying for an elective position. Debates are a way of allowing voters to scrutinize the candidates. A debate is one way to discourage the superficiality and incompetence found in showbiztocracy.

But debates must not be a machination of twisted interests. It must be conducted by those without partisan interests and must focus on the right issues. And the issue now is Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA). Is she a legitimate president and how does she account for all the repression, suppression, and killings?

The improved peso and stock market are not solid economic gains of the Arroyo regime. The bulk of the revenues came from the blood and sweat of OFWs and each OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) is a living condemnation of a government that cannot provide jobs to Filipinos at home.

GMA had never liked debates and her campaign track record proves this. GMA feels secure doing monologues and is unnerved with having a panel of objective individuals asking her questions. The latest display of her aversion to public scrutiny was when she threw a fit when asked to explain her touted economic gains.

GMA prefers packaged communications where her image-magician Lupita Kashiwahara can put all the tricks of her showbiz trade to good use. Form, not substance, appearances and special effects, not essential goodness — that is the mantra of GMA’s image makers.

It is against this backdrop that the Genuine Opposition (GO) must proceed with caution before agreeing to engage in these debates now being setup by leaders of business groups who also happen to be the biggest promoters of the Arroyo regime. I specifically refer to Messrs. Miguel Varela of Philippines Inc. and Donald Dee of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Employers Confederation of the Philippines whose organizations have offered to host the debates under the heading: "Moving the economy forward."

"Moving the economy forward" — is a catch phrase that rings suspiciously similar to the "Let’s move on" marching song promoted by Donald Dee and these businessmen who only wanted to secure their businesses, never mind if the rights and welfare of millions of teeming poor are violated. All the president’s men
Now let me explain my caveat versus Messrs. Varela and Dee. While I was still Chairman and member of COPA (Council on Philippine Affairs), Messrs. Varela and Dee, together with Mr. Sergio Ortiz-Luis, sought a meeting with our group as the Estrada impeachment trial was peaking in the latter part of December 2000.

The meeting was held at the Cojuangco house on Palm Avenue, Forbes Park and was attended by COPA Secretary General Pastor Saycon and member Jose Cojuangco Jr. Bert Romulo, who is currently the Foreign Secretary, represented then Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in the meeting. I had one of my tri-weekly dialysis sessions that day and begged off from the meeting. But the minutes of what transpired were reported to us in COPA during our next meeting.

All the while, Messrs. Saycon, Cojuangco and Romulo thought that the three businessmen would offer their groups’ support for the anticipated transition to a new president. To their surprise, Messrs. Varela, Dee and Ortiz-Luis were trying to convince them to pull the stops to the impeachment and the mounting pressure to remove Joseph Estrada! They claimed that Estrada was a reformed, chastised man and would be a much better president after what happened.

How seemingly intelligent business leaders could arrive at that conclusion stunned Messrs. Saycon, Cojuangco and Romulo. No matter how they tried to refocus the discussion to the inevitable transition, the three businessmen insisted on pleading for a reprieve for Estrada. It finally reached the point when Bert Romulo decided to adjourn the meeting and called it a night.

We were all the more shocked in the days immediately following the ouster of Joseph Estrada — to see Messrs. Varela, Dee and Ortiz-Luis already singing the new Palace tune of Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

So now, should we allow Messrs. Varela and Dee, through their business groups, to host the debates on the economic performance of the country under Madame Arroyo? And are we to expect them to be doing this out of the goodness of their hearts and with the public interest foremost in their minds?

Should the Genuine Opposition be so naïve as to agree to debate on "Moving the economy forward" when the theme and hosting are made by the same people with a track record of protecting myopic vested interests that do not take the welfare of the poor majority as the primary motivating factor?

Like one funny guy once said: "C’mon, I may look one but I’m not stupid."

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