Sunday, September 25, 2005

Economy unscathed

by Sec. Rigoberto Tiglao


The Sept 22 Social WEather Stations' Press Release blared: "Hunger rises to 15.5%." Media, of course, echoed the line. Practically buried in the press release was the more fundamental trend emerging from its opinion survey.

For August (or more accurately from Aug. 26 to Sept. 5, the survey period), 49 percent of those polled perceived themselves to be poor. This was a sharp decline from 57 percent reflected in the SWS survey in May.

Significantly, the 49-percent, self-rated poverty incidence is the third lowest since 1983, or in the 22 years the SWS has been polling on this indicator.

The lowest self-rated poverty incidence in the SWS series was recorded at 43 percent in March 1987, during President Cory Aquino's term. But that was quite obviously a fluke or a polling error. Except for March 1987 and the succeeding poll in October that year, the self-rated poverty incidence in the other 11 polls conducted during Aquino's term always went over 60 percent.

The second lowest self-rated poverty incidence was recorded by SWS in March 2004 under President Macapagal-Arroyo, at 46 percent.

The drop in self-rated poverty incidence isn't really surprising, as President Arroyo has been continuously pushing her bureaucracy to accelerate anti-poverty programs. For instance, from July 2001 to May 2005, government provided some P20.8 billion in micro credit to 2.2 million borrowers nationwide. That would certainly have had an impact on poverty incidence.

And even at the height of the political storm, new anti-poverty programs were being pushed. For instance, the President prodded government financial institutions to allocate P900 million for microfinance starting early June. By July, these GFIs had got their boards to approve P600 million.

Despite all the whining and noise of the political mob, there have been improvements in our nation's fight against poverty. The following figures are data from the SWS (www.sws.org.ph):

President SWS Poverty Incidence % Official Poverty Incidence %

Marcos 65 44
Aquino 67 40
Ramos 60 33
Estrada 56 28
Arroyo 51 25



Note: Second column figures are the average of the findings in the last three SWS polls vis-á-vis each president; except for Marcos, with respect to whom only two polls were made.

The SWS' latest data are also quite significant in the fact that the lower self-rated poverty incidence was registered during a period of political turmoil-that is, during the big push to overthrow the President. Although self-rated poverty incidence is by definition the personal perception of respondents, it often reflects the level of national pessimism, which understandably was expected to be high at a time of political turmoil.

The fact that there was instead optimism during that period-lower self-rated poverty incidence-could mean two things. On the subjective level, Filipinos simply disregarded all the political noise which the elite in Manila were all so absorbed with.

On the objective level, our economy was unscathed by the political storm. This was remarkable considering that crude oil prices doubled this year from its 2000 levels. The decrease in the number of people saying they were poor simply reflected the impact of an improving economy.

Another way of looking at it is that there was such a growth momentum before the political storm hit that the economy just shrugged off all the doomsday scenarios.

This is borne by economic figures in the past several months. In particular, two major macro-economic trends show the improved conditions in which the SWS respondents found themselves in.

Gross Domestic Product, or economists' term for the total value produced by an economy, grew by 4.8 percent in the second quarter of 2005, stronger than the first quarter growth of 4.6 percent. Our country fared better than that of Malaysia (4.1 percent), South Korea (3.3 percent), and Taiwan (3 percent).

The unemployment rate decreased in July 2005 to 7.7 percent from 8.3 percent in April 2005. This meant a million more Filipinos getting jobs since last year.

When the impeachment proceedings against Estrada started in the third quarter of 2000, the peso's exchange rate fell from P43 to the dollar to P51 just before he quit the Palace, a huge P8-loss in the peso's value that certainly forebode a chaotic period. In contrast, the peso exchange depreciated only by 3 percent since June this year, the consensus among analysts is that this was due not to capital flight-as in the case of Estrada's impeachment-but to the surge in oil prices which required more dollars for crude imports.

It is what is called the international balance of payments (BOP)-the net of our transactions with the world-which is the biggest factor in pressures leading to the depreciation of the peso. A build-up of deficits-which means we are spending more dollars than we are receiving-leads to the fall in the peso's value.

This didn't happen in the past three months. In fact, the BOP posted a huge $2-billion surplus in the first seven months of the year, a complete reversal of the $93-million deficit in the same period last year. This was due mainly to the following developments:

Exports for the period January-July 2005 increased to $23 billion, up by 4.6 percent from $22 billion last year

Foreign investments in the stock market and other short-term instruments registered as of Sept. 9, 2005 a net inflow of $2 billion, 13 times more than the $153 million registered in the same period last year and 4.1 times more than the $486.8 million total for the whole of 2004.

Remittances from Filipino workers overseas grew to $5.8 billion in the January-July 2005 period, up 22 percent from the $4.7 billion for the same months last year.

The number of tourists grew to 1.5 million for the first seven months of the year, up by 13.5 percent from the 1.3 million recorded in the same period last year.

The Philippine stock market also showed resilience in the face of the political storm. The Phisix, the stock market indicator, even strengthened and peaked at 2,038.10 points on Aug. 12, 2005. It declined though in mid-August because of the surge in oil prices which threatened the global economy. It has started to recover though, moving again to the 2,000-point mark in the past two weeks.

Finally, despite all the political noise, government has kept firm control of its purse. The budget posted a surplus of P1.8 billion in the month of August, its third surplus in a month this year. Revenues from January to August amounted to P530.2 billion, 1.6 percent above target, while expenditures amounted to P610.9 billion, 5 percent below the program.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Re: CBCP Statement on Sept 13, '05

Statement of the Cabinet Secretary

The CBCP statement affirming the central role of prayer, sobriety and rule of law in the continuing search for truth, provides wise and enlightening guidance to our people.

The call for the nation to move on and to turn our attention and energies toward alleviating proverty is a sorely needed direction also taken by government and the great majority of our citizenry.

In the quest for truth, it is important to recall the CBCP's warning in its July 10 statement:

"In this grave situation, various groups take advantage of one another, manipulate situations for their own agenda, and create confusion among our people sometimes by projecting speculation or suspicion as proven fact, with the aim of grabbing power." (CBCP)

Let us all heed the preaching of the Bishops for peace, truth, sobriety, rule of law, and the upliftment of our poor kababayan.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Flaws in Polls

by Sec. Rigoberto Tiglao


"Polls: Either the 'echo-chamber' for the media, or the views of political leaders and media without sufficient information and examination to represent any meaningful popular control." -J.S. Fishkin, US political scientist

Other than their sanctimonious invocations of "morality" and "truth," the anti-Gloria personalities proclaim as a mantra their claim-based on polls-that most Filipinos want her out. These anti-Gloria forces no longer even refer to the actual surveys; they merely state cavalierly-or casually write in innumerable opinion columns-that "Filipinos" want President Macapagal-Arroyo to step down from power.

For starters, the names of the two notable polling surveys should be instructive enough: Social Weather Stations; and Pulse Asia Inc. Polls capture a period-or even just a moment-of the public's perception. Boracay at the height of a typhoon is a hellish place. That doesn't mean though that Boracay isn't a great resort. A person's pulse quickens during moments of agitation and danger; that doesn't necessarily mean that his heart is breaking down.

And the people's pulse can change quickly, and not necessarily as a result of reasonable deliberation.

In early March (1995), despite the dramatic resolution of the country's power crisis, then President Fidel Ramos' popularity steeply fell, with his satisfaction ratings dropping to zero by mid-1995. (Should FVR have resigned then?) The reason for this was the Flor Contemplacion controversy. The decline in Ramos' popularity wasn't even caused by an action of his. Public outrage broke out because of a statement made by his foreign affairs secretary, a statement which, the people felt, was callous.

In November 1999, Estrada's satisfaction ratings, which were zooming up to the 70-point level, suddenly crashed to net 5 percentage points. Why? In that month there was a barrage of media exposes against him: front-page photos of the mansions allegedly owned by Estrada's mistresses, and reports of his drinking sprees in Malacañang. However, Estrada recovered his popularity to the 19-point level by September the following year.

The polls were invented by media, when the American newspapers Harrisburg Pennsylvanian and the Raleigh Star organized crude straw votes in 1874. The dialectic-maybe even the conspiracy-of media and polls continues. In the United States, other than political parties during election periods, US media outfits also commission poll surveys.

This prompted a noted American US political scientist J.S. Fishkin (in his book "The Voice of the People") to remark: "Polls are no more than the superficial means by which newspapers have come to speak for the people." Indeed, if newspapers do not publish polls, the latter will be as insignificant to politics as academic dissertations.

Other than capturing only a moment of public sentiment, the basic flaw of opinion polls is this: They report opinions even if the opinions are uninformed or misinformed. "Modern polling can give us back only what citizens know the moment the phone rings," another US political scientist, Robert Weissberg wrote.

And with the power of television and newspaper in the modern world, media images are enough to suddenly shift public perception. The sudden change in public opinion on the Vietnam War wasn't really due to the Pentagon Papers or student revolt or extensive debates. It was the images on television, such as the ones showing wounded US soldiers screaming in pain, and a young Vietnamese girl burnt in a napalm bombing.

With Congress turned into a venue for deliberating the impeachment issues, opposition demagogues were able to speak day in, day out-with full media coverage-with all venom and vitriol against the President. Rep. Alan Cayetano was even devious enough to keep repeating in every interview: "All we want to find out is whether the President is a thief and a liar." After people kept seeing and hearing congressmen saying for nearly three months that the President is a thief, what opinion would an ordinary Filipino express if he were suddenly interviewed by a pollster?

One pernicious impact of opinion polls is the bandwagon effect, and this is the reason why, in many countries, the publication of pollsters' findings on voting preferences are banned several weeks before elections.

A poll survey shows that a big percentage of respondents want Gloria out. "Middle forces" interpret this as the voice of the people. Therefore, they want Gloria out, too. The next month the percentage of Filipinos wanting Gloria out increases.

That is exactly what happened in recent months. "I look at the figures," former secretary Juan Santos said in a TV interview, referring to Pulse Asia's findings on the popularity of the President, "and they keep falling." Therefore, Santos joined the Hyatt 4-to increase the cabal's numbers.

A more insidious use of polls in the guise of objectivity is when introductory statements to a series of questions are posed to the respondent. Consider the following approach:

Introductory statements by pollster: President Arroyo admitted she called a Comelec official. There are some who claim that Ms Arroyo cheated in the elections.

Q 3: Do you think President Gloria cheated in the elections?

Q4: Do you think she should resign?

The questions might appear objective, but note how the responses would have totally changed if the introductory statements were different.

For example: Introductory statements-President Arroyo won in 2004 by a margin of more than 1.5 million votes over FPJ. Most of the Catholic Church, the Iglesia ni Cristo, El Shaddai, and business groups clearly supported Arroyo in that elections. It was Congress which determined that President Gloria won.

Question 1: Do you think President Gloria won only because she cheated?

Question 2: Do you think she should resign?

SWS and Pulse Asia would never have used such an approach.

The introductory statements were actually worse in their recent polls. The statements and questions were in Filipino. Their translation of the sentence "President Gloria admitted calling a Comelec official" was: "Inamin ni Pangulong Gloria na kinausap niya ang isang Comelec official."

The common usage of "inamin" is "confessed," as to a crime. But the President never confessed to a crime. And if you were an ordinary Filipino being told by a pollster that your President admitted to a crime, wouldn't you agree that he or she should be ousted?

Polls, with their flaws, can never be the basis for political action. They can never substitute for representative, republican democracy.

Some 236 representatives of the people studied in detail the impeachment charges and debated over them for weeks. The majority, 158 of them, decided to junk the complaints, and only 51, less than a fourth of them, wanted her impeached. Contrast that to Estrada's case, when 115 members of Congress voted for his impeachment.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Why the Opposition Lost

by Sec. Ricardo Saludo

The opposition and their civil society allies depict their failure to get 79 votes for impeachment as an unjust defeat for the outnumbered forces of truth. The real story is not so black and white. Back in June, the self-proclaimed apostles of truth were not interested in it. They wanted a democratically elected head of state to relinquish her constitutional mandate without the benefit of a full investigation and a fair trial of the charges against her. Even their latest attempt to unite their fractious ranks, Bukluran para sa Katotohanan, has one aim: “President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo must go.”

The opposition’s obsession with resignation led to multiple blunders on the way to defeat. For starters, they ignored a suggestion from Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. back in June to file an impeachment complaint before anyone else did. They feared it would weaken their push for the President to step down without due process.

Only when the people clearly rejected the call for People Power did the opposition file the Amended Complaint on July 22 —weeks after not just one, but two complaints had been initiated. They knew the late filing could be barred by the constitutional limit of one impeachment proceeding against the same official in a year. So they crafted their petition as amendments to the Lozano Complaint filed first on June 27.

Then came Opposition Blunders 2 and 3. The Lozano Complaint lacked specific acts underpinning the charge of election fraud. But instead of just addressing that deficiency, the opposition added other accusations. The Amended Complaint was so different from Lozano’s that it amounted to a new petition altogether. Moreover, while the new charges won support from the Liberals and party-list groups, they made it harder for other congressmen to sign up.

If one saw poor evidence for some allegations, he might not endorse the whole lot. There were other problems. The mountain of charges made the Amended Complaint look like an instrument to launch months of propaganda against the Administration, right into the year before the 2007 elections. “Impeachment is a tool against the incumbent,” said Davao Oriental Rep. Joel Mayo Almario.

The jueteng accusations might have incensed the House, having tarred some leading congressmen. Allegations of human rights abuses antagonized the military and its lawmaker friends. The charge of anomalous contracts threatened projects benefiting a good number of congressional districts.

In sum, the Amended Complaint was even harder for congressmen to support than the Lozano Complaint. To that Blunder No. 2 the opposition added No. 3: Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano opposed rules proposed by the majority which would have allowed complaints to be amended and amalgamated. Thus, the Lozano and Amended Complaints were deemed separate petitions initiated on different days which could not be combined. The opposition also insisted that complaints need not mention evidence. Result: they could be dismissed with no evidence presented.

As if these legal and tactical blunders weren’t enough, the opposition committed the biggest no-no in selling anything, be it insurance or impeachment: insulting the buyer. The opposition declared in so many words that congressmen who did not endorse the Amended Complaint were bribe-taking, unprincipled Malacañang stooges hiding the truth. “They called us sordid names,” bristled Ilocos Sur Rep. Salacnib Baterina.

Even some who voted with the opposition saw its mistake. Batangas Rep. Hermilando Mandanas said: “No one here has a monopoly on truth. No one here is the final arbiter of justice. And no one can judge the motives of any of us.” For his part, Teddy Boy Locsin wondered days before the plenary deliberations: “How can you ask them to vote for the truth after you have called all of them liars?”

More than opposition miscues, however, it is the lack of a clear, hopeful post-impeachment program of action which doomed the anti-Arroyo campaign. Yes, people want truth, but not if they have to leap blind into a dark, dodgy future.

The factions targeting Malacañang cannot agree on one post-Arroyo scenario. Corazon Aquino, some resigned Cabinet members, and many Liberals favor Vice-President Noli de Castro’s takeover. The Erap-Susan camp disputes Kabayan’s election victory. Sen. Panfilo Lacson wants snap elections, while rightist ex-generals and leftist militants demand a transitional revolutionary regime. (Moreover, some of these factions are discredited in the nation’s eyes.)

With no definite plan for post-Arroyo rule, let alone a full program of government to address economic, energy, security, poverty, and corruption challenges, Gloria-resign forces offer no path to a better tomorrow. Sulu Rep. Hussin Amin feared a fight for power among opposition factions if the President goes.

Many of his colleagues worried about impeachment itself. “Our country cannot continue to be hostage to this political crisis,” fretted Alipio Cirilo Badelles. “Debating endlessly will not help my people in Lanao del Norte.” Jose Salceda of Albay, Negros Oriental’s Herminio Teves and Rodolfo Valencia of Oriental Mindoro all believe impeachment would hurt the nation, especially the economy.

The nation and the great majority of its lawmakers now hope to give more sorely needed attention, time and effort to addressing everyday concerns about rising prices, job creation, terrorist threats, and better health services and education. “People are suffering because we don’t respond to their needs,” laments Sulu’s Amin. Speaking toward the end of the House plenary, Parañaque Rep. Eduardo Zialcita said the 158-51-6 vote meant: “Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is our president . . . and we must all work together as a team.”

Conciliatory final statements by administration stalwart Rolando Andaya of Camarines Sur and his regionmate from Sorsogon, Minority Floor Leader Francis Escudero, bode well for advocates of national unity and advancement. The entire republic can only hope that all sides in the political arena will indeed heed the dictum, salus populi est suprema lex (“the people’s welfare is the supreme law”), and march together toward a brighter tomorrow for all.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Search for Truth

by Sec. Ricardo Saludo


“Is there no one else who will sign for the truth?” With those words, Marinduque Rep. Edmundo Reyes Jr. made a final plea for fellow representatives to support the Amended Complaint against President Gloria Arroyo. As of Sept. 2, the opposition needed 30 signatures to reach 79. Then it could call on 23 promised endorsements of congressmen who Reyes said would sign up if the complaint gets the nod of one-third of the House to propel it to the Senate.

The opposition insists that only through a Senate trial can the truth about allegations against the President emerge. Fortunately, the situation is not as black and white as “no impeachment, no truth.” If the House does not vote to impeach, there are other due process venues to uncover the facts. Here are some of them, all non-partisan and independent bodies, along with the accusations they can probe and prosecute:

The Amended Complaint alleges a conspiracy to cheat in the May 2004 elections. While President Arroyo cannot be sued now, the people who allegedly colluded with her can be investigated and charged by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) or the Ombudsman.

Among those who could be probed and prosecuted is former Comelec commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, believed by many to be implicated in the alleged wiretaps now circulating. If he does not return from abroad, he can be tried in absentia, and his purported collusion with any candidate, administration or opposition, can be recounted and proven in court.

The opposition has accused members of the First Family of receiving jueteng payolas. The Ombudsman can look into these accusations, and the President has, in fact, requested it to do so. A former Palace functionary claims that Comelec officials received bribes from the wife of a reputed jueteng lord after a dinner at the President’s family home. The Ombudsman can investigate the widely denied story and file charges in the Sandiganbayan against anyone found to have given or gotten payoffs.

The opposition contends that the President acquiesced to violations of human rights and election laws, including alleged army actions and the supposed use of state funds and programs to buy votes. The Commission on Human Rights and the Comelec can probe these allegations and, if warranted, file charges against those implicated in civil and military courts. In such proceedings, the President’s involvement, if there is any, can be detailed and made public.

Another impeachment charge is the approval of contracts purportedly disadvantageous to the government. The Commission on Audit (COA) and the Ombudsman are empowered to look into all public transactions, and the latter can prosecute officials involved in the Sandiganbayan.

Again, while the President cannot be brought to court at this time, her actions can be reported by the COA or the Ombudsman in any trial or preliminary investigation of officials who recommended contract approval. Lawyers of the Department of Justice cleared these transactions on legal grounds, while the inter-agency Investment Coordinating Committee chaired by the National Economic & Development Authority, affirmed their economic rationale and financial viability.

All the evidence and testimony from the different proceedings would go through strict due process, making them highly credible and legally affirmed. If there are any findings about the President, they could be incorporated in future proceedings that may be undertaken against her.

Moreover, the multiple accusations in the Amended Complaint could be investigated and prosecuted at the same time in various venues, making the search for truth much faster than if the Senate were to receive evidence one charge at a time. Media could sum up proceedings and findings from all investigative and judicial bodies every day. And Congress would be free to do its main job: legislation.

Of course, some of the material the opposition might have wanted to present in Congress could be ruled inadmissible or given little weight by the constitutional commissions and the courts. Hearsay testimony, illegal recordings, and uncorroborated claims might have been fair game in a Senate trial, but not in criminal proceedings. (One wonders why impeachment should have looser evidentiary standards, considering that unseating a nationally elected leader is far graver in its consequences for the republic than jailing a convict.)

Moreover, some congressmen may balk at letting investigators and prosecutors of the constitutional bodies, as well as justices of the courts, take the credit and hog the cameras in the struggle for truth and justice. One Makati congressman recalls that several of his colleagues were keen to impeach Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. in 2003, hoping to bask in the media limelight as prosecutors during the Senate trial. “They wanted to do a Joker,” he says, referring to Joker Arroyo’s telegenic performance in the Estrada impeachment which boosted his successful senatorial bid in 2001.

A third objection the opposition may have is that the commissions and the courts, being impartial, non-political bodies, would not be focused on removing the President. They would not be making special efforts to build up evidence against her; nor would they give much time and attention to partisan filibusters and propaganda not very helpful to investigation and prosecution.

Indeed, the constitutional bodies and the courts should resist becoming battlefields for contending political factions, the way the impeachment process is. They should be intent on unearthing hard evidence and unimpeachable testimony, not playing to Congress, media and public. Their processes should be marked by sobriety, impartiality, strict due process, and careful evaluation of all findings and allegations.

In short, the constitutional commissions and the courts should be arenas for facts, not factions. But then, isn't that what the search for truth is all about?

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Naivet‚ or hypocrisy?


by Sec. Rigoberto D. Tiglao

There has been a display of naivetè (some call it hypocrisy)-contrived or not-by the so-called Black and White Movement, over the political war that has raged in the past three months. The people behind the movement portray their stance merely as a search for truth.

But the election-fraud charges, which led to the drive for President Macapagal-Arroyo to resign and-after that failed-for her impeachment, didn't evolve just out of the blue. The core of the campaign to unseat the President (the so-called "Garci" tapes) didn't surface on its own. The jueteng witnesses (all admitted bagmen[woman] of gambling lords) didn't get conscience-stricken just suddenly in June, the reason they turned whistle-blowers. This mix of "exposès" and people is a major element of a political strategy.

The metaphor of a political storm is a bit misleading. The turmoil in the past months represents the big offensive initiated by three major political forces determined to unseat President Macapagal-Arroyo at all costs. The turmoil is not just the result of a confluence of factors and events. These camps have been ranged against her since Day One of her first term, continuously plotting to overwhelm the administration's democratic ramparts.

1. The Erap (deposed President Joseph Estrada) and FPJ (Fernando Poe Jr.) forces. They cannot accept the fact that a once popular president is in detention while the court deliberates on the corruption allegations against him. Indeed, for the first time in our nation's history, a former president has been put in jail. This unprecedented development-a quantum leap toward the strengthening of our institutions-has not been without cost. It is a major factor that explains the continuous political turbulence since 2001.

FPJ in the 2004 elections was their big hope to free Erap. They failed, and so they proceeded to implement their Plan B: discredit the elections and, they hope, in the resulting public outrage, pressure the President to resign. Who was the main disseminator of the alleged "Garci" tapes? Alan Paguia, Erap's lawyer.

2. The Communist Party and its front organizations. The Leninist-Maoist dogma calls for a two-pronged political strategy to capture power. First (the Leninist contribution) is to undertake moves to worsen the political situation, and especially "to split the ruling class." The strategy, which Lenin proved effective in Russia in 1917, is to create political chaos, allowing a well-organized party to easily capture power, with the middle forces acquiescing in fear or in the spirit of political opportunism.

Second (the Maoist contribution) is the so-called "mass line": Assume leadership of all anti-establishment causes in order to expand your organization and forge alliances with other political forces.

What has particularly incensed the Communist Party has been its belief that the President worked for its classification by the US government as a terrorist organization. This has reportedly wreaked havoc on the party's international network for fund-raising and transfers.

Jose Ma. Sison's strategy of a rural-based rebel army, combined with "parliamentary struggle," certainly has borne fruit. For the first time in any modern nation's history, Marxist-Leninist cadres are able to hurl vitriol against a democratically elected President, demanding her ouster in the halls of Congress.

3. Sen. Panfilo Lacson's forces. Having left Estrada's shadow and having grown out of his former role as Erap's chief enforcer, Lacson has emerged as a political leader in his own right, drawing Erap's ronins into his camp. At least, unlike the civil socialites hypocritically claiming they are only after the truth, Lacson never kept secret his desire or goal to have Ms Arroyo overthrown. As regular as the seasons, Lacson has continuously launched intense political blitzkriegs to crush the President's credibility with the end-view of unseating her.

The disclosure that Lacson had asked an Australian outfit to authenticate a three-hour tape before its existence was alleged by an ex-NBI officer bolsters suspicions that the "Garci" tapes were his project.

Other smaller forces have wanted to unseat Ms Arroyo since 2001; they are lesser predators like hyenas trailing the main pack: the remnants of the Marcos dynasty intent on preserving the wealth it amassed over 20 years; elderly, long-retired generals hallucinating over the Latin American, vintage-1960s juntas; and breakaway groups from the Sison-controlled Communist Party.

Look closely at the main features of the current political battle. What made the current campaign politically possible? The "Garci" tapes could have been acquired-and digitally manipulated-only by someone with an extensive intelligence background. What constitutes the main force of the impeachment camp in Congress? The leftist party-list representatives (10 of them) and prominent figures of the Erap camp, such as his former executive secretary Rep. Ronaldo Zamora. What is the main force in the street rallies, which are held with all agit-prop gimmicks? The Communist Party cadres and activists.

Miscalculating that the political war waged by these veteran forces was moving toward victory, a sector of civil society joined the fray. On July 8, hypocritically claiming it merely wanted to spare the President from further pain, its members carried out a blitz of press conferences to pressure her to resign. They thought the move would give them the leadership of the anti-GMA forces.

In this conflict, political clerics, civil socialites and greenhorn congressmen have pretended, or naively thought themselves, to be noncombatants out only in a spiritual search for truth.

He who rides the tiger cannot dismount, lest he be devoured, an old Chinese proverb says.

The three forces-Erap's, the Communist Party's and Lacson's-are the three tigers in the Philippine political jungle, out to devour the President. On Friday evening at La Salle Greenhills, it became obvious that former President Aquino, Dinky Soliman et al., some clerics and civil socialites have, wittingly or unwittingly, mounted these tigers.

Their group's name, Black and White Movement, fits them to a tee. They have chosen to be politically color-blind, and thus unable to discern the predators in the political jungle.

They will find it difficult to dismount. We hope that on the backs of these tigers, they will not be witnesses to the devouring of our democracy.