Mr. Buencamino writes political commentaries for Action for Economic Reforms. This article was published in the Opinion Section, Yellow Pad Column of BusinessWorld, October 31, 2005 edition, page S1/5.

The big news is that the opposition will launch a signature campaign calling for a snap election. There may be no legal basis for it, but millions of verified signatures will be impossible to ignore.

Mrs. Gloria Arroyo stands to lose even more legitimacy should the signature campaign succeed.  She will thus prevent it from getting off the ground.  How? With a calibrated preemptive response: an auto-referendum.

An auto-referendum is the same as the impeachment that was filed and killed a couple of months ago. That event was an auto-impeachment because it was Mrs. Arroyo herself who told Gabriel Claudio to give the go-ahead for Oliver Lozano to file a weak complaint. Claudio denies it happened, but I don’t believe him.

Why should anyone believe anything Claudio says? He works as a servant in the Pidal household yet he has the intestinal fortitude to collect his salary from Juan de la Cruz. Try asking Claudio about the Garci conversations and see if you can get an answer that won’t make your head spin.

Anyway, Lozano’s auto-impeachment was Mrs. Arroyo’s second successful calibrated preemptive response. Her first happened when she was vice president and the same Lozano filed an auto-impeachment case on her behalf. Following the old saying ”If at first you succeed, repeat,”   Mrs. Arroyo will replicate her successes by using  Mike Velarde’s proposal for a two-year ceasefire followed by a referendum.

Velarde said, “We can include in the 2007 election [ballot] a question … asking the people: If [Ms Arroyo] is performing well, do you want her to continue? …Or if not, put the issue to the electorate by saying: If you favor her continuity, elect pro-administration candidates; if not, vote them out.”

Velarde’s idea seems radical at first glance. However, the “Or if not…” portion of Velarde’s statement is pure Malacañang in its maliciousness. Why?  Because it muddles the question through bundling.

Velarde’s question packages Mrs. Arroyo with a candidate in order to force the voter to weigh his distaste for Mrs. Arroyo against his preference for a particular candidate.  In addition, it preloads the vote in Mrs. Arroyo’s favor because she will benefit both from the popularity of certain candidates and the confusion resulting from a packaged deal. A stand-alone question, on the other hand, requires a simple yes or no vote on Mrs. Arroyo; only so she won’t allow it.

The decoy in Velarde’s proposal is the appeal for a two-year ceasefire.  Malacañang prefers people arguing over that to people analyzing the “vote one, take Gloria too” package.

The auto-referendum will be a moro-moro like the auto-impeachment.

The first act is “hele-hele pero gusto naman.”  Ignacio Bunye’s response to Velarde’s proposal—“Any discussion on terms limits is premature”—was the curtain raiser.  Calling discussions premature instead of bringing the curtains down immediately presages a second act where Malacañang will say, “Okay, if you insist, we will have a referendum but let’s ask the right question in the proper forum.”  This is the cue for auto-referendum to enter the scene. The curtains will go down when Malacañang announces the prefabricated results and claims, “the people have spoken and they want to keep Mrs. Arroyo until 2010.”

There is no way that Mrs. Arroyo will allow a stand-alone question on herself, hence the preemptive calibrated response of a “vote one, take Gloria too” bundle.

NOTE:  A couple of days after I wrote this analysis for Action for Economic Reforms, the Philippine Daily Inquirer confirmed what I said would be the second act of the moro-moro on auto-referendum.

The Inquirer said: “President Macapagal-Arroyo will cut her term short if that is what the majority of Filipinos will say in a plebiscite on her continued stay in power.”  In the same breath, it quoted Bunye saying that “in the absence of any legal mandate to cut short her term, the President has a constitutional mandate to serve up to 2010.”  Mismo.