Buencamino does political affairs analysis for Action for Economic Reforms. This piece was published in the newspaper Today, page 11, 14 July 2004.

“The pump don’t work ‘cuz the vandals broke the handle” – Bob Dylan

My friends at the AER (Action for Economic Reforms) say we are
experiencing a fiscal crisis. They are not the only ones to say so.
Former Finance Secretary Isidro Camacho has said so, and so have the
ADB (Asian Development Bank) and the IMF (International Monetary Fund).

We have a fiscal crisis because we spend more than we earn and we
resort to borrowing to make ends meet— then we borrow some more to pay
those debts. Economists warn that if we don’t break this cycle, we will
borrow ourselves into bankruptcy. At that point, the fiscal crisis
becomes an economic crisis.

So, what is the reaction of our Leader* to this dire warning?

The President* says, “I intend to call the LEDAC (Legislative-Executive
Development Advisory Council) at the earliest opportunity to discuss
this matter of national importance.” That’s well and good if she is
talking about the fiscal crisis but she is not. She is talking about
convening the LEDAC to discuss Charter change.

Charter change is Mrs. Arroyo’s top priority. She said, “If we place
this in the backburner for too long, it could burn out and be lost
forever.” As a result, many worry that it’s the fiscal crisis that will
be placed in the backburner. Her spokesman sought to dispel concerns by
stating, “This will not conflict with our equally earnest efforts to
tackle the fiscal deficit.” The question then is, “How many front
burners do you think
you have anyway?”

Noli de Castro may not have any background in anything except
broadcasting but the President* still picked him as the person to
govern and lead the Philippines should the unthinkable happen to her. I
still remember when Mrs. Arroyo warned us that we would be the
laughingstock of the world if FPJ were elected president. So I am sure
she took her warning to heart before she picked Noli as a potential

The fact that she chose to place Noli a heartbeat away from running the
Philippines makes crap out of all this civil society talk about an
“unqualified” Noli being appointed to run the DSWD, instead of one of
their own. The fact that Mrs. Arroyo chose Noli as her possible
replacement means that she believes he is qualified and capable of
doing whatever she can do, including running any Cabinet post. Does
anyone believe she is so cynical that she chose a laughingstock as
running mate just so she could win over the masa vote?

Why not appoint Noli to Finance? Civil society will get their DSWD back
and the Makati Business Club will get what it deserves. And if Angelo
Reyes is good enough to hold concurrent posts, why not appoint Noli to
Defense too? That way he will become familiar with two of the biggest
rat holes the country’s finances disappear into.

Noli is the only one in the administration that the masa believes. He
alone can sell what AER calls “key tax and other fiscal measures” that
are “going to hurt.” Bear in mind that Noli made Mrs. Arroyo palatable
to the masa, so making them swallow even the most bitter medicine won’t
be a problem for him. It will be as easy for Noli as it was for Tommy
Osmena to con Cebuanos into believing that the intelligent thing to do
was to elect President*Arroyo.

Noli has the masa and the masa is the key to Mrs. Arroyo’s survival and
she knows it. Noli can get any appointment he wants because
disappointing him is not an option. Can Arroyo do a Dinky Soliman on
Noli? Imagine Noli allied with FPJ, Erap and Loren and then ask Angelo
Reyes how much it takes for generals to turn their backs on their

Mrs. Arroyo asked during a press briefing, “Why did EDSA 1, 2 and 3
happen?” And she answered herself, “Because the president’s terms were
not over and the people
wanted to change them.”

So Mrs. Arroyo decided that the first order of business is to push for
Charter changes that would “do away with People Power to unseat an
incumbent President.” In short, she will push to parliamentarize the
keys to Malacanang out of Noli’s hand.

For her sake, I hope Noli is as dumb as she and civil society think he
is, because he just might end up laughing last and the loudest.