Alba, who obtained his doctorate in Stanford, is a professor of economics at De La Salle University.  This article was published in the Opinion Section, Yellow Pad Column of BusinessWorld, December 27, 2006 edition, page S1/5.

Let me declare, in no uncertain terms, that the cha-cha caravans have been stopped dead in their tracks, at least until the next Congress. Even were ULAP able to deliver on its boast and present 4.5 million signatures by the first week of January, the new People’s Initiative will only be tied up in challenges and appeals in the Supreme Court and the COMELEC, which will prevent a plebiscite on its proposed amendments from being held before the midterm elections in May. Were Speaker Jose de Venecia and his cohorts to restart the drive to convene a Constituent Assembly without the Senate, either the Supreme Court will be called upon to adjudicate, which again will take time, or the people will take to the streets in protest against such a brazen, self-serving move. As for a Constitutional Convention, there is no budget set for it. Moreover, the exercise is financially infeasible: After having just scrambled out of a fiscal crisis, we certainly do not want to dive into another one.

So why all the bluff and bluster about cha-cha still? Me-thinks they are false alarms to take attention away from the next fields of battle, which are shaping up to be the congressional and senatorial elections.

As we all know, what is ultimately at stake in the currently raging political war is the survival of one Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Realizing that she is likely to be hounded by impeachment charges as long as she is President and prosecuted when her term expires, she had the two charter change caravans launched—the first through local governments and the second through Congress—in quick succession this year, ostensibly to change the form of government to an allegedly more streamlined unicameral parliamentary system, but which effectively would enable her to stay in power indefinitely. Both counteroffensive campaigns having lost steam, however, her options have now narrowed to winning the midterm elections at all costs.
Because if she is to thwart a third impeachment attempt in 2007, the President must see to it that those opposed to her continued stay in office get no more than 78 seats in the Lower House and no more than twelve in the Upper Chamber. Moreover, were she to get enough seats in both Houses, she will have the luxury of time in having Congress constitute itself as a Constituent Assembly and getting her amendments inscribed in the Constitution.

So the big question is, If you were in her shoes what would you do?

A feint worth trying is to have the elections postponed. (So what if this violates the Constitution?) Not only will this provide fuel to the cha-cha bids, if another impeachment complaint is also lodged in the meantime, it can again be readily dismissed by your lackeys in Congress, which pushes back the next impeachment bid to 2008, practically a lifetime in politics.

Failing this first course, however, set about to do the following:

1.Drop from the administration’s slate all congressional and senatorial aspirants who have no chance of winning. They will just be excess political baggage that can weigh you down.

2.Convince, instead, sure-to-win candidates (Why not Manny Pacquiao, Efren “Bata” Reyes, and Tony Meloto of Gawad Kalinga? Or, in case they receive favorable polls, retired Chief Justices Hilario Davide Jr. and Artemio Panganiban?) to join your ticket on two conditions: They have to vote down any impeachment complaints against you, and they have to agree to a constitutional amendment adopting a unicameral parliamentary government.

3.Provide administration candidates with deep war chests to maximize their chances of winning. (Is this what the jueteng proceeds are for?)

4.Discredit opposition candidates and intimidate their supporters. (Is this what the spate of killings is all about?)
5.Perhaps most importantly, talk once again to an unnamed COMELEC official to secure the votes of your candidates. Particularly during the canvassing period when the voting is over. But make sure this time around that the phones are not tapped.

(I offer my profuse apologies for coming up with only five items. It is somewhat embarrassing to discover that one does not have a sufficiently dirty mind in political strategizing, though perhaps only because of inexperience and certainly not for lack of trying.)

Against these moves, what can civil society and the middle forces do?

The most important initiative is probably to undertake a massive voter registration drive. In particular, two sets of people could be targeted: those who were disenfranchised in the last elections as a result of the COMELEC’s ill-conceived (if not ill-intentioned) and poorly implemented scheme to clean up the voter registration lists, and the youth who have reached voting age. Unfortunately, there may not be sufficient time to mobilize, given the 31 December 2007 deadline.

Set up a nonpartisan election watchdog organization that would ensure that elections are clean and the vote counting is honest. Perhaps this could still be NAMFREL, given that it already has the experience and the grassroots machinery in place. Its officials and volunteers, however, must comport themselves such that they will be above reproach (unlike in the last elections when the organization got snarled in charges of being party to electoral fraud). To achieve this end, perhaps the poll watchers group (whether NAMFREL or not) could adopt a strict code of conduct for its officials and volunteers and subject its systems and processes to a third party post-activity audit, the report of which is made publicly available for transparency.

Convince able and credible individuals to run for public office, particularly those who can do so on a platform of restoring faith in the nation’s institutions (e.g., by proposing to enact laws that would ban political dynasties and turncoatism and that would improve the electoral system) and clean government (by proposing to adopt policies that have zero tolerance for graft and corruption and by renouncing the pork barrel).

Last but not least, conduct a public awareness campaign on what the coming midterm elections are ultimately about—the question being: Will we, the Filipino people, allow a self-serving class of politicians to entrench itself more deeply in the governance of the nation, or will we use the electoral broom to finally begin sweeping such scum off the national stage?