DECLARING that she is tired of "chasing the bully around the schoolyard," Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s tough-talking days are back and could actually signal a role reversal, with Malacañang hereon taking the offensive and the president seemingly acting the bully herself.
First, the "maximum tolerance" policy in dealing with street demonstrations has now been replaced with a "calibrated preemptive response" (echoes of U.S. Pres. George Bush’s preemptive strike policy?) meant to disperse rallies without permits and arrest "illegal" protesters.
Second, known vocal critics and those perceived to be anti-Arroyo are also now beginning to feel the brunt of what is viewed as Malacañang’s "vindictiveness" following Arroyo’s impeachment escape act two weeks ago that was masterfully performed by the pro-Arroyo House of Representatives.
Suspicious are the recently announced termination of the services of Mike Luz as education undersecretary and the anticipated decision next week on the Department of Agrarian Reform’s (DAR) findings on the case of Hacienda Luisita owned by the family of former president Corazon "Cory" Aquino. Mrs. Aquino has repeatedly called on Arroyo to step down.
An administrative case has also been filed before the Office of the Ombudsman against resigned social work secretary Corazon "Dinky" Soliman for allegedly rescinding the agreement with an IT company that developed the online lotto betting scheme of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Corporation (PCSO). Included in the charge is erstwhile PCSO director Victoria Garchitorena, who also resigned at the height of the "Gloriagate" scandal.
Recently, the results of the deanship selection of the College of Law of the University of the Philippines is also being seen as a Malacañang handiwork, with the appointment of law professor Salvador Carlota on the strength of a reported endorsement from The Firm — the Villaraza and Angcangco Law Offices — to ease out current dean Raul Pangalangan.
Carlota’s assumption as U.P. Law dean is said to be an apparent effort to depoliticize the College as sanctioned by Malacañang. The College was among the first to call for Arroyo’s resignation on the issue of her taped conversations detailing alleged complicity in the cover-up of electoral fraud in the 2004 elections, for which Arroyo had made a public apology. Voting 32-6 (with six abstentions), the law faculty issued a collective statement last July 4 saying that "resignation was the best apology."
A former vice chancellor for student affairs (1986-89) and college secretary (1973-75), Carlota was in fact a late entrant in the deanship race and was endorsed by Susan Villanueva, a partner at the Villaraza and Angcangco Law Offices, or more known in political circles as The Firm for its close ties with the First Family, which has only bolstered speculations of Malacañang’s influence.
This year’s selection of dean did away with the search committee after a majority (46 out of 57) of the U.P. Law faculty endorsed Dean Pangalangan to a third term. In a meeting with Diliman Chancellor Sergio Cao, some faculty members however questioned the said endorsement, also considering that Pangalangan is barred by a rule that allows deans to serve only for a maximum of two terms, except under highly exceptional cicumstances when there is only one nominee and where he or she has the unanimous support of the faculty. This gave way to an alternative process that opened up the nominations to practically anybody within and outside the college and dispensed with the formal process of evaluating nominees.
Normally, the chancellor would recommend nominees based on the endorsement of the faculty. Of the four nominees who emerged for consideration of the Board of Regents (BOR), however, only Carlota received nominations from a non-fulltime-faculty and some alumni. A fifth recommendee who was nominated by her husband, a U.P. law alumnus, did not make the cut.
Aside from Pangalangan, the other two nominees who got the nod of their colleagues were Prof. Marvic Leonen, who is also the University vice president for legal affairs, and Associate Prof. Danilo Concepcion.
Observed a law professor, "To my knowledge, the deanship race has always been strictly what you may regard as a barangay intramurals, a political contest among cliques within the faculty. The alumni would participate but not to the extent that they are doing now, endorsing someone and, apparently, getting him appointed."
Carlota’s nomination is reported to also have been brokered by the "strange" alliance of three of U.P. Law’s influential fraternities — Sigma Rho, represented by the Palace group identified with Avelino "Nonong" Cruz, the defense secretary; Upsilon Sigma Phi represented by Vice President Noli de Castro’s chief-of-staff Jessie Andres; and the Alpha Phi Beta (APB), of which Carlota is a member.
In the BOR, Carlota is also reported to have the strong backing of pro-Arroyo regents, including the influential Abraham Sarmiento, retired Supreme Court Justice, a fraternity brother. An informant said it was Sarmiento, who once served as legal counsel of the late Pres. Diosdado Macapagal, who called for an investigation of the faculty after the College issued the "Arroyo Resign" statement.
In fairness, Carlota is said to have advised his colleagues about issuing the said statement. But he later acquiesced to the faculty decision and even voted in favor of the resign call.
Several weeks ago, Arroyo also appointed Dr. Romulo Davide, the older brother of SC Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. to the BOR, bringing to four the total number of Arroyo-designated regents-at-large. They now include the following:
- Nelia Gonzales, who Arroyo recently named to the consultative commission for charter change,
- Edmundo Varona, husband of Arroyo’s correspondence secretary Lourdes Varona, and
Bai Fatima Palileo-Sinsuat, the present Philippine National Red Cross governor for Mindanao and former mayor of Upi appointed by Pres. Ferdinand Marcos in the early martial law years.
Some observers are saying that Carlota was a compromise candidate. Though not identified with any cliques and described as "an academic through and through," he is however deemed to be already too senior and is expected to hold the position for only a few years until such time that Malacañang has consolidated its influence in the College.