BizNews Asia/December 13 – December 20, 2004
Why Angara Met with GMA
Just before leaving for Germany last October, Senator Edgardo Angara had a private meeting with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in her sprawling Forbes Park home. Present at the meeting were Senate President Frank Drilon and House Speaker Jose de Venecia, who arranged the conversation. The three-hour tete-a-tete triggered speculations that Angara was joining the cabinet and abandoning the opposition. In this privilege speech delivered Nov. 16, 2004 on the Senate floor, the opposition leader explains why he agreed to talk Arroyo:
I rise on a matter of personal and collective privilege. Personal because in the past week, the media and even politicians, some of them my friends in this chamber, have been going to town on me. Collective because the issue involves this chamber and the continuing role of an opposition in government, as opposed to outright opposition to all government regardless.
Immediately after my return from Berlin, I was interviewed by media about my meeting with the President.
I just told them the truth, plain and simple. Yet nothing I said to clarify the issues and correct the mistake stories appears to have influenced the continuing distortion of the facts and the issues.
Did I meet with the President before I left for abroad? The answer is yes.
Did I accept a cabinet position? The answer is no. Was a position even offered? Again the answer is no.
Did the meeting itself compromise my position in the opposition? It certainly did not. Then what really happened? Let me explain. The President has been trying to get in contact with me – and I’m sure with many others in this chamber – since the election and way before the controversial canvass was finished.
The badgering continued after the canvass started but I still refused to meet. It was unseemly though that was the ideal time to meet for a real opportunist because the President was still unsure of the outcome.
But the outcome was not something I would ever talk about with her. Congress had yet to determine who won a hotly contested election that was too close to call. To this day, we have an election protest continuing.
In that canvass, Senator Nene Pimentel and I led the real opposition in a good fight – a fight that continues to shape how the public views the government today.
It was that perception that was behind repeated public calls by the President for a government of national unity, and repeated requests in private to meet her.
But I still declined.
She was proclaimed President.
The requests to meet with her from emissaries, some of whom may have been self-appointed, continued.
I made it clear to them that I was not interested in horse-trading of any kind. But I was concerned about where the country was going and recalled to them how some sort of critical collaboration between the legislative and executive branches – and within the legislative, between government and opposition – had made the first years of the equally controversial election victory of Fidel V. Ramos a success.
Without any prompting from a president narrowly elected, and who was still feeling his way, I offered FVR a framework for cooperation while continuing in opposition.
I called for the first ever Senate workshop in Tagaytay from which 24 serious proposals emanated.
President Ramos was delighted and wanted to run with them immediately. I stopped him. I told him he needed a broader consensus. So he convened a national summit. The proposals grew to 75. He asked me to cull them to a manageable level. I brought them down to 13, all of which became laws such as the New Bangko Sentral Act, lifting the barriers to entry into the banking system, lifting restrictions on foreign investments, restructuring the educational system, establishing PhilHealth, among others. In short, liberating the potential of the economy and the Filipino people.
This is what I had in mind if I would meet with the President: not horse-trading but sharing of the burden of serious government across the board, and only on structured and principled lines.
My colleagues here know me. I seldom talk. I do no waste people’s time with empty air. I prefer solid and substantive work to making empty threats or promises.
I made it clear to the speaker of the House – who arranged the meeting – I envisioned not a trading of favors but a principled framework within which any cooperation by the opposition with the government should take place.
To that meeting, I had insisted that the Senate President be invited. I was very clear in my mind about how the opposition might cooperate with government while continuing to fiscalize.
With that understanding, I went to the meeting with the President, with Senate President Drilon and Speaker Joe de Venecia present.
At the meeting, the President made repeated pleas for a government of national unity. It was not clear to me what she meant by it.
She did mention the possibility of the opposition nominating people in her cabinet.
I asked if she could be clearer about what she meant. I told her that I did not want to get her wrong because I fully intended to talk about this meeting with Senator Pimentel, our minority leader who had fought along side me in the canvassing of the presidential election votes.
I reminded the President of how we – she and I and others in the opposition to Ramos – had cooperated with that President along structured and principled lines. She remembered. She thanked me for having taken here into a useful collaboration that redounded to the nation’s benefit.
The talk went around and around in that way, never progressing any farther than her desire for a government of national unity about which however she gave no clear details. But I made it clear to her from start to finish that a government of national unity cannot be reduced to a bi-partisan sharing in the spoils of her victory, as some people hope, but only a critical collaboration for effective government, combined with continuing fiscalizing for good government.