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Unimpeachable logic

(Following is a reprint of an editorial in the June 29 issue of the Asian Wall Street Journal).

IF Bill Clinton thought his impeachment proceeding diverted him from more pressing matters of state, he certainly wouldn’t want to step foot in Manila. There, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is facing her third impeachment hearing in a year. While it isn’t likely to succeed, the circus doesn’t bode well for the Philippines, where policy makers have other important problems to focus on.

The tussle started last June, when Ms. Arroyo’s political opponents led by Samuel Ong, former deputy director of the National Bureau of Investigation, leveled charges of vote-rigging and corruption against the President. The complaint was tossed out as unsubstantiated. The second attempt, in September, was dismissed in a technicality—you can’t impeach the President more than once annually. Now the opposition parties are trying again.

Luckily for Ms. Arroyo, her party, Lakas, and its coalition partners control the House of Representatives, where a majority of members would have to pass an impeachment motion to move it along. There’s little reason to believe this will happen. That prospect has enraged opposition members like the Bayan Muna Party’s Teddy Casiño, who suggested to the Associated Press on Monday that a “forcible ouster through people power” was possible.

Well, there’s a bad idea. A military coup was already defused earlier this year. And political upheaval is a big reason why many Filipinos still vote with their feet. From the Marcos scandals in the 1980s to the Estrada boot in 2001, many Filipinos realize that their prospects are better elsewhere. Last year some 900,000 left the country for work abroad, up 3.9 percent over the previous year. Nearly 20 percent of the Philippines’ GDP is based on remittances from expatriates.

The irony is Ms. Arroyo hasn’t done all that badly of late. Tax revenues are up, as is foreign direct investment. And the economy is expected to grow 5.5 percent ot 6.2 percent this year. The Manila stock market has barely budged on the recent political turmoil.

Still, the opposition parties want more—although it’s unclear what, exactly, that is. All that they seem to advocate is Ms. Arroyo’s swift removal, which would imply that—in the short term, at least—Vice President Noli de Castro, a former television broadcaster, would assume the presidency. After that, who knows—the opposition parties don’t boast a strong leader, either.

In any event, the Philippines has an effective mechanism for choosing its president. It’s called an election, and the next one will take place in May 2010. In the meantime, there are other issues that policy makets and lawmakers would do well to focus on. The New People’s Army, Asia’s longest-running insurgency, has stepped up attacks recently. Economic competition is fierce from neighboring countries. And Manila is basically a footnote in Asian strategic dialogues.

The Philippines should, in theory, have unique advantages in the global market—as an English-speaking democracy with ample natural resource. If Manila’s politicians could stop squabbling long enough, they’d realize that there are bigger things to worry about.

courtesy of The Manila Times


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