SENATORS on Tuesday slammed President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for sounding insecure in her State of the Nation Address about her “lame-duck” status in the next three years.
“She’s being too defensive about her lame-duck status, I don’t think it was necessary for her to make those statements, much less challenge us,” Senate President Manuel Villar said in an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
In her address on Monday at the opening of the 14th Congress, the President said: “I am not an obstacle to anyone’s ambition. But make no mistake. I will not stand idly by when anyone gets in the way of the national interest and tries to block the national vision. From where I sit, I can tell you, a President is always as strong as she wants to be.”
Villar said Arroyo should be more specific about who she was referring to. “There are a lot of interpretations when she says if someone would get in the way. But we are an independent Senate, it’s not always possible for us to say yes, yes (to whatever she wants). We might do that at home, but not in the Senate,” Villar said.
The senators also demanded that Arroyo provide a categorical statement on her exit from Malacañang.
Villar said he continued to doubt Arroyo would step down and that she might prolong her stay in office through a shift to a unicameral system.
Sen. Francis Escudero said the opposition had taken Arroyo’s declaration with a grain of salt, pointing to her Rizal Day statement that she won’t seek a term extension in 2004.
Escudero said that Arroyo was probably realizing that her stay in power was nearing its end. “She feels that she is slowly becoming a lame-duck president, she has a lot of allies that have abandoned her and refused to follow her,” Escudero said in a radio interview.
Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita told the Inquirer that Arroyo wanted only to convey the message to the presidential hopefuls in 2010 that “I won’t get in your way, so don’t get in my way, too.”
“Her speech was meant to show her self-confidence, that she won’t be a lame duck. They (opposition) have to help the administration, otherwise they might not achieve what they want,” Ermita said.
Sen. Mar Roxas scored Arroyo for lavishing praise on local government officials while leaving unanswered the question of where she would get the money to bankroll their proposed infrastructure projects in the face of dwindling tax collections.
“The people deserve to know the full details of the finance department’s plan to meet its revenue shortfall. Which prime government assets will be sold, for how much and on what terms? Who are the prospective buyers? Will the bidding process be cut short just to meet the deadline?” Roxas said.
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada concurred with Roxas.
“Are we to expect another round of new taxes and increases in charges, levies, rates, duties and other fees for government services and transactions? Or are we going to borrow again? The bottom line in all these is money. The rest are just plain conversation,” Estrada said.
Sen. Loren Legarda said that she came out of the Batasang Pambansa still wondering how the President intended to achieve her targets.
“People don’t care about the projects that she wants to build, what people like Mang Ambo care about is whether there will be food on the table or not. Sadly, the President failed to address this,” said Legarda.
Quiet life planned
Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye sought to squelch speculation about Arroyo’s intentions, saying she was bent on leading a quiet life at the end of her term.
“There should also be no doubt that the President wants to end her term in 2010 with a solid foundation that her successor can continue to build on,” said Bunye.
Bunye was asked who the President was referring to toward the end of her address on Monday when she said she expected her economic programs to bear fruit and that whoever succeeded her, “he or she will have an easier time.”
‘Loren’s face lights up’
“I saw Loren’s (face) light up,” Bunye said.
Legarda is one of only two senators to twice top the senatorial races, the other being former Sen. Jovito Salonga. She is the only woman among the current crop of presidential aspirants in the Senate who include Villar, Roxas (who topped the 2004 Senate race), Richard Gordon and Francis Pangilinan.
Asked about her presidential ambition, Legarda said: “My political strength comes not from any political position, but it emanates from the Filipino people.”
Arroyo has given mixed signals on her political future. In a speech at the Subic Freeport last Wednesday, she joked: “Who knows? I may run for Congress in my hometown.”
Asked to elaborate, Bunye said the statement that Arroyo issued on Monday said it all. Later, he sent the Inquirer a transcript of Arroyo’s interview with Reuters on July 12 where she said when asked what she would do at the end of her term: “I haven’t thought that far ahead; I am only focused on governing and improving the economy.”