BizNews Asia/December 13 – December 20, 2004

Why Angara Met with GMA

Angara Met With GMAJust 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.

AngaraPresident 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.

Let me make it clear. I did not ask for nor did she offer me a Cabinet post. Therefore I had no offer even to decline.

But am I planning to leave the Senate at all?

Let me say this first, I wish to be in that place where I can be of most use to my country.

It was from the Senate that I was able to serve my country best in an opposition that was also in critical collaboration with the government in the time of Ramos.

After the meeting, I left for Berlin. There I became more convinced than ever that we must come to some terms of cooperation with a government that seems have lost its way.

For thinking hard about our country’s problems, for exploring all possibilities of helping the country rather than just limiting myself to hurting the government, I have been call an opportunist – even by those who should know me better.

No one has come to my defense, even those who owe their presence here today in part to my leadership of the opposition in the last election.

There are many here who did not believe an opposition slate had hope in hell of winning in the last election. But we did not do so badly, did we? And those who had never won now sit here without any controversy regarding their election.

I have never been an opportunist but I have tried never to miss a chance to serve my country. There is another word for that, but it is not opportunism.

I believe that this is not only the responsible way for the opposition to proceed but the sensible one as well. The only way the opposition will finally win elections in this country is by showing people how good it is at helping to govern the country well, even in opposition, and not how good it is at just tearing down a government and country along with it.

This is a time to build and not to keep on tearing down.

We may not like the design, we may not trust the architect, but we need to be a part of the construction so that somehow and somewhere we can make a difference for the better in how it all finally turns out.

I am stunned that thinking this way – believing that it is better to help our country than to hurt our political enemies – should be so grossly and unfairly misrepresented, and should invite so much malicious comment and reckless disregard for the truth, as to make me believe that there are people who would rather get even, than get this country going again. I just cannot be like them.

And if that is opportunism, so be it.

But this I know: the place from which I can make the best difference is in the Senate. It was before; it will be so again.

I believe that I have done a lot and achieved enough. I have been through too much; I have seen too many things; and have learned a great deal to ever serve under another president.

I know where I can be most use to my country, and that is from the Senate, which was and ever shall be, with even just a few good men, the last best hope of our country.

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