[Manila, Philippines] A group which calls itself "Omerta," composed of representatives of business groups and Catholic Church leaders as well as representatives of celebrated personalities, came together and met formally early this month to fine tune the plan to "constitutionally" oust President Estrada under "Oplan Excelsis."
This was disclosed to the Tribune by a highly reliable source with access to two members of the group.
Present in subsequent meetings, reportedly held in the premises of the Archbishop's Palace in Mandaluyong City and a home in Forbes Park were constitutionalists as well as former officials, such as a former central bank governor, a former Commission on Elections official and a representative of a Church based group who is involved in elections.
"The plan was hatched shortly after the election of (President) Estrada," the source, who insisted on not being identified at all costs, said. "Most of them felt that if (Mr.) Estrada is made to finish his term without causing too much damage to the economy, it would be a signal to the Filipino people that showbiz people and other popular personalities becoming president would be the new trend."
There have been at least two instances when the resign-Estrada plan was put into effect, but the group realized that the time was not yet ripe as the resign movement did not fly in those two instances.
The group felt that with the exposé of Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis "Chavit" Singson, the plan should be set in operation.
The plot to unseat the Chief Executive is contained in a sheaf of papers in a brown manila envelope with the words "Oplan Excelsis" written on it.
The documents, which were copies of some scribbled notes and e-mail notes as well as some typewritten notes were shown to the Tribune, but the source did not allow the writer to have of these to be made. He claimed the group would know who the leak was.
It was also made clear by the source, a businessman close to the group, that the copy shown was still in draft form.
Oplan Excelsis presents various scenarios under Plan A and a Plan B with Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the picture, to give the ouster plot a constitutional flavor.
Oplan Excelsis outlines short-term, medium-term and long-term scenarios.
In the short-term scenario, the plan of action calls for a Church leader and business executive, representing the business group, to convince Arroyo to cut her ties with the President by resigning her post, using as reason, the charges made by Singson. Pressure would be built up by these groups to call for the resignation of Mr. Estrada, in support of Arroyo's succession to the presidency.
Rallies are to be utilized to step up the pressure for the President to resign.
The source pointed out that the signal for Arroyo to cut her ties with Mr. Estrada would be the issuance of the pastoral letter from the Church.
It was no coincidence that Arroyo was in Rome, for a papal visit, which was earlier arranged by Catholic prelates, the Tribune source said. Even before she left for Rome, her possible links with suspected illegal gambling lord Rodolfo Pineda were discussed and covered by the group, the source said, pointing out that Arroyo was quoted by the media as saying she had gone to Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin to seek his counsel in standing as godmother to a child of the Pinedas.
HOW LEFT-LEANING GROUPS WILL BE HANDLED
After Mr. Estrada resigns, the left-leaning groups will be dealt with by raising the specter of chaos and anarchy with the constant demonstrations being staged by the militant groups on their own.
"The group knows how to deal with these activists," the source said. They were used by the business and Church groups during the Marcos years and were quickly eliminated after Cory Aquino became president.
This is the reason, the source said, it was important for this group to create the semblance of a constitutional succession.
Under the short-term scenario, following constitutional provisions, upon the resignation of the President, the Vice President takes over the reins of government. As Arroyo's ascension creates a vacancy in the second highest position in the country, under constitutional rules, a vice president will be chosen by Congress from among its members, voting separately.
Article VII, Section 8 of the Constitution states: "In case of death, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignation by the President, the Vice President shall become the President to serve the unexpired term..."
Section 9 states: "Whenever there is a vacancy in the Office of the Vice President during the term for which he was elected, the President shall nominate a Vice President from among the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives who shall assume office upon confirmation by the majority vote of all the members of both houses of Congress, voting separately."
Four names were submitted for group's table disccusion on the possible candidate for the vice presidency under a snap resignation scenario: Senators Serge Osmeña III, Ramon Magsaysay Jr. and Raul Roco. A fourth, former defense chief Renato de Villa, could not be accomodated as he was not a member of Congress. His name crops up again, however, in the medium-term scenario.
ROCO DIFFICULT TO CONTROL
The source said that a unanimous vote was taken and Roco was ruled out as the constitutional successor as he was considered "a wild card" and may prove difficult for the group "to control."
The group also decided it was time for Filipinos to do away with the politicians and putting Roco in as a Vice President will not change the picture. With a non-politician as Vice President and eventually President, it will be easier to change the Filipino "culture" of electing popular political leaders and usher in Presidents coming from the business sector or Presidents who are backed by business groups and the Church.
Either Osmeña or Magsaysay as the Congress-elected vice president was acceptable to the group on the short-term.
The deal made with Arroyo, the source said, includes the acceptance of Omerta group's condition that the majority of her Cabinet members will be vetted by the group.
This condition is being made to ensure that the Omerta group will exercise control over Arroyo, as President.
Another constitutional provision was cited by the group. Section VII, Article 11 states that "when the majority of all the members of the Cabinet transmit to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President."
The snap resignation plan calls for a time frame up till mid to end November.
SEEKING U.S. SUPPORT
The group has reportedly planned on seeking the support of the new American president, to apply pressure on Mr. Estrada to resign.
At the moment, it is difficult to seek US President Clinton's support for the Estrada ouster, as Mr. Estrada is said to still have the support of Mark Jimenez, who has access to both President Clinton and members of the US Congress. Mr. Clinton, moreover, cannot argue strongly for their case as he himself refused to step down from the presidency and faced an impeachment trial in the US Senate.
Part of the plan that calls for US support has a member of the group offering Jimenez a way out of his extradition case, in exchange for his support of the group's plan to secure the support of Gore, should he win the elections or the George Bush's group of Republicans, should Bush win.
It was pointed out by the source that the time frame for the resignation of Mr. Estrada was inadvertently leaked out by Singson when he told reporters that the President would be stepping down shortly after the US elections.
Jimenez and Singson are friends
RENATO DE VILLA AS V.P.
A preferred scenario not falling under the snap resignation of Oplan Excelsis has former Defense chief Renato de Villa as the Vice President under a separate plan of action.
Under the plan, with the ascension of Arroyo, de Villa takes the defense portfolio, after which, he runs for a seat in the Senate in 2001 with the support of the Church and business groups. He is then elected by a new Congress as the new Vice President, to serve the appointed term until 2004, when he runs for the presidency, backed up by the same group. This scenario has the Congress appointed Vice President resigning to run for a seat in the Senate, which leaves a new vacancy in the Office of the Vice President.
A new Congress will then have to elect among its members, voting separately, a new Vice President in the person of De Villa.
ARROYO DOES NOT FIGURE IN OMERTA'S LONG-TERM SCENARIO
Arroyo does not figure in the long-term scenario as both business and the Church groups are not too comfortable with her as President, since she too, is vulnerable to charges of having links with gambling lords like Pineda. Moreover, the source said that the Vice President's spouse, Mike Arroyo, may prove to be a liability during her incumbency. The source revealed that discussions among group members centered on past reports of unexplained wealth in properties acquired abroad that may crop when she is President.
It was pointed out by the source that the members of Omerta or the code of silence, worried about the left-leaning groups who not only have been demanding the resignation of Mr. Estrada but also the resignation of Arroyo.
The Omerta group, the source said, does not favor a repeat of the Estrada-resign plot under the term of Arroyo.
The group envisions Arroyo to only serve the remaining term of Mr. Estrada, but since the tem she will have served would be less than four years, she can, in 2004, run for the presidency, which would mean an Arroyo presidency for nine and a half years, a time considered by the group as too long for a President who is, moreover, not its preferred choice.
This is the reason, the source said, that De Villa must be positioned in the direct line of constitutional succession.
For this to happen, he must run for the Senate and be appointed Vice President by the new Congress in preparation for the 2004 presidential elections.
WHY RAMOS DIDN'T CHOSE DE VILLA IN '98
In the 1998 presidential election, the same Church and business groups pushed the candidacy of De Villa and worked to have former President Fidel Ramos anoint him as the Lakas standard-bearer.
Ramos, it was further disclosed by the source, could have done so, but pointedly chose Jose de Venecia instead as he was allegedly irked with the business and church groups for "embarrassing" him with the anti-Charter change rallies.
Ramos, the source said, bent over backwards to "facilitate business deals involving some members of these groups and anointing De Venecia was his way of dealing with his anger at the business men and church leaders.
DESTRUCTION OF GMA AND SINGSON
The mid-term scenario calls for a destruction of Arroyo through exposes and propaganda just before the 2004 presidential election, to pave the way for a De Villa presidency through the ballot, or barring this, a Serge Osmena presidency.
Included in the mid term plan, with the Church and business group's choice of Vice President installed, is the ordering of charges to be filed against the Ilocos Sur governor to show the public that the new government means business.
BIG BUSINESS AND THE CHURCH CONTROLS PHILIPPINE POLITICS
With the ascension of De Villa (first choice) or Osmeña (second choice) as president of the republic, it will be big business and the Church which will exercise a powerful influence in Philippine politics.
It would have been established by the Omerta group that no Philippine president can survive the presidency without the support of business and the Church.
WHAT IF ERAP DOESN'T RESIGN?
Plan B of Oplan Excelsis comes into operation should President Estrada refuse to resign. The impeachment process is speeded up by Congress as pressure is stepped up by the group and its supporters.
The idea is to ensure that the impeachment process is discredited by the anti-Estrada forces in order to effect the removal of the President, even if he is acquitted by a Senate trial, should it come to this.
After the impeachment process would have been played out, there will be continued demonstrations to pressure the President to resign.
In the event that the group fails to mobilize support for its call to get the President to resign, with or without the impeachment process played out, there is yet another scenario that calls for the President and the business groups to enter into a modus vivendi, one that has the President turning over all economic power to an existing economic group, with a few changes in membership.
All government contracts as well as all economic decisions will be arrived at solely by this economic group.
Omerta, the source said, will always have any President of the Philippines at its mercy.
Cacho-Olivares. "Oust Estrada plot bared: Business, Church group behind 'Oplan Excelsis' ".The Daily Tribune. 30 Oct. 2000. Originally posted in . Republished in http://www.network54.com/Forum/5345/viewall-page-213