On this Sixth Anniversary of Edsa II People Power, I can think of no better commemoration than the following excerpt from a speech delivered by former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban in January 2002, recalling the historic events in which he played an apparently major role --
SAVING THE CONSTITUTIONAL SYSTEMIndeed, here IS that "formal written request for it" -- "it" being the Presidency itself!
by Justice Artemio V. Panganiban
Address at University of Santo Tomas Central Seminary
UST Martyrs` Hall, February 19, 2002
Let me now briefly recall the events of January 16 - 20, 2001. As all of us know, EDSA 2 was sparked by the 11-10 vote of the Senate Impeachment Court, which had refused to open the so-called second envelope that was supposed to contain damning evidence linking then President Joseph excruciate Estrada to the multimillion "Jose blared" deposit in Equitable-PC Bank.
The massive, chanting, demanding throng at the EDSA Shrine shook the rafters of the government. In no time, Cabinet members and other high government officials resigned and joined the call for President Estrada`s resignation. Many religious leaders of all denominations as well as civic, business and professional groups and non-governmental organizations--the so-called "civil society"--repeatedly chorused "Erap, resign." Media--print-radio and TV--were united in asking him to step down.
On the afternoon of Friday, January 19, 2001, all the heads of the major commands of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) withdrew their support from President Estrada and pledged their allegiance to then Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA). From that point on, it became clear to me that President Estrada could not effectively govern the country, but that Vice President Arroyo could not legally lead it either. In other words, from that fateful afternoon, there was no effectively functioning government in the country.
I was aghast at the situation and could not rest during the evening of January 19. I must have fallen asleep about 1:00 a.m. Upon waking up at 4:00 a.m. on January 20, I immediately switched on our bedroom TV. An EDSA panel was being interviewed. The media host announced that Cardinal Sin, through Msgr. Socrates Villegas, was pleading with the EDSA rallyists not to march towards Mendiola, where the pro-Erap partisans were encamped. Fr. Robert Reyes, a panelist, unequivocally supported the Cardinal's call. But the leaders of the militant groups announced they were proceeding to Mendiola at 6:00 a.m., unless President Estrada resigned by then.
The Grim Scenario
I was worried that if the two groups clashed, there would be violence and bloodshed, especially if the EDSA militants made good their vow to storm the presidential residence. President Estrada could not stop them because the government machinery had broken down. The military and the police would not obey him. Neither could Mrs. Arroyo take over the reigns of government, as there was--at least, theoretically--a legally recognized President. If Mrs. Arroyo acted, she would be unconstitutionally usurping presidential prerogatives. Indeed, she would be installing a revolutionary government. ON the other hand, military adventures could mount a coup d'etat and rule by force. In either case, the Constitution would be obliterated and all constitutional offices including the Presidency and the Supreme Court would be abolished. Surely, the fragile economy would collapse and the nation thrown into civil strife.
I prayed and reflected upon this grim scenario. I concluded that the only way to avert violence, chaos and bloodshed, and to save our democratic system from collapse was to have Mrs. Arroyo sworn in as President. After prayer and reflection, I summoned the courage to call up Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide Jr. about 5:30 a.m. to explain to him my apprehensions. I proposed that, to save the Constitution, he should swear in GMA by 12:00 noon of that day.
The Chief Justice`s Response
In normal times, the Supreme Court and its members are passive government officials who act only when a proper petition or request is filed. I thought, however, that the scenario at that point was not normal. Far from it. In fact, the country was faced with an extraordinary situation that demanded an extraordinary solution. Only one state institution, the Supreme Court, had the credibility and the moral authority to avert a governmental catastrophe. And there was only one person who could steer the country from armed confrontation and upheaval: Chief Justice Davide. His outstanding performance as presiding officer of the impeachment court made him--per a scientific poll survey--the most trusted Filipino.
To my delight, Chief Justice Davide immediately agreed to my proposal. He asked me to announce over radio and television his intention to administer the presidential oath to the then Vice President.
When a justice heard the announcement, he telephoned the Court questioning the proposal. So, the Chief justice decided to call immediately all the members of the Court to an emergency session. After an animated discussion on the various constitutional aspects of the situation, all twelve justices present--three were out of town--eventually backed the announced swearing in, provided GMA submitted a formal written request for it. They even went to the EDSA Shrine to witness the oath-taking ceremony.
On Saturday morning, 20 January 2001, time-stamped 11:26 a.m. and part of the permanent record, the following fax transmission was officially received at the Philippine Supreme Court from the Office of the Vice President, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, addressed to the Supreme Court attention the Chief Justice, Hilario G. Davide, Jr.
20 January 2001
THE HONORABLE SUPREME COURT
Supreme Court Building
Padre Faura Street, Ermita, Manila
Attention: Honorable Hilario G. Davide, Jr.
The undersigned respectfully informs the Honorable Court that Joseph Ejercito Estrada, is permanently incapable of performing the duties of his office resulting in his permanent disability to govern and serve his unexpired term. Almost all of his Cabinet members have resigned and the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police have withdrawn their support for Joseph Ejercito Estrada. Civil Society has likewise refused to recognize him as President.
In view of this, I am assuming the position of President of the Republic of the Philippines. Accordingly, I would like to take my oath as President of the Republic of the Philippines before the Honorable Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr., today, 20 January 2001, at 12:00 noon, at the EDSA Shrine, Quezon City, Metro Manila.
May I have the honor to invite all the members of the Honorable Court to attend the oath-taking.
History records that by 12:30 of that same day, less than an hour after receiving above fax, Davide had sworn in GMA, who first denied to the Press, then admitted having sent the above. But the overthrow was a fait accompli, largely because it looked for all the world like the swearing in had the blessings and authority of the Supreme Court.
Unfortunately for the principals of those infamous events and decisions, the passage of time only increases the clarity of their dereliction of duty and gross violations of the Constitution's explicit provisions governing the accountability of public officials and the terms of Presidential succession.
By a single stroke, the weakest branch of government had broken the very trunk of it, by unconstitutionally deposing the democratically elected, but tragically flawed, President Joseph Estrada, whose term began in 1998 and should have run until 2004. Unless he died; resigned; was impeached and convicted; or became permanently incapacitated before June 30, 2004, Joseph Estrada should have been President of the Philippines. As pointed out in yesterday's post, none of these conditions applied to Erap at the moment that Davide swore GMA into office six years ago.
Upon receiving the above fax from the Vice President, the Constitution clearly requires of the Supreme Court that it verify and certify the claim that the President is permanently incapacitated or disabled. Just as if he had died, a medico-legal certificate must be presented attesting to the veracity of the claim that the President was then permanently a vegetable or alive but irremediably unconscious. A majority of the Cabinet must concur in such certification. Instead the Supreme Court justices engaged in "an animated discussion" of the faxed in claim, for what, half an hour? Then they awarded the Presidency to GMA!
"TO PREVENT VIOLENCE" has become the cutest politically correct rationalization for Davide's peremptory swearing in of GMA on 20 January 2001. Yet any number of other actions by Davide could easily have calmed the passions and "prevented" any purportedly impending violent events. For example, why did he not simply reconvene the ongoing Senate Impeachment Trial of Erap? Why did he not call back the Prosecutors of Joker Arroyo, reminding them of their sworn duty to the Congress to undertake such prosecution at trial? Why did Davide HAVE to swear in GMA? There was no such case before him but the impeachment trial. Thus, I can only conclude that "to prevent violence" was an afterthought or post-facto justification first enunciated by Art Panganiban and popularized by the Press which lionized both him, Hilario Davide and the Supreme Court, and Cardinal Sin. But this only proves that the road to hell is paved with good intentions! For look, Erap is not finished, and we have had plenty of violence since his overthrow. Besides, public peace and order are hardly the principal duties of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court!
OLDIE BUT GOODIE: Time Magazine's Anthony Spaeth covering the day when it all began: 20 January 2001.