Thursday, October 18, 2007

Hanging Senate Awaits Alibabarroyo and the Pusillanimous House

AND THEN THERE WERE THREE: Aside from Pampanga Governor Among Ed Panlilio and Bulacan Gov. Jon Jon Mendoza, yet a third public official (Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante) has now confirmed that hundreds of thousands of pesos in brown paper gift bags were apparently distributed to EACH of 180 Congressmen and governors by Palace officials when the President called for a meeting that could've led to the ouster of House Speaker Jose de Venecia last week. The most damaging thing about Abante's testimony to media is that the distribution was done in the presence of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. (PDI)
is a game of numbers, they say. Two fractions to be precise: one third of the House of Representatives which has the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment and two thirds of the Senate, which has the sole power to acquit or convict with finality. Now of course that interloping Supreme Court of Davide's time introduced a monkey wrench into the process of holding Constitutional officers to account for their impeachable crimes by horning in on the jurisdiction of the political branch of the government to make its own Rules on impeachment. But I have a feeling that not even that silly initiation impeachment rule of theirs can stop last week's bribery scandal from blowing up in the Palace's face in an avalanche of whistleblowing and self-preserving admissions by a growing number of those who may indeed have received the alleged bribe money.

So what might cause eighty or more Congressmen from the House of Representathieves to impeach Alibabarroyo this year, when they did not do so two years in a row? After all the Hello Garci recordings and cheating in the 2004 elections were certainly as big as the ZTE and Palace bribery controversies.

Why should the arithmetic game be different now. Three factors in increasing order of necessity and sufficiency to bring about a successful impeachment in the Lower House:

(1) The Catholic Bishops seem to have ended their own pusillanimity in regard to impeaching Arroyo because not only is the prime whistleblower one of their own, (Catholic priest Ed Panlilio), but at least two of their own (Bishop Soc Villegas and Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales) have been implicated in the strong-arming of Vidal Doble in that infamous San Carlos Seminary incident along with Palace operator Medy Poblador. The Men in Skirts need to do something to save themselves now from the public perception of complicity in a dastardly plot to save the President.

(2) House Speaker Jose de Venecia appears to have broken ranks with Arroyo after his son Joey de Venecia III started all this with his hair-raising revelations of Benjamin Abalos' role in ZTE. On Manolo Quezon's The Explainer tv show last Tuesday, and Pia Hontiveros' Strictly Politics the same evening, JDV announced that he was calling for a Moral Revolution to cleanse the country of corruption. Even as he declared humbly that he himself was "not without sin" JDV called on the President to do a top-down revamp of the government and become the "greatest President in Philippine history". He also called the Pulido impeachment complaint a sham, bribery-tainted thing and explained that that was why he refused to refer it to the Justice Committee.

(3) But perhaps the factor that will indeed tip the scales and produce the required one third minority in the House is the existence of a Hanging Senate, that is, an Upper House with the requisite two thirds of the Members ready to convict. Much of the evidence needed to convict is already in the Senate joint committees investigating the Hello Garci and ZTE National Broadband Network controversies, or soon will be if and when Romulo Neri is forced to testify to what he knows about the President's wrong-doings in the latter. The President may lose a key ally in the Senate too, as Miriam Defensor Santiago yesterday announced that she is seeking a one year leave of absence to campaign for a seat on the International Court of Justice.

This last factor is the most important in my opinion because I think it is now a cardinal rule of the impeachment calculus in the Philippine setup that without a high probability, (if not virtual certainty), that a given sitting Senate will convict upon impeachment trial, the Lower House will never initiate a case of impeachment. It would be political suicide. as that would only be slitting their own throat if the President were to be acquitted. That lesson was learned in the 2001 Senate impeachment trial of President Joseph Estrada, wherein the Constitution had to be wantonly violated and a military-backed coup d'etat carried out by Chief Justice Davide and Chief Prosecutor Joker Arroyo to install GMA and save themselves after it turned out they didn't have the numbers in the Senate.

That of course may be the big difference now, since the May 2007 midterm elections has evidently created a solidly oppositionist Senate. There is nothing like a nearly sure-ball conviction to turn the House's pusillanimity into statesmanship and bravado.

No comments: