by René B. Azurin
To believe that the “ethics” case mounted against Senator Manuel Villar is actually about ethics would mark one as refreshingly innocent. It would mean that one harbors the idealistic notion that those calling themselves “honorable” would be driven by ethically pure motives rather than by purely (impurely?) political calculations. Those not so innocent, however, would take note that the case in the Senate is being rammed through by convenient pro-administration allies of those dreaming about the presidency in 2010.
Although Mr. Villar has refused to play his assigned kontrabida role in the televised zarzuela that senators so love to stage, he has made to media a detailed presentation refuting the “double insertion” and “realignment” charges filed against him. Now whether one is convinced by his refutations or not, it should be clear that the statements of certain senators known to be ardently aspiring to be the administration-anointed successor of President Arroyo that the hearing on this case “will be objective and not based on political biases” would be, at the very least, patently suspect. Those, like me, who long ago crossed the divide between innocence and cynicism, would label the statements incredible. As it is, I am difficult to convince that those loudly proclaiming an “ethical” stance are not secretly guilty of unethical things.
A senator belonging to the 17-member pro-administration goulash in the Senate, Miriam Santiago, was unguarded enough to reveal the not-so-secret intentions of that bloc. Reporter Michael Ubac of the Inquirer quoted her the other day as saying, “The signs towards expulsion are manifest. The normal procedure of the ethics committee is to allow complaints against senators to languish. As a rule, senators are averse to judging their own colleagues.” Well, it is understandable that they are averse. A prudent rule to follow is that those who live in glass houses should not engage in stone throwing.
Why then is this case against Mr. Villar different? What is it about Mr. Villar that compels the Senate majority to take such unusual (for them) action against him?
Those who have been stripped of their blissful innocence – generally from observing politicos over a lifetime – have no trouble answering that question. It’s simple really: fear of the loss of power and wealth. The fear is that political and business plans that supposedly extend up to 2022 will be derailed or disrupted. To address that fear, there is a compelling need for the present ruling group to acquire some leverage over Mr. Villar or, failing that, to make absolutely sure that Mr. Villar does not succeed to the presidency in 2010.
Let me (a cynic who occasionally longs for a lost innocence) explain. Mr. Villar is popular enough and rich enough and organized enough to run a possibly winning presidential campaign on his own. That he does not require funding or organizational support or even command votes from the ruling politicos and their wealthy business cronies makes him the one candidate the pro-administration honchos find dangerous because they cannot currently exert control over him. The ongoing attack against him is intended to make the ruling group acquire that control, which it could conceivably do if it could successfully trade abandonment of the (contrived?) ethics charges in exchange for important concessions or if it could sufficiently damage his popularity that the votes that can be produced by their dagdag-bawas machinery becomes a useful bargaining chip. It goes without saying of course that, if they fail to obtain the control over him that they seek, they will pull out all the stops to make sure that there is no way he can win in 2010.
It is obvious to those suffering from a sad lack of innocence that pro-administration strategists would have no such problems with any of the other prospective candidates. All the other candidates lack something – whether funds or organizational machinery or popularity – that makes them vulnerable to specific enticements from those who can provide solutions to these glaring lacks. This makes them nowhere near as feared by the ruling group as Mr. Villar presently is. Scuttlebutt in fact has it that the top Malacañang strategists are privately dismissive of even currently popular presidential aspirants who posture as oppositionists because Malacañang has in its hands the levers that can make these ambitious politicos bend completely to its wishes.
We should bear in mind that installing a president who will be under the control of the present ruling group is an object of pro-administration strategy. Of course, it is still only a fallback object, meaning it has a lower priority in the administration scheme of things than changing the nation’s charter to effect a shift to the parliamentary system (to allow Mrs. Arroyo to remain head of government as Prime Minister) or manufacturing an extension of the terms of incumbent officials (possibly through a failure-of-elections scenario and the declaration of martial law). But, if these higher priority goals cannot for one reason or another be achieved, the fallback goal becomes the most important object of desire.
When the “double insertion” and “realignment” allegations were first raised over eight months ago, it was clearly in the nature of a threat. At that time, Mr. Villar was said to be under consideration by pro-administration honchos as the Malacañang candidate and it was therefore necessary to fabricate something to hold over him and make him sufficiently tractable. Apparently, the threat was not deemed serious enough or substantial enough for Mr. Villar to come to proper heel. Accordingly, Malacañang strategists have ratcheted up the threat to the current move to actually expel Mr. Villar from the Senate. As the rabidly pro-administration Mrs. Santiago points out, expulsion from the Senate can be accomplished with the vote of 16 senators – two-thirds of the membership – and the majority bloc already wields 17 votes.
From a strategic perspective, getting expelled from the Senate may be the best thing that can happen to Mr. Villar. It will certainly make it clear – to both innocent and non-innocent observers – which one, out of a number of cloying pretenders, is the true opposition candidate. It will make it clear who is – and who isn’t – truly independent of the present ruling group. It will make it clear who in truth really represents at least the possibility of change.
[This article is published by the Rizalist Press with permission from its author Rene B. Azurin. It was also published by Business World Online on Thursday, May 21, 2009 as Unethical politics--DJB]