Just more than a week before the state-of-the-nation address (SONA), opposition members of Congress are busy maneuvering to ensure that someone else will stand before them in next year’s SONA.
BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
It is only 10 days before the second session of the 13th Congress opens on July 25. Ordinarily, many of the congressmen and senators would have been preoccupied with dressing up and looking good for the highly-publicized state-of-the-nation address (SONA).
This SONA however is different.
Solons are busy gearing up for the Congress’ possibly second impeachment trial, the wheelings and dealings for which are expected to intensify when session resumes with the president’s address. The first one was in late 2000 when it held the Estrada impeachment trials. The collapse of the impeachment triggered the second people’s revolt that led to the president’s ouster.
Preparing for battle
An impeachment complaint against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has been filed by Oliver Lozano, a lawyer of the Marcoses, and another lawyer, Jose Lopez. Ironically, the complaint has been endorsed by two administration congressmen, Antonio Alvarez and Rodante Marcoleta of Alagad party-list.
This led opposition congressmen to warn that the complaint could only be a ploy by Arroyo supporters as the impeachment would not gain ground because the House minority bloc did not have the numbers.
But the opposition could well have the upper hand this time, Rep. Satur Ocampo of the party-list Bayan Muna (people first) observed.
“We took the challenge of the majority bloc (to file the impeachment),” Ocampo said in a Bulatlat interview. He said the various factions of the opposition are now consulting with one another to form an “impeachment team.”
Realizing that the impeachment process will in the main be a “battle of lawyers,” the opposition congressmen have also sought the services of lawyers who have agreed to provide legal experties, pro bono.
Being contemplated as the four main bases for impeachment are betrayal of public thrust, culpable violation of the Constitution, graft and corruption and bribery.
The controversial wiretapped conversations between the president and Commission on Election (Comelec) official Virgilio Garcillano that reportedly prove that the former rigged the May 2004 elections would be one of the evidences for the charges of betrayal of public thrust and culpable violation of the Constitution.
In an interview with Bulatlat, Marcoleta said the president’s admission that hers was the woman’s voice on the tape is already the highest form of evidence.
The alleged malversation of public funds from PhilHealth and the Department of Agriculture’s Masaganang Ani (bountiful harvest) project would be some of the bases for graft and corruption.
Sen. Franklin Drilon, who has called for the resignation of Macapagal-Arroyo, also said overpricing of the China-funded rehabilitation of the North Railway system could also be grounds for her impeachment.
As commander-in chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Macapagal-Arroyo will also be tried for command responsibility in the killings of political activists, religious personalities and lawyers. The most probable cases to be highlighted are the double-murder of human rights worker Eden Marcellana and peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy in April 2003.
Ocampo said the impeachment proceedings will be “a developmental process” as they are still in the stage of identifying witnesses and evidences against the president. They are confident that more persons will come forward as the proceedings prosper, he said.
Ocampo likened this situation with that of the impeachment case against Estrada where the evidences were at first thin but thickened with the expose’ by then Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis “Chavit” Singson of alleged illegal gambling payoffs for Estrada.
In the presentation of evidences, Ocampo said Vice President Noli de Castro may also find himself facing a separate impeachment as evidences of manipulation of election results are also being verified.
The 10 Cabinet members who have resigned their posts and called on the president to resign may also be strong witnesses against the president. They have already expressed their willingness to spill the beans if they are called to do so, a national daily has reported.
Meanwhile, opposition congressmen are now busy campaigning among their colleagues to endorse the impeachment complaint. As of press time, Ocampo said they are 12 names short of completing the required 78 votes (1/3 of the 236-member House) before the Articles of Impeachment can be endorsed to the Senate.
Presently, the House count voting on the impeachment is as follows: formal minority, 28; Liberal Party (LP) 22 out of 34; progressive party-list, 6; other party-lists, 7; and at least three from the majority (Reps. Clavel Martinez, Rolio Golez and Edmundo Reyes).
Rep. Benigno Aquino III, scion of the Cojuangco-Aquino clan in Tarlac, confirmed in an interview that a significant number of LP congressmen are for impeachment. He however denied reports that his mother, former President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino, is campaigning among House members to sign the impeachment complaint.
Aquino also said he was not entertaining thoughts of taking the House speakership from Rep. Jose de Venecia. Reports were that the Tarlac congressman would vote for the impeachment after opposition lawmakers offered him the speaker’s post.
If the votes for initiating the impeachment are less than one-third, the case would be deliberated upon by the House Committee on Justice.
Ocampo said this deliberation could take long since the committee is dominated by administration congressmen.
Seen as the next major arena of battle is the House Committee on Rules which would deliberate on the rules of the impeachment proceedings.
In a press conference July 11 at the Senate, Drilon and his two other party-mates from the Liberal Party, Sens. Rodolfo Biazon and Majority Floor Leader Francis Pangilinan, said they will “support any impeachment that will come out of the House” as it is constitutional.
The three senators bolted out of the majority bloc in the Senate last week and called on the president to resign. But Drilon clarified they have not joined the minority bloc and would rather call themselves as “fiscalizers.”
With this development, there are now 10 administration solons in the Senate, 10 minority and three “fiscalizers.” However, these numbers may change as news floated that in the next few days Sens. Juan Flavier and Ramon Magsaysay Jr., both members of the majority, may be swayed by Drilon to jump fence.
Bulatlat tried to contact the two senators to confirm the reports but has been unable to reach them. Their offices however confirmed the two have talked with Drilon over lunch July 12.
While in the earlier stages of the impeachment move administration congressmen thought the minority would not dare endorse an impeachment complaint, now Malacañang (the presidential palace) is staging a counter-campaign to dissuade the congressmen from voting for the impeachment.
Rep. Rolex Suplico of the opposition has publicly announced that money from the palace has flowed like rain in the House to make sure that the opposition does not get the required 78 votes.
“What they are doing now is to prevent the impeachment from prospering,” Ocampo said.
But, he said, it is expected that majority legislators would offer incentives to the members of the minority, bribe them or offer key positions in the different House committees which shall be reorganized for the second session.
The Bayan Muna representative revealed that during the deliberations of the Expanded Value Added Tax (E-Vat) the release of funds allotted to congressmen depended of how they would vote.
When the palace learned some administration congressmen would vote “by conscience,” they got phone calls from palace officials, Ocampo said. As a result, some lawmakers opted to be absent to avoid skirmishes with the rest of the majority.
The party-list congressman stressed that the impeachment procedures should not dampen the campaigns for Macapagal-Arroyo’s ouster, however. “The mass protests are still the most reliable means of ousting the president,” he said. Bulatlat