Is the President Digging Her Own Grave?

Juggling between reconciliation efforts and obvious attempts to kill the impeachment procedure in Congress, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is throwing all cautions into the wind to be able to cling to power. Is she gaining ground or losing it?

BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
Bulatlat.com

Political analysts, progressive congressmen and the spokesperson of a middle-force movement agree that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s reconciliation efforts with certain opposition figures led by two former presidents – Corazon Aquino and Joseph Estrada – will not work. They also warn that any move by administration congressmen to kill the impeachment complaint against the President will be like digging her own political grave.

Impeachment proceedings have been initiated in the House of Representatives against the president for electoral fraud and other offenses. In the amended complaint filed by opposition and party-list congressmen and a group of people’s organizations, the charge sheet points to culpable violation of the Constitution; bribery; graft and corruption; and betrayal of public trust.

Interviewed by Bulatlat this week, Rep. Clavel Martinez (Second District, Cebu) said Macapagal-Arroyo’s reason for reconciling with Estrada is illegal.

Newspaper reports say Estrada, the ousted president who is facing plunder charges in the Sandiganbayan, is being offered release from detention on recognizance in exchange for his withdrawal of support to the campaign to oust Macapagal-Arroyo. “In a plunder case, there is no such thing as recognizance,” the third-term lady representative said. “More so, in such a case, even bail has been denied.”

“That is all for public consumption in order to pacify the people and make it appear that she is really reaching out,” Martinez, one of the House prosecutors in the impeachment of Estrada in 2000, said. “But it’s a whole lot of baloney.”

“Connivance of two crooks”

Dr. Darby Santiago, spokesperson of the middle force alliance White Ribbon Movement (WRM), also condemns the reconciliation efforts saying it is but “a connivance of two crooks which aims to fool the Filipino people.”

One of the younger progressive congressmen, Rep. Erin Tañada, (First District, Quezon) also warned that any reconciliation between the ruling class would not effect a genuine political change. If the aim of reconciliation is to move forward, he said, it should answer the primordial question of “what’s in it for the marginalized sectors?”

On the other hand, political analyst and University of the Philippines (UP) Prof. Luis Teodoro said that the reconciliation effort of the president is doubled-edged which may leave the president blood-dry.

“It could pacify the Estrada forces but it will surely enrage the members of the middle class who were one of the pivotal forces that threw Estrada out of the Palace in 2001,” Teodoro told Bulatlat.

Due process

The president had earlier tried to gain ground by agreeing to settle all charges against her through impeachment. Current proceedings in the House Committee on Justice (CoJ) show however that the president’s declaration is all just a show and that in fact her political allies appear to be under instructions to kill the impeachment.

Even House Minority Floor Leader Francis Escudero, in a forum in University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City on Aug. 25, admitted that he foresees the House majority to kill the impeachment complaint this week.

Reports of bribery among the members of the Congress using the Road Users’ Tax have been confirmed by Reps. Rolex Suplico (5th district, Iloilo City) and Eulogio “Amang” Magsaysay (AVE Party-list). In fact, Magsaysay’s withdrawal of his signature in the impeachment complaint and his public admission that “he has received tremendous pressure” to do so attests to the harassment and bribery he had complained about two weeks ago.

Prof. Benito Lim, another political analyst, said that with all the efforts to reconcile and kill the impeachment, the president is remiss on a very important thing – that of answering the allegations leveled against her.

“She has not given any genuine answer but as president, she has an obligation to do so,” he said.

Instead of allowing the impeachment to ferret out the truth, Lim said, the president is instead reining in the House majority to just dismiss the issue.

In the two House hearings on the impeachment last week, known Macapagal-Arroyo allies mostly belonging to the majority, voted to first discuss the prejudicial questions raised by Rep. Edcel Lagman (First District, Albay). The prejudicial questions include what complaint the CoJ should tackle.

“Immediately before the voting, the House Speaker was present to make sure that those given concessions voted the way they are expected to vote,” Martinez observed.

There are three complaints filed against Macapagal-Arroyo: the original Oliver Lozano complaint, the Jose Lapuz complaint, and the amended Lozano complaint.

House debate

In a subsequent debate, administration congressmen said that it is the first complaint that should be tackled while the two other complaints will have to wait for one and two years, respectively, because the rules provide a one-year bar on lodging an impeachment complaint to the same public official.

Pro-impeachment congressmen, however, argued that the first and third complaint should be considered as one complaint because the third is not separate but only an amendment of the first. The rules, they said, do not prohibit amendments to any complaint.

The members of the impeachment prosecution team led by Rep. Ronaldo Zamora (Lone District, San Juan) could not help but say that the majority is trying to dismiss the amended complaint on mere technicality because it covers substantial charges against the president.

The amended complaint is also the only complaint that accuses the president of violations of human rights and civil liberties. While Escudero said that the inclusion of human rights violations in the complaint is a landmark case in the House – being the first and only instance in history that such violations are grounds for a president’s impeachment – administration congressmen took turns in attacking the impeachment prosecution team for including such violations in the complaint.

In fact, Rep. Luis Villafuerte (Second District, Camarines Sur) said cases of human rights violations have no basis at all and could never be proven in court.

Worst case scenario

Lim said the worst scenario for the Congress opposition would be a vote by the CoJ to tackle only the original Lozano complaint. But because this complaint is rather weak and lacking “form and substance,” as admitted by Zamora, it may just all together be dismissed by the committee.

This would mean that there would be a status quo as well as an opportunity for the president to persuade the Supreme Court to lift the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on the Expanded-Value Added Tax (E-VAT).

The E-VAT’s implementation would also mean, however, more economic hardships for the masses that would likely lead to a social unrest. This scenario, Lim said, could also lead the people to take to the streets and call for a change in government.
Down the streets

Professor Teodoro said that “The basic infirmity…is that the president did something wrong.” With this scenario, he said there seems to be no way for Macapagal-Arroyo but to quit.

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