A reporter of GMA7 just dropped by, to ask me about Michaelangelo Zuce. How, he asked, can you tell if he is a credible whistle-blower or not? We have seen so many whistle-blowers before, he said, and so what makes this guy any different?
The difference lies in Zuce’s testimony. It is too soon to tell whether it will prove damaging, or not, but his statements seem to be the most potentially damaging, so far, to the President.
In the first place, Zuce is the first person to claim direct knowledge of the President’s doing, or not doing, certain things. Second, even the Palace admits he once worked for it, which brings up two questions: if he’s such bad news, and so obviously a shady sort of person, why was he hired in the first place? And if he’s been paid off, wouldn’t mean that he had something worth paying for? The motives of Zuce seem pretty straight forward: they’re mercenary. This doesn’t mean he’s lying, at least all the time, and it suggests he may have enough knowledge to cause trouble.
Also, unlike other witnesses, he has an elaborate series of stories, full of information that can be subjected to analysis. Mainstream media is trying this out: an ABS-CBN reporter went so far as to call cell phone numbers listed down by Zuce, one by one, and some turned out to be legit -with the owners verifying they were, indeed, Comelec functionaries who had met Zuce. PCIJ, of course, is trying to verify the contents of Zuce’s affidavit. A good example of how other people are trying to sift through the testimony is a comment made by Jojo Abinales:
The Inquirer’s tracking of Michael Zuce’s activities during the elections included a notation that he and other cohorts met in Tubod, Lanao del Norte. Now, for us from Ozamis City, Tubod has always been that “notorious” place where one can easily get drivers’ licenses (both the ordinary and the one that allows you to drive trucks) for — then — about 1,000 pesos. If you wanted a new car plate to “register” your car, you go to Tubod. If you want to look for your car-napped vehicle, chances are you will be able to start tracking it in Tubod. One of the great stories told to us by older denizens while drinking Ginebra San Miguel in one of those quaint Ozamis kantos, was that when Sen. Enrile’s car was carnapped, it was eventually found in Tubod.
Zuce’s testimony will be both easier to prove and more difficult to demolish. Easier to prove, because the more that’s claimed, the more that can be debunked -and conversely, if less and less can be debunked, the testimony grows stronger. More difficult to demolish because Zuce obviously is in a better position to provide tidbits of information that can add to the plausibility of his tale. In the first place, he was once worth the Palace’s while to employ. And I personally don’t buy the statement that he was too unimportant to know anything damaging. Employers in this country tend to talk and behave as if their flunkies aren’t human: and were more liable to not suffer the consequences in the days when they spoke a different language from the help (or had foreign servants, as was once the case in the Palace, when Chinese servants were favored so they couldn’t gossip about their bosses). But those days are gone; even the President only speaks Spanish with her husband and English with some, but not all, her staff.
La Vida Lawyer says, look at the travel reports officials are required to file (but do they file them when they go on junkets not paid for with government funds?). Newsstand thinks Zuce was most likely a low-level operative but thinks the jueteng link is the weakest link in his testimony (I previously misstated Jon’s point):
It may be that a reactive opposition thinks it needs to tie the jueteng payola and election fraud strands together, to present the public with a tighter, more compelling case. Then they can say, Everything fits, like a Universal Theory. But quasi-legally speaking, impeachment prosecutors only need to prove election fraud (with or without the use of jueteng money) to secure a conviction. Which might mean: the forced linking of the two scandals (the curved space-time of jueteng, the sub-atomic mechanics of election fraud) is for the other trial; you know, the one in the court of public opinion.
What’s interesting to me are the relatively modest figures involved in Zuce’s testimony. A low-level flunky, indeed, would only have been trusted with such small funds (in the political scheme of things). But we have to see if he will hold up upon cross-examination, and if his story survives the scrutiny of experienced reporters (Anonymous Sources suggests the next story will be the motivations of former Finance chief Cesar Purisima; I heard this rumor last Saturday, which makes me wonder if I might possible know who the blogger is). Rep. Teddy Locsin said on ANC that the problem with Zuce is that his testifying only now, means it’s possible Zuce simply pieced together what’s in the papers, and added some trivia for flavor.
Interestingly, Rep. Locsin believes that if the President’s allies can’t mount a strong defense of the President in the Committee on Justice of the House, then the President should go on a leave of absence while her case is heard by the Senate. He says it’s a more “honest” way of tackling the crisis than charter change.
And check out Miron’s take on Zuce: the problem with “hello,” as he eloquently puts it, is (the long) goodbye.
Tony Abaya has an interesting column today, regarding a meeting he had with former president Ramos, who clarified his time-line for charter change:
FVR drew a timeline for his proposed solution:
From July 8 to and not later than September 2005: The High Commission of seven individuals is formed. The two Houses of Congress are convened as a Constituent Assembly and draft constitutional amendments not later than Nov. 1, 2005 on the following issues: shift to the parliamentary system, electoral reforms, political party reforms, and judicial reforms. (FVR does make any mention of federalism which he, like I, frowns on.)
Not later than Dec. 1, 2005: The High Commission submits the proposed constitutional amendments to the Constituent Assembly.
From Dec. 1, 2005 to Jan. 1, 2006: The Constituent Assembly and the High Commission adopt a final draft of the constitutional amendments.
From Jan. 1 to Feb. 12, 2006: Public information campaign on the new Constitution.
Feb. 14, 2006: Plebiscite for the ratification of the new Constitution. (It has to be on ValentineÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Day. Napaka-corny talaga ng mga Pinoy.)
Feb. 16 to May 10, 2006: Election campaign period.
May 12, 2006: General Elections for national and local positions under the new Constitution. (What national positions would these be? In a Westminster-type parliamentary system, all members of parliament are elected in electoral districts, not nationally. And we should change our E-Day back to November, as we had it for decades. The month of May is the hottest and most unpleasant month of the year in these latitudes and is therefore the wrong time to be holding elections.)
June 30, 2006: Assumption of office of all newly elected officials under the new Constitution.
Two interesting points from the above: FVR is skeptical about Federalism; and that Tony Abaya suggests we go back to November elections (which I heartily agree with; when the President was inaugurated last year, I expressed the hope it would be the last June inaugural; the time of the year makes no sense; December 30 was a much better all-around date).
Connie Veneracion has an interesting column on keeping tabs on members of Congress (I’d add, not just attendance, but also, how they vote; the data should come from Congress). I’d only suggest she look into the fact that prior to 1973, Congress only had 100 session days a year. Attendance is far more crucial when congressional days are limited, but not as important when the legislature meets all year-round, as it does under the present charter.