The comedy of errors concerning today’s quasi-holiday aside (sarcastically commented on by Peter Wallace), the weekend has been spent by the contending forces marshaling their strength for this week’s confrontations in the House. The Socialist opposition has been busy using pets for political propaganda; last Saturday the de la Salle community held another forum and meeting (no word yet on the consensus, if any, that emerged from that exercise: former NEDA chief Cielito Habito, Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, myself and Prof. July Teehankee were the speakers); the group I belong to, Citizens for TRUTH held a candle-lighting ceremony at the foot of the Ninoy Aquino Monument in Makati City (JB Baylon has an account of the activity); civil society has sent out yet another call for people to go to the House on Tuesday; and former DSWD Sec. Dinky Soliman and Friends (the “Hyatt 10”) will be holding a press conference at the Metropolitan Club near Rockwell from 10 am to noon pm on Tuesday, to begin unburdening themselves of some of the wrongdoings they observed as members of the cabinet. The Palace, too, has to contend with bad press: Newsbreak today unveils the means by which the manipulation of election-related documents allegedly took place in the premises of the House of Representatives. PCIJ publishes an expose on how agriculture funds were diverted for election-related purposes (there’s also a story on the gift that keeps on giving: Xerox machines, and one on how some army officers helped the President in the elections). There’s also this article, which gives a hint or two about the sort of information the Hyatt 10 has up its sleeves.
The idea of all these activities (which the bad press won’t hurt) are that they’re meant to derail the perceived Palace-determined schedule for throwing out the impeachment complaint.
The schedule is being dictated by the administration, and supported by the rumor-mill. The idea is that it is in the interest of the administration to resolve the impeachment issue at the House before the President leaves for Saudi Arabia and a visit to the United Nations in New York City. The President’s departure also pretty much coincides with a month-long recess for Congress in the 2nd week of September. For the President, she (or her allies, who have been suggesting as much to the media) wants questions regarding her legitimacy resolved before she faces world leaders. The opposition, on the other hand, is trying to create enough of a bandwagon to shift the battle from the Committee on Justice to the plenary, and perhaps even directly to the Senate before then.
Newsstand has blogged on why he’s not surprised the opposition seems to be playing perpetual catch-up; the opposition is rushing to clinch the deal, and scuttlebutt is the Nacionalista Party is waiting in the wings, hoping it will achieve the distinction of being the group that made the difference (it can then glory in being more effective than the divided Liberal Party was). I can’t quite explain it, but it seems to me dangerous for the opposition to go hell-for-leather in so obvious a manner (as the Inquirer editorial clearly explains), and with the risk of so obviously failing, at this point. It would be better for the opposition to keep things in committee at least for the duration of the recess, when a political commentator I talked to suggests the opposition (of whatever stripe) could focus on building momentum in the streets and in the provinces, and thereby have better chances for a real slam-bang of a showdown after Congress resumes its session in October. The President and her people might start feeling the pinch by then, and the usual suspects who can dole out informal cash might begin to tire (or run out of money) to keep financing efforts to retain the loyalty of congressmen.
But then again I think Ricky Carandang’s observations two weeks ago about the Speaker’s problems, remains valid: my column today, The Speaker’s Position, I addresses precisely that question. If the Speaker’s sole concern is what will help him establish parliamentary government, I suggest he’s better off letting the impeachment proceed to trial at the Senate.
Of course this is premised on the view that the President has wriggled her way out of the tight grip that former President Ramos and the Speaker have had on her political future since they threw their support behind her. People who claim to have encountered former President Ramos give me two conflicting images. One is of a highly-satisfied, even gloating, Ramos, who is suddenly enjoying the experience of being trailed by hordes of hangers-on after people had already begun to ignore him prior to the crisis. The other picture is of an extremely angry, even embittered Ramos, cursing the day he though he had the President firmly in his sights. Those who continue to believe Ramos is still calling the shots at the Palace are prepared to give examples (Ramos allegedly in secret meetings at the House of Representatives; Ramos supposedly in a position to extract concessions for political allies by calling up the Executive Secretary), while those with the opposite view also have theirs (Ramos in his Urban Bank tower penthouse office also allegedly speaking contemptuously of the President; Ramos also supposedly not hiding his contempt for the President by referring to her as “that woman” in the company of Lakas-CMD partymates).
If the view that Ramos is firmly in the saddle is correct, however, then the Speaker has every incentive to throw out the impeachment. The political consensus has been that the Speaker’s stuck in a Catch-22 situation: if he throws out the impeachment, he loses leverage over the President for charter change; if he fails to prevent the gathering of 79 pro-impeachment signatures and worse, the one-third minority holds during plenary, the impeachment would succeed, and it would go to the senate for trial, and so the Speaker would lose leverage anyway. If Ramos is in control, though, then the impeachment can be killed.
Of course there’s the third alternative: prolong the battle, in the hope it dies a natural death, or, if it won’t die, enough time has passed to influence the senate. The President needs only eight votes to keep her job. The resignation of SBMA Chairman Francisco Licuanan III is being touted as a the result of a deal between the President and Senator Richard Gordon (which Gordon denies, but which Max Soliven thinks might have some truth to it). Whatever the truth, the President may have the numbers: Angara, Recto, Gordon, Enrile, Santiago, Lapid, Revilla are often confidently named as the ones who can be expected to vote to acquit (that only leaves one more needed: check out Newsboy for his take on probable “swing votes”). As it is, the Speaker is sending mixed signals. Sec. Rigoberto Tiglao, however, argues that impeachment, even if it reaches the trial stage, doesn’t have a leg to stand on as far as the charges are concerned.
In the blogosphere, there are some new blogs worth noticing. First is Prof. July Teehankee’s spanking new blog, in which he discusses “a continuing crisis of legitimation.” The second is the first authentically pro-administration blog of note, ever: Rational Views (naughty comments about the great Sassy Lawyer to the contrary notwithstanding). As an aside, Edwin Lacierda (who guests today at 10 am on Karmina Konstantino’s morning show at ANC) pointed it out to people: Newsstand credits Lacierda with lighting a light bulb over the administration’s head; in an e-mail, Lacierda says I was the one to point out the curious absence of a pro-administration blog; perhaps it’s all serendipity! The third is one found by way of New Economist, the blog of a London-based macroeconomist, who noticed and pointed out Go Figure, the blog of Filipino economist Roehlano Briones. (Addenda, 2:04 pm: check out Newsboy, too, he has interesting comments on the Speaker, here.)
Also, there’s Big Mango with part three of his series on Understanding Nation Building; and Howie Severino on why local government officials like the President.
In the cultural sphere, too see & log has reproduced a paper by Prof. Jaime Veneracion on Rizal’s Madrid: The Roots of the Ilustrado Concept of Autonomy which makes for an interesting read, indeed; Adel Gabot isn’t amused by AXN channel turning a TV show with black humor into slapstick comedy in its ads; Cogito Ergo Sam writes on Fado music.
The punditocracy has Randy David takes an optimistic look at young politicians; Fr. Joaquin Bernas explaining his views on impeachment (one can detect increasing frustration and even irritation, on his part, with the House); Jojo Robles has a bone to pick with Imee Marcos; Jose Sison examines the curious refusal of the Armed Forces to explain why they accompanied a police raid; Marichu Villanueva examines diplomatic posts being traded for political support; and Iraqis Should Draft Constitution Without US Interference was my Arab News column for last week.
Finally, this passage from the PCIJ report on diverted agriculture funds, has me wondering:
Montes also added that “the election had nothing to do with the timing (of the release of the funds). Ang timing namin always is kung kelan kailangan ng agrikultura yung pera, dun dapat natin ilabas. Hinahabol naming production targets, planting season ng April and May (Our timing is dictated by the needs of the agriculture sector. That’s when we release funds. We have to meet production targets and the April and May planting season).”
Ferdinand Marcos moved elections from October-November, when they were traditionally held from 1935 to 1971, to May, resulting in terms beginning and ending in June instead of December. I always wondered why, since the weather is so unpleasant (for elections and inaugurals) in April-May. But these are planting season months, and permit the lavish release of funds: so perhaps Marcos fiddled with the dates because it made spending government funds easier to justify in aid of re-election.