So much scuttlebutt, so little time. The scuttlebutt that was proven wrong yesterday? That Cory Aquino would make an appearance at the House. There was quite a bit of scuttlebutt last night and more scuttlebutt to come in coming days.
There was strategy scuttlebutt: The Speaker’s gambit? To kill impeachment now, because the Palace feared that the “magic 79” signatures might be achieved; that the Speaker’s gamble is to deliver big to the President, and thus tell her that having done their part of the bargain, Lakas-CMD expects the President to go all-out to deliver charter change. The Speaker’s ace in the hole? That if the President doesn’t deliver, Lakas-CMD itself will lead the effort to impeach the President next year. To this strategy, a keen political observer I know reacted that if true, the Speaker’s now fighting from a position of weakness. Because, having delivered, the Speaker loses his hold on the President, who can now turn to beefing up the forces of her pet party, Kampi (whose chief operator is, of course, Rep. Ronnie Puno). Since it’s at the President’s, and not the Speaker’s, trough, that the majority and its allies have been feeding in recent weeks, the President has already begun to cultivate Lakas-CMD, so their loyalty can begin to shift from the Speaker, to her. Recall that in the wake of the Speaker and former president Ramos throwing their weight behind the President, initial word was that Kampi would be merged with Lakas-CMD. This hasn’t happened, and indeed, Kampi has demonstrated it’s ability to engage in wheeling-dealing of its own (such as the ill-fated Road User’s Tax gambit).
At a time like this, the Speaker’s sense of timing will be up for discussion. Initially, after giving people a chance to explain their votes on the prejudicial questions, the Committee on Justice meeting was supposed to be suspended and resumed at 9 this morning. Somewhere along the line, a decision seems to have been made to tackle form and substance for the remaining, original, Lozano complaint last night. To me, that doesn’t seem to be either the Speaker’s, or Congress’s, way of handling things. Such a lack of finesse would only serve to antagonize the opposition (and observers). Then again, perhaps the idea was, an unpopular move anyway might as well be done during dinner time, when few people are paying attention. Perhaps the time, as far as Lakas-CMD is concerned, for finesse has passed.
As for the President: the presence of Sec. Gabby Claudio on the floor of the House, beside the Speaker, must surely have been significant. Jove Francisco has interesting scuttlebutt and observations of his own. Meetings, both here and abroad, he says, are scheduled, and the President has cleared her schedule; the steady stream of congressmen appearing at the Palace continues unabated. Someone should contact the Lichaucos, and use their house, facing gates 1 and 2 of the Palace, as a base from which to observe the comings and goings the Press can’t see.
There was lobbying scuttlebutt: a delegation of people loyal to former President Ramos but opposed to the President were said to have secured an appointment to meet him, to appeal to him to free up support for the impeachment, because the President will betray Ramos anyway.
There were attempts to verify scuttlebutt, such as the meeting said to have been hastily called Tuesday night at the Greenmeadows home of Rep. Ronnie Puno and more importantly, who went there.
There was scuttlebutt about numbers. Last night, after Rep. Edmund Reyes said they had 50 verified signatures and 23 in the bag, word was they gained 4 commitments and lost 4. Today, Newsboy reports the score is 50 verified, 23 committed, 2 lost. So the pro-impeachment forces are weaker today than they were yesterday, with 71 instead of 73. Whatever the numbers, Rep. Cynthia Villar was said to have been in a huddle with Nacionalista Party members for much of yesterday. If Villar delivers, her NP contingent assures the 1/3 minority, or 79 signatures, so desperately needed. What seems surprising is that Villar hasn’t been able to deliver swiftly, once she herself signed on (former senator Eva Estrada Kalaw told me some weeks ago, that the problem with Manny Villar is that his party leadership hasn’t been ratified by a party convention).
A further wrinkle: the expected release by the Supreme Court, of it’s decision on the expanded VAT Law, around dinner time tonight. If the law is approved, the Palace can promise more bacon for the boys. The rise in gasoline prices may have taken off the edge from the expected public backlash at new taxes.
Tomorrow, Friday, at 7:30 p.m., there will be a “Bukluran para sa Katotohanan” at La Salle Green Hills. Word is, the Catholic hierarchy will be represented. The observations of Bishop Teodoro Bacani at yesterday’s House proceedings might be an ominous sign of things to come. If the Catholic hierarchy, in exasperation, decides that it must speak out, it might be the spark the Middle Forces need. And then the younger ranks of the armed forces, too, might have more of a reason to act and not just grumble.
Counting heads in the Senate is also taking place. The President needs eight senators. Which votes for acquittal can be deemed assured? So far, what’s bruited about are: Gordon, Enrile, Lapid, Revilla, Angara, Santiago. Of these, Angara and Revilla may be wobbly. Flavier is considered likely to vote to convict, unless convinced to vote for acquittal by Fidel Ramos. So with only 4 assured acquittal votes, 2 uncertain votes, 1 swing vote, if all go to her, with 7 votes the President’s cause is lost.
If Cynthia Villar has gone for impeachment, then Manny Villar most likely will vote to convict and might bring along Recto, a member of the NP, with him (I consider Recto’s vote, though, as another potential swing vote, and if so, his vote could swing things in the President’s favor).