Went to the Bastusang Pambansa to see the action but most of it took place not on the floor, where Romulo Neri was sitting in a panel defending the CHED budget as members of congressmen took turns asking pointed questions to beef up the budgets for their districts. It was a very nerve-wracking three hours for all concerned.
Had a chance to prowl the galleries and the floor and get scuttlebutt from members of the House.
One account of this morning’s meeting at the Palace was that the main bone of contention was the upcoming baranggay elections. Congressmen were very anxious that the polls not be postponed, as it was an opportunity for them to spread goodies around. Demands were supposed to be 50,000 per kagawad or a total of 5 million for each congressman to dole out. The President had given assurances but had even been pursued with calls while she was in China, to assure that the written assurances that the polls would push through, were genuine. The badgering continued this morning, with congressmen supposedly in a foul mood and threatening mischief if the President didn’t do the doling out right there and then.
Another account was simpler, which was a Palace guarantee of 45 35 million per congressman, 25 million in “soft” pork and 10 milion in “hard” pork, whatever that means in congressional terms. In exchange, the congressmen pledged cooperation with the President in terms of pursuing her agenda.
But the figures discussed are impossible to verify (and every congressman could have been lying). The main topic of interest was, what was the Speaker going to do, and what were his options? Opinions among members of the House varied. They ranged from the Speaker had the numbers, to the President had the numbers, to the problem that Friday, it turns out, is a holiday which is why the President wanted matters settled by tonight.
The problem was that the Speaker was not inclined to refer the impeachment complaint prior to the recess. The question then was whether this would precipitate a showdown in the House, and who, exactly, had the numbers; also, there was the very real problem that if the complaint wasn’t referred prior to the break, the October 25 Senate hearing would take place, and if anything ended up revealed in that hearing, the revelations could lead to the complaint being amended and possibly fortified.
The Speaker’s options, as discussed by various sources, ranged from his having pulled a fast one last night by checking himself into the hospital for whatever reason (gastritis, LBM, etc.) and told the House to go on recess early, to his suddenly fainting in his office this afternoon and being rushed from the House in an ambulance, thus causing pandemonium, to the Mace either disappearing or being grabbed by his loyalists, thereby disrupting the session, to someone questioning the quorum, suddenly ending the session. But then the entire budget would have been imperiled.
Or the Speaker could publicly state he would not refer the complaint until the maximum period allowed, November 11.
Or the Speaker could decide that he faced an ethical dilemma, and announce he was inhibiting himself from the whole matter. This was the solution, apparently, put forward by the Palace as a face-saving gesture but involved its own risks. The Speaker’s lawyer, Raul Lambino of Sigaw ng Bayan fame, gave the Speaker similar advice, couched in terms of his right not to participate in forwarding a document obviously aimed more at the Speaker and his son than the President. The Speaker, by taking himself out of the game, would then pass the ball to Deputy Speaker Raul del Mar.
Del Mar could then easily say that it being his call, he would hold the ball until after the recess. Or, del Mar could then send the complaint immediately to the Committee on Rules, which could then sit on it; or the Committee on Rules could instantly send it to the Committee on Justice…
For an hour, from around 3:30 to 4:30 talk centered on whether the Speaker would take himself out of the game or force a showdown. Then at around that time came word there would be a press conference at the Speaker’s office. Up to that time there were still members of the House proposing that the Speaker should pass the ball to del Mar but that del Mar shouldn’t do the Palace any favors.
Like war, members of the press spend a lot of time just waiting then suddenly heaving into action. By 5 pm the media was huddled outside the door of the Speaker’s office as various congressmen trickled out and basically refused to say anything. Finally the doors opened. Mad stampede as everyone rushed in.
The Speaker looked remarkably calm and relaxed. Arrayed around him were various House members and the Speaker’s people, including Atty. Lambino.
At one point, the Speaker got up and disappeared; call of nature, I asked a reporter? Probably a phone call from the Palace, someone else said.
The Speaker reemerged, the press conference formally began. It played out pretty much as everyone had expected:
De Venecia inhibits self from Arroyo impeach rap; Arroyo impeach case referred to panel; JDV inhibits himself; JDV inhibits self from impeach rap.
I asked a couple of questions, because the Speaker said he was withdrawing from participating in the process, even though he had misgivings because of bribery allegations, etc., etc., but he urged del Mar to attend to his ministerial duty. Del Mar smoothly said he would transmit the complaint to the Committee on Rules. Art Defensor chimed in and said as chairman he was going to calendar the referral before the plenary that very night, for referral, in turn, to the Committee on Justice.
The sending of the paper from Deputy Speaker to Rules Chairman to Justice Committee of course constituting the start of the one-year countdown of the ban on further impeachment complaints.
So my questions focused on asking del Mar why he was rushing to refer the complaint, his answer was, it’s ministerial, and then I asked Defensor if he, as Chairman, could act on behalf of a committee he only chaired but which had more than himself as members; Defensor was offended and said the whole procedure is normally concluded as he said it would be, that he was confident in speaking for the committee, etc.
Questions from the reporters present concentrated on this rush to start the Constitutional countdown while others focused on relations between the Speaker and the President.
But I had to keep asking myself, why is the Speaker, who, depending on whom you asked earlier that afternoon, had been browbeaten by the President, or threatened with being deposed, or otherwise facing a momentous event in his political life, so relaxed, so calm -and what did he have to gain from surrendering to the Palace?
Fine, he actually did the ethical thing, but I have to wonder if his inhibiting himself was the best legal advice. Fine, he gets to keep the Speakership, if the President did have the numbers. He may even think he did the country a favor by heading off the possibility of an impeachment, and the President maybe, owes him another favor.
But what does he have to gain, politically, from caving in like this?
He has to have something up his sleeve, I kept telling myself as I left the press conference.
But I have to figure out what that could be.
Update 7:58 pm and 9:08 pm Got a report that on radio it was pointed out that there’s a problem with what the Speaker did. The Constitution, according to some lawyers (and Rep. Rufus Rodriguez is apparently already raising hell about it on the floor of the House as I write this), does not give the Speaker any discretion.
The Speaker, and only the Speaker, must do the referral. He cannot delegate it, he cannot inhibit himself, it can only be the Speaker and no one else. So goes the argument.
I asked some lawyers and they concur: when the Constitution is clear and specific, and cites no exceptions, then it must be done in the manner and by whom the Constitution says. One lawyer gave a Solomonic answer: is the Speaker the only person who can refer the complaint, and if the Speaker didn’t, is there a justiciable case?
Here are their various answers:
Yes, based on the constitution [article XI. section 3. and the rules of the house on impeachment [section 3. Rule 3.]. But note section 14 [h.] of the Rules of the House. authorizing the speaker to designate a member as tempo presiding officer. after informing the deputy speakers in case he/she temporarily unable to do so.
Yes the supreme court can resolve it. Note Francisco vs. House of Rep case in 2003, supreme court ruled that the power of judicial review includes power of review over justiciable issues in impeachment proceedings.
Yes. Its really a subject of justiciable review, based on Francisco decision. In this case any person may initiate it as a taxpayer suit or have a congressman question it in SC…
I think it is a jusiticable controversy but i doubt referral can be described as defective [cuz] SC will look at the House Rules in addition to the constitution. SC will try to harmonize house rules and charter and i think if they do so, they will rule this referral valid.
Because the constitution does not envision situations where speaker is unable to perform and so SC will take a look at house rules and see if speaker did the right thing. if under house rules, speaker did the right procedure, then SC will rule referral valid.Nature abhors a vacuum, the house rules filled up that vacuum.
Better question is: Can a constitutional duty be delegated? Its like the prez asking somebody to deliver SONA.
But you know justice committee can also order amendment of complaint but that’s a stretch.
So those are the contending views. But if it’s true that a legal wrinkle exists….
It’s a possibility too delicious for words.
JDV: “But Madam President, I did what you told me…”
del Mar: “But Madam, I did what you and the Speaker told me…”
Defensor: “But Madam, I did what you and the Speaker and del Mar told me….”
Everyone’s ass is covered except the one who was supposed to benefit from the inoculation!
More from Uniffors and from Ellen Tordesillas.
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