Updates on the intervention we filed: but first, a disclaimer, for the record. Neither the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper editors nor the management of ANC were aware of my intervention prior to its taking place. Nor was their leave, to my mind, called for because as an opinion writer, there is no hindrance to my pursuing advocacies as a citizen. But just so people know, my intervention was not sanctioned before or after by either media outfit.
And you may want to survey opinions in the blogosphere and the discussions taking place in the comment sections of various blogs. Two lawyers, one an intervenor, and the other, not, weigh in: see Edwin Lacierda’s blog and that of The Warrior Lawyer. You may be interested in the thoughts, from a general perspective, of a congressman, on impeachment: see Congressman Ruffy Biazon’s blog.
Let me move on to a tale of two hearings.
At the Bolante hearing, I fell asleep twice and it was one of the biggest time-wasters I’ve ever experienced (see A Simple Life). You’d think that having had two years to look into the case, and after the excellent initial spade work done by Senators Ramon Magsaysay Jr. and Sergio Osmena III (how I wish both were still in the Senate, hency my growing belief that term limits are necessary in executive positions but counter-productive in terms of the legislature), they could have tightened the noose around Bolante and begun to pick his story apart. Knowing full well it was going to be a tough nut to crack because he’s had ample time to be coached by a Palace team.
The hearing got off to a good start with Roxas laying down the five reasons the Fertilizer GMA Program was scam. But instead of tag-teaming to interrogate Bolante systematically on each of these five reasons, the senators flitted about, hammed it up, and Bolante stuck to his script and kept in character (the humble little old guy utterly misunderstood by everybody and who only wanted to be a dutiful little Rotarian). At the time I plurked my frustrations and suggested our Senate should look at how the Americans do it, where they hire counsel and let the counsel be the bad cop while they play the good cop. I’m all for political theater because it has its place in politics, but really, bad political theater is a waste of time, energy, and tax money.
What got me even hotter under the collar was the slipshod thinking and questioning of the senators, and their compensating for it by being extremely rude and obnoxious. I say this as someone with a tendency to be hotheaded, but again, in the political arena the guy who loses his cool loses, and the bully never scores points. Both Osmena and Magsaysay used to be very courteous to witnesses, which didn’t mean they refrained from asking tough questions or reaching tough conclusions. But they recognized they were public servants and that nothing is lost by being courteous and everything’s to be gained from holding off righteous indignation until actually warranted.
Still, the nine-hour ordeal did show that Bolante, for all his meekness, was dissembling, had been coached, was selective in what he remembered, at times patently contradictory in his statements, but no smoking gun, not least because other witnesses have yet to impeach his testimony and of course the Department of Agriculture is shocked, shocked, all relevant documents have disappeared. It’s also clear that the list of suspects and accomplices is so vast, politicians are having second thoughts about approaching the issue too zealously.
Today, the Senate held a hearing to inquire into the pickle former national police comptroller de la Paz got himself into in Moscow. It was undertaken in a much calmer and more efficient manner, and one can speculate on the reasons: no one wants to gang up on the cops, there’s less to be gained, what have you. But the contrast was glaring and the former could have been more effective if handled like the latter.
Senator Roxas came close to pinning down de la Paz on a requirement of law that demands presidential approval for expenses along the lines of the now-controversial PNP trip to Moscow. Since the law requires these activities to be approved, personally, by the President of the Philippines, did she (Roxas asked de la Paz) comply with the law and approve your trip (which, prior testimony had revealed, had all sorts of legal and procedural infirmities), or did you do it behind her back and therefore break the law? Paz froze and you could see him processing the dilemma: and Roxas warned him of the implications of whatever answer he gave. Either you incriminate the President, or take the bullet for her, basically. He took the bullet for the President.
Roxas then grilled a fellow, Aureola, who claims he asked de la Paz to pick up an expensive watch for him in Vienna, and tripped de la Paz up on the question of whether, under our customs regulations, Paz was bringing home the watch under the fraudulent assertion of “personal effects,” to avoid customs fees. Basically, Roxas called into question the entire “pabili,” “pabilin,” and “pasalubong” culture that all Filipinos, high and low, subscribe to.
Now this is something that made me wonder if, first of all, it made for good politics, since the public would look askance less at the fellow and de la Paz, and more at Roxas for hypocrisy. Second of all, this brings up an interesting point, to my mind: if a society’s practices are so deeply ingrained and not, necessarily, intrinsically evil, then shouldn’t the law be amended to permit what is normally practiced anyway, rather than confront the citizenry with regulations that are essentially unreasonable because they challenge deeply-held, and again, not intrinsically evil, practices of the citizenry? The balikbayan box privilege, for example, leads to general economic benefits all around, I’d argue; the practice of asking friends and family to buy stuff abroad and bring it home, whether for personal use or to use the items for the underground economy, aren’t matters that are less essential to attend to, perhaps, than wholesale smuggling?
the only thing worse than the proceedings in the Senate on Thursday are House proceedings, and the only things worse than House proceedings are goings-on in the Department of Justice, and the only thing worse than those are goings-on in the Ombudsman’s office.