As this Philippines Free Press editorial cartoon from the 1920’s shows, mutiny has always been an occupational hazard for Senate Presidents since the position was established in 1916. Today, Manuel Villar, Jr. was the latest Senate President to fall; and Juan Ponce Enrile gets to crown his political career with the next best thing to becoming President of the Philippines in our political pecking order.
I do not know why blogger like The Equalizer and were so shocked when Villar, seeing the writing on the wall, saved face by resigning the Senate Presidency.
In my column, Demolition derby on September 25 of this year, I pointed out the plot was afoot and the possible permutations possible as far as the voting was concerned.
As I understand it, the erosion of his majority in the Senate had three stages:
1. Lacson, Madrigal, Roxas, Legarda, Angara and Enrile(who, from the start was inclined to follow the precedent Villar had established by voting for himself: in previous contests, since time immemorial, the leading candidates had always neutralized each other’s votes by voting for their opposite number; Villar in 2006 dispensed with this old tradition) were at the heart of the effort to oust the incumbent.
2. Biazon, Escudero, Zubiri, Honasan and Gordon signified they were in on the plan.
3. Revilla and Lapid then followed suit. There’s an amusing eyewitness account of Lapid (something like Banquo’s ghost, apparently, as Indolent Indio calls him the “harbinger of doom”) plunging in the knife over at the sunsetflip:
I could probably go on and analyze the political ramifications of the whole coup, but I would just be echoing the words of bigger, wiser bloggers. I would rather talk about the genuine pathos that I felt for Senator Lito Lapid.
Watching him look at Enrile and flash a thumbs-up, Icouldn’t decide whether he was giving or asking for approval. His eyes were sort of a cross between Ted Neely and a pauppy dog, like they were asking “am I making a difference now?” He looked so earnest and starved for affection that I half-expected some Russian grandmother to come up and give him a hug because he’s just as special as everyone else.
Dismissed (probably deservedly) as an inconsequential Arroyo stooge brought in only when numbers are needed, Lapid could be so much more. Well, alright, he could be more.
Nothing forbids him from, you know, acting senatorial and actually doing some legislative work. One might even say that that’s what he’s in power for. I mean, really, why not pass some laws since you have the job anyway, right? While not the senator with the most absences from plenary sessions, Lapid does not have the valid excuse of, oh, being locked up in a military prison like Senator Antonio Trillanes IV.
Huh, I guess I’m back to hating him now for wasting his mandate, but for a few seconds this afternoon, if he had looked in my direction, I’d have walked over and patted him on the head.
Anyway, then came the last one to cock his gun in the execution:
4. Estrada clinched it.
In my column, I got it right that Aquino would abstain rather than vote for his father’s jailer; also, that Gordon, Revilla, Lapid, Angara, Honasan and Zubiri from the Palace bloc (though more properly, Honasan is the other half of the Enrile bloc), Roxas and Biazon from the Liberal bloc, and Legarda and Escudero from the NPC bloc would probably go for Enrile.
Madrigal ended up backing up Lacson and voting for Enrile; the true surprise was Estrada switching sides, which of course has a juicy tit for tat aspect to it (full circle for the Estradas and the Villars), surely for concessions if it’s true he was the last to cast his lot with the new majority.
As for those who stuck it out with Villar, they all officially abstained: here were the two Cayetanos, Pimentel (reported by ABS-CBN as in on the Villar ouster, but I’d always heard he was safely in the Villar bloc; but then again, maybe martial law memories truly precluded voting for Enrile), Arroyo (motivated also by martial law memories and more importantly, loyalty to Villar) and (as expected Aquino and Pangilinan (giving him a a face-saving way out of having to publicly go against his party at its moment of triumph). Arroyo and Pangilinan, of course, are part of the so-called “Wednesday Club” in the Senate.
The real surprise was Miriam Defensor Santiago. When Villar was first elected to the Senate Presidency in 2006, the quotable Miriam Defensor Santiago declared he was elevated to the position by a “mutant majority,” which she said,
…is an aberration at birth. If it were a car, it would be a hybrid. If it were a horse, it would be a piebald. Wonders never cease in politics. What we are seeing is the art of the political deal.
But she seems hell-bent on being peevish ever since the Palace let her down in her quest for that judgeship abroad, so maybe it’s really not very surprising she decided to be contrarian.
Things did not change after the mid-term election in 2007, when Villar was re-elected in a square off with Pimentel.The majority that elected Villar was a mixture of administration and opposition senators. This disappointed people (like myself) hoping for a Senate with an opposition majority, see my July 5, 2007 column, Wrong kind of addition.
The battle lines in the Senate post-2007 and going into January, 2009, at least, were along opposition-administration lines; the divisions would necessarily have changed starting 2009, going into the 2010 campaign. What was inevitable come January just came two months earlier -though as I mentioned in my column, it was well afoot back in September.
If my information back then was correct, that the President was content with keeping Villar as Senate President (and if one wants to be truly naughty, waving a letter in its possession embarrassing to Villar and useful to his critics), then one of two things has happened since.
When Villar possibly reneged on a bargain with the Palace to let sleeping dogs lie, and was spooked into permitting the arrest of Joc-Joc Bolante after initially showing signs he’d drop the matter, the Palace decided Villar had outlived his usefulness.
Or, if the Palace understood that Villar’s hands were tied and was willing to work with him still, then the Palace’s hold on its senators has weakened as they all begin contemplating their post-2010 futures. Certainly Miguel Zubiri’s diatribe in the Senate the other day was revealing. Loyalty to the commander-in-chief has little benefits these days, it seems. Even to those who owe her the most. That was then, everyone, high or low, has to think of tomorrow.
As with all things, a little of both probably happened. The Palace would have seen little reason to limits its options by allowing Villar to remain in a position of prestige, not after he proved more anxious to bow to public pressure than to help the Palace with Bolante, and not after the Palace had already tried to whet the appetite of those it declared potential contenders for the presidency. At least two of them would directly benefit from Villar being taken down a notch or two: Vice-President de Castro who has popularity but no money (relatively speaking), and Dick Gordon who runs the risk of facing a revolt in the Philippine National Red Cross if people start getting the impression it will be his primary vehicle for the presidency.
The various motivations of those who voted to topple Villar are relatively obvious, too: Roxas, loyally backed by Biazon, to halt and hopefully reverse, the money-and-machinery appeal of Villar, and by knocking Allan Peter Cayetano, Villar’s fellow NP senator, out of the Blue Ribbon Committee, to take both the NP and the Wednesday Club down a notch, too: the NP is down, the LP is up, and this is why Villar’s ouster sends a warning to Pangilinan whose party loyalty is, at best, unreliable; Escudero and Legarda, for the reasons I enumerated in my column (with support from Angara); Lacson and Madrigal, who tag-teamed to demolish Villar, can prove they truly have clout (although next week’s expected Ethics Committee hearings will show whether their evidence matches their clout). Honasan of course goes wherever Enrile goes; and who the leader of the three administration sheep, Lapid, Revilla, and Zubiri is, I don’t know: either it’s the President, who had no objections to their securing concessions, or they are showing signs of investing in their post-Arroyo future.
What was fundamentally at stake in the effort to topple Villar, and what Villar had to lose, was the perception of being “malakas.” This is a perception of near-transcendental importance in our political culture, as the loyalists of the President who periodically froth at the mouth against her critics, prove. “Where are you? Where is she?” is an argument based primarily on “palakasan”. For more on this, see my May 29 blog entry, Malakas at mahina. This is power politics at its most basic and as most appreciate it, I’d reckon. Villar’s body and other language is par for the course: not to whine, but to take it like a man –dignified, but whipped.
Mon Casiple says the the thing to watch is the farming out of committee chairmanships under the new Enrile regime:
Of course, there is the opportunity for the GMA administration to pursue the Charter change agenda under Enrile’s watch. However, he is too much of a wild card at this time of an increasingly lameduck GMA presidency. It is more correct to say that anything may happen. What is more discernible is that the ruling coalition will try to make a play to stay on top of the increasingly unstable situation.
And the operative word here is “unstable.” Something’s happened since September, and what was once a favorable environment in the Senate for Villar (and for the President) changed; the House minority thinks what changed were investigations unfavorable to the administration. But if anything, the Bolante hearing showed every reason for the Palace to be pleased with the status quo (ditto for the de la Paz hearing).
If I read Casiple correctly, and from what I’ve heard of how the marshaling of forces to oust Villar went, the Palace decided to have “skin in the game” as things “move forward,” to borrow two Americanisms. In other words the Palace belatedly gave its blessings with Lapid and Revilla’s votes, after having previously rebuffed both Angara (who wanted the job first, as a return to former glory, but according to one version I heard wasn’t prepared to go on bended knee to the Palace) and Enrile (who may or may not have asked the President to grant an old man’s last political wish). Estrada did as the Palace did, to keep in the game, too.
So most ask, as New Philippine Revolution asks, if this means the new majority is going the way of the old majority it just replaced: play-acting as far as really standing up to the President is concerned. Casiple thinks Enrile, dinosaur that he is, has avoided political extinction so far, and just might be a sign of a more renegade bunch of senators to come.
If Blue Ribbon goes to an aggressive oppositionist, then the Palace’s losing its grip on the upper house; if the chairmanship goes to someone less inclined to cause trouble, then it can safely be assumed that the new majority cut a deal with the President to promote “stability.”
So, perhaps a marginal improvement in the level of ferocity and aggression of the Senate, at best, under a Senate President who can at least claim to being an accomplished parliamentarian besides evil genius. Or, at worst, more of the same-same inaugurated in 2007 by the old majority which has fallen because of its administration allies who junked the old to be part of the new.
But what was at the heart of Villar’s downfall was an issue, whether believed in or not, it provided the pretext for his downfall. After he hurled his bombshell, Senator Panfilo Lacson stubbornly mounted a scorched-earth campaign to hound Villar to the Senate Ethics Committee.
The best that Villar could do, in the face of Lacson’s ferocity, was to stall, and refrain from commenting. As my column, Penny wise and pound foolish showed, the problem was that the issue was a genuinely troubling one. As the Inquirer editorial Double entry pointed out on September 14, 2008, the issue wasn’t one going to go away:
Those advocating the parliamentary system ought to consider Senate President Manuel Villar’s handling of the plots against him. While it is true, as his friend and ally Jinggoy Estrada says, that the plots never cease, at the heart of the present controversy is the Senate president’s alleged responsibility for an insertion into the national budget allocating P200 million for a road project that already had funding elsewhere in the appropriations law.
It was a masterpiece of legislative sleight-of-hand: the original budgetary provision was to extend President Garcia Avenue “from SLEX to Sucat Road including ROW”; the insertion referred to C-5 Road extension from “SLEX to Sucat Road including ROW”— Garcia Avenue and C-5, of course, being one and the same. But that’s not all. The total congressional insertions are being touted at P4 billion—P3.916 billion of which, according to Sen. Panfilo Lacson, emanated from the Senate.
A legislative leader with parliamentary instincts—never mind the old-fashioned notions of delicadeza—would have taken such allegations as a challenge serious enough to merit an offer of resignation from him as head of the chamber. He might also consider having the ethics committee of the Senate undertake an investigation. If his resignation is accepted, he loses his Senate presidency; if rejected, his leadership would be revalidated and the question put to rest. Neither he nor any Senate president, past, present or future, can afford to have such heavy questions weighing on his shoulders.
Not least because what has been caught red—is the entire Congress—and the Executive Department.
In October, the issue was still being discussed, see this clip and this one from my hosting Korina Today. This could only have meant that the plot already hatched to oust Villar in September, could fester, and his dilly-dallying over Bolante could only have further soured things.
The Inquirer editorial would later suggest naked for all the world to see was the Predatory budgeting of the political pros. Wat to do about, the Institute of Popular Democracy asked in Dealing with the budget process problems: Leak-plugging or Re-piping?