The Long View
Senate can’t succeed where Rep. Arroyo failed
On Aug. 27, 1973, Ninoy Aquino wrote to Military Commission No. 2, saying, “I understand my lawyers have stated before the Supreme Court why a Military Tribunal cannot assume jurisdiction over criminal cases against civilians in times of peace. The whole civilized world recoils at the thought of civilians being dragged before military courts and tried as ordinary criminals.” He added that President Marcos had already declared him guilty of charges that Marcos never pursued in civilian courts, but only put forward once he had assumed dictatorial powers and created military tribunals under martial law.
And so, Aquino firmly informed the tribunal, “I have therefore decided not to participate in these proceedings: first, because this ritual is an unconscionable mockery; second, because every part of my being – my heart and mind and my soul – yes, every part of my being is against any form of dictatorship ; My non-participation is therefore an act of protest against the structures of injustice that brought us here. It is also an act of faith in the ultimate victory of right over wrong, of good over evil. In all humility, I say it is a rare privilege to share with the Motherland her bondage, her anguish, her every pain and suffering.”
Sen. Joker Arroyo, in defending his former foe and now friend, former Senate President Manuel Villar Jr., used Ninoy’s refusal to participate in the proceedings of Marcos’ martial law military commission as a justification for Villar’s refusal to participate in the Senate’s deliberations, as a committee of the whole, concerning allegations of financial impropriety on Villar’s part.
I wonder, though, if this is an apt comparison to make. Ninoy’s position vis-a-vis a military tribunal would be relevant if Senator Arroyo’s dear leader, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, imprisoned Villar and had him tried by a military court, but not otherwise. Indeed, the more appropriate cases might be those involving challenges to Ninoy’s election as mayor of Concepcion, Tarlac in 1956 and then as senator in 1967. In the first case, he was ousted because he was 19 days shy of the age required by law for the mayorship; in the second, he stayed in office despite the dogged pursuit of the case against him by President Marcos in the Comelec, the Senate Electoral Tribunal, and the Supreme Court – before whom he was ably defended by Sen. Jovito Salonga – who said he was too young on the day of election but the required age by the time he assumed office.
Marcos and the Nacionalistas were engaged in political persecution against Ninoy, who was the only opposition Liberal candidate to survive the NP senatorial sweep in the 1967 senatorial elections. Yet Ninoy, as skilled as any politician we’ve ever had, in pursuing his advocacies inside and outside the halls of the Senate, fought it out in every venue, including the Senate Electoral Tribunal.
Would Aquino have refused to face down a challenge to him in the Senate, if it involved ethics and not election? Probably not; he would not back off from a fight in the right venue, however much the odds were stacked against him, so long as occurring under a regime of the rule of law; only when the law became the writ of a single man, did he refuse to fight within institutions – because it was now a moral fight, to the death, as it turned out.
But no fight to the death is taking place, now. What there is, is a fight over allegations concerning Villar that, ironically, were first formidably built up by Arroyo himself, back on Aug. 17, 1998.
The case, basically, was this: Congressmen and senators are required to inform their respective chambers of their financial and business interests. If there’s a chance any legislation they propose might represent a conflict of interest with their financial interests, they’re supposed to inform their peers. This, Arroyo said, is a disclosure Villar never made.
Arroyo then detailed what he maintained was Villar’s modus operandi, in using his political office to further his private commercial gain. Arroyo mentioned loans from government financial institutions; the development of properties despite a lack of environmental clearances; and he subsequently expressed interest in allegations of land-grabbing.
At the time, Congressman Arroyo had been frustrated in his ambitions to become Speaker of the House; Villar, on the other hand, had adroitly maneuvered to become Speaker; yet in that case, as in a later case, when Congressman Arroyo served as one of the House managers in the impeachment of President Joseph Estrada, no one said he was motivated merely by political spite due to frustrated ambition. Instead, when Arroyo thundered “we cannot have a nation run by a thief,” the country applauded him, as it had applauded him during martial law and continued to applaud him until a couple of years ago.
Arroyo built the foundation for future cases, in which Villar is accused of maneuvering government projects, such as roads, to ensure they pass through his properties, even if the route of the roads have to be changed, wasting the funds already paid for right-of-way along the old, discarded path. The time and trouble to literally redraw the path of a road is worth it because it allegedly ate up portions of his properties, enabling him to seek compensation for right-of-way and saved Villar the expense of building roads to improve access to his developments.
Most interesting of all, is the allegation that his high office may have made possible his being paid at a rate higher than others, and collected these payments even when related to properties put up as collateral for government loans, and foreclosed.
Since I do not think Arroyo insincere, or senile, or corrupt, I can only suggest that Arroyo defends Villar today out of an insistence on the equality of House and Senate. If he failed in the House, no one should succeed with the same case in the Senate.