Impeachment without illusions

This post has actually been written twice. Something peculiar happened to Ecto and my entry vanished. After reconstituting it, I couldn’t post it. People texted me to complain that they couldn’t access my blog on the PLDT network. Neither could I, and I couldn’t post this entry either. If you’re reading this, it means the problem was solved at last.

It seems pretty much official: the State of the Nation address will focus on the super-region scheme, and not on constitutional amendments. Makes sense, since it’s easier to trumpet the regional scheme rather than deal with sustained criticism (despite trotting out Fidel Ramos) of the amendments effort.

Cardinal Sin’s first death anniversary was today.

Please take time to read Randy David’s explanation of the importance of the second impeachment complaint. His remarks from last Monday are reproduced at the end of this post.

In the punditocracy, my Arab News column for this week is Why I Don’t Want a Parliamentary System.

The Inquirer editorial explains why the Subic rape case is a kind of litmus test.

The Nation of Thailand makes a vigorous case for understanding protests as a kind of check and balance; and criticizes the Western obsession with painting people power as “undemocratic.”

The travails of Senator Joe Lieberman -challenged within his own party, hounded by liberal bloggers- is discussed in this pretty darned interesting article.

In the blogosphere, Peryodistang Pinay brings up a cautionary note: “Manila imperialism” shouldn’t be replaced with the Cebuano kind.

Morofilm reproduces the observations of someone who saw the Bayanihan dancers -and was appalled over what they did to Mindanao song and dance.

Chin Wong and Seth Stevenson don’t like the latest Apple ads. Tee hee!

Here’s Randy David’s speech:

Impeachment without illusion
(Concerned Citizens Forum, Manila Polo Club, 19 June 2006)
Randy David

We need to impeachment Gloria Macapagal Arroyo because it is the last constitutional procedure available to us if we wish to put a closure, once and for all, to the debilitating political crisis that was spawned by the fraudulent 2004 presidential election.

In its ruling on Proc. 1017, the Supreme Court said we cannot implead a president.  How then do we make a president accountable for sins committed against the nation?  The answer is impeachment.  To impeach Mrs. Arroyo is to uphold the constitutional order.  It is to defend what remains of our democratic institutions from the sustained assault to which they have been subjected by a reckless politician and her civilian and military allies.  Of course, there is no guarantee that we will succeed in removing Mrs. Arroyo from the office she has willfully usurped.  But the removal of a sitting president is only one goal of impeachment. The other goal is to actively engage our people in the political resolution of the crisis, preparatory to the long term rehabilitation of our society.  In this regard, impeachment is not the end, but only the beginning. 

A full year has quickly passed since Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye, in a frantic effort to cover up the crime of his boss, first publicly announced the existence of the so-called Hello Garci Tapes.  These tapes, as we now know, contained 152 highly incriminating conversations between former Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano and various individuals including Gloria Macapagal Arroyo herself and her husband Mike Arroyo.  Countless media reports, notably those printed by Newsbreak magazine, have pointed a finger at a unit of the ISAFP, the intelligence arm of the armed forces, as the source of these tapes. Yet, until now, no agency of government has been able to tell the public who exactly performed the wiretaps, on whose orders, how, and for what purpose. Strictly from a security standpoint, perhaps nothing can be as alarming as the wiretapping of the President.

What we know is this: Hardly anyone today disputes the fact that the inimitable voice in those tapes belongs to Mrs. Arroyo.  Secretary Bunye said so himself, even as he claimed that in the “original” tape the person Gloria was talking to was not Garcillano, but a man named Gary Ruado, a staff member of Rep. Iggy Arroyo, Mrs. Arroyo’s brother-in-law. A few days later, unable to provide a believable account of where he got the tapes, and why he knew which recording was original and which one was tampered, Bunye dropped out of circulation.  He later retracted his story.

Bowing to public pressure three weeks after the existence of the tapes became known, it was Mrs. Arroyo’s turn, on June 27th, to address the issue on national television. Reading from a carefully-crafted speech, she said that she owed it to the nation to set the record straight on the Hello Garci tapes.  She admitted having called a Comelec official during the canvassing period.  She called it a lapse in judgment for which she wished to apologize.  In English, and then in Filipino, she said she was sorry. From there, she urged the nation to move on.

In subsequent interviews, she deftly avoided answering any further questions about the tapes.  Each time the issue was brought up, she gave a stock answer: the question of the tapes should be raised in the proper forum at the right time.  She was entitled, she said, to the “rights of an accused.”  Clearly, she was bracing herself for an impeachment. She begged the public not to prejudge her.  In one interview, she said she should be allowed to have “her day in court.”

Few believed that she ever meant to answer the charges against her in a proper impeachment proceeding. From the start, she was bent on using every legal technicality available in order to avoid moral and legal culpability.

Many of us then, who had already poured out into the streets, already knew that this shrewd politician would do everything to forestall the explosion of public outrage. Given the critical nature of the circumstances at that time, we knew that the shift to the impeachment mode would slow down the gathering storm and give her time to consolidate her defenses.  But, having just emerged from the political turbulence of 2001, the public wanted to give the constitutional processes a chance to work.  This we could not ignore.

Impeachment was a decent option that was cynically manipulated by an indecent president.  Mrs. Arroyo was not at all interested in having her day in court.  She was focused on rigging the whole process.  With the connivance of legal mercenaries masquerading as luminaries, she and her allies in the House successfully killed the complaint before it could even reach first base.  She personally phoned every single congressman she thought would listen to her.  She talked to their parents, their spouses, their siblings, and their patrons. It was obvious that it wasn’t to their sense of justice that she was appealing.  For she knew, perhaps more than any other politician of this generation, that everyone has a need, a weakness, and a price. And she was prepared to pay the asking price.

One doesn’t need to be a moral philosopher to know that such behavior is foul and reprehensible.  But from a legal standpoint, the question always is: what law is being violated?  We know that she bought the House with public funds.  But how does one tell a bribe from a timely pork barrel release?

Theoretically, all laws have moral origins.  But in the hands of an amoral practitioner, the law is nothing more than a guide to calculation.  Perhaps this is modern society’s principal weakness – having rendered moral values increasingly irrelevant, it encourages crimes of calculation.  This is especially evident in countries like ours that are undergoing the painful transition to modernity.  Here, the rules are no longer fastened to any moral foundation. The old values that gave to everyday behavior the imprint of an ethical instinct are everyday being erased.  Yet, what should have taken their place — the rule of law and its accompanying institutions — have not fully taken root. In other words, the old is dying, but the new hasn’t been born.  This is where we are.       

When one reviews the events that have transpired since the crude murder of the first impeachment, one cannot avoid feeling suffocated in a self-sustaining miasma of moral brazenness. Consider the following:  A Senate committee, headed by Sen. Magsaysay, that is investigating the possible diversion of public funds intended for agricultural inputs to Mrs. Arroyo’s electoral campaign suddenly finds its quest rudely blocked at every point.  A crucial witness, Jocjoc Bolante, a former undersecretary in the Dept. of Agriculture and a known underling of Mike Arroyo, cannot be located.  This man freely goes in and out of the country’s airports, yet no police officer nor any NBI agent has been able to identify and bring him to the Senate.

Another Senate committee, headed by Sen. Biazon, has been investigating the role played by key officials of the Armed Forces and the PNP in the manipulation of the 2004 elections.  Two Marine officers, Gen. Francisco Gudani and Col. Alexander Balutan, dutifully appeared before the Senate to answer questions. Both were severely reprimanded by their superiors.  They now face the possibility of a court-martial.

On the same day Gudani and Balutan were summoned, Malacanang issued EO 464 requiring high officials of the government and of the armed services to first secure permission from the President before they could appear in any congressional hearing. This was quickly challenged before the Supreme Court by the senators no less.  But it took a while before the high court would rule on the petition, and so the investigations could not proceed.  Crucial portions of EO 464 were subsequently declared unconstitutional.  The appearance of government officials other than president in congressional hearings in aid of legislation is mandatory, said the SC.  If executive privilege is invoked, the reason must be explained.  As expected, the Palace appealed the decision, and so the ban on such appearances in hearings in aid of legislation remains.

The popular movement in the streets has kept alive the spirit of protest despite the seeming indifference of many from the middle and upper classes. The weekly demonstrations, no matter how small, have made sure that the issues against Mrs. Arroyo would not be forgotten.  To put an end to these noisy rallies, Mrs. Arroyo ordered her Executive Secretary, a former general himself, to adopt the so-called “calibrated pre-emptive response” in lieu of the existing policy of “maximum tolerance” in dealing with rallies without permits.  A firestorm of legal challenges greeted CPR.  Again, it took a while for the Supreme Court to act on the petitions. When it finally did, it categorically struck down CPR as invalid and declared it as having no place in our democratic firmament.  Forced to fall back on the existing BP 880 governing public assemblies, the PNP has continued to use repressive measures to confront demonstrators.  When reminded of the high court’s rejection of CPR, their cocky response is: So sue us!

Emboldened by the Supreme Court’s seeming silence on the petitions against EO 464 and CPR, Mrs. Arroyo, on Feb. 24th, Mrs. Arroyo issued Proc. 1017, declaring a state of national emergency.  Through General Order No. 5, she ordered the military and the police to suppress all lawless violence, acts of terrorism, and rebellion.  On the authority of this proclamation, all rallies were banned, warrantless arrests of critics were made, and government forces raided a newspaper office, claiming the right to issue standards to govern mass media, as well as to take over public utilities during the emergency.

Malacanang claimed it had unearthed a conspiracy between leftwing militants and rightwing soldiers to overthrow Mrs. Arroyo’s government.  What this supposed conspiracy is all about, and who the plotters are, remains a mystery to this day.  What we know is that it is the civilian critics who have borne the main blow of state repression since the issuance of 1017.  In a deft maneuver that has now become familiar, Mrs. Arroyo lifted 1017 one week later, before the Supreme Court could rule on it, claiming that the emergency has passed.  But instead of pronouncing the issue moot and academic, this time, the SC acted with dispatch.  In sharp language, the Court reminded the President that civil liberties are so basic to a democracy that they cannot be set aside by a declaration of a state of emergency.

In a separate concurring opinion, the Chief Justice minced no words.  Replying to Justice Tinga’s dissenting opinion, CJ Panganiban wrote: “Some of those who drafted PP1017 may be testing the outer limits of presidential prerogatives and the perseverance of this Court in safeguarding the people’s constitutionally enshrined liberty.  They are playing with fire, and unless prudently restrained, they may one day wittingly or unwittingly burn down the country.  History will never forget, much less forgive, this Court if it allows such misadventure and refuses to strike down abuse at its inception. Worse, our people will surely condemn the misuse of legal hocus pocus to justify this trifling with constitutional sanctities.”       

If our country were Japan or South Korea, where personal honor is still highly valued, Mrs. Arroyo would have long bowed out of power in shame for disgracing her office.  She would have drunk poison, or thrown herself into the murky waters of the Pasig.  If this were Germany or Great Britain, where law and politics are taken seriously, the party in power would have instantly and decisively distanced itself from its discredited leader as an act of mortification if not of self-preservation.  If this were the US, she would have been convicted for obstruction of justice on multiple counts, and hounded out of the presidency.

Our tragedy is that we are neither bound by traditional mores nor governed by the rule of law or the dynamics of a modern party system.  We have a head of state who seems impermeable to guilt or shame, but is not respectful either of the ethos of the law.  We have no real political parties; only parties in name – paper organizations of perennially shifting alliances based on transient interests.  They do not command nor expect any enduring loyalty from their members.  And worse, our justice system is manipulable.

As both a political and legal process, the idea of impeachment is based on the notion of democratic politics as an ongoing debate between a dominant and an opposition party.  Where political parties do not function as aggregations of collective interests, there cannot be a meaningful political opposition.  This is the reason why in societies like ours the public is called upon to play a catalytic oppositional role that one does not usually find in mature democracies.  This explains why social movements, NGOs, and popular coalitions of civil society have had to be at the forefront of the struggle to build a better nation.  This, of course, has its downside.  For as long as social movements are forced to perform the function of the opposition, we will continue to project the image of a politically unstable society. How do we cure this image?

For the moment, we seem to have no choice but to play that role.  Our people have become disenchanted not only with the administration but with the political opposition as well.  That is why the question of alternatives won’t go away.  Our people have come to distrust not only the politicians in power but also those presently out of power.  For this reason and many others, we should not wonder if they treat the impeachment process as though it were a futile and costly exercise.

They see impeachment in exactly the same way columnist Boo Chanco imagines it in one of his recent columns – a process that only serves to fatten a bunch of greedy congressmen and local government officials.  Boo’s advice is that the impeachment idea ought to be dropped, “unless the House Opposition can gather more than enough sure votes for the impeachment of Ate Glue to progress.”  I find this kind of reasoning somewhat illogical, but I am sure it makes sense to a lot of people.  Boo Chanco argues that the danger of being impeached has forced Gloria to make decisions that are useful to her political survival but detrimental to the nation’s interests.  The opposition, he says, must bow to political realities; if they do not have the numbers, they should give to Gloria the period of political calm she needs in order “to undo some of the things she did that are inimical to public welfare.”

This kind of reasoning assumes that Mrs. Arroyo’s controversial rise to the presidency in 2001 and her equally controversial bid to keep it in 2004 have not yet tied her down so completely that she could still actually govern well if only she was not distracted by her critics.  It assumes, above all, a well-meaning and principled president. I think we all know that in both 2001 and 2004, Gloria accumulated enough political debts that she would likely need another lifetime to repay all of them.  Today, the situation is such that the greatest threat to her remaining in power comes not from her political opponents, but from the very people who helped her capture the presidency and retain it.  I do not think these people have been fully repaid, or if they have, it is likely that not all of them are happy with what they got.  I think that if Gloria asked many people to help her lie, cheat, and steal in the course of her rise to power – it would be next to impossible for her to have calm and peace of mind.

We have no choice but to pursue the impeachment cause whether or not we can muster the requisite votes at the House.  Let me show you why we should pursue impeachment without any illusion.

1. First of all, to remain quiet is not an option.  A quietist attitude rewards thieves, opportunists, and dishonest people. Democracy is anything but quiet. The day citizens shut up will be the day they lose their stakes in the nation.  The well-documented findings and recommendations of the Citizens Congress for Truth and Accountability constitute a good beginning, and we can only be thankful for the painstaking work that went into the making of the CCTA Report.  The findings should make everyone’s blood boil.

2. Yet I also believe that our people are not ready for anything radical at this time.  Out of exasperation, they may welcome a revolutionary government, but I am almost certain that if they were not part of it from the start, they would not have the energy to support or defend it.  It will not take long before they start to question the basis of its authority, its legitimacy.

3. Our people are worried for their families.  That is why many have voted with their feet, by the thousands everyday.  They fail to see any hope of redemption for the country under the existing political leadership. They’re skeptical of almost all our present leaders.  We must tell them that there is hope for the country, but that hope can only be forged in acts of sustained resistance.  Impeachment is an act of resistance, even if, in the context of the comprehensive failure of our social system, it seems such a mild response.  It is at least a fitting response to the fraudulent ballgame that the Arroyo government has thrown at us – the so-called “People’s Initiative” for Cha-cha.  I’ve always believed that it is in the course of resistance that new leaders are born, new ideas are conceived, and new solidarities are formed.

4. Fourth, I believe the 2007 midterm election is unavoidable.  It presents our people with an opportunity to see where their representatives stand on a crucial moral and political issue.  They will be watching how they their congressmen will vote on the impeachment of the most unpopular president this country has ever had.  We cannot ignore elections, no matter how meaningless they might seem to many of us.

In the years following the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, foreign observers ridiculed our people by calling us a nation of 65 million sheep ruled by two clever thieves.  Our seeming patience with the Marcos conjugal dictatorship was inexplicable to foreigners.  Marcos himself thought he could be president forever when he called for a snap election.  We all knew he would rig the election, but for our people, it didn’t matter.  They wanted to use the election as an opportunity to show how angry they were.  Thus the snap election became the nursery of people power.   

I think the situation today is not so different.  As in 1985-1986, we may create the constituency for reform in the very process of opposing the existing government.  We learn more about ourselves or what has become of us as we take our institutions seriously.  I think we should begin to regard our actions as experiments – as attempts to find out something about ourselves.  We hope to see the new leaders emerge from all corners of our country as we focus on the failings of the present leadership.  The new impeachment complaint may be killed again by Mrs. Arroyo’s technicians of opportunism even before it could be heard.  If this happens and our people don’t get angry, then we will find other ways of resolving the crisis.  But we should never give up. As I said, we can’t even be sure that the voting at the House will be any different from the way it went last year.  I have no illusions.  We should remain open to the willful surprises of politics.

If, perchance, we can persuade our people – especially the young – to once more take up the challenge of political involvement as we go through the process of explaining the case against Mrs. Arroyo, I think we shall have contributed to restoring our people’s confidence in the nation as a whole.  At no other time has this become more necessary.  By the power of negative example, Mrs. Arroyo has done a lot to cultivate in our people not only an intense dislike for politics, but also a comprehensive distrust for government.  If our nation is to survive in the long term, we must do what we can to help repair the damage that has been done.  It will not be easy.  It will take a while.  But we must seize the initiative whenever it presents itself, and begin from there.  The impeachment of an unworthy leader is always a correct starting point for a nation’s political rebirth.

Thank you.

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Manuel L. Quezon III.

19 thoughts on “Impeachment without illusions

  1. Randy’s argument is unassailable, It presents the best, most comprehensive case for filing and hearing of the charges against Arroyo

  2. With the second impeachment, another battle begins…and I hope this time it will end in a more conclusive note so that this country could really move on forward

  3. When I heard Chiz Escudero say, about a month ago, that they will not file the next impeachment unless they have the numbers, I called his office, talked to his staff and protested Chiz’s plan. It pre-empts the people’s right to test their representatives, for the people to witness and know clearly who are courageous and who are hideous cowards, who speaks the truth and who are shameless liars. The last time we checked, 51:158 was the ratio of good over evil in the House of Representatives, what’s it going to be this time.

  4. For public knowledge, let’s call the media to reveal the names of congressmen who killed the impeachment last year. My friends here also want to know the list of Pro-admin congressman, para malaman natin kung sino ang hindi dapat ibubuto sa darating na halalan.

  5. Prof. David makes a very strong point about elections; and I totally agree with Rina. Everyone ought to watch the impeachment carefully. Watch what your representatives do, what they say and if you can, try to discern why. With midterm elections coming up, the impeachment is no longer just about Gloria. Impeachment will be a proving ground that will test the mettle of Congress and give all of us a good idea of who we want to see in power again – or not – after 2007. If you feel that, by their actions, your elected representative has ceased to truly represent you and the national interest, elections are the surest way to hit back at him where it will hurt the most.

  6. Malaya published a complete list of the Representatives who voted for, against and those who abstained. I kept it.

  7. Hi Juan Makabayan! Thanks! Pakipost it, and let’s circulate it through emails, blogs, mailing lists for public information to enlighten the people and for them to think twice kung sino ang karapatdapat. Congressmen (tonggressmen?) who are not keen about making Glueria answerable to all the allegations against her, should not be voted! The prerogative then (election time)is on the people’s side.

  8. I think the Arroyo will try one or all of the following:

    1. try to abort the impeachment using the makalintal argument

    2. prevent TV from covering the impeachment live

    3. follow the Villar precedent and just call for a vote without allowing the charges to be aired.

    Remember Arroyo didn’t spend the last year doing everything to suppress the truth for nothing.She knows that if those charges are presented in the proper forum and on live TV anything can happen.

  9. The “tongressmen” are in a bind right now. To allow the impeachment to prosper may cost them their positions in the house but should they once again “kill” it may lead to “permanent political disability” for them and their families. They are now caught between a rock and a hard place. Re-electionists and last-termers would now have to think twice harder this time, as a wrong move could lead them to a deathtrap.

    They have to be wary of how their constituents will “reward” them come election time, but then again, to earn the ire of the leprechaun in the palace might lead to “no pork for you” or “no position for you” scenario. Tsk, tsk, tsk….Poor “tongressman”, what are you to do?

  10. Re:Arab news Column
    Re: master and servant situation in a democracy…

    How true! because of this inequality,we can not see and feel what democracy is.

    But some may ask,in the US there is still slavery napalitan nga lang ng mga Latino at Pinoy ang mga African American, then there really is no democracy , if that is the case.

    In one Blog Juan Makabayan,laments the labeling of Left,Right,Center dagdagan ko ng top,down,middle

    But to me thosse labels are consequences of a democracy.

  11. How true! because of this inequality,we can not see and feel what democracy is. by Karl Garcia..
    Karl, right on the money!!! Back in l982 when we were able to ammend our constitution after the “expatriation” process, the very first thought that came to the minds of the drafters was that magic word EQUALITY. Now, it has a prominent spot in our Charter of Rights and Freedom and the Basis of many of our laws and court challenges. And many a successful challenges have been launced and laws ammended or annulled because of our equality right provision. an example;;
    1. Equal pay for work of equal value.
    2. Female soldier in all fields where they are capable
    3. no discrimination in place of work. job is open to both sexes.
    4. same sex marriage
    5. no age, height, race, color or any description for any job wanted ad.
    and many more. just because of that one “magic word” one and the court that give a more leeway to challenges. and it goes something like this.. “That everyone is equal before and under the Law”. Canada Charter of Rights and Freedom l982 as ammended.

  12. Vic,

    On the note on equality: the AFP is, am happy to say, very gender equal. AFP does not discriminate against gays. There have been gay officers and men in the AFP too.

    There was one officer though who was sacked and forced to quit the service not for being gay but because he abused the men under his command.

  13. “She begged the public not to prejudge her. In one interview, she said she should be allowed to have “her day in court.”

    True. Blame it to our democratic institutions. Blame the US where its democratic government guarantees rights to individuals including those of the criminals, the accused and the convicted. Just look at Erap, despite the overwhelming evidence, he still is presumed innocent.

    “From the start, she was bent on using every legal technicality available in order to avoid moral and legal culpability.”

    Blame it to our lawyers/legal advisers/consultants. They make the worst criminals worthy of consecration for sainthood.

    “For she knew, perhaps more than any other politician of this generation, that everyone has a need, a weakness, and a price. And she was prepared to pay the asking price. ”

    So this citizen initiated impeachment will not push thru without the endorsement of these congressmen who have asking prices painted all over their faces?

    ” But how does one tell a bribe from a timely pork barrel release?”

    Shrewd woman.
    “Two Marine officers, Gen. Francisco Gudani and Col. Alexander Balutan, dutifully appeared before the Senate to answer questions. Both were severely reprimanded by their superiors.”

    They now face the possibility of a court-martial.
    Is it a known fact that military is not divided into the good and the bad but by who ‘s in and who’s out of the group that enjoys benefits and special privileges. The outcast becomes disillusioned and turn their loyalty to another group.

    ” Our people are worried for their families. That is why many have voted with their feet, by the thousands everyday. ”

    People have already voted with their feet long ago.
    They don’t join the rallies of the three groups; the left, the right and the middle. The left refers to the militant and left-leaning groups, the right refers to the civil society who wants to protect their interests and the middle refers to the groups with political agenda and personal vendetta.

    Who can convince the people of the sincerity of these leaders. Randy David?

  14. Presumed innocent pero nakakulong(Erap). Sabihin niyo na gusto niyo. Walang tatalo kay ate Glo! Hehehe.

  15. “There was one officer though who was sacked and forced to quit the service not for being gay but because he abused the men under his command.”

    Anong klaseng abuse ba yan Anna? Kung sexual abuse yan, na sack siya dahil sa kabaklaan niya.

  16. The readers of this forum should also work for the legalization of divorce so that women (and men) can liberate themselves from unhealthy marriages.

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