The Long View: Bluffing


By Manuel L. Quezon III

Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Richard Gordon are prepared to go to the Supreme Court to ask for a temporary restraining order, or TRO. That is, if the Garci tapes end up being played in the Senate. The unsinkable Santiago warned her colleagues that they’d be liable for violating RA 4200, the Anti-Wiretapping Law, if they did such a thing.

But why just a TRO? If it authorized the playing of the tapes, she said, “the Senate would be an unwitting accessory to a crime.” Unwitting? It seems the battle of wits, with Santiago, Enrile, Arroyo and Gordon being against, and the rest of the Senate, for, the investigation of the latest “Hello, Garci”-related revelations, runs the risk of the tapes being played.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson should promptly play the tapes in open session, and provoke Santiago and Gordon into storming to the Supreme Court demanding not a TRO only but the arrest of every senator who refused to leave the session hall at that point. Or Santiago, with the able-bodied Gordon’s assistance, could wrestle Lacson to the ground, perform a citizen’s arrest, thump anyone who objected on the head with the Senate’s mace, and then go to the Supreme Court.

Then the Court would have to decide if Santiago and Gordon are right or wrong. If wrong, then Santiago et al. can look for other means to convince their colleagues of the error of their ways. If the Court upholds her, it justifies the arrest of the Senate (even Senators Lito Lapid and Bong Revilla, mind you, because, as Santiago would be the first to insist, ignorance of the law excuses no one). Having most of the Senate in jail would surely lead to dancing in the streets. The jailed senators, starting with Francis Escudero and Alan Peter Cayetano, could then petition the Court to order the arrest of the membership of the House of Representatives in the 13th Congress.

The congressmen, upon being hauled off to jail (at which point there would be massive public celebrations), could then petition for the arrest of most of the Philippine media (at which point we would see the Mother of All Holiday Economics kick in). The media could petition for the arrest of every newspaper subscriber, TV viewer, radio listener, blogger and blog reader, for being a party to the same crime with which they’re being charged. Some citizens might willingly line up to be jailed, forming lines that would put “Wowowee” to shame. Citizens could then petition for the arrest of past and present Cabinet officials like Ignacio Bunye and Michael Defensor, and the national joy and delirium at this point would be like the Second Coming of Christ.

At the end of it all, half of the country would be in jail, or waiting to fill jails yet to be built. At which point, the President could say the country has truly moved on, and receive a blessing from Cardinals Vidal and Rosales.

That is, if anyone really went ahead and called Santiago’s bluff, which no one will. So, seriously, folks…

Santiago pointed out that our Bill of Rights says the privacy of communication is “inviolable” except if authorized by the courts, or when “public safety and order requires otherwise as prescribed by law.” Otherwise, any evidence is “inadmissible for any purpose in any proceeding.”

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile helpfully pointed out what is provided by the Anti-Wiretapping Law, which is the specific piece of legislation applicable to the Garci tapes. There is a blanket prohibition on wiretapping and the use of materials obtained from wiretapping, for any purpose, with some exceptions for specific offenses. Those exceptions, to be availed of, require permission from the courts to authorize a wiretapping, or to use the results of an illegal wiretap to prosecute the offenses the law lists.

He forgets that among the listed exceptions is the crime of kidnapping. Yvonne Chua on Aug. 5, 2005, pointed out that “Renato Magbutay… Comelec director for ARMM until the Gloriagate broke, is believed to be the ‘Boy’ who discussed with Garcillano on June 5, 2004 the kidnapping of Rashma Hali, election officer in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan. Hali had voluntarily made an affidavit on the poll fraud allegedly perpetrated in the town.”

Enrile also overlooks the long-standing argument that the legal prohibition kicks in when the victims of an illegal wiretap come forward and say they never authorized the use of any such recording. He can well remember how President Ferdinand Marcos was victimized by an alleged recording of himself and Dovie Beams. It was worse than the Garci tapes because what was recorded was an absolutely private act, while the Garci tapes cover conversations entirely devoted to political matters. Marcos didn’t invoke the law, because to do so, after it was passed around, would have authenticated it and added to his humiliation.

Raul Gonzalez proposed authenticating the tapes, since no one had admitted they’d been recorded. Michael Defensor even commissioned a study by Barry Dickey of two tracks from the Alan Paguia (edited) version of the controversial tapes. When Dickey’s finding proved too nuanced (and welcoming of further analysis) to be politically helpful, Defensor then brought in Jonathan Tiongco (who died in a car crash last June) as an audio expert in November 2005. That’s when Defensor (in)famously said, “It is the voice of the President but that is not the President talking.”

These administration officials validate Escudero’s argument (which led to Santiago’s huffing refusal to be interpellated further) that too many assumptions are being made about the tapes. The victims themselves haven’t even invoked the law. The tapes haven’t been authenticated.

This is all very interesting. I myself care less about the content of the tapes themselves, and more about the Nixon-style cover-up that ensued. That’s enough basis to conclude the administration has lost its legitimacy.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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