The Long View: Majorities and minorities

The Long View

Majorities and minorities

By Manuel L. Quezon III

Philippine Daily Inquirer

First Posted 03:56:00 04/23/2009

There’s a temporary truce in the Senate while the senators try to figure out how to handle the case of former Senate President Manuel Villar Jr. The former Senate president considers the Senate Committee on Ethics a “kangaroo court” composed of his rivals for the country’ presidency.

His critics reply that – as Sen. Jamby Madrigal put it, relating how former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr. (not knowing that the complaint referred to his fellow former Senate president) reacted when he was shown the general facts concerning the complaint against Villar: “Whoever did this should be removed. Wow! This is big.” – that the case, in and of itself, is serious enough to warrant serious consideration. But Pimentel himself has publicly questioned the manner in which the ethics committee is going about its business.

I listened to Senator Villar defend himself, and it’s important, I think, to point out that he did not refuse to face an investigation; instead, he is questioning whether the ethics committee is the right venue for such an investigation. My impression was that he would not oppose the Senate constituting itself into a Committee of the Whole to tackle his case. Then the proceedings of the ethics committee would be subject to the Senate as a whole and its findings, whether rigged or not, would be recommendatory.

The danger is that the majority might use its numbers to ignore every argument of Villar’s on the pretext that he’s just stonewalling because he knows that even an initial – and negative – ethics committee report will hurt him, politically. This is a very great risk: both for Villar, if he doesn’t get his way; and even for the majority (including his rivals for the presidency) if they get their way, for it would also turn Villar into a victim of their ambitions.

At stake is something larger than the individual political career of Villar. In refusing to submit to the ethics committee, is Villar actually questioning the Senate’s committee system, and with it, the Senate as a representative body composed of minority and majority members with corresponding rights and privileges? On one hand, every majority is granted the privilege of selecting the leadership of the body and its committees; but on the other hand, the minority has rights which also apply to each and every senator.

This is why Villar and his supporters have been able to challenge the investigation, including the complaint itself and the proceedings. But that is also why Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson can insist that his committee has proper jurisdiction over the case. And perhaps, it isn’t entirely accurate to accuse Lacson and the others – their obvious lack of affection for Villar aside – of being a hanging jury. The real jury is the Senate as a whole, and the worst Lacson can be compared to is a fiscal who shoots from the hip, legally speaking.

Demeter’s three justifications for parliamentary procedure are that they are a necessity: first for “orderly procedure” to prevent “utter confusion, chaos and disorder”; second, for “the protection and liberty of the minority”; and finally, for “the expression of the will of the majority,” because it is “axiomatic that an assembly functions best when the majority rules.” Demeter adds that “democratic self-government implies that the minority, however convinced of its own wisdom, consents to be ruled by the majority, until in orderly process it can make itself the majority.”

Our current constitutional rules were put in place as a reaction to past majorities that were viewed as unduly unresponsive to either public opinion or basic concepts of fair play. However, things that were surely beyond even the wildest imagination of the framers of our present Charter have happened since then. And Villar has to ask himself how much he contributed to a system that now has him politically pinned against the wall.

In November 2000, when then-Speaker Manuel Villar Jr. transmitted the articles of impeachment to the Senate, he did so by means of a trick. Immediately after giving the opening prayer, he segued into the transmittal, taking the defenders of then President Joseph Estrada by surprise. The gallery cheered him on. But by doing so, he ignored a basic doctrine of representative bodies: to accord all sides the opportunity to debate the actions of the chamber. Having trampled on this right of his own majority – and the minority – all that the House could do was to oust Villar from the speakership.

The Senate itself, in organizing itself to try the impeachment charges, ignored an American precedent that placed the conduct of a president’s trial under the direct supervision of the Chief Justice. The senators, normally accorded the role of jurors, for example, hand in any questions they have, in writing, to the Chief Justice for him to ask on their behalf. Instead of adopting this more sensible American system when the Senate constituted itself as an impeachment court to try Estrada, the senators insisted on being “senator-judges.”

And then-Senate President Aquilino Pimentel was elevated to presiding judge in tandem with then-Chief Justice Hilario Davide, while senators took turns directly asking questions of the prosecution, the defense and witnesses. It made for dramatic television, but unduly tedious and confused proceedings.

And there have been other innovations that have blurred what should be the firm lines between majority and minority rights.

Impeachment itself, meant to arm House minorities with the power to hold even our chief executives accountable, has mutated out of all recognition by the “impeach me” tricks of the current dispensation, and the enduring reality that a large majority can easily gobble up enough oppositionists to make even the minority impeachment provision impossible to achieve.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

21 thoughts on “The Long View: Majorities and minorities

  1. The thing is Villar owes it to the public to answer the charges against him point by point. Right now all I can see is Villar determined to avoid having to answer anything except through generalities and motherhood statements.

    Something smells about that insertion and I want to know what it is.

  2. Call them innovations or mutations, politicians will always attempt to tweak and bastardize constitutional rules to their advantage. And since the rules themselves seem to allow for wide latitude of interpretation and justification, conflicts arise.

  3. Procedure? Politics as usual. Hmmm, has Lacson made any deal with who (silence on the Dacer case it seems)? Conrado Banal wrote about this, and he said because it is election season, “honesty is the best politics”.

  4. Ramdrod, the middle class? our middle classes are just as ignorant as the masses, as greedy as the rich and worst: they are as apathetic as other middle classes in across the globe.

  5. Villar has a right against self-incrimination AND any percon has the right to form his/her opinion based on what Villar says or not say. This is no different than calling Palparan, Puno or Corporal Smith this-or-that by bloggers and newspaper columnists and interpreting the transcripts and innuendos of cases to whatever end.

    But the Senate has its traditions, its rules, and its rules on how to make rules and how to deal with conflicts. Yes, th dealmaking for “save-the-earth” reasons or dealmaking for insidious reasons are among the options. [Unless, of course, one wants the head of the Iglesia Ni Kristo to mediate and be Kingmaker.]

    One does not give up simply because it gets tough and complicated.

  6. As a famewhore, Manny Villar just can’t resist the opportunity to grandstand. That’s why he ditched his ally, Erap, and had him impeached.

    As a shrewd businessman, Villar just can’t resist making a buck. That’s why he made those insertions.

    Should he become President, will Manny Villar continue taking the path of least resistance?

  7. Manolo,

    Can you start an info campaign on runoff elections?(not in this blog, your audience here already has an idea of what it is)
    The more I read it here,the more I am convinced that it would be the best for the Philippines.

  8. We will not be getting the best, the cleanest, and ideal leaders come elections, its always the case…maybe its a better option than anarchy. Perhaps we may have to be realistic about it and allow the political processes to work, and pray that the leaders we come up with, as imperfect as they are, eventually will “moderate the greed.” Or who knows, human nature has a penchant for surprises, we might see some pleasant ones…

  9. on a side note.. anolo’s advocacy on runoff elections have gained steam..

    my teacher in FSO review class has also advocated a runoff system here citing the example of France’s and the rise of Indonesian democracy and how the Indonesians have learned from the Philippine experience in terms of having an electoral mandate from the majority..

    She, Melissa Lao of ADMU, has made a brief yet affinitive(is this correct?) reference to your blog and to your arguments..

  10. Philippine sovereign debt has lately been taking some bumps because government revenue has been dropping like a rock while government spending has been zooming. Some financial institutions are now rating Philippine sovereign debt at the same level as Indonesia. That’s a drop from the lofty ratings we enjoyed the past few months.

    It’s unlikely that austerity measures will be instituted, especially with possible Presidential elections just a year away. Politicians will instinctively drain government coffers before elections, if only to show some accomplishments.

    But, despite our claims to have been “blessed”, the global economic crunch is catching up. Even the ever-resilient OFW remittances may slow down later this year. Some international institutions forecast a drop of 7.5 to 10% in remittances.

    How do you think this will this affect the Philippine political scenario?

  11. Like this entry manolo. I though its a very objective .

    Was watching David Brooks of New York Times in Charlie Rose Talks show PBS last night and cant help thinking of you while im on it. I was just thinking of people Phili in the league of Charlie Rose and David Brooks and really cant think of no one. I thought it could be you if only you did not waste soooomuch time and emotions with Gloria’s weakness and alleged sin and even very biased about it.

    Now Im happy to read this article. It only shows that if you shake your over emotionalism and biases. you really could be a very good political pundit and opinion writer. On ethat can really give Filipino people and clear view of what really is going on in the Phil.

  12. OFF TOPIC.

    Are the police preparing something we dont know?

    This morning, hundreds of anti-riot policemen conducted “crowd control” exercise in one of the bigger police camps in Metro Manila.

    Was that a regular and peridic drill or are they anticipating something?


  13. i dont know what is worse; the obvious posturing by these guys in anticipation of the 2010 elections or Mar Roxas and Korina Sanchez’ “interview” in Wowowee of all places. wow!

  14. As if the dynamics of the multi-party system at play in the upper chamber is not confusing enough, the affiliations of the majority-minority flavors doubly make it so.

    The majority who support the present Senate leadership is composed of administration (Santiago, Angara, Revilla, etc.) and opposition (Lacson, Legarda, Madrigal, etc.) senators.

    The minority is likewise composed of a mix-and-match: Arroyo, Lapid, Cayetano, Pangilinan, etc.

    In any which way the investigation goes, the administration must be enjoying this branding spectacle.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.