The Long View: Villar’s impeachment

The Long View
Villar’s impeachment
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:39:00 01/27/2010

ESSENTIALLY THAT IS HOW I HAVE ALWAYS viewed the process former Senate President Manuel Villar Jr. is trying to dodge: an impeachment. Senators in many ways can do as they please while in office, with the only real check and balance on their behavior being their fellow senators themselves.

In the case of the fundamental requirement for senatorial office, a mandate conferred by the electorate, the Senate itself retains primary jurisdiction through the Senate Electoral Tribunal. There senators can indeed exercise the tyranny of numbers, or they can go against political self-interest by demanding fair treatment even for opponents.

There was the case of Sen. Alejo Mabanag who then belonged to the minority Democrata. He was elected senator for the second senatorial district in 1922, but an electoral protest was filed. The Senate Electoral Tribunal, operating purely on the basis of the Nacionalista majority (at the time, justices didn’t sit in electoral tribunals as a foil to the majority), was poised to expel him. Senate President Quezon, then in the midst of a severe bout of tuberculosis, had himself brought to the Senate in a stretcher to demand justice for a political opponent. It’s no surprise that subsequently, Mabanag became a loyal Nacionalista, serving in the postwar Senate.

Even when Nacionalista Senators Ramon Diokno, Jose Vera and Jose Romero were denied their seats by the Liberals in 1946, the Senate had jurisdiction first, and only afterwards did they appeal their case to the Supreme Court, which reinstated them. But they didn’t deny the jurisdiction of the Senate just as the Senate accepted the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

In the Senate, its members can make speeches without fear of reprisal, on the hard-won legislative principle that an elected representative must be accorded every opportunity to act as the advocate of public causes. The only real limit on the kind of rhetorical impunity this privilege confers is that other senators may challenge one of their own, either by means of interpolations, or speeches of their own, or move for their colleague to be investigated and judged by what is essentially a jury of their peers.

It is the same logic that puts the fate of an impeached president in the hands of a jury composed of the only real peers of the chief executive: senators elected by the same national constituency. In the case of a president’s impeachment, the only real check and balance on the Senate is that the whole thing plays out in full public view, where partisanship can be pursued, but at the risk of being punished by the electorate in the next election.

The fundamentally political aspect of all this is freely allowed to play out because what is at stake, whether for a president being prosecuted by the House and upon whom the Senate is tasked to sit in judgment, or a congressman or senator haled before a committee to investigate allegations of unethical behavior, is public office. Public office is not an inalienable right; an office obtained by political means can be lost by political means, so long as the rules are observed in gaining or losing that office.

It is not as if life, liberty, or even property is at stake. There is no risk of the hangman’s noose or a firing squad, no automatic guarantee of imprisonment because only the courts can do that, and no risk of personal property being seized because no legislature can take that away.

Ninoy Aquino declined to participate in the proceedings of the military tribunal tasked with convicting him for rebellion, on the principle that as a civilian, he could only be judged by a civilian court. His life was at stake and in the hands of the wrong tribunal.

Villar, on the other hand, stands accused before the proper institution, the one to which he belongs, and which, institutionally, has a long tradition of insisting that it is the only body that has primary jurisdiction to determine the fitness for membership of one of its own – or what inferior sanctions ought to be imposed, short of expulsion.

The Constitution decrees that to lose office requires overwhelming numbers: a two-thirds majority to impeach a president or expel a member of Congress from either chamber. That is the equivalent of the courts requiring proof beyond reasonable doubt for conviction.

For a president, the absence of a two-thirds majority to convict means the failure of an impeachment. For a legislator, the maximum penalty of expulsion requires a similar majority and anything less means, at worst, a slap on the wrist. Which is not to say that something like censure, and a recommendation that charges be filed and ill-gotten profits returned, doesn’t hurt. For Villar the prospect of all these obviously does.

Not only would the findings of the Senate, in its capacity as a committee of the whole, provide ammunition for his critics, it might establish a precedent for future inquiries should he be elected to the presidency. That being the case, how he conducts himself now, as a senator facing scrutiny by his peers, is a clear indication of how he will conduct himself if the day ever comes when he has to face scrutiny by the same institution – this time in his capacity as chief executive.

I have mentioned how President Elpidio Quirino, the first chief executive to undergo impeachment proceedings, responded by vigorously facing the charges, opening up public records for scrutiny, and how the rules at the time fostered the proper investigation of the allegations. We have seen how President Joseph Estrada, after losing control of the House, attempted a vigorous defense. We know how President Macapagal-Arroyo engineered avoiding scrutiny by means of the rules and by denying, every step of the way, the legitimacy of any effort to hold her to account. Without even being president, Villar has embarked on an identical, and ominous, path.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

6 thoughts on “The Long View: Villar’s impeachment

  1. Its quite perplexing why supposedly well educated, principled, and intelligent people like Villar, the first ungentleman and Gloria Arroyo cannot find the gall, moral courage, and belief in democratic processes enough to face senate hearings.
    Villar insists that he will not get fair treatment, so what?
    …after all the trash talk about Estrada (me included), he’s probably the only one I witnessed with the balls enough to face his accusers and the whole country – for someone less educated and less articulate he has shown more leadership traits and character than these supposedly intelligent, very articulate tradpols.
    …Gibo seems to be of the same mold, lika Arroyo, he can talk the pants off forum watchers, but when push comes to shove, will he be able to stand up to everyone like Estrada did? Let the senate call him for the weapons released to the Ampatuans, why did they have AFP seals? and why is there no inquiry about this also?

  2. “Dapat masagot ang katanungang ito para hindi na maulit.Sino ba ang makikinabang kapag nagawa ang kalyeng ito, syempre tataas ang presyo ng mga properties malapit doon.” Loren Legarda

  3. To counter the public lynching of Villar by the Noynoy-Mar crowd including MLQ3……

    Strategic Perspective — By René B. Azurin
    It’s politics, not ethics
    More credibility, probably, would attach to the Senate committee report on its so-called “investigations” into the C-5 road project controversy if senators — most politicos, actually — were not widely perceived as being distinctly unshy, brazen even, about using their considerable power to influence government decisions on public works and procurement. That said, I would certainly give great weight to the C-5 allegations being leveled at Senator Villar if I were satisfied that they were true. I am not.

    On an issue precisely of ethics, objective observers must wonder how senators — like presidential candidate Aquino’s Liberal Party partymate Mr. Pangilinan — can first affix their signatures to one resolution clearing Mr. Villar and then about-face 180 degrees to affix their signatures to another one censuring him, just because “it’s the party stand.” Well, that, at least, is an explicit admission of how “honorable” senators define ethics.

    Although Mr. Villar has actually already made a point-by-point rebuttal in the Senate itself of the charges of “ethical misconduct” against him and has clearly taken pains to make available to the public — through media — documents supporting his answers to each allegation, he is, alas, simply not media’s darling. Thus, media outfits whose bias for his rivals is obvious to observers constantly detail the allegations against him in their stories on the controversy and formulaically just include his denials but not his specific answers to the allegations. Such is life in these politico- and elite-dominated islands.

    In a small attempt then to introduce some semblance of fairness in the media handling of the whole C-5 hullabaloo, let me (a trying-to-be-objective observer) mention, in summary, some telling details that I have personally found significant in support of Mr. Villar’s defense.

    One allegation is that Mr. Villar caused a budget “insertion” that provided “double funding” for one flyover in the C-5 road project. Significantly, the main author of the present Villar-censuring resolution, Senate President Enrile, himself said in a statement he himself released on this issue on Sept. 15, 2008 that “There is no attempt to fund the same project twice, or any attempt to defraud the government, as claimed by some quarters.” In his own point-by-point defense, Mr. Villar has made available engineering plans and public documents that show that the subject two P200-million items in the budget were appropriated for two different flyovers, one located at the Sucat Road intersection and one at the Manila-Cavite Coastal Road intersection. Conveniently ignored by Mr. Villar’s accusers is the fact that there is no plausible explanation as to how Mr. Villar might have been able to benefit from an alleged “double appropriation” since government disbursement procedures do not allow such a duplicate amount to be disbursed twice for the same project.

    Another allegation is that Mr. Villar engineered a “realignment” of the C-5 road so that it would pass through his properties. On this point, Mr. Villar has given out copies of official documents and design drawings, both in the Senate and in press conferences, that reveal that the alleged “original” alignment referred to in the ethics complaint is actually the alignment of the Manila-Cavite Toll Expressway Project, a toll road awarded by the Toll Regulatory Board to a private concessionaire, UEM-Mara Philippines. This toll road is completely different from the C-5 Road Project that is being built by the Department of Public Works and Highways.

    In an Oct. 15, 2008, clarificatory letter that responded to questions raised by then Liberal Party presidential candidate Roxas, DPWH Regional Director Robert Lala confirmed that the “original” alignment being referred to is the “alignment of the Toll Regulatory Board under concession with UEM-Mara Phils…. Said alignment is different from the (C-5) alignment being followed by the DPWH-NCR.” More significantly, Mr. Lala specifically affirmed that “The (C-5) project was not rerouted as it followed the original route or alignment prepared by DPWH-NCR except for the location of one bridge (Bridge No.2) whose centre line was slightly shifted in the upstream direction…in order not to create conflict with the proposed alignment of LRT Line I Extension Project…. Except for such shifting of Bridge No. 2, no more modification was made from the original alignment up to its construction phases from Sucat Road to Pres. Quirino Avenue.”

    A third allegation is that the government purchased the properties from Mr. Villar’s companies at an inflated price. In his defense, Mr. Villar has insisted that all the properties acquired — for the required right-of-ways — were purchased for their respective zonal values at the time. In his presentations to the Senate and to the media, he made available copies of certifications issued by the Bureau of Internal Revenue as to said zonal values. In fact, the acquisition price of properties expropriated by the government is fixed by law and no discretion is given to the executing agency.

    A fourth allegation is that Mr. Villar did not disclose a “conflict of interest” issue in the government’s acquisition of his companies’ properties. Proof that this is untrue is a letter — dated Nov. 9, 1999 — from then Department of Justice Secretary Serafin Cuevas in response to a Villar company (Adelfa Properties Inc.) request for a DOJ opinion on the conflict-of-interest issue. In that letter, Secretary Cuevas stated, “…inasmuch as the proposed transaction was not sought by API or by any of its stockholders, but was initiated by the TRB in view of the importance and urgency on the part of the government to acquire the subject properties…this Department does not foresee…that a principal stockholder of a private corporation who happens to be a member of the House of Representatives would be cited as having violated Section 14, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution which expressly prohibits legislators from being directly or indirectly interested financially in any contract with the government or any of its subdivisions, agencies, or instrumentalities.”

    Finally, a fifth allegation is that Mr. Villar should have divested his business interests in the real estate companies involved. Well, that does not happen to be required under the 1987 Constitution. What’s required (Article VI) is that “All members of the Senate and the House of Representatives shall, upon assumption of office, make a full disclosure of their financial and business interests.” So, unlike in the case of members of the executive branch of government, members of the legislative branch are only required to disclose their interests but are not actually prohibited from having such interests.

    Whether one is inclined to vote for Mr. Villar or not, an objective observer must be willing to at least consider the actual facts in the C-5 case and make up his mind on the basis of those facts and not on the basis of the rhetoric of political rivals. What should be obvious to any observer is that, as far as politicos are concerned, political ambition will trump ethical principles every time.


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  4. Just as with the banking industry, where politicos used their access to government reserves to commit plunder through government loans and bailouts (see the history of banking in the Philippines courtesy of Prof Paul Hutchcroft), it appears that the same thing goes on now with the property sector.

    And just as it happened then, these politicos, when they are pursued for wrong-doing, merely ask “why me?” or rather “why JUST me?”

    It is kind of like perhaps in the investigation of the NBN, the “fixers” might have asked, why the big spotlight on this project and not the North Rail?

    Accusers and accusees in these cases could just as easily have reversed fortunes, had circumstances been different. Personally, I think it is a good thing that these scandals come to light, but I can’t help but see the irony in it all.

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