Monthly Archives: August 2005

Hyatt 10 plus, minus

The key resource persons* at yesterday’s Black and White forum, Butch Abad and Dinky Soliman, could not remember all the members of the seven-person delegation from the Cabinet that met with the President either on June 19 or 20. Soliman, a member of that small group, named Vice President Noli de Castro, Cesar Purisima, and Juan Santos, but perhaps under the pressure of time, she could not remember the rest.

We tried contacting other Cabinet officials to find out. Ric Saludo, the Secretary of the Cabinet, replied as follows: "As you know, such mtgs are covered by executive confidentiality. While the resigned Cabinet members may wish to violate that indispensable rule, I abide by it." In a second text message, he added a careful caveat: "Just a note: My reply should not be construed to mean that my for[m]er colleagues had correctly reflected Cabinet discussions."

Unfortunately, there was no space in the appropriate story to accommodate his replies; this notice may have to do for now.

_______________

*An emphatic Ging Deles, at yesterday’s forum: "We’re not leaders here, we’re resource persons."

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Hyatt 10, more or less

An obsessive-compulsive note: Please mark the difference between the money quote about Pagcor chairman Efraim Genuino as read by Butch Abad in the Hyatt 10 statement:

“I need Genuino because he provides me with support.  He takes care of media and the bishops for me.”

and the quote as remembered by Dinky Soliman, who, unlike Abad, was part of the seven-person delegation that met with the President sometime the third week of June:

"I need him to survive. He takes care of the media and the bishops."

That’s how she recalled it during the Q&A in yesterday’s forum at the Metro Club, and how she repeated it to me over the phone after the forum. (That’s also how I quoted her in this story.)

Naturally, I asked her how she reacted then, after the President’s, ah, declaration of dependence on the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. and its chairman. "At that point, I just took it for what it meant," Soliman said.

Which leads me to a second obsessive-compulsive note. In the Hyatt 10 statement Abad read, we find this line:

When the president pressed them for names and the group mentioned the name, Ephraim Genuino of PAGCOR, the President’s response almost floored them …

There is, I would think, a difference.

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Hyatt 10 statement

This statement was read by former education secretary Butch Abad, at yesterday’s Makati City forum organized by the Black and White Movement, on behalf of the "Hyatt 10" (whose members, aside from Abad, include Emy Boncodin, Dinky Soliman, Bert Lina, Mely Nicolas, Willy Parayno,  Cesar Purisima, Ging Deles, Johnny Santos, and Rene Villa).

“Survival-At-All-Cost”
(Or, How To Run One’s Country to the Ground)

The impeachment process may abruptly end this week.  It will likely end without the parties in the case being given the opportunity to present the substantive issues underlying the amended impeachment complaint, as well as, the evidence supporting them.

For this reason, we, the ten cabinet secretaries and key officials who resigned last July 8 and who appealed to PGMA to voluntarily relinquish the Presidency, would like to take this opportunity to share with you information that will explain further our decision to resign, information that the public must know. 

In our resignation statement, we expressed alarm over the “survive-at-all-cost” policy that the President had adopted in dealing with the crisis.  We were afraid that from then on decision-making would be dictated not by the demands of reform and good governance but mainly by political accommodations to serve the ends of day-to-day political survival.

We saw this policy at work in a number of incidents at the height of the crisis; allow us to cite some of them:

1. We took issue with the President about her reliance on parallel groups making decisions and operating without transparency and any accountability, except perhaps to her.  We complained that this manner of operation was confusing and resulting in said groups working at cross-purposes with offices with the mandate to perform their functions.  For example, we were surprised in one meeting where the President admitted having to rely on Rep. Ronnie Puno as “crisis manager” at the height of the Garci tape crisis when there were people in the Cabinet who could be just as, if not more, competent, to handle the situation.

We wondered: Were other parallel and unaccountable groups relied upon by the President to help her out at other instances, particularly in the 2004 elections?

2. During a meeting between a small group of Cabinet secretaries and the President, the group insisted that apart from convincing her husband, the First Gentleman, and their son, Rep. Mikey Arroyo, to go on self-imposed exile, she should also consider giving up certain officials closely identified with the First Gentleman.  When the president pressed them for names and the group mentioned the name, Ephraim Genuino of PAGCOR, the President’s response almost floored them: “I need Genuino because he provides me with support.  He takes care of media and the bishops for me.”

We wondered: What did the President mean by those words?  What role do Genuino and PAGCOR play for the President in relation to the media and the bishops?

3. On July 5, in a Cabinet meeting a week after her “I am sorry” speech, the President expressed remorse over her public statement on the Garci tape, chastised those of us who insisted on her speaking about the tape and complained that she drew more flak than public sympathy for her apology.

We wondered: Did she make the admission on the Garci tape out of a sincere desire to tell the truth? Or, was the apology made out of fear that some Cabinet members might resign if she did not?  Was this the reason why a majority of the people viewed her public apology as insincere?
 
In the same Cabinet meeting, the President announced, in light of what she perceived as escalating attempts to destabilize her government, a new framework for governance – national security.
   
Again, many of us wondered: Was the President now confusing her own survival with that of the state, so that any criticism directed at her would now be viewed as attacks on the security of the state itself?  Is this new doctrine what drove ISAFP agents to raid the San Mateo apartment of Mr. Tabayoyong without any legal justification and in clear violation of  Mr. Tabayoyong’s constitutional and political rights?

The latest issue that has hit the headlines – the resignation of SBMA Chairman Francisco Licuanan – again graphically illustrates this “survival-at-all-cost” syndrome.  This time, the cost is competence and professionalism in governance, the ability of the government to attract highly qualified and dedicated men and women of integrity from the private sector to serve in government.  It was not enough that Mr. Licuanan had to be sacrificed to give way to what is generally suspected to be an impeachment quid-pro-quo.  Unable to explain Licuanan’s abrupt resignation, unnamed Administration officials had to resort to lies — that “he did not have a taste for the bureaucratic life” and that the workload at SBMA was “too stressful” for him –fabrications that Licuanan politely rejected as “wrong impressions.”

Again we asked: How many more competent and deserving people in government will be sacrificed and how many more juicy positions in government will be doled out in exchange for support in the impeachment process?

Today, the House Committee on Justice may finally decide to consider the original Lozano complaint as the appropriate complaint to be discussed in the ongoing impeachment hearings.  The vote will mean the exclusion of the amended Lozano complaint, which was originally endorsed by 43 representatives (and which we are told has since increased to more than 70 as of yesterday) and where a number of individuals and organizations were co-complainants.

We have serious reasons to doubt that the Lozano complaint was simply a solitary effort by Atty. Oliver Lozano to impeach the President.  It more likely appears to us to have been part of a grand plan, known or not known to Atty. Lozano, to frustrate the impeachment process right from the start.  If this is true, we feel this is yet again another scheme perpetrated to ensure the President’s survival, at the cost of the integrity of the Constitutional process of impeachment.

We are bothered by these thoughts because of an incident that occurred on that memorable night of June 27, right after the President made her now-famous “I am sorry” speech before our people.  For this purpose, allow me to recognize an eyewitness to an exchange between the President and a key Cabinet official regarding an impeachment complaint that was filed in the morning of that day, former DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman.

[At this point, Soliman narrated the details of the three-way exchange.]

Like you, we are disturbed by questions arising from said incident: Was it a coincidence that Atty. Lozano filed his impeachment complaint in the morning of June 27, and in the evening of the same day, PGMA made her “I am sorry” speech on the Garci tapes? Or, was the weak and possibly defective-in-form Lozano complaint part of a grand conspiracy to frustrate and preclude the filing of an honest-to-goodness impeachment complaint that the Palace anticipated would arise from the public admission made by the President on the Garci tapes? If that is so, were Atty. Lozano and Party-List Representative Marcoleta aware of such a plan? If that is so, is this the reason why anti-impeachment proponents in the House Committee on Justice have adopted a very restrictive and narrow interpretation of the impeachment rules and the Constitution to favor the consideration of the original Lozano complaint to the exclusion of the substantial amended complaint?

These are questions we have raised just on this particular incident.  We have more to ask as we did earlier.  And, more important, you too, citizens of this country, have your own questions that deserve answers. You deserve the truth, no less.

Right now, the venue where we can demand answers, testimonies and evidence from all parties is the impeachment trial, the only constitutional process available and acceptable to many to ferret out the truth.  What happens when the House Committee on Justice votes to consider only the original Lozano complaint and subsequently acts to throw it out on a technicality? What do we do next?

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No. 100

An extremely long day:  attention, reflection, tension, confrontation, resolution — and I’m talking about work! The political day had its own disorienting trajectory.

But what I really want to say, for now, is: This is my hundredth post, in just under two months. I wanted to mark it with something appropriate, like a few paragraphs on the generosity of blogs (well, maybe tomorrow); or a link to a new Tolstoy review (a new one is always a joy); a reminder, a sobering look back, at the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, before the month ends (but be warned, some may find this politically incorrect);  a first attempt to understand Randy David’s unexpectedly disturbing column last Sunday; or, simply, a favorite website. Choose your poison!

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The latest word

Newsbreak’s latest issue packs a wallop. Like some of PCIJ’s breakthrough reporting on the election fraud crisis hounding President Arroyo, the magazine’s special report assumes the revelations in the Hello Garci tapes are right on the money — and then (crucially) takes it from there.

The cover story, by Gigi Go, is based on an interesting set of rather sanguine sources.

But this is the story that six operators who worked for President Arroyo told NEWSBREAK in recent interviews. We sought them out as we tried to complete the picture of what actually happened during the presidential elections. Most of them are long-time NEWSBREAK sources, and had provided information in our series of reports on poll fraud last year.

They said that even if they revealed damaging information regarding the elections, they doubt if the opposition would really go out of its way to identify them and ask them to surface. “Some of them have utilized us in the past and they will be needing us in the future,” one of them said. For security reasons, however, these sources shall remain unidentified.

There are other stories. Of particular interest to me, because of stories I’ve written about alleged gross mismanagement at Pagcor, is a team-written story on the ministrations of Pagcor chairman Efraim Genuino.

But Garcillano had one regular caller: an unidentified male who kept asking him for election updates and, in two instances, possible pay-offs to election manipulators.

In previously published transcripts, the man was identified as losing senatorial candidate Robert Barbers, who barely missed the 12th senatorial slot. In some instances, the man was identified as First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo ….

But Pagcor managers told NEWSBREAK that the man was actually Genuino. They reviewed the tapes from the ABS-CBN Web site and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism blog site.

As it turns out, the second most famous conversation in the Hello Garci tapes, the one about Sen. Barbers allegedly balking at the prospect of paying a P5-million bribe, did not involve Barbers at all.

In a succeeding conversation, a man who sounded like Genuino sought Garcillano’s advice regarding a group of alleged Comelec people who offered their services to rig votes. Genuino said the group was asking for P5 million.

Interesting, yes? A must-read.

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Blog by the Pasig

I think the Palace has finally risen to the challenge first posed by Edwin Lacierda: to create a presence in the so-called blogosphere. In Recent Comments, you will find an article posted by Sec. Ricardo Saludo or "RS" (his second post here). But if you follow this link, you will find yourself in Rational Views, a still-evolving blog produced by (or for) some of the more writing-savvy officials in Malacanang, those who do the heavy intellectual lifting. If we view blogging as a potentially or primarily positive form of participation in the public discourse, we can only welcome the new kids on the block — and encourage them to take part not only through occasional articles or full-length speeches, but also and always in that most democratic of spaces: the often-demotic comment thread.

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Notes on 79

No Wonder They’re Behind Department. The political opposition has given itself a deadline for rounding up the 79 signatures. "That [Tuesday] is also our target," Rep. Ronaldo Zamora told reporters. At this point (the weekend before a possibly crucial vote in the Committee on Justice), the pro-impeachment camp is behind in the numbers game, with almost all of their hopes pinned on the conjugal partnership of Sen. Manuel and Rep. Cynthia Villar. ("Senator Villar is playing for higher stakes," Zamora noted impishly.)

Here’s one possible reason why, a month after the impeachment complaints were referred to the committee, the opposition is still playing catch up. From an ANC interview with "opposition lawyer" Harry Roque:

Without the 79, it’s over, and that’s why in fact, I have allowed the congressmen to take the lead in this initiative. I have asked the legal to take a backseat because what we are witnessing now is a political play more than a legal play.

I don’t know which is more revealing: the fact that Roque has realized that impeachment is a political process only belatedly, or that, apparently ("I have allowed the congressmen to take the lead"), he calls the shots.

Stretching It Too Thin Department.  In the same ABS-CBN story, the spokesman of the President’s impeachment team, lawyer Romulo Makalintal, admitted that if the opposition gained79 signatures, it "opens the possibility" that the President would in fact be impeached. And then he added:

"The rules state that they should have 79 votes at the time of filing. A creeping impeachment does not apply. Even with 79 votes, it could still be killed in the House plenary," Macalintal said.

No, it can’t. The constitutional provisions on impeachment actually provide for the tyranny of the minority (to, ah, coin a phrase). Thus, paragraph 3 of Section 3 of Article XI declares:

A vote of at least one-third of all the Members of the House shall be necessary either to affirm a favorable resolution with the Articles of Impeachment of the Committee, or override its contrary resolution.

Thus, with 79 votes, even an anti-impeachment decision at the committee level can be overturned at the plenary.

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Senate sense

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye greeted the news that  Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile had entered into a "working coalition" with the Senate majority as a "welcome development." And then in a classic case of talking-through-one’s-hat, he ventured a longer explanation:

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said that the Palace believed Enrile when he said that his decision to move to the Senate majority was for the national interest. “We thank Senator Enrile for taking such a position because this is the same position taken by the President, that unity should be based on the national interest,” he said.

I suppose Bunye, an able lawyer who takes his role as explainer-in-chief seriously, really didn’t have much to go by. But he –  and the Palace — would be wrong to think that Enrile’s working coalition is necessarily a plus for the President. Or that "national interest" as Enrile defines it will necessarily coincide with the President’s definition. Writes Amando Doronila (the "whippersnapper," in Manolo Quezon’s naughty joke, who fell victim to the wily octogenarian in Wednesday’s Commission on Appointments hearing):

While the switch of Enrile to the working majority weakens the opposition in the Senate, it also creates instability in the majority, which is not bound by steadfast loyalty to the President.

Doronila also observed:

The new majority is a mixed group, composed mainly of independent-minded senators whose position on legislative issues is not defined by party affiliation. There is less certainty of their votes in an impeachment trial.

Note also that Enrile cleared his qualified defection with Joseph Estrada himself.

“I cleared it with the president of the Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino, Erap,” Enrile, who chairs PMP, told reporters Thursday. “And then I discussed this with Senator (Jinggoy) Estrada and Senator Dr. Loi Estrada.”

“He (the senior Estrada) agreed. He allowed me to go ahead and establish a working coalition with the majority in the Senate.”

So it could be that Enrile, again, is "laying the predicate" in the Senate, but for what end? The answer may not necessarily be to the President’s liking.

PS 1. Sen. Manuel Villar, who knows a thing or two about the right time to leave one’s principal, and who had entered into a now-defunct term-sharing arrangement with Senate President Franklin Drilon, is also making noises about his wife’s possible endorsement of the impeachment complaint against the President. This, I should think, makes the Enrile element in the Senate periodic table even more unstable.

PS 2. On a slightly off-tangent note, Edwin Lacierda tackles three legal arguments often heard in the impeachment debate, in a bracing brief that does not necessarily look kindly on his fellow lawyers. Or the people’s representatives in Congress.

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Big Brother

He may well be the indispensable politician of the last 30 or even 40 years; without Juan Ponce Enrile, many of the most significant events in our recent history do not make sense. As one of Marcos’ whiz kids in the 1960s, martial law administrator in the 1970s, Imelda Marcos’s rival in the 1980s; as Edsa mutineer, coup plotters’ inspiration, successful non-Cory Candidate for the Senate during the immediate post-Marcos years; as one of Ramos’s marriageable political non-virgins and alleged chief beneficiary of dagdag-bawas in the 1990s; as "lay the predicate" impeachment trial senator-judge and born-again anti-PPA candidate in the first years of the 21st century — Manong Johnny has either shared center stage or could be heard ominously in the wings, in the melodrama that is Philippine politics.

Yesterday, he formally severed his ties with the Senate minority, declared himself an independent, and then announced a "working coalition" with the expanded (but divided) Senate majority. How many of us, upon hearing the news, got the spooky, familiar sense that, somehow, Enrile had positioned himself once again to play a prominent role in yet another political crisis?

To think he’s only in his eighties.

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Impeach notes

The chairman. Rep. Ace Barbers, one of the five congressmen who added their names to the list of endorsers of the amended impeachment complaint yesterday, tonight praised Rep. Simeon Datumanong’s handling of the impeachment proceeding. I have a contrary view: Datumanong seems to have a hearing problem, and frequently recognizes only the loudest motions (literally). Yesterday, for instance, Akbayan party-list Rep. Etta Rosales seemed to have the hardest time getting his attention, because she did not sit right in front of him and did not shout into the microphone. This state of affairs may have an adverse impact on public perception, feeding skepticism about the process itself. Is it too difficult to seat a vice chairman or a staffmember right beside Datumanong to help him navigate the shoals of parliamentary motions?

A coincidence? Tonight, on Korina Sanchez’s show, ex-Times columnist and IPER trustee Earl Parreno pointed to a disconcerting sequence of events: right when text messages claiming the end of the impeachment process in Congress were circulating, Barbers and four other congressmen broke from the administration coalition and signed the amended (stronger) impeachment complaint. Parreno did not mean to say the congressmen were part of a Malacanang conspiracy, of that I’m certain, but he was clear about the impact of the five congressmen’s decision: The public may now be thinking that the impeachment process is far from dead. That is exactly what Malacanang wants the public to think, he said. Keep the public away from the streets, but at the same time keep the impeachment proceeding confined to Congress. In other words: The five congressmen may have played right into Malacanang’s hand.

The delay. Yesterday, after the Committee on Justice voted 54-24-3 to discuss the prejudicial questions first, opposition spokesman Rep. Allan Peter Cayetano fielded questions from ANC’s Ricky Carandang. He expressed his dismay over the vote. What this means, he said, is that we have opened the door to other prejudicial questions, to prejudicial questions about prejudicial questions.  He gave an example: Now that the committee has agreed to discuss which of the three impeachment complaints should be given due course to, what’s to prevent the committee from discussing, say, standards of evidence for choosing among the complaints? Cayetano painted a bleak portrait of more delay. Today, his worst fears came true: Someone did ask what standards of evidence the committee would use in its deliberations. Someone did raise the specter, merely through asking prejudicial questions about prejudicial questions, about greater delay. The only thing was, that someone was … Cayetano himself. I guess those 79 votes are still unbearably out of reach.

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On initiation

I hesitate to criticize the anchors of ANC, because (a) on-air hosting is much more difficult than it looks,  (b) making informed comments in the rhetorical vacuum that sometimes passes for Philippine politics is a thankless task, and (c) the total impact of the news cable network on the public discourse is decidedly positive. But I was struck yesterday by Karmina Constantino’s constant, almost obsessive referring to one Constitutional provision, on the initiation of impeachment cases, as if it were the key to the impeachment proceedings in the House Committee on Justice. Throughout the day, in every interview, she asked everyone how it was possible to misread paragraph 1 of section 3 of Article XI, when it was so clear, she said.

Paragraph 1 reads as follows: "The House of Representatives shall have the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment."

How is it possible to argue with this provision, the always competent Constantino asked, when it clearly states that Congress had "exclusive power" to "initiate all cases"? Perhaps she thought that paragraph 1 effectively disqualified the original impeachment complaint, filed by citizen Oliver Lozano; I don’t know; I wasn’t too clear on this.

The problem is, paragraph 1 cannot be read out of context. The very next paragraph begins: "A verified complaint for impeachment may be filed by any Member of the House of Representatives or by any citizen upon a resolution or endorsement by any Member thereof, which shall be included in the Order of Business within ten session days, and referred to the proper Committee within three session days thereafter." (Emphasis added.)

Impeachment must be initiated in the House, yes, but the actual complaint need not be filed by a congressman.

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Who’s next?

Last night’s decision by five congressmen to add their signatures to the amended impeachment complaint was timed with the early evening newscasts in mind. The idea, or so it seems to me, was to jumpstart the impeachment bandwagon (by encouraging more congressmen from the so-called Conscience Bloc, which is really an ad hoc grouping that changes composition depending on the issue at hand, to climb down from the political fence).

It was a good tactical move, especially when you consider that, except perhaps for Rep. Ace Barbers, the other congressmen (Reps. Gilbert Remulla and Renato Magtubo especially) were expected in the end to endorse the amended complaint. We must never underestimate the element of surprise, or the precious propaganda value of a Rep. Prospero Pichay, a leader of the anti-impeachment camp, failing to sound unflustered on national TV.

But did the opposition in fact have anything to do with the decision of the five congressmen to add their signatures to the amended complaint? Had they been successfully targeted by the political opposition’s version of Sen. Joker Arroyo’s "man-to-man, house-to-house" operation? Somehow, I fail to get the sense that they were.

"After studying the issue on this impeachment, we reached the point that we have to make a stand on this," said Barbers, chairman of the House committee on accounts.

And:

"But if you will notice, the process in the justice committee was not only slow but it’s not going in the direction of uncovering the truth," [Rep. Edmund Reyes] said.

In other words, it was the anti-impeachment forces’ non-rush to judgment (think self-destruct) that convinced the five congressmen that it was time to cut and cut cleanly.

There will be other congressmen, from the administration, who will sign the amended Lozano complaint. More will sign, if the aura of inevitability the pro-impeachment camp needs to project is convincing. We wrote last month:

I have no doubt that  a considerable number of our congressmen will shift their allegiance once they sense a turn in the tide; I also do not doubt that some pro-GMA congressmen have already signalled their availability to their counterparts, in case, you know … This is simply how most things get done in a deliberative body like Congress; almost everyone breeds horses, and trades them for a living.

So a quick reality check: Those congressmen "in reserve"? They do not have any political value at the moment, except to make other congressmen think that the tide is turning.

Now it is the task of the pro-impeachment camp to convince other congressmen that the tide is in fact about to turn. They can do this not by greeting the next bit of good news with wild cheering and wanton hugging, as if they had not expected it at all. There may be about 15 or so more congressmen willing to sign, some of them perhaps even before the Committee on Justice resumes its hearings today; that would still leave the pro-impeachment camp just under 20 votes short. But if the "defections" are scheduled to create the impression of an idea whose time has come, the opposition may actually reach 70 or so votes. That, I should think, would change the game completely.

But scheduled defections require coordination, of the man-to-man, house-to-house variety.

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Whine and Chiz

When the Committee on Justice votes today, on whether to tackle the "prejudicial questions" first or to already choose which of the impeachment complaints to give due course to, we won’t be able to avoid the harsh conclusion: In the matter of the signatures, the House opposition has failed to make any progress. They started with 41 signatures when the second session of the 13th Congress opened, almost exactly a month ago; they still have 41 today. Take away all the promises, the pledges of support, all the publicity the opposition leaders generated, and the truth stares us in the face: We are where we were a month ago.

For those who wish the impeachment process to resolve the crisis of presidential legitimacy, this failure of the political opposition is galling. Last week, the irrepressible Sen. Joker Arroyo fired a broadside at the other side:

"The constitutional formula is quite simple — to impeach or charge, one-third of the House is needed; to convict, the vote of two-thirds of the Senate is required. The House of the Dissipated Minority must wake up and work," Arroyo said.

By this standard of "work," the political opposition has failed, and dismally. They chose the impeachment rules of the 11th Congress, because in their view it would allow what they call "creeping impeachment" — the possibility that as soon as the one-third requirement is met, the impeachment case would immediately be forwarded to the Senate. Their choice had a terrible cost: The proposed impeachment rules of the 13th Congress would have allowed them to amend or even consolidate the complaints: the very subject matter of the last two committee meetings. The opposition victory in the vote on impeachment rules, it has since become clear, was pyrhhic in the extreme. Believing they could muster 38 more signatures, they chose blitzkrieg. Instead, and in large part because of their failure to gather the additional signatures, they have found themselves fighting a war of attrition.

It is, of course, still possible to convince more congressmen to jump over to their side. But the opposition leaders must stop acting in self-destructive, downright repellent ways; in a word, they must stop whining. In the end, it is the politics of addition that will carry the day. Why will a congressman with much at stake cast his lot with political weaklings? It is strength that draws support, not inadvertent confessions of incompetence.

Consider two stories out today. In one, House Minority Leader Francis "Chiz" Escudero and his allies are shocked, shocked to learn that the President has been calling congressmen on various pretexts, but clearly with impeachment on her mind. But that is how the game is played. That is how the opposition congressmen should be occupying their time. That is how to get the number they need. Escudero, the otherwise fetching Darlene Custodio, et al make a big deal about how some of the congressmen the President had called relayed the details of the call to them. (Escudero even issued a challenge to the President to deny the calls.) But surely the point of relaying the details is to up the ante: This is what the President did. What are you prepared to do?

Question, which even those with minimum political experience can answer with eyes closed. Do you think congressmen who see themselves as part of a possible swing bloc were heartened to know that, in response to the information they shared, the instinct of the political opposition was to call a press conference?

The second story is more of the same: Rep. Rolex Suplico and Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teddy Casino are also shocked, shocked that government resources are being used to put the President in a favorable light. Suplico, who belatedly endorsed the first impeachment complaint, whines:

“We are disturbed by these lopsided releases that apparently favor administration allies. Considering that they were released on July 4, this has something to do with the ‘Hello Garci’ controversy and an effort to kill the impeachment complaint.”

The use of "apparently" is strategic, because as it turns out, at least according to one of the administration congressmen Suplico attacked, "even his colleagues from the minority partook of the road fund."

What the opposition in the House needs to do is to project an aura of inevitability — not by promising signatures they cannot deliver, but by waging a creeping campaign among key congressmen. Take it from Joker:

He recalled there were just 27 of them who initially signed the impeachment complaint against Estrada whose allies dominated the House.

He said the 27 impeachment supporters were given the task of recruiting one signatory each.

"Work, work, work. They convinced 27 so (the signatories became)      54. And the 54 were given the target of convincing 27 more."

He said the initial signatories conducted man-to-man and house-to-house operations.

"After our sessions, we go with our targets in their cars. We even eat in their homes. If we failed to convince them, we come back," Arroyo said.

Man-to-man? House-to-house? Sounds like too much work. Surely we’re better off fielding questions from Ricky Carandang.

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The brethren

May I direct your attention to an interesting (and trans-Pacific) exchange of ideas on the hallowed status of the Supreme Court? Edwin Lacierda and Abe Margallo started by talking about legal issues related to the impeachment; but the discussion has reached an altogether more provocative plane. Does the Supreme Court itself need to be reformed?

I happen to share the view (and have written more than once about it) that the so-called weakest branch of government has in fact and in the last several years turned out to be the last true bastion of our democracy (vexing economic rulings very firmly aside). Edwin and Abe will contest this view. I doubt, however, if they will disagree with what I will say next: When the high court directed Hyatt 10 leader Cesar Purisima, a non-lawyer and therefore not an agent of the court, to explain his opinion that political considerations entered into the SC decision-making on the VAT law, or be cited for contempt, I felt a chill in my non-lawyer’s bones.

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Truth is what works

Randy David’s column today is even more provocative than usual. If I understand him correctly, this is what he has done: He has pivoted (deftly, adroitly) from considering the case against President Arroyo from moral principles, to considering it from practical (or "pragmatic") reasons. His starting point remains the same: the truth. But now, in this column, he redefines truth in pragmatic terms ("Truth is ‘what works’"),  in order (at least in my reading) to meet the reservations of certain parts of the so-called middle forces, those who worry about handing over power to someone unqualified like Vice President Noli de Castro.

If we adopt a pragmatic view of truth, then we may begin to understand why many of our people continue to ask not whether Ms Arroyo cheated in the last election but who can lead the country at this time. The truth of the 2004 election is important to them only to the extent they can imagine a better replacement.

I would quibble with some of his assumptions ("Each day that Ms Arroyo remains the highest leader of this country, Filipinos lower their expectations of themselves" — maybe, but we have also heard the appreciation for her staying power, her sheer spunk, become less grudging) or some of his summations of recent history ("But when [Poe] died unexpectedly, the PET decided to bury the truth with his corpse by dismissing his widow’s petition to keep the protest alive" — bury the truth is surely an overstatement, isn’t it, when one considers that the law requires the dismissal of the petition when the petitioner dies?).

But I find it hard to argue with some of his conclusions; their rolling phrases break upon our consciousness as if pulled by the moon itself.

In the end, it is not so much the truth of the 2004 election that matters, but the truth of what we want to be as a nation. It is not the truth of the Garci tapes that we are really concerned about, but the truth of what we need to do to rebuild our democracy. If our collective goals were clear to us, and we could rise above our individual agendas, it should not be difficult to sort out the truths that are important to our country.

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Looking for Ninoy

One could do worse than to start here, a sub-site in the Edsa I website produced by Jason Tablante and Marc Orosa. Or here (the Wikipedia entry).  There’s a work in progress over at Geocities. I know, I know; lean pickings. This was about all I could find. If anyone has other or better links, please let me know.

(Last year, a new law was enacted creating Ninoy Aquino Day. Does this mean this Monday’s a holiday?)

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Positive, negative

I don’t know if this will make sense, with all the medicine I’ve taken in the last few days, but, well, here goes: Sometimes it isn’t enough simply to argue from a positive, but also to argue the contrary of the negative.

Take the supposed "tempering" of the bishops’ pastoral statement last month. To make the case that the bishops censored themselves because the Vatican stepped in for the first time, it isn’t enough to point to the Papal Nuncio’s cautionary remarks about political involvement; one must also show that, in a previous and similar situation, say right after the 1986 Snap Elections, the Vatican had not reined in the bishops. (It did; the Papal Nuncio was ignored; and then 19 years later history repeated itself.)

The opposition’s presentation the other day of allegedly tampered election returns is another case in point. As political theater, it was attractive fare (although, really, Rep. Darlene Custodio’s "the Comelec themself, ah, themselves" on-air slip was quite distracting). As proof of election fraud, however, it needed one more thing: evidence that the Fernando Poe Jr. – Loren Legarda camp did not win any of their areas with similar "tampered" returns. As it turns out, and as Arroyo election lawyer Romulo Makalintal showed on TV today, the opposition camp did win in precincts where the election returns had the same signs of "tampering": closely aligned tabulation, too-small or missing thumbmarks, and so on.

The reason, Makalintal said, was that these were not signs of tampering at all. They were merely common features or formal defects of election returns.

But — the inevitable but — the opposition does have one thing going for it, as far as this particular sub-issue of election returns is concerned. Media ignored the fact (the essential fact, in my own news judgment) that Makalintal used election returns favorable to the opposition. I did not hear a mention to that effect in the early evening newscasts of either ABS-CBN or GMA. It was buried in the ABS-CBN News website story. And the briefing was not included in the Inq7.net lineup at all.

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Two questions

Kudos to Ces Drilon for asking two questions tonight which needed to be raised, but (as far as I know) no one has actually asked. Law dean Andres Bautista (I think it was the fate of every member of the large Bautista clan in school to be called  "Bote" at least once in their life; the dean, who is a batch younger, did not escape this fate) suggested a formula for resolving the current justice committee impasse (the same one we’ve implied in the last few posts): Why doesn’t Rep. Rodante Marcoleta, the endorser of the original Lozano complaint, "take back" his endorsement? (The same goes for Rep. Rolex Suplico.)

Drilon, who was hosting one of her many shows on the Lopez channels, took that opportunity to ask Marcoleta: Why didn’t the opposition talk to you? He replied by recalling a conversation he had with opposition Rep. Butz Aquino. "Brod," he had said to Aquino, speaking in Filipino, why does the opposition talk to somebody who’s not even a relative of ours [meaning Lozano, the lawyer who filed the complaint] when they can talk to a member of the family [meaning himself]?

As it turns out, the oversight or the willfulness or the plain incompetence of the pro-impeachment bloc in the House may have longer-term legal consequences. Bautista voiced his opinion that, for the amendment of the first complaint to be fully valid, both the complainant and the congressman-endorser must approve the amendment.

The second question was also implied in our recent (medicine-induced) posts. Responding to a statement by pro-impeachment lawyer Napoleon Poblador, that there was a need to expedite the process and Marcoleta’s threat to repair to the Supreme Court only meant more delay, Drilon asked: But if it’s true that the opposition wanted to hurry things up, why did it agree to set the vote for Tuesday? Why not, say, Monday?

Actually, the more precise question would have been: Why not last Wednesday? On Wednesday afternoon, having gotten the Speaker’s permission to extend the committee meeting after a brief suspension (to make way for the regular session), the majority said it was ready to vote on the issue at hand. Instead, it deferred to the opposition’s position that the vote be moved to next week. Nothing wrong with that, of course, except for one thing: It is the opposition who is using the argument from time.

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Out of commission

I’ve been down with the flu since Monday, and possibly because of new antibiotics I’m using (that is, old meds, but first time for me to use), I have been awake for the last 41 hours! I’ve tried to sleep, believe me, but I am led to believe that elusive sleep hopped on a jet to Singapore, and is now probably in London. Also, I’ve had the strangest sensation: for maybe a 12-hour spell yesterday, whenever I closed my eyes, the last image I saw would, without fail, morph into something else, and move! The movement would suggest another image, something in the new image would change, and then the changing, creeping, crawling thing would move. (And I thought watching politics was confusing.) I could emphatize with one of Anansi Girl’s recent posts. An extremely well-written blog, by the way. That much is clear.

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The Jaraula formula

It may be that the majority of the Committee on Justice (arithmetical, not administrative) will in the end subscribe to the formula suggested by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Constantino Jaraula. Give due course to the original impeachment complaint filed by Marcos lawyer Oliver Lozano, which alleges betrayal of public trust, and the amendments in the amended (or third) complaint pertaining only to the original charge.

From the point of view of a compromise formula, this is, as they say, priced to move.

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On self-destruct

So I think it comes down to this: Which side will self-destruct first? The raid on one of Sen. Ping Lacson’s assets looks most ill-advised. The opposition has not been shy about seizing on the raid as another instance of the Arroyo administration’s increasing use of strong-arm tactics. It certainly raises more questions about what the administration is willing to do to prevent an adverse finding in Congress.

On the other hand, the political opposition still does not seem to "get" the impeachment game. (It is led, we must note, by the same second-generation politicians who tried but failed to impeach Chief Justice Hilario Davide.) Why did the opposition fail to even approach Alagad party-list Rep. Rodante Marcoleta, whose endorsement of the original Lozano complaint is the source of the opposition’s impeachment woes? In fact, when Lozano filed his first complaint, House Minority Leader Francis Escudero immediately called the Marcos lawyer a proxy for the President (a risible charge). Then the political opposition aired an appeal to the majority (well, at least they did it through media) not to endorse the complaint. When Marcoleta (the Iglesia ni Cristo representative, not so coincidentally) stepped forward to endorse it, the opposition criticized him. But reason with him? Try to dissuade him? Argue with him?

Some of the President’s most ardent supporters, such as Rep. Mat Defensor, do not wish to give even an inch. Hence their resistance to the reasonable request that the Committee on Justice write a letter to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, to explain the raid this morning. But the President’s fiercest opponents (you can identify them by how often they worry in public about giving the President her "day in court") have never found it in their heart to fight the battle in the impeachment process. That is why they have taken to retailing alleged evidence of election fraud before the media; that is why, in spite of their oft-repeated complaints about the need to hurry the process, you can see them using up their allotted three minutes, to make the same point over and over again.

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Policy points

House Minority Leader Francis Escudero got the nod from the gallery, but I reckon it was Rep. Ronaldo Zamora who made the most telling points, when he discussed the "policy points" that should govern our thinking on the impeachment cases. And yes, that was Sunday’s Inquirer editorial that he quoted from:

The majority must realize the true import of the impeachment process: It is not only the constitutionally mandated process for hearing accusations of impeachable offenses against the President. It is also the President’s main venue for putting an end to the credibility crisis she faces.

The way to do that is to throw the strongest possible case against her. If she survives a committee vote on the manifestly weaker complaint, the credibility crisis will continue to undermine her presidency. After all that trouble, the President will be right back where she started. But if she survives the stronger complaint, then she can finally put the crisis behind her.

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Politics is addition

From sick bay, the whining of the political opposition sounds even worse. I heard chief whiner Alan Peter Cayetano end his peroration this afternoon by appealing to the majority to withdraw their support from the other complaints. Which reminded me: A few weeks ago, Rodante Marcoleta, the Alagad party-list congressman who endorsed the original Oliver Lozano complaint, complained about the opposition’s cold shoulder: No one from the political opposition, he said, had even approached him to talk about his endorsement. Considering that today’s lengthy meeting (and tomorrow’s too) is largely because Marcoleta endorsed the first complaint, this sort of makes you wonder whether the opposition even knows how to win a game of this kind.

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Political instincts

I’ve always thought of Randy David as a political philosopher, not a mere political analyst. But I must say: He sounded like a field operative at one point in his always-provocative column today.

We may not agree with Mike Defensor’s unusual methods, but his political instincts are at least correct. His desperate attempt to impugn the authenticity of the tapes is far more useful to his boss than the smug strategy of blocking the complaint at every point of the impeachment process. The real tribunal is the public one.

Now contrast Max Soliven’s take on the Defensor initiative:

That debate is long over. Those who believe they were genuine won’t change their minds at this point, nor will those who feel they were maliciously spliced find themselves "more" vindicated … What Defensor did, in fact, harmed his idol, La Presidenta.

Political instincts on overdrive!

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Higher stakes

I was able to catch only a few minutes of Mike Defensor’s news briefing yesterday, as I was rushing to meet a lunch appointment. But in those 10 or so minutes, I did catch sound engineer Jim Sarthou’s rather pained expression; sitting right beside Defensor, he was evidently ill at ease. Turns out he had been invited to the briefing for a different reason.

The tableau at Defensor’s table was set up like a panel of scientists addressing the audience with the aid of a screen projector: Defensor to the right of the screen, Sarthou (I thought, at first, that he was the Barry Dickey we’d heard about, although he bore no resemblance to the pictures on the website), sitting right in the middle, and then another man on the left.

The vaguely scientific air, or at least the attempt to appear objective, made me realize Defensor had raised the stakes. Regardless of Defensor’s media objectives, he had unsheathed the sword of science, and science cuts both ways.

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