Column: GMA’s insurance policy

Published on July 17, 2007

The “national consultative summit” organized by the Supreme Court to search for solutions to the related problems of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances enters its second, more participative day today. The delegates will divide themselves into 12 “breakout” groups, each to be chaired by an associate justice of the Court, to discuss specific proposals. That the summit was convened is already, in the words of former Senate President Jovito Salonga, “unprecedented in the history of this Court and elsewhere.” That the justices themselves will run the workshops — well, this must be one for the books.

* * *

Juan Miguel Zubiri, proclaimed senator last Saturday after two hearings in the Supreme Court, has undergone the “crucible of a democratic process” before — almost four years ago, in fact, when together with some 80 other congressmen, he voted to impeach the chief justice. This newspaper called the second, constitutionally infirm impeachment an insidious assault on the judiciary. “The Filipino nation and its democratic institutions have no doubt been put to test once again by this impeachment case against Chief Justice Hilario Davide,” Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales wrote in her elegant “ponencia” [authored decision]. (The first quote is from Francisco v. House of Representatives too.)

In one of the many editorials published during the crisis, the Inquirer described the attempt to unseat Davide as an abuse of power. “The action against the head of the Supreme Court was a naked exercise of power, a blatant flexing of political muscle.”

Zubiri must thank his lucky stars the justices do not hold grudges.

* * *

What is at stake in the struggle for leadership of the administration majority in the House of Representatives? The President’s post-Malacañang insurance policy.

Both Speaker Jose de Venecia and Rep. Pablo Garcia of Cebu have said they will not rely on the President’s support to win the vote, when the chamber decides the leadership issue on the morning of July 23.

Garcia recounted that, after De Venecia brought over a hundred congressmen to the Palace in a show of force last June 1, the President sent for him. “After that meeting, I was called to Malacañang at 3 p.m. The President told me: ‘I won’t endorse anyone publicly.’”

Garcia said his response was: “That’s good enough for us. We fight our own battles.”

De Venecia also told us he did not expect the President to get involved, precisely because he already has enough votes for reelection. (Before the first party-list groups were proclaimed, De Venecia reckoned that 124 votes were needed to win.)

He also recounted that, in the 1992 race for the speakership, President Fidel Ramos did not intervene. It was only when the Lakas minority had been transformed into the nucleus of an administration coalition, he said, that Ramos declared his support.

(This is an assertion we can understand, but not credit; surely Ramos, who famously worked the phones during Edsa People Power I in 1986, did not look on passively when his party-mate and chief campaigner threw his Pangasinan-sized hat into the ring.)

* * *

Garcia thinks the key factor in this year’s contest is the Nationalist People’s Coalition. (Yes, the very same party that pushed the Davide impeachment through the House on Oct. 23, 2003.) If at the right time the NPC votes as a bloc, “then it will be the tipping point,” he said.

* * *

If history is any judge, however, it will be the President’s vote that counts.

As already pointed out by colleague and co-blogger Manolo Quezon (we take turns writing for Inquirer Current, at http://www.inquirerbloggers.net/current), every president enjoys an administration majority in the House. Even if the opposition takes the House in a given election, enough congressmen will switch parties or join coalitions of convenience before the first session starts to assure the president of administration control.

This record, or political tradition if you will, means President Arroyo will need to choose between the insurance policies De Venecia and Garcia are offering.

De Venecia can guarantee an impeachment-free zone; petitions may be filed, but they will not prosper. He can also offer the prospect of constitutional change.

Garcia, whose family is ascendant in Cebu province, offers potential victory for Ms Arroyo’s candidate for president in 2010. He pointed out that none of the leading candidates come from the Lakas-CMD Party. And yet “the 2010 election is already being played out.” We can see Garcia doing the math. Cebu delivered a million votes for the President in 2004; it delivered millions of votes for Team Unity candidates last May. If his daughter Gwen, reelected Cebu governor with an overwhelming margin, runs for vice president, she can deliver the Cebuano-speaking vote, too.

Gwen herself told us: “[The year] 2010 is fast approaching. It’s no longer about impeachment.”

* * *

Aquilino Pimentel III of the Genuine Opposition said he needs to raise about P5 million to fund the election protest he will file with the Senate Electoral Tribunal, perhaps by Monday. He is protesting the vote in Maguindanao province and about 15 municipalities. Perhaps men and women of good will, or at least those with an active interest in election reform, may consider chipping in. If a “piso-piso” [peso-by-peso] campaign can elect a governor, maybe it can determine, with finality, the 2007 elections’ 12th senator.

* * *

BOOK NEWS: The country’s biggest bookstore, Fully Booked in Bonifacio High Street, inside the Fort Bonifacio development in Taguig City, formally opens today. Count ’em: five floors of books.

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