Column: On impeaching VP Leni

Time to play catch-up again. I’ve 12 columns (three months’ worth) to post; here is the first. Published on May 9, 2017, in what already seems like a different era.

The administration allies pushing for the impeachment of Vice President Leni Robredo suffer from two disadvantages: the absence of a substantive basis on which to ground their complaint, and the presence, the counter-example, of a substantial complaint. I mean, of course, the impeachment case filed by Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano.

Whatever one may think of President Duterte, or of the courage or duplicity of his political opposition (take your pick), I hope we can agree that the Alejano filing is a serious undertaking. It does not only assert the violation of high crimes (the essence of an impeachment initiative); it also offers testable proof. For instance, in detailing an entire pattern of words spoken and actions taken to adopt what Alejano called “a state policy of inducing policemen, other law enforcement officials, and/or members of vigilant groups into … Extrajudicial Killings,” he asserts that Mr. Duterte was liable for:

“making the killing of drug suspects and other suspected criminals as one of the principal bases of promotion and/or retention of Police Commanders such that Police Commanders in whose areas there are no reported killing of suspects are under threat of being replaced.”

It is a chilling charge, but it can be proved or disproved.

Compare Alejano’s verified complaint with that filed by Marcos loyalists Oliver Lozano and Melchor Chavez against Robredo, or the reports about the one filed by Napoles lawyer Bruce Rivera et al. (I still haven’t been able to get my hands on a copy of the misbegotten filing), and the differences are obvious.

Half of the Lozano/Chavez filing is, quite literally, the reproduction of a Manila Times column, by Arroyo confidant Rigoberto Tiglao. Under the heading of a made-up impeachable crime (“Acts of Dishonesty and Injustice”), Lozano and Chavez copy-pasted Tiglao’s response to Robredo’s controversial video statement to a UN forum. And left it at that. No legal arguments were offered, no thinking-through was attempted. Tiglao’s expression of outrage did not even suggest impeachment, much less offer a legal basis for it. That makes the question of proof, in this half of the complaint, entirely irrelevant. (Keeping in mind Tiglao’s previous kindnesses to me, I must note that I am saddened his current work finds a home among Marcos loyalists and political opportunists.)

The filing of Rivera et al. remains unavailable, in part because of the embarrassing way in which the people behind it attempted to get a lawmaker to endorse the case. Showing more aptitude for melodrama than for political acuity, Rivera’s group lied to the media about gaining the support of a lawmaker-endorser (“When we were forming it, [the congressman] already reached out, saying we should go through with it”), but later was publicly repudiated by the same person, PBA party-list Rep. Jericho Nograles (“I did not give you any authority to use my name. I don’t know why you are presenting this to me, and I’d like you to leave my office because you are using my name without my consent”).

But in their summary, they make it clear that Robredo’s video message to the UN forum denouncing the summary killings in the Philippines was the crux of their complaint. They accused the Vice President of betraying public trust by issuing “reckless and irresponsible” statements. Again, even assuming for the sake of argument that Robredo’s remarks were damaging to the administration, how can it rise to the level of an impeachable offense?

To be sure, the political allies behind the push for Robredo’s impeachment enjoy one advantage, and it is a crucial one: They have the numbers. We have learned the wrong lesson from the impeachment wars which began in 2000, and that is that the process is merely political. The allies’ advantage, then, is there are more than enough votes to send any impeachment complaint against Robredo to the Senate.

They have been unable to, thus far, because no one, not even Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez who has expressed his wish to see Robredo impeached, wants to be associated with indolent ambulance-chasers like Lozano or compromised operators like Rivera. Those who do not want guilt by association should make themselves heard.

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