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Friday, August 26, 2005

GloriaGate Realignments

Analysis : Political surprises

Amando Doronila
Inquirer News Service

REALIGNMENTS are beginning to take shape in both the House of Representatives and the Senate in the early stage of the impeachment proceedings against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, heightening the uncertainty over the final outcome.

Two recent developments have underlined the infirmity and volatility of the alignments over the impeachment issue. The first was the withdrawal on Wednesday by Rep. Eulogio Magsaysay of his signature on the impeachment complaint. Magsaysay's withdrawal came a day after four House allies of the President abandoned her to join the impeachment proponents.

Whatever were the causes of Magsaysay's withdrawal and the defection of four others cannot be established immediately, but what seems clear is that the move to impeach the President is nowhere nearer its target of obtaining the 79 signatures needed to endorse the complaint to the Senate for trial than it was on July 25, when the first complaint was lodged in the House. The complaint is still 33 signatures short of the number required to allow the complaint to go directly to the Senate bypassing the House committee on justice in which the complaint has been bogged down on procedural issues.

As things now stand, 46 congressmen have signed the complaint. On July 25, a headcount by the Inquirer indicated that 67 had "committed" themselves to impeachment, but 31 days later it appears that the opposition has not been able to marshal the numbers to accelerate the impeachment process while the complaint has lost momentum in the committee on justice.

The committee is grappling with the issue of which of the three complaints should be recognized for early action. The issue that needs to be resolved is whether the initial complaint filed by lawyer Oliver Lozano inhibits the filing of two other complaints. The resolution of this issue is taking time.

The numbers game is proving to be a formidable barrier to fast-tracking the impeachment process and reveals the political weakness of the opposition.

The other development, not directly related to impeachment, was the decision last Wednesday of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile to coalesce with the 14-member Senate majority. Enrile has for some time now regarded himself as an independent senator, and his decision formalizes his break with the official opposition. It is not clear what the basis is of the new coalition or whether the new majority is concerned mainly with passage of legislation.

This new coalition does not give assurance to President Arroyo that she can count on it in the event of the transmittal of the impeachment complaint to the Senate.

To begin with, Senate President Franklin Drilon and his Liberal Party colleagues in the Senate are no longer the President's allies following Drilon's and the Liberal Party's withdrawal of support from the President on July 8. 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.

The severance of Drilon's alliance with the President cannot be put in the same category as the defection of 10 Cabinet members from the administration. The 10 were members of the President's official family. On the other hand, Drilon belongs to an independent branch of government and is the leader of a party that been a political partner in an alliance, in which the party worked not as a subordinate of the President, unlike the Cabinet members, and had independence in alliance making. Thus, there should be different contexts and explanations in Drilon's break with the alliance and with that of the so-called Hyatt 10. Drilon has more flexibility in alliance-making as the current crisis unfolds.

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.

These two developments undermine the rather deterministic notion that impeachment is a political trap in which the President is said to enjoy a political advance to defeat an impeachment action due to the superior numbers of her legislative allies. The impeachment path is strewn with land mines that could make outcomes-either in the House or in the Senate-extremely unpredictable.

Impeachment is fraught with as many dangers to the President as they are to those driving the complaint. No side can take things for granted. The President is obliged to present a credible defense in an impeachment trial to persuade a number of independent senators that she deserves exoneration. Anything less will not work in her favor.

But one can't be too sure that some freak events would not develop to favor the opposition's effort to win enough votes to send the complaint to the Senate. On the other hand, the opposition has to work harder to overcome the numbers of presidential allies in the House.

The President is fighting for her political life. It is therefore foolhardy to think that she will not use the advantages of incumbency to defeat the impeachment move. In these circumstances, the opposition should not expect that an impeachment package will be handed to them, without sweat, like breakfast-in-bed service. The opposition has to work under the reality of the dynamics of the political system.

As for observers inclined to believe in the scenario of an inflexible and static political alliance, they might be due for a big shock in the outcome. Political crises in this country bring stunning surprises that demolish pet theories and predictions.

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