Thursday, August 04, 2005

Inquirer Editorial

Editorial : Surprises
Inquirer News Service

WHAT'S the pro-administration majority in the House of Representatives really up to? Since the controversy over the "Hello, Garci" tapes broke out, the majority congressmen have been pulling one big surprise after another, starting with their decision to allow the playing of the tapes after initially objecting vigorously to it on the grounds that it would violate the Anti-Wire Tapping Law. Now they have agreed with the minority to adopt the same rules used in the impeachment of President Joseph Estrada in 2000.

Deputy Majority Leader Edcel Lagman, the principal sponsor of the draft rules on impeachment, said the members of the majority decided to adopt the old rules to disprove opposition claims that they would rig the rules to favor President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. He said the majority decision was also meant to end the debate over the rules and thus speed up deliberations on the impeachment complaint by the committee on justice.

If that is all there is to it, then there may be hope that the impeachment process will take its natural course instead of being aborted for one reason or another. Still some people find it hard to quash the queasy feeling that administration allies are taking one step backward to advance two steps forward or, better yet, they are abandoning the smaller battles so they can win the real war.

In the skirmish over the rules, the opposition can hardly claim complete victory. Opposition congressmen didn't get any assurance from the majority that once they have gathered the required number of votes -- one-third of the House membership, or 79 -- the impeachment complaint will be automatically transmitted to the Senate. On the contrary, administration congressmen are saying the complaint will have to be heard by the committee on justice, which will determine whether it is "sufficient in form and substance" and then submit a report to the whole House, where the complaint can be voted upon. The committee has all of 60 session days (or about three months) to act on the complaint, hardly the kind of timetable that promises a speedy resolution of the crisis now engulfing the nation.

It would appear that the opposition was forced to make a tactical retreat for the simple reason that it didn't have the necessary number of votes to shortcut the process. But once it wins 79 House members to its side, the move to send the complaint immediately to the Senate should be revived. Since two-thirds of the whole House membership can overturn the committee's recommendation, continuing the hearings would serve no other purpose but to delay the process.

In the meantime, the opposition should seize upon the hearings as an opportunity to convince both its colleagues (as well as the public) that it has a preponderance of evidence to prove its allegations and that it deserves their support. It is not a hopeless endeavor, no matter the superiority of numbers the majority now enjoys. Las PiƱas City Rep. Cynthia Villar, a member of the Nacionalista Party as well as a member of the majority coalition, says that a number of her colleagues are searching their souls and are likely to vote according to their conscience. Speaker Jose de Venecia, despite exuding confidence that Ms Arroyo can hold the loyalty of the majority, has said the same thing: congressmen will vote on the basis of their conscience.

The nation expects nothing less. Our people will be watching the proceedings very closely, and they will know if their representatives are playing blind to the evidence, deaf to the testimony and dumb to clear arguments. As in the past, the last thing they will want is to see the truth suppressed and lawmakers making decisions out of blind loyalty to the President or their party.

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