Thursday, September 01, 2005

Inquirer Editorial

Editorial : Two new arenas

BY WALKING out last Tuesday, opposition members of the House of Representatives' committee on justice did everyone a favor. The walkout will, at the very least, mercifully cut short the committee hearings, giving the whole country a breather from a bad "telenovela" [TV soap] that has long ceased to be entertaining. At the same time, pro-administration lawmakers will be spared the pain and embarrassment of continuing to display on national television how they can mangle the rules, the law and logic to keep President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in MalacaƱang. For the opposition, on the other hand, the walkout simply proved what most Filipinos already know: that the administration is determined to spare no resource or effort, as well as to employ every trick in the book, to get the President off the hook.

After walking out of the hearings, the question is, where will the pro-impeachment congressmen go next? Apparently no one wants to go back to the committee where they could again be gagged and surely outvoted by the majority. The hotheads among them are probably hoping they would soon be marching in the streets with the kind of huge and angry crowd that would make Ms Arroyo flee in fear. But the consensus seems to be that they will take their fight to the floor where the House, meeting in plenary, will debate and vote on the committee's final recommendation. Marinduque Rep. Edmund Reyes said that instead of taking part in a "bastardized process," their group would concentrate on convincing more of their colleagues to sign the impeachment complaint so that they could get the 79 votes needed to override the committee's recommendation.

They better work double-time. The pro-Arroyo express has shifted to high gear, with the committee on justice fast-tracking the vote on the two "prejudicial questions" left briefly hanging by their walkout. Late Tuesday afternoon, in fact, the committee voted to consider as separate the three complaints that had been endorsed to the committee. Yesterday, it voted to consider only the original complaint filed lawyer Oliver Lozano, which has all the earmarks of a stalking horse designed to stop on its tracks the third and much stronger amended complaint put together by various opposition lawmakers and groups.

Gathering signatures to reach the magic number of 79, however, may be only one half of the battle. The other half may have to be waged in the Supreme Court. Consider the most likely case where the committee on justice reports to the plenary that it found the Lozano complaint insufficient in form and substance. Will the pro-impeachment congressmen then vote to override the committee recommendation and send the very weak complaint to the Senate for trial? If they cannot settle for that pathetic excuse for an impeachment complaint, how then can they ensure that the stronger amended complaint will be the one transmitted to the Senate as the articles of impeachment? In other words, can the votes of one-third of the House set aside everything that the committee on justice has decided?

If the President and her allies think she can leave for the United Nations with a clean bill of (political) health later this month, they are wrong. The opposition congressmen and their allies may have abandoned the justice committee and its proceedings, but their cause is far from lost. They have two arenas in which to continue their fight: the Supreme Court and the plenary. After being outflanked, outmaneuvered or simply outnumbered in the committee, they can be expected to come better prepared this time. Ms Arroyo will remain stuck in the muck for a long time yet.

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