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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Inquirer Editorial

Editorial : Slow burn

EVEN though the voting concluded much later yesterday, history will record that the fateful move to approve the House of Representatives' justice committee report throwing out the impeachment complaint against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was made at 3:37 a.m. At about a similar hour, the move to proclaim Arroyo the elected President of the Philippines was also made last year.

It may be clever in terms of parliamentary strategy to do such things in the dead of night, but it sends a grim message to a public that equates the light of day with fearlessness and the courage of convictions. The President won, then; she has won now. But again we ask, victory at what price?

The price was shutting off the only means for an institutional inquiry into the serious charges leveled against the President. The proponents of impeachment who issued a statement last Monday, under a fragile alliance called Bukluran para sa Katotohanan [Alliance for Truth], proved prophetic: "We all seek the truth. We want the truth to come out. And yet every means for seeking the truth has been frustrated; every avenue for arriving at the truth has been blocked; and every opportunity to find the truth is being closed." The House majority moved heaven and earth to ensure that any popular protest would face a fait accompli.

The President employed every means at her disposal to secure the vote she needed, including the power to appoint. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism revealed appointments benefiting the families of prominent anti-impeachment personalities in both houses of Congress. To name just a few: Nelly Favis-Villafuerte, wife of Rep. Luis Villafuerte, was sworn in as member of the Monetary Board on July 4; Datu Zamzamin Ampatuan, cousin of Rep. Simeon Datumanong, was appointed to the National Anti-Poverty Commission on July 14; Armand Arreza, cousin of Rep. Prospero Pichay Jr. (and a protégé of Sen. Richard Gordon), has been named administrator of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority; and Nenalyn Santiago, sister of Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, was appointed commissioner of the Commission on Higher Education last Aug. 1.

There have been suggestions that pro-impeachment personalities were approached as well. Rep. Alfonso Umali Jr. says the appointment of his brother as deputy commissioner of the Bureau of Customs was offered if he withdrew support for impeachment. Rep. Reynaldo Uy is said to have recounted to Liberal Party members a meeting where the President showed him a piece of paper ordering the transfer of Brig. Gen. Jovito Palparan, former head of the 8th Infantry Division based in Catbalogan City, capital of Western Samar province, to the northern province of Nueva Ecija.

If Ms Arroyo can't be begrudged for doing things that would help her keep the presidency, then the public should not be begrudged for looking closely henceforth to see if other blessings will start flowing to anti-impeachment congressmen. Will their districts suddenly get millions in additional pork-barrel funds like some of their colleagues allegedly did earlier? Will disgraced former President Joseph Estrada suddenly end up back in his San Juan home? What other political accommodations will we see?

When Pichay told his colleagues that "we must bury this six feet under the ground … in order to unite," his puzzled countrymen, though perhaps not his constituents, might have been tempted to ask: What sort of unity is there in a congressionally sanctioned burial? Party unity, presumably, but certainly not a unity of intent between the congressmen and their constituents, whom they claimed to have consulted. For if the President's defenders pointed to surveys as proof of her undeniable victory, then they must also admit that recent surveys prove not only the President's indubitably deep unpopularity but also the overwhelming desire (80 percent in Metro Manila and 60 percent nationwide) that she be subjected to an impeachment trial. Something in the communication between congressmen and their constituencies must have been lost in translation. Could it be that the survey numbers had far fewer zeroes than the checks they anticipate to be released soon? How else explain their willful -- and insolent -- refusal to heed public opinion?

As the French general said of the charge of the Light Brigade, "It is magnificent, but it is not war." For the majority, yesterday saw a magnificent display of party discipline, but it was not statesmanship. What their vote may have done was to set off a slow burn in our national life. The avenues to constitutionally resolve the crisis of legitimacy have been barricaded. And the barricades are manned by the members of the House.

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