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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Senate's tough ruling: guilt in one out of six Articles of Impeachment & Merci's out

Some months back, a group of media women met with Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and her assistants at the residence of impresario Beth Tagle, in an effort to learn more about the cases against her that at that time were still up in the air. We soon realized how tough was the task she was up against---especially when investigating virtually untouchable politicians. 


For instance, when we came to talking about the fertilizer scam case, Merci pointed out that she created Task Force Abono in February 2006, just two months after she assumed office, precisely to handle its investigation. But the difficulty causing the delay of the case’s resolution, she said, was the sheer number of respondents and the mind-set of a good number of them.  She noted that of the 178 respondents, 105 were members of Congress, 53 were provincial officials and 23 from various municipalities---all scattered over 17 regions.
Members of Congress benefitted from the fertilizer scam
 It was not difficult to surmise either that many of these government officials were uncooperative, especially the members of Congress who were being investigated for their own chunks of the fertilizer funds.  Congress members tend to  think the good Lord exclusively delegated to them the task of investigating all anomalies, but for themselves to be subjected to questioning and scrutiny on any issue, never!  (witness how no one knows just how much a member of Congress receives in funding, or how it’s spent).  On the other hand, many scam witnesses were either threatened outright by the powerful who didn't want the truth to surface, or were unwilling to testify out of fear, or had disappeared. 
As Gutierrez pointed out, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee investigations under Sen. Richard Gordon themselves didn’t prosper much, despite a bigger budget and personnel, because of the problems cited above; ultimately the Blue Ribbon's job was turned over to Task Force Abono for resolution.
How many congressmen have cases pending before the Ombudsman?
Last Monday night, as I watched the voting  on Gutierrez’s impeachment, I wondered who among the 105 who had partaken of the fertilizer funds in the 2004 elections to buy votes were still around; I wondered whether they were voting to finish her off, in the hope that she doesn’t get to finally prosecute them before her term ends next year. Fair-minded media should publish the list of legislators with pending cases in the Ombudsman’s office.
Senate complication for Merci
With all eyes on the Senate as trial court, just about every sidewalk philosopher opines that she won’t be convicted inasmuch as she needs the vote of  only seven  senator-judges to be acquitted, whereas a conviction needs at least 16 votes.  That may be true, given the political configuration of that chamber and the fact that the senators, unlike House members, pride themselves in being “independent republics.”
 But there’s a complication that may make Gutierrez’s life difficult.  The House has transmitted six Articles of Impeachment consisting of over 300 pages, and the senator-judges have finished formulating the rules for the trial. One of these rules  maintains that if Gutierrez is adjudged guilty on even just one Article, she would already be considered convicted. The senators, who have agreed to finish trying all six Articles first before holding a final vote, have ruled out any sort of compromise formula, e.g., if she's guilty in two Articles and not guilty in four, then she won't be  guilty in the over-all.  No such thing: the rule is acquittal on all counts or nothing, and the problem is that the basis for conviction could be entirely political, despite the senator-judges' public avowal of being independent or fair. This could be a tough order for Merci.  
It was also proposed by Sen. Vicente Sotto---and the chamber agreed---that the Senate President would be the last to vote; the reasoning is obviously so that he does not unduly influence the other members.   
This new Senate court’s rules are similar to those that governed the Senate trial of former President Joseph Estrada in 2000, except that in his case the senators never came to a vote, as the walkout by the public prosecutors precipitated Edsa 2 that ousted him through people power.
House Impeachment hangover to affect SC?
The House of Representatives, after delivering to P-Noy a staggering  212 votes  to impeach Gutierrez, seems to be suffering from an impeachment hangover, trivializing this most significant means to remove public officials deemed unworthy of the public trust. A number of House members, led by Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Farinas, vice-chair of the justice committee and No. 1 in the bar, were quoted as threatening to impeach several members of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Renato Corona, for a number of alleged failings, including issuing the status quo ante order against Gutierrez’s impeachment move by the House, even before reading the petition she filed. Farinas was quoted as saying that the justices could also be impeached for failing to resolve cases  speedily
Ibang usapan na ang impeachment ng SC justices” ---solons
These recent statements by House leaders allied with President Aquino against the High Court do not help to smoothen relations between the two branches, which have been marred since the campaign period, when candidate Noynoy fought against the appointment of Corona by outgoing President GMA.  Soon after, the Executive sought to delay the release of the judiciary’s budget, in clear violation of the Constitution.
I have been getting sensings from House members about the wave of impeachments. While the move against Gutierrez is popular (owing partly to the delivery of PDAF and Saro and an anti-GMA sentiment in the House), a number of solons said, however, that they would draw the line when it comes to impugning the High Court. “Ibang usapan na ang impeachment ng mga justices,” one legislator said, “Kapag ginawa natin yan, sisirain na natin ang isang institution. Walang ibubungang mabuti yan.”  I agree, and I hope it doesn’t reach that point, as there will be no winner here---the country will lose. 


No less than Speaker Belmonte has cautioned the hot-heads like Farinas about going easy on the SC justices.


Big Inter-Faith Prayer Rally vs. RH bill tomorrow, Feast of the Annunciation


The crusade against the RH bill will have a show of force tomorrow, March 25, the Feast of the Annuciation by the Angel Gabriel to Mary of her Divine Motherhood, with a big  “Inter-Faith Prayer Rally” at the Quirino Grandstand in Luneta at 5 pm., with mass  at 7 pm.  I find it quite significant that Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, the Archbishop of Manila, has come out openly in a ¾ page ad in major newspapers, exhorting “All Filipinos, unite under God, for Life!”  Until recently the rather shy Cardinal  has shunned all public endorsements of this nature, but now he’s all out. 
Tomorrow’s rally will be interesting, as we shall see House legislators who were united last Monday against Ombudsman Gutierrez, but who are now anti-RH bill, against many of their colleagues.  Among the prominent anti-RH bill and Pro-Lifers in the House are Deputy Speaker Raul Daza, Leyte Rep. Sergio Apostol, Sarangani  Rep. Manny Pacquiao, Paranaque Rep. Roilo Golez, and Pangasinan 4th District Rep. Gina de Venecia.  Also prominent pro-Lifers are Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza and wife Beng.
News from Tokyo: “Perpetual motion sickness”
From my informal correspondent in Tokyo, my son-in-law Keiichi, an investment manager there:  “My life is back to normal. Water is safe as the radiation level is so minuscule and they will disappear soon, so there’s nothing difficult for me. Having said that, I’m suffering from this sensation of swinging all the time because of the continuous small tremors still rocking Tokyo. It’s like motion sickness. People who live in the suburbs have a tougher time, as they are affected by the rolling black-outs. The land in a Tokyo suburb called Urayasu is all reclaimed and there was severe liquefaction during  the quake, resulting in underground pipes cracking. You can see this clearly on Youtube video, but such difficulties are no comparison to those the people in Tohoku are suffering.”
As you can see from Keiichi's email, optimism is a common disease among the Japanese. We pray that the future brings them relief.  In the meantime, for those who are wondering how my two year old granddaughter, Tamako, is faring, her dad says she’s having a great time in Kobe with her Japanese grandmother, aunt and a cousin.  We all miss her a lot here though.

For comments/reactions: pls. email: polbits@yahoo.com

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