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.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

P-Noy Dangles ‘Twin Popsies’ before the House

The results of the marathon voting in the House of Representatives, that lasted until close to midnight last night, were not unexpected---the majority went for Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez’s impeachment. What was not expected was the overwhelmingly large number that voted for it. In earlier days this blogger had talked to a number of people from different persuasions, who said they were abstaining, for one reason or another. The Opposition allied with former President GMA had counted earlier about 100 members who would vote no to impeachment, but by Monday evening's voting, all resistance had crumbled, and the pro-Merci was down to 46, with four abstentions. 

The crowds in the hall, in turn, attributed the fast downspin of Merci's fortunes to a text message that had circulated among members last weekend, which read, “Favor---kindly disseminate to all reps---LPs and non-LPs. This should be made clear to all. Those who will vote no or absent/abstain on impeachment will get 0 AS IN ZERO. at least walang sisihan that there was no forewarning." 

Rep. Abaya denies ‘0 AS IN ZERO’ text

The text message was attributed to House appropriations chair Joseph Emilio Abaya, who naturally denied it; but Minority Leader Edcel Lagman, valiantly seeking every reason to stop the voting on the floor, not only read the text aloud, but also demanded that a House “committee of the whole” investigate its veracity, only to be told by Majority Leader Boyet Gonzalez that Speaker Feliciano Belmonte had already ordered the investigation at last Sunday’s majority caucus.  The Speaker was told that there was no truth to the “0 AS IN ZERO releases” text, and that according to the Palace, all the members would get their PDAF and Saro releases regardless of how they would vote.
It was obvious, though, that most everyone believed the 'theory of connectivity,' judging from the sudden ballooning of the pro-impeach votes to a number even the LPs didn't expect. One solon opined that the “LP-Mar faction” had circulated it, and though he resented the seeming arrogance of its wording, he gave in to its insolent demand----yes to impeach Merci.

Squeezed between INK pressure and P-Noy order

At about the same time, word got around that a high-ranking Iglesia ni Kristo official had been calling House members not to vote against Gutierrez, and speculation was that this was due to the fact that one of her lawyers  was former SC Justice Serafin Cuevas, a ranking INK leader.  Sighed a lady legislator, “Between the INK’s pro-Mercy vote and P-Noy’s all-out order to get her, we’re really in a squeeze.”  Apparently, with over two years still to the 2013 mid-term elections, P-Noy's  promised PDAF, with the Saro delayed from last year also thrown in,  proved more precious to the members than the INK’s proverbial command votes.  As they say, in these last two days, all that glittered in the House was still the gold. So where's the reform?
One sidelight to Monday night’s main event was that the debate on the RH bill was temporarily shunted aside, especially since the bishops and pro-life groups have been working hard to convince the members to forego voting.  A big indication of this trend, for instance, is the fact that among the five lady legislators from Pangasinan, three are against the RH bill while two are for it. Bishop Soc Villegas can claim credit.

Certified ‘urgent’

The precious PDAF and Saro releases may be likened to ‘twin popsies’ that cool parched summer throats. The vote against Merci and the vote to postpone the ARMM elections scheduled for this August 11, as embodied in House Bill #4146, constituted a package deal and the President has staked his leadership on its passage in the House. As some media reported, in addition to the fund releases estimated up to P190 million per ally,  a P200,000 bonus for every yes vote for Merci's impeachment was reportedly also thrown in, which was why the cavernous Batasan plenary hall was packed as though for a SONA. 

In a lunch meeting in Malacanang the other Sunday, P-Noy reportedly gave out the marching orders to the LP “to impeach that woman,” and yesterday the 22-member NPC followed suit, with former Rep. Mark Cojuangco watching over his members' shoulders up to late evening. 

Earlier this evening it was the turn of HB #4146 proponents to count heads again, after the Ledac made the ARMM synchronization a priority measure and P-Noy certified it as urgent. 192 House members voted for ARMM election postponement, while the 47 who stuck to Merci also stuck to vainly push the election through.  

‘Daang Matuwid’ can’t be straightened with Merci:  Noy allies

It’s easy to understand why P-Noy wants Merci’s head, for as his minions in the House claimed, his campaign promise of the “Daang Matuwid” cannot be straightened out unless she’s replaced by someone who will prosecute GMA and her officials (talk is that if Merci’s convicted by the Senate, the new Ombudsman would be Avelino “Nonong” Cruz).  But it’s difficult to understand why P-Noy is pushing the postponement of the August ARMM elections, to synchronize it with the 2013 mid-term elections, when just about every significant Mindanao leader, be he or she Muslim or Christian, is against it.

A full-page newspaper ad last weekend pushing for postponement of the ARMM elections in August states that the reason for the insistence is “to allow reforms to take place, start a clean slate, and prepare the region and its people for an orderly transfer of power and resources to its duly-elected officials in 2013.”  But the question in many minds in the meantime is, who will handle those resources, estimated to be about P40 billion for the region?

Postponement advocated by nameless, faceless civil society

The pro-postponement ad is signed by a whole slew of “civil society organizations” with nameless and faceless people; this is in direct contrast to those leaders vehemently opposing postponement of the ARMM elections, such as Fr. Eliseo Mercado, former Sen. Nene Pimentel, just about all the Mindanao congressmen such as Rufus Rodriguez and  Marc Douglas Cagas, Gov. Tupay Loong, former Rep. Almarin Tillah and many others. 
 Many of us are already allergic to “civil society organizations” handling resources, owing to the controversial ten-year old P10 billion Peace Bonds, a loan whose interest runs up to a staggering P38 billion, reportedly to be paid this year by the National Treasury.  A number of those Code-NGO folks help run P-Noy’s government, and if you believe Sen. Ernie Maceda, are involved in husbanding its mega-bucks.

94 votes in House; 16 votes in Senate

As fate would have it, the impeachment and the ARMM election postponement will end up in the Senate and deliberations will start in May. Will the 'twin popsies' P-Noy dangled before the House make the senators salivate too like parched throats in the summer? Let's hope not.

 As the sponsors of the House impeachment resolution emphasized last night, they are not saying Gutierrez is guilty of betrayal of public trust and dereliction of duty---that’s for the Senate to determine. What they kept repeating is that there is “probable cause” and a “strong suspicion” of guilt. Because the House role is lighter, it’s easy to see why the framers of the Constitution also made the requisite number of votes to impeach smaller---94 votes (from 1/3 of the members) are enough to send the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate;  whereas the Senate, which has to establish guilt based (we hope) on evidence, needs 2/3 vote of the 23 members, or a total of 16, to convict Gutierrez.
  By contrast she needs only seven votes to go scot-free;  but should she be found guilty by the senator-judges, the punishment would be merciless: removal from office and exclusion from public office for life.

Even Sen. Escudero is against postponement

On the other hand, while the House express train has passed the bill resetting the ARMM elections, against all sane advice of credible Mindanao leaders, to May 2013, it is expected to meet stiff opposition in the Senate where even allies of P-Noy such as Sen. Francis Escudero think postponement is an insane idea.  Hopefully the Senate will again be the bulwark of independence (yours truly, a longtime advocate of a unicameral body, now sees the wisdom of rethinking this idea of a solo chamber, given the political reality of 'twin popsies' being gobbled up in the House from time to time).
Thus, while the UN and NATO debate the legitimacy of the air attacks over Libya and there’s  turmoil in Yemen, continuing problems in Japan’s nuclear reactors,  food security and oil disruption, earthquakes and other natural calamities in the world, etc., come May this country will be assured of an impeachment circus involving a woman official who, as Sen. Joker Arroyo put it, has become P-Noy’s fixation, and pressures to postpone an election that ARMM constituents passionately want to have.

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