SOME people would probably call it, “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory”.
On October 5, the committee on justice of the House of Representatives voted, 26-2, to junk the impeachment complaint filed by former Negros Congressman Jacinto Paras and lawyer Ferdinand Topaciowith the assistance of legal counsel Manuelito Luna against Commission on Elections Chairman Juan Andres Bautista, for being “insufficient in form”.House Majority Leader Rudy Fariñas, although a mere member of the committee chaired by Rep. Reynaldo Umali, reportedly spearheaded the move to throw out the complaint, on the understanding that Bautista would thereafter resign. On October 11, Bautista wrote President Rodrigo Duterte and his “Comelec family” separately, saying he was resigning effective the end of December.
Playing the Congress?
Expecting the resignation to be “irrevocable” and “immediate,” the congressmen, beginning with Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, smelled a rat; thought they were being played. So, Alvarez spoke against the committee report and Deputy Speaker Gwendolyn Garcia of Cebu formally moved for its rejection by the House. Surigao del Norte’s Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, Kabayan’s party-list Rep. Harry Roque, and many others supported the motion. A mere one-third of all the members of the House (or 97 votes) is needed to reverse the findings of the committee, but the House voted overwhelmingly (137-75) to overturn the report.
The House will now have to forward the articles of impeachment to the Senate for trial. Congress is on a month-long holiday break from October 12 to November 13, but the justice committee will be working overtime so that the articles of impeachment could be transmitted to the Senate as soon as Congress returns to work.
Nevertheless, Bautista could still avoid an impeachment trial by amending his letter of resignation, and making it immediate and irrevocable. This would render a Senate trial moot and academic, as happened to former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez who was facing impeachment in the House at Malacañang’s behest, but resigned before she could be actually impeached.
Should Bautista choose to do nothing, the Senate will have to conduct the trial as soon as it receives the articles of impeachment. Some senators are concerned that the trial might rob the Senate of the time needed to approve the 2018 General Appropriations Act and the government’s proposed tax reforms before adjourning in December; however this is a misplaced concern. In the Estrada and Corona impeachment trials, the Senate worked on proposed legislation for one-half of the day and worked as an impeachment court during the other half.
The Senate’s real problem
The real problem of the Senate has to do with the moral fitness of the senators to sit as “senator-judges” in an impeachment trial. Many of the sitting senators sat as “senator-judges” during the 2012 Corona impeachment trial and received P50 million or more each from Malacañang in order to convict the respondent. No cases have been filed against any of the senators, but the bribery is public knowledge and has never been denied by the parties concerned. According to the records released by the office of former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, which had provided the funds from the so-called (unconstitutional) Disbursement Acceleration Program, the current Senate President and other Senate officials were among those who benefited from the anti-Corona operation.
Should any interested party, not necessarily a member of Congress, question the right of any of those senators to sit on any impeachment court, the Senate may not be able to constitute a court sufficient to convict even the guiltiest respondent. Under the Constitution, the concurrence of at least two-thirds (16 votes) of all the members of the Senate is needed to convict any respondent. So, what happens if at least 10 of the 19 senators who had received DAP bribes during the Corona trial are still in office? Somebody allied to Bautista could raise the prejudicial question.
What DU30 can do
Some observers are of the opinion that DU30 could accept Bautista’s resignation even now, and make it effective immediately. According to these sources, DU30 could invoke the doctrine of “constructive resignation,” which was formulated by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, to justify Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s takeover of the presidency in 2001, even without a formal resignation from President Joseph Ejercito Estrada. The thesis sounded fundamentally absurd, since every other way of vacating the presidency (be it death, permanent disability, or removal from office in an impeachment trial) required a piece of paper, but since it was the Supreme Court speaking, it became the final word.
In Bautista’s case, since he had already decided to resign, DU30 could simply supply the immediate effectivity of his resignation. This would render Bautista immediately vulnerable to criminal prosecution, in relation to various questionable transactions during the last presidential elections, and, in particular, his estranged wife Patricia’s allegation that he had amassed over P1 billion in unexplained and undisclosed wealth during said elections, which he hid in 35 separate bank accounts in a rural (thrift) bank.
But the more important point is that it would give DU30 a chance to name a new Comelec chair through whom he could either reform the electoral system or control it for his own ends. Given his autocratic bent and tendency to exploit every opportunity to extend his power, he could indeed use Bautista’s replacement for his own political ends; but given the huge outcry against our thoroughly corrupted automated electoral system, which has given us so many illegitimately elected officials in 2010, 2013 and 2016, he just might allow the reformist groups to put in their desired reforms for the 2019 and 2022 national elections.
This could become his real legacy, even if his own six-year term were cut short because of the unabated extra-judicial killings that have marked his murderous “war on drugs,” and the increasing talk on the ground and also in external circles about the need to devise a peaceful, non-violent way of replacing the controversial President. Some people tend to believe the situation is beginning to resemble the days before Marcos fell in 1986 and before Estrada was ousted in 2001.
A snap election?
On my Global News Network TV program last Sunday evening and Monday morning, former National Security Adviser and Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales advanced the idea of convincing DU30, with Vice President Leni Robredo’s cooperation and support, to call a “snap presidential election” in order to relieve him of all his fears about being overthrown by the “Yellows” or the communists, otherwise known as his allies. My own information, unverified as of now, is that the idea of a snap election is also being mooted by certain officials close to the President.
The strategic objective is to give the nation a fresh start. After all the troubles of the Aquino years, DU30 proved to be a false start. As a presidential candidate in 2016, DU30 promised to control the monstrous traffic, fix the MRT, the city train, end the drug problem, the contractualization of workers, the NPA armed struggle, and syndicated corruption, plant the Philippine flag in areas in the South China Sea within the country’s exclusive economic zone, and so many other things—all within days, if not months, from taking office.
Not a single one of these promises has been fulfilled. The problems have grown worse. He has promised to resign if any of his children got involved in corruption, if he is shown to have deposited a single US dollar in a foreign bank account. Against Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th’s continued allegations that he has stashed so much hidden wealth abroad, he has told the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police to “oust him” if he’s lying about his wealth. He has focused on only one program, his “war on drugs,” and this has produced thousands of summary killings, without any effect on the illegal supply and traffic of drugs. His own son Paolo, the vice mayor of Davao, has been implicated in the P6.4-billion illegal drug shipment from China, and accused by Trillanes of being a member of the Chinese Triad.
DU30 may or may not run again in such a snap election. Having earlier named his daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio as his preferred successor, he could perhaps let her run in his place. That could probably help ensure that he would not be deeply involved in any effort to manipulate the Comelec. For their part, Robredo and Bongbong Marcos could have a fresh run against each other, this time for President.
Bringing in Robredo
In 1985, after 20 years in office, as soon as Ferdinand Marcos started ailing, and doubts began to emerge about his ability to stay on top of the government, the strongman was prevailed upon to call a snap election to test his continued viability. Since he did not have a sitting vice president, nothing prevented him from quickly making that announcement. Now, after 14 months in office, DU30 seems to be in no better situation than Marcos.
Some analysts think he’s now on a free fall, and yet he cannot take his chances on any of his suspected conspiracies or on Vice President Leni Robredo, given the unresolved question about her constitutional legitimacy before the Supreme Court acting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET). She is sitting in office now, but not enough Filipinos will say she has earned the right to sit. Gonzales has a point in proposing that with Robredo’s support, DU30 should now consider calling a snap presidential election before we end up as a failed state.
Together with the needed electoral reforms, the details of this proposed snap election could be and should be legislated by the present Congress, which is now poised, following the last PDP meeting in Negros, to railroad a change of our present form of government in favor of the made-in-Davao inverted federalism which will balkanize the republic into several warlord-controlled territories, or alternatively install a so-called modified French-style presidential system where, among other things, the Vice President will disappear from the line of succession in favor of the Senate President.