IT’S striking that the political opposition in America and the Philippines have gone in markedly different routes to challenge the incumbent Presidents. This is a reflection of the presidential system of government to which both countries subscribe.
In the United States, the opposition has challenged in court Donald Trump’s executive order barring the entry into the country of immigrants from five Muslim-majority countries. In this effort, it has already won some partial victories in several states, where district judges have blocked the order. But now, the issue will go to the US Supreme Court where the Trump administration intends to fully argue the issue.
In the Philippines, the opposition has filed an impeachment complaint against President Rodrigo Duterte in the House of Representatives in a bid, not only to stop Duterte’s war on drugs, but to oust him from office.
The contrasting approaches of each opposition group suggest the level of difficulty that each group will face in order to achieve its aims.
In the US, the opposition has chosen a wholly legal route. It questions the constitutionality and legality of Trump’s travel ban, and victory will depend on whether the US Supreme Court will sustain the findings of some lower courts or completely overturn them.
In the Philippines, the preferred route is impeachment of the President in the Congress, where the opposition must contend with the superior numbers of the administration in both houses of Congress.
Under the Constitution, the House of Representatives has the exclusive power to initiate a case of impeachment against the President. The Senate has the sole power to try and decide a case of impeachment, in a trial where the Supreme Court Chief Justice will preside.
An invidious comparison
I am drawing what is called an “invidious comparison” between the two projects in bringing them together. This means the contrast will tend to arouse resentment or rejection because it is unfair or unpleasant.
The Philippine project is strategically aimed at bringing down a constitutionally elected President. The hope is that by unseating him, his elected successor, the Vice President, can then take over.
The American project is focused wholly on overturning a controversial policy in court. Its aim is simply to defeat Mr. Trump on a question of policy via the rule of law, and thereby delegitimize his presidency.
It’s striking that both projects are taking place in a presidential system of government (the Philippine system is sprung from the US, having been installed when the Philippines was under US colonial rule).
Had these moves happened under a parliamentary system as in the United Kingdom, a vote of confidence would be called in Parliament and the issue would have been quickly resolved by the majority.
Omnibus impeachment complaint
It is intriguing that Filipino opposition leaders went straight to the impeachment solution, instead of lodging first a legal challenge against the drug war and drug policy. This suggests that a bigger initiative may be in the works, wherein many groups are involved, and multiple actions will then converge on a common objective.
The impeachment complaint was filed Thursday by party-list lawmaker, Rep. Gary Alejano of the Magdalo party-list group of opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes. Alejano is a former member of the Marines, who joined the failed 2003 Oakwood rebellion against the Arroyo administration led by Trillanes.
In his impeachment complaint, Alejano accused Duterte of responsibility for 1) the alleged killing of some 7,000 drug suspects; 2) the alleged execution by a Davao Death Squad of some 1,400 individuals during Duterte’s stint as Davao City mayor; 3) hiding wealth of as much as P2.2 billion from his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth; and 4) hiring 11,000 ghost employees of the city government when he was Davao City mayor.
The complaint drew an immediate riposte from the administration and its allies in Congress.
Chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panel dismissed the complaint as a mere list of general allegations that are totally without substance. Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd declared that the President has committed no impeachable offense and would not be impeached.
Rep. Karlo Nograles of Davao City said the complaint “is based solely on conjectures, supposition, hearsay and wild imagination.” It cannot prosper in Congress.
Under the Constitution, a verified impeachment complaint, meaning a complaint endorsed by a House member (in this case, Alejano) would have to be included in the House of Representatives’ order of business within 10 session days and referred to the proper committee.
The impeachment complaint will not move until May 7, when Congress resumes sessions after a Lenten break.
If Alejano’s complaint is referred to the House justice committee, the panel will determine if the complaint is sufficient in form and substance, by a majority vote of its members.
If approved, the House justice panel will have to come up with a report to be submitted to House leaders within 60 session days. The complaint must reach the plenary within 10 session days after the House leaders receive the House justice panel’s report.
At least one-third of the 292 House members, or 98 lawmakers, must vote in favor of the impeachment complaint for Duterte to face an impeachment trial in the Senate.
Coordinated and converging actions
Administration officials also contend that the impeachment effort is just part of a larger scenario to bring down President Duterte. They believe that the variant actions are not random happenings but are coordinated and are designed to converge at some point.
Justice Secretary Aguirre believes that this is the case. Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella alluded to “dramatic” and “coordinated” efforts to destabilize the administration.
They cited the following:
1.Vice President Leni Robredo’s taping of a video message that was scheduled to be played on Thursday before the 60th annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, Austria.
2. The statement of the European Parliament calling on Duterte to stop the extra-judicial killings (EJKs) being committed in the drug war.
The actions individually may come to nothing, but combined, in Panelo’s view, they create scenario for the opposition to propagandize against the government ad absurdum.
The hope is that at some point many Filipinos will be agitated enough to rally in massive numbers against Duterte.
What will happen to the scenario when Robredo predictably takes back her words and denies participation in any plot to destabilize the government?
What happens when the successor shows no stomach for the sustained action which serious destabilization demands?
The plot will collapse like a house of cards. Senator Trillanes will remain, ready to unveil new accusations against the President.
Then perhaps, the nation will realize that their national treasury is funding so many public officials whose chief activity these days is solely to bad-mouth the President. They do not dare to take the drug war to court.
The main point of the opposition is to keep on talking and issuing press releases.