LAST Wednesday, as the National Transformation Council renewed its call on President B. S. Aquino 3rd to step down and pave the way for a nonpartisan transitory council, a group of concerned citizens, including the politician-wife of his mother’s younger brother, asked the Supreme Court to compel the Ombudsman and the Department of Justice to investigate PNoy for his misuse of the unconstitutional P150-billion Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), and lay the ground for his possible impeachment.
These are two historic moves, which the front pages of the major newspapers and prime TV managed to ignore.
In a petition for mandamus with preliminary mandatory injunction, Dr. Greco Belgica, former Tarlac governor, Cory Aquino’s sister-in-law, Margarita Cojuangco, Protestant bishop Reuben Abante, Quintin San Diego, Rev. Jose Gonzales, and former Biliran Congressman Glenn Chong, through counsel Manuelito Luna, asked the High Court to order the Ombudsman and the DOJ to “investigate and prosecute, or file a verified complaint for impeachment against the President, if warranted, or suspend or remove, the DAP authors, proponents and implementors, and continue and pursue the investigation and prosecution of other public officials and personalities anent the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).”
Named respondents in the suit are Aquino, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Senate President Franklin Drilon and the 19 senators who had each received P50 million or more from the DAP to convict former SC Chief Justice Renato Corona during his impeachment trial, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and other members of the House who had received and misused DAP and PDAF funds on various occasions, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa on behalf of various implementing agencies.
In its ruling voiding the DAP and the PDAF for being unconstitutional, the Supreme Court had earlier ordered all prosecutorial arms to investigate and prosecute all those involved in the manipulation and misuse of the two programs. However, neither the Ombudsman nor the DOJ has sought to comply with the order. Thus, the mandamus.
Under our jurisprudence, the writ of mandamus is resorted to when any tribunal, corporation, board, officer or person unlawfully neglects the performance of an act that the law specifically enjoins as a duty resulting from an office, trust, or station.
It is the first time that the Ombudsman has been asked to investigate a sitting president to lay the basis for his possible impeachment less than one full year before he ends his term. At the height of the controversy on the Mamasapano massacre, an impeachment complaint against PNoy was mechanically thrown out of the House committee on justice by his Congress allies who had earlier destroyed the impeachment process by launching Corona’s impeachment without reading the complaint they had signed at Malacanang’s behest.
It remains to be seen how Morales would react to the reissuance of an order she had long previously ignored. But the more critical question is, what will the House do with a verified impeachment complaint from the Ombudsman or the DOJ, assuming the impossible happens? And how would the Ombudsman and the DOJ react to a Court order requiring them to investigate, prosecute and suspend, if warranted, top political allies who have remained “untouched,” despite their obviously deep involvement in the pork barrel scandal?
Since the DAP and PDAF scandal exploded on prime TV and in running news headlines, this is the first time any charge has been brought against Abad, Drilon, Belmonte, and the 19 senator-judges who had each accepted P50 million and even more to convict Corona during his impeachment trial, and had unduly benefited from the PDAF. Whether or not PNoy is finally impeached, the petitioners seem optimistic that their clamor for changing the entire government without need of going through another round of farcical elections might finally come to pass. (“Palitlahat,” change all) is their call.
This has been the primary clamor of the National Transformation Council from the very beginning. Thus, on its first anniversary celebration at the Manila Hotel last Wednesday, the NTC reaffirmed its original position that without a thorough overhaul of the electoral system, through system change, it would be futile to expect any change from the 2016 elections; the only correct course of action would be for Aquino to step down, and for a caretaker council to take over, not necessarily to succeed Aquino, but simply to fix the broken constitutional and political order before conducting elections.
Lending support to the NTC affair was a panoply of Catholic and Protestant church leaders and advocates of a clean, honest and transparent elections. Archbishop of Lipa Ramon Arguelles, Archbishop Emeritus of Davao and former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference Fernando Capalla, Archbishop Romulo de la Cruz of Zamboanga, Bishop of Tandag and former CBCP president Nereo Odchimar, Bishop of Butuan Juan de Dios Pueblos, Bishop Filomeno Bactol of Naval, Biliran, Auxiliary Bishop Colin Bagaforo of Cotabato, Auxiliary Bishop George Rimando of Davao were joined by Protestant Bishops PioTica, Butch Belgica and Manuel Valeroso, Pastors Arthur Corpuz, Reuel Tica, Herman Roca, Primitivo Arce, Antonio Ecube and leaders of the nationwide movement for a more transparent elections, including Toti Casino, Leo Querubin, Mel Magdamo and Maricor Akol.
As in previous NTC assemblies, from Lipa through Cebu, Butuan, Angeles, Davao, General Santos and back to Lipa, I was asked to facilitate the proceedings. In its statement, read to the assembly by Glenn Chong, the NTC recalled the various premises that had long led it to conclude that Mr. Aquino had lost the moral right to lead the nation, that he had become a danger to the Philippine democratic and republican state and to the peace, freedom, security and moral and spiritual wellbeing of the Filipino people, and that his best option would be to step down so that we could restore the broken constitutional order before we begin to consider electing a new government under normal political conditions.
This demand was reiterated with increasing urgency and vigor in all the NTC assemblies, and by other groups all over the country who have adopted the same call as their own. It reached a high point after the January 20, 2015 massacre in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, in which 44 Special Action Force police commandos perished in the hands of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters after they were denied reinforcement by PNoy, who ordered the military units to stand down.
For a while it appeared to have been overtaken by the intense election fever identified with the legally mandated 2016 election. This was implicitly admitted by former defense secretary and national security adviser Norberto Gonzales who told the assembly that some NTC members had begun toying with the idea of participating in the elections, just to be with the people who obviously could not resist the carnival-attraction of elections.
If later the elections turn out to be as fraudulent as feared, then that would be the time to call for direct popular action. But the idea was put on the table in Cebu, and the original sentiment in favor of nonviolent revolutionary change, rather than election, prevailed.
“One year after the Lipa Declaration, we have to ask,” said the NTC anniversary statement, “Is there anything we said in Lipa and in all the other assemblies that now appears to have been in error or in excess or our constitutional, moral and patriotic concerns? Have we unfairly and unjustly condemned the Aquino administration, and misread our people’s capability to stand for our Constitution and the dignity and honor of the nation?
“No, we have not. The Aquino administration has not shown the slightest desire to do penance and mend its ways for its grievous wrongs. As it approaches the end of its borrowed time, it has shown no effort and no desire to conduct a clean, honest and credible election, nor to prosecute those who have debased the rule of law and the constitutional order, and ripped off the coffers of the nation.
“The apparent game plan is still to manipulate the 2016 presidential election through the Commission on Elections and its Venezuelan partner Smartmatic, in order to ensure the continued plunder of the treasury, the continued destruction of all our institutions, and the continued exploitation of our political system.
“In our effort to make the regime accountable to the Constitution and to the rule of law, some members and friends of the Council have asked the Supreme Court to declare void and unconstitutional the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) through which some false friends of the Republic seek to balkanize Mindanao in the name of a bogus peace. They have also asked the High Court to stop the illegal and massive realignment of public funds, which would allow Smartmatic and the Comelec to control without any accountability the next elections.
“To end the administration’s unilateral exercise of impunity, they have just filed a mandamus suit against the President, the Ombudsman, the Budget Secretary, the Justice Secretary, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House, the senators and congressmen, the heads of various agencies, and all those involved in the misuse and abuse of the P150-billion DAP which the Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional.
“Our faith in our highest Court remains strong and unimpeachable. But we fear that even if the Court should act favorably upon all our petitions, such action may not suffice to end the evil that has now become the system. We have to do more.
“We have been told that Mr. Aquino has less than one year to stay in power, and that we should be patient and wait for the next administration to take over. This is a false argument. Just as it took Mr. Aquino but one tiny moment to issue the order that led to the bribery and total corruption of Congress and the removal of the Supreme Court Chief Justice, a similar moment to issue the order that led to the Mamasapano massacre, it would not take much longer for Mr. Aquino to commit our poorly equipped troops into an unwanted, needless and ruinous war at the West Philippine/South China Sea, or to completely hijack the next election if, in his judgment, that would ‘save’ him and his friends from any and all imagined peril.
“We pray to the Almighty God, in whose hands we put the nation’s safety and wellbeing, that nothing like this would ever happen. But given what we have been through these last five years, we cannot afford any undue risks at this time. Mr. Aquino must step down. More than ever, we need a caretaker government now.”