THERE may be more than enough votes to impeach and convict Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, if and when President Rodrigo Duterte finally formalizes the marching orders against her in the House of Representatives, which has the exclusive power to initiate all impeachment cases, and the Senate, which has the sole power to try and decide all such cases.
Yet there will not be enough votes to impeach the President himself, even if Magdalo’s hastily drafted impeachment complaint on the drug killings were amended to include DU30’s perceived constitutional offense in allowing Chinese ships to conduct a surveillance at Benham Rise without the knowledge of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of National Defense.
And there could be more people following Oliver Lozano and filing an impeachment complaint against Vice President Leni Robredo before she could acquire full legitimacy in the position under dispute, from which she is to be removed by impeachment.
From all this, it looks certain that impeachment—more than DU30’s inverted federalism and unvetted constitutional change—will dominate the government’s agenda until Congress loses its right and reason to exist. We could become the new Republic of Impeachment.
Just like the pechay craze
Impeachment, like pornography, seems to have become the latest craze. This reminds me of the time Mrs. Imelda Marcos planted the first patch of pechay under her Green Revolution. It became the rage, so everyone else followed until the whole stretch along the national highways and everywhere else was covered with the vege.
For the DU30 government, it seems to fit the name of the game, which is political power and nothing else, to a tee. Who gets what? Nothing to do with the common good, the public interest, and good governance. Just power.
What will the impeachment cases do to the extra-judicial killings in the war on drugs? Nothing. What will they do to China’s active occupation of disputed maritime features and territorial waters in the Spratlys and beyond? Nothing. DU30’s latest sound bite is to allow the Chinese navy free access to our territorial waters, provided they inform the Philippine Navy beforehand. What happens to the concept of national sovereignty and territorial integrity? Who cares? China is our friend.
Every important national question would be put on hold while the Senate impeachment court tries the Ombudsman and the Vice President in two separate cases. In time, the proceedings would end, but the conclusion of the proceedings could intensify, rather than end, the distractions from the mainline business of government. If the Ombudsman and the Vice President are convicted and removed, their ouster and replacement would surely usher in an entirely new agenda for the DU30 government, anchored on the mistaken belief that its questionable policies have been validated, and vindicated.
Creative response needed
The drug killings and China’s maritime penetration of our territorial waters or exclusive economic zone are among our real problems. It’s here where we need the creative use of political power. But this is what is sorely lacking. DU30 seems to be suffering from certain distractions, which he cannot seem to overcome or mitigate. Some analysts believe DU30 is preparing China as a possible sanctuary in case he is hounded by Western governments for alleged crimes against humanity, which Robredo has begun talking about in a recent international conference on narcotics. But DU30 could still seize the initiative, if he is so minded.
On his brutal drug war, whose general objective is supported even by its fiercest critics, DU30 could shift to an all-out offensive against the large drug producers and manufacturers, financiers and distributors, some of whom are rumored to be enjoying the protection and support of some of his close friends. He could then concentrate on the documentation of those who had been killed, and the rehabilitation of the small-time users who have until now constituted those on the Philippine National Police kill-list.
By enlisting the cooperation and support of other governments and the international anti-narcotics agencies, DU30 could also shift the focus of international attention from his “sins” of the past to his possible future “achievements” in his war on drugs. He should then be able to demonstrate that there is life after Operation Tokhang, with its reported 8,000 victims.
On China, there is absolutely no reason why DU30 cannot pursue a policy of “friendship” (which he sometimes calls love), without having to look and sound like a puppet of Beijing. Having decided not to invoke the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling at The Hague in favor of the Philippine position on Scarborough Shoal against China’s so-called nine-dash line, while everybody else was pressing him to invoke it, DU30 is in a legitimate position to exact a big reciprocal favor from the Chinese.
This does not mean financial grants or concessional loans or free access to any part of China on private visits. DU30 could have extracted a solemn pledge from Beijing that none of the disputed areas in the West Philippine/South China Sea would be militarized or subjected to any further reclamation or construction, until the sovereignty issue shall have been decided according to international law, upon mutual consent of the two parties.
An open option from the Hague
DU30 could have taken this position last July after the arbitral ruling was announced at The Hague, or in October 2016, when on a state visit to China, he announced his decision to “separate” militarily and economically from the United States and to align with China and Russia “against the world.” That was a legitimate option, and there is no expiry period for it. DU30 could still, and should now, ask Beijing to agree that pending the settlement of the sovereignty issue on the disputed areas, neither party shall construct any permanent military or civil structure that would substantially affect the character of the contested maritime features.
DU30 should assure Beijing that this is one way of enhancing the friendship and cooperation between the two countries. With moves like this, there should be less opportunities for the freewheeling media and DU30’s most devoted human rights critics to focus on his many excesses. He may not even need to see the Ombudsman and the Vice President impeached, and he could probably convince Magdalo that they could make better use of their time by doing something other than trying to impeach a populist President. How to make this government work is the real challenge for everyone at this point; it would be a shame if it fails simply because everyone decided not to put it to the test.
In memoriam: Remembering Letty Shahani
Yesterday the Senate paid its final tribute to the late former Senator Leticia Ramos Shahani, who died at 87, 19 years after completing her two full terms in the chamber, from 1987 to 1998. She was one of the more genuinely liked and respected members of the Senate. She was the younger sister of former President Fidel V. Ramos, the oldest of the four surviving former Presidents of the Republic, but her star shone before that of her brother’s in the political firmament.
She became ambassador to Australia and Romania, and UN Secretary General for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs before she entered the Senate. There, she chaired the committees on foreign relations, education, arts and culture, agriculture, women and family relations. Before the end of her first term, she authored the Foreign Service Act of 1991, which remains a vital anchor of the foreign service.
Before and after the Cairo conference
We sat together in the Senate from 1992 to 1998. She was a devoted champion of women’s rights, and in the debates on family planning and reproductive health, we found ourselves on opposing sides. But she never lost her humor or her sense of respect for the opposing side. In the runup to the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, the Senate was reorganized. We elected a new Senate president, and I was named Majority Leader. But none of the three women senators wanted to chair the committee on women, so it remained vacant. To allow it to function, the Senate president asked me to chair it in a temporary capacity. Under the Rules, the chairman of Rules, who is the Majority Leader, is a member of all committees and cannot chair any other committee. But because of the special exigency, I agreed to the request.
As soon as I accepted, protests broke out at Miriam College, the University of the Philippines, other campuses and right at the lobby of the Senate. They wanted me to give up my chairmanship, calling me a “woman hater” like the Pope. I declined this demand, saying I did not seek it and that the situation could have been avoided had any of the women senators taken it. Since they could not boot me out, they had the entire leadership reorganized, starting with the Senate president. This rendered all the committees vacant, so I lost the chairmanship, while retaining my major post.
In preparing for the Cairo conference, Jaime Cardinal Sin, the Archbishop of Manila, organized a one-million march at the Luneta to warn against the Cairo population control agenda, and to insist that the Philippine position as a predominantly Catholic nation be respected. Senator Shahani, as the new chair of the committee on women, gave a positive response to this. I was excluded from the Philippine delegation to Cairo, but was invited by the Egyptian Parliament to attend the meeting of parliamentarians. In that capacity, I had to distribute my paper from outside the conference hall. But before Senator Shahani submitted the Philippine position to the conference, she asked me to see if the delegation’s paper was all right.
I gave it my vote of confidence. There as elsewhere, we stood on opposite sides, but we never lost respect for each other’s intellectual and moral integrity in speaking for our respective causes. This is the first thing that comes to mind when I fondly remember Letty—a genuine gift to our people and government.