Undocumented Filipinos in the United States as well as their relatives in the Philippines can only cheer President Barack Obama’s resolve to legalize the stay of five million undocumented immigrants in the US. They are, after all, going to benefit from it. But it is far from an accomplished fact. The Republican majority in Congress is questioning its constitutionality, and the Aquino administration may not be able to express a position on it, without interfering in the internal affairs of the US government.
This is not because the Republicans are against foreign immigrants, while Obama is not.
It is all a question of law, and we should be able to look at it above and beyond personal interest. Does Obama have the power to do what he wants to do, without the approval of Congress? In the US, as in the Philippines and every other country, this is the first question that must be answered.
Resolved to block Obama’s move, the Republicans, through House Speaker John Boehner, have filed a lawsuit against the President on an altogether different issue, which raises the same constitutional argument on the proper use of presidential power. If the suit is successful, it could have the same effect on Obama’s position on the undocumented immigrants.
Acting on a Republican consensus reached three months ago, Boehner formally charged the secretaries of the Treasury and the Health and Human Services Department, on behalf of the administration, with unlawfully delaying the implementation of the health care law to benefit employers, and paying out funds to health care insurers without congressional approval. Under the law, employers with 50 or more full-time workers or equivalents are required to provide health coverage or to pay fines if at least one employee takes advantage of a tax credit on the health law’s insurance exchanges.
The complaint charged that the Obama administration phased in this particular rule through 2016 instead of allowing it to take effect in 2014. The Republicans are also contesting a cost-sharing program estimated to pay $3 billion to insurance companies in 2014 and $175 billion over the next 10 years. The Republicans charged that all this was politically motivated—to win favors from employers in time for this month’s congressional elections. Ironically, the Democrats suffered a sweeping defeat in the polls.
Explaining the reason for filing the complaint, Boehner slamming Obama said: “Time after time, the President has chosen to ignore the will of the American people and rewrite federal law on his own without a vote of Congress. That’s not the way our system of government was designed to work. If this president can get away with his own laws, our future president will have the same ability to as well. The House has an obligation to stand up for the Constitution, and that is exactly why we are pursuing this course of action.”
Normally, if the President violates the Constitution, the remedy is to have him impeached and removed from office. A two-thirds vote of all the members of the Senate is required to convict an impeached official, and the Republicans, despite their winning the majority in this month’s election, do not quite have this number. The last US president to be impeached by the House and tried by the Senate was Bill Clinton, whose sexual encounters with the intern Monica Lewinsky inside the Oval Office made running world headlines, but he was acquitted by the Senate, with some Republicans crossing the party line to vote for acquittal. Clinton was supposed to have asked then-President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, when they first met, “Why is it that you have all the sex, and I have the scandal?”
For us Filipinos, the Republican action against Obama bears watching not only because of the number of undocumented Filipinos–better known as TNT (tago nang tago, “always in hiding”) because of their illegal status—who stand to gain or lose from this controversy, but also because of the constitutional and political precedent it sets in dealing with an imperial and imperious president.
Here, far beyond what we see in the US, we have a president who has taken virtual control of Congress by bribing its members to impeach and remove a sitting Supreme Court Chief Justice, and by making them partners in crime in looting the public till through the pork barrel system. Several impeachment complaints against President B. S. Aquino 3rd were filed earlier this year by members of Congress after the Supreme Court struck down the Priority Development Assistance Fund and the Disbursement Acceleration Program, otherwise known as the pork barrel system, as unconstitutional, but precisely because of this dark partnership these were swiftly thrown out of the House committee on justice for being “insufficient in substance.”
The Executive Department has also completely ignored a Supreme Court directive to the prosecutorial organs of government to file charges and prosecute all officials involved in the unconstitutional use of the pork barrel system. Such directive, if carried out, could lead to the jailing of most members of Congress, the Secretary of the Budget, and some members of the Commission on Audit. It could also revive moves to impeach Aquino, whose ouster is demanded by the various assemblies convened around the country by the National Transformation Council.
Because of the legendary tendency of Filipino politicians to copy what they see in US politics, a successful Republican action against Obama could spawn a copycat action from some Filipino politicians who are until now unwilling to be seen as “the opposition.” It could also accelerate the weakening of Aquino’s residual political base and capital, which seem to derive solely from his being one of Obama’s boys in Asia, and from nothing else. The Philippines remains the most pro-American country in the world, topping even Israel, according to one opinion poll conducted by Pew, and a Filipino president who has lost all support from the Filipino people could still manage to stay on so long as he is perceived to enjoy the support of the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon. He or she cannot expect to be saved when his or her US protectors run into serious trouble.