FIRST of all, there is no impeachment yet. There is a petition filed against President Rodrigo Duterte by a Magdalo party-list congressman allied with Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, Duterte’s most virulent critic.
But that petition must wait till Congress resumes in May after the Lenten and Easter break. Only then can the impeachment case be reviewed for sufficiency in form and substance. And it probably won’t fly, given the administration’s dominance in the House.
The second impeachment is but a threat against Vice President Leni Robredo, from Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, echoed by other administration officials.
An official of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) claimed that 300 legislators are ready to sign the complaint, if one is filed. That’s impossible, of course, since there are only 297 congressmen.
But then, only one-third of representatives — just 93 — are needed to impeach, and the dominant PDP-Laban party already has 97. Now, if 93 or more lawmakers sign the complaint, it immediately goes it to the Senate for trial, like the petition against then President Joseph Estrada in November 2000.
Congress is not in session now, however; any petition against the VP can be filed only in May.
Ousting the VP
So, why discuss these iffy impeachments? Well, in fact, they aren’t so iffy.
Administration lawmakers will likely find the petition against President Duterte sufficient in form before debunking its allegations. The Chief Executive would then be immune from impeachment for a year.
On the other hand, after anti-Duterte elements sought to impeach him, they can expect his supporters to return the favor against the official opponents hope will replace him.
Unfortunately for VP Robredo, she herself gave her opponents the grounds for impeachment when she attacked the country’s anti-drug campaign in a video shown at a United Nations Human Rights Council forum in Vienna last week.
If the video is proven to have falsely portrayed the Philippines as wantonly killing drug suspects, it may constitute breach of public trust, an impeachable offense.
And who decides if her statements on camera were untrue and demeaning to the nation? The administration-dominated House, when it votes on the impeachment petition, if one is filed; and the Senate, which would try the VP if the House approves the Articles of Impeachment.
The other charge contemplated is Robredo’s alleged involvement in destabilization efforts allegedly mounted against President Duterte.
This is harder to prove, even to a stacked Congress, and especially to senators keen not to appear gullible or unfair.
For one thing, one must prove there is in fact destabilization, before one can accuse the VP of involvement. Then one must show that she actively collaborated with elements out to oust President Duterte or undermine his government.
It’s not enough to show that Robredo criticized him, and destabilizers used her statements to erode support for Duterte. Rather, she must be shown to have conspired with destabilizers.
Already, her Liberal Party is citing Duterte’s own statements to debunk accusations.
Just last week, when the President accused some mining firms of funding the campaign to oust him, he said, translated from Filipino: “I’m not saying Leni is involved. I don’t want to drag her name.”
Of course, Duterte could change his view. Speaking to media during his state visit to Myanmar on Sunday, the President said in Filipino: “Leni is too much in rush to become President.”
Whichever line he eventually settles on, it is Congress that would sift through evidence and decide if the VP was seeking to remove him, if that is alleged in an impeachment complaint.
And it bears noting that one proven charge is enough to convict and remove an impeachable official. If the UN video does it, Robredo is out.
Notably, the late Chief Justice Renato Corona was ousted for a far lesser charge of errors in his asset statement, which normally could have been corrected without penalty. So, it would not be grossly unjust to impeach the VP if she is proven to have maligned the Philippines before the nations of the world.
To impeach or not to impeach
With Congress in recess, the ruling coalition has one-and-a-half months to decide whether to file a case against Vice President Robredo. In that time, the current brouhaha over her UN video would have passed, and it might not be so easy to muster the 93 representatives needed to impeach.
Moreover, unrest against President Duterte may have subsided, especially with the nation’s pride in him as chairman and host of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit on April 28-29. Plus: Vice President Robredo may herself tone down her criticism, if only to avoid spoiling the Asean events.
Then the administration may just leave her alone, and not use the impeachment to put her on the defensive and erode her credibility with hearings, media and online material about her alleged breach of public trust.
The government may also wish to avoid provoking Western opprobrium anew over another leading Duterte critic lambasted and accused like Senator Leila de Lima. Not to mention making people feel sorry for Robredo.
But if she escalates her attacks, then impeachment is almost sure. And if she is removed, then a whole new slew of politicking erupts.
There would be jockeying for the VP post, who would be chosen from among the senators. And if that’s not interesting enough, there’s the election protest of losing VP candidate Bongbong Marcos.
If Robredo is ousted before the protest is decided by the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, made up of all Supreme Court justices, there may be pressure on Marcos to drop the protest and just accept a plum government post.
If he won’t, the senator chosen to replace the ousted Robredo may mount a public campaign against putting another Marcos in line for the presidency.
Politics. It’s more fun in the Philippines.