Between Sen. Leila de Lima’s ouster as chair of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, which is investigating extrajudicial drug killings, and Communications Secretary Martin Andanar’s revelation that some Filipino-Americans in New York are planning to oust President Rodrigo Duterte by January next year, we have reason to believe that political instability has scored a big win. De Lima’s ouster is unprecedented, so is Andanar’s extraordinary announcement.
Last week, the Senate successfully aborted what threatened to be a bar room brawl between Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes 4th at the committee hearing on the drug killings. After the committee chair De Lima called her surprise witness to testify and Edgar Matobato, who claimed to be a former member of the Davao Death Squad, began talking of the alleged killings which DU30 had supposedly ordered when he was still mayor of Davao City, Cayetano questioned de Lima’s motive in calling the witness and also his credibility.
Trillanes tried to bamboozle Cayetano, saying he was not a member of the committee and had already taken more time than necessary. Trillanes apparently forgot that the Rules of the Senate do not bar non-committee members from participating in committee hearings; the only thing they may not do is sign the committee report. In any case, fisticuffs or anything similar, which appeared imminent, were averted when Cayetano, who had been seated next to Trilllanes, moved away.
De Lima ousted as committee chair
In an obvious effort to counter the effects of the Matobato allegations, DU30’s supporters in the House of Representatives moved to fast-track their own inquiry into allegations that de Lima had been coddling drug lords in the New Bilibid Prisons while she was President B. S. Aquino 3rd’s Justice secretary. Current Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre was reported to have promised full immunity to all Bilibid inmates who would testify against de Lima.
But the prospect of de Lima continuing the Senate inquiry while DU30’s protectors in the House pounce on her for her alleged drug dealing while she was still Justice secretary quickly vanished on Monday after the Senate acted on a motion by world boxing champion-Senator Manny Pacquiao, who is also from Mindanao, to reorganize the Justice committee, and named Richard Gordon chairman in lieu of de Lima. This has not happened before.
Something similar but not quite the same
The closest to this incident was what happened in the Senate in 1994. In the run-up to the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, where the Senate was expected to nominate one of its members to be part of the Philippine delegation, the Senate had a change of leadership during which committee chairmanships were distributed among the senators. There were three woman senators at the time, but not one of them wanted to chair the Committee on Women. Neither did the lone male senator whom the press and the gender feminists called “honorary woman” want the chair. So the committee ended without any chair.
In order to allow the committee to function, the Senate President asked me, who was the Chairman of the Committee on Rules and Senate Majority Leader, to temporarily take over Women. Under the Rules of the Senate, the Rules Committee chair and Majority Leader is a member of all the committees and may not chair any of them. But because of the existing exigency, we had to suspend the Rules. I did not believe in contraception, abortion or divorce and, like St. Pope John Paul II, was labelled by the feminists as a “woman hater.” So I was the wrong person to chair Women.
So as soon as I accepted the chairmanship, a group of feminists demanded that I give it up at once. They obviously feared that if I stayed, I would end up going to Cairo to represent Women, but since my views were diametrically opposed to theirs, I would be working against their cause. Pickets erupted in some universities and around the Senate premises. I refused to yield to the pressure, saying I did not ask for the committee and took it only at the behest of the Senate President, because none of the woman senators would take it. It was a matter of principle.
Unable to make me budge, they moved to reorganize the entire Senate by deposing the Senate President. Once that was done, they moved to change all the committee chairmanships, and finally installed a woman-senator as chair of Women. In the present instance, Sen. Koko Pimentel remains Senate president; only de Lima has been replaced from her committee, of which she remains a member.
What happens to the inquiry?
Does this mean the end of the committee inquiry? Not necessarily. DU30 finally broke his silence on the Matobato testimony on Monday, and dismissed it as “all lies.” With DU30 saying he needs another six months to wrap up his controversial war on drugs, the few remaining independent-minded senators might insist on keeping a tight watch on the conduct of the “war.” Gordon’s style may be completely different from de Lima’s, but he is no DU30 sycophant and may be expected to be non-partisan.
Gordon says he has been misquoted in his reported proposal that Congress allow DU30 to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus to go after drug suspects. Under the Constitution, the President may suspend the privilege in case of invasion and rebellion, and when the public safety requires it. The senator has promised to send me a full clarification of his position, it must be in transit.
No one expects de Lima to fold up just because she had lost her chairmanship, and is now at the receiving end in a House inquiry run by DU30’s supporters. “The fight is far from over,” she declares. She appears determined to pursue the Matobato allegations, by filing a separate resolution calling for an investigation of the alleged DDS killings during DU30’s mayorship of Davao, before the start of the ongoing anti-narcotics war, which has already killed close to 3,000 drug dealers.
The bad and the good from the Senate action
De Lima’s ouster is a clear political victory for DU30, but one which could embitter his critics around the world. The next round of editorial comments from TIME, The New York Times, The Economist, The Guardian and the rest of the lot can be expected to be a severe chastisement of DU30’s defenders. But in a sense, this development saves the Senate from committing the same mistake it committed against then-President Joseph Ejercito Estrada in 2000.
At the time, Senate Majority Leader Teofisto Guingona delivered his “I accuse” speech against Estrada on the floor of the Senate, with a request that it be referred to the blue ribbon committee. As Senate Majority Leader, I referred the speech to the committee, chaired by Aquilino Pimentel Jr., as a matter of course. Under the Rules of the Senate, the members of the committee should meet to decide what action to take on anything that has been referred to it. But instead of convening the committee, the chairman decided on his own to investigate the charges and quickly scheduled the first hearing.
I went to the hearing to point out to the chair that under the doctrine of separation of powers and checks and balances, the Congress had no power to investigate a sitting President unless he had been impeached by the House and was already under investigation by the Senate. My plea fell on deaf ears, and when I raised the issue at the plenary session, I found myself alone, except for Miriam Defensor-Santiago supporting my position. Everybody else wanted to investigate the President. In fact, Sen. Rene Cayetano, who was chairman of the justice committee, which had nothing to do with the issue at hand, decided on his own to co-chair the hearing with Pimentel, without the Senate instructing his committee, through any motion from me, to be part of the hearing.
A similar situation appears to have arisen in the case of the Matobato allegations. Although the alleged death squad killings were reportedly ordered by the mayor of Davao so many years ago, that mayor is now the President of the Philippines, and he may not be investigated by Congress outside of an impeachment proceeding. He may also not be criminally charged in court, unless he has been removed in an impeachment trial. In that sense, de Lima’s loss of her chairmanship and the possible archiving of the Matobato accusations, unpalatable as they may seem, have a positive effect in upholding the separation of powers.
The govt’s main problem
DU30’s main problem is no longer De Lima but his own government’s careless announcements that there is an active plot to remove him from office or to kill him. Between PNP chief Bato de la Rosa’s announcement that the drug lords are out to kill him, and Martin Andanar’s revelation that some Filipino-Americans are planning to oust him, plus DU30’s own intimations about his own mortality, we get the feeling that there is a conscious and deliberate effort on the part of the DU30 government to destabilize itself. Why is this happening?
The risk of assassination is part of the territory, but being removed after less than three months in office seems completely unprecedented, unless he has started frothing at the mouth and climbing walls and has been certified by majority of his Cabinet as being unfit to discharge his duties. Not everyone is enamored of DU30, but everyone seems scared of the alternative if he disappears.
One remembers the story of the monarch who ruled with an iron hand and caused great suffering among his people. Yet he went around wining and wenching in the evenings without regard to his personal safety. Asked if he did not fear for his life, he said, there was no one in his kingdom mad enough to kill him in order to install his brother who was a complete nut.
The alternative to DU30
A similar situation arose during the most trying days of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when the former President Corazon Arroyo led a group of bishops to ask her to remove herself from Malacanang. Not a few people seemed to favor GMA’s removal, but not even those who hated her could not imagine the country under a President Noli de Castro, her constitutional successor. Even de Castro himself seemed to share the same sentiment–he rejected all suggestions that he run for President in 2010.
We probably have a worse problem. Those who are mortified every time they hear all sorts of expletives from DU30 just cannot imagine themselves being led by a President Leni Robredo, whose “election” as Vice President is not believed by many and officially protested by former Sen. Bongbong Marcos, and who has managed to say all sorts of inanities on important national issues.
In Memoriam. Archbishop Emeritus Carmelo Morelos, D.D., bishop of Butuan for 27 years, archbishop of Zamboanga for 12, and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines for four, who died in the peace of Christ last Saturday, will be interred at the Zamboanga Cathedral, after a solemn funeral Mass officiated by his brethren in the episcopate and clergy this morning. Born on December 11, 1930, he was ordained as a priest at 24, and as bishop at 37, one of the youngest (if not indeed the youngest) among bishops. He was a kind, cheerful and holy priest who loved the poor and God’s faithful. He spent his last days in the care and friendship of his successor Archbishop Romulo de la Cruz, who asked him to transfer from his retirement home in Butuan to the Cathedral, which he had built as Archbishop. I ask the gentle reader to remember him in their prayers. Thank you very much.