By Francisco S. Tatad
At the call of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, 188 members of the House of Representatives, which has the exclusive power to initiate impeachment cases, have impeached Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona without reading the Articles of Impeachment, and without a committee hearing or a floor debate.
At first Malacanang tried to deny its involvement. But a Malacanang ally quickly disabused the public by saying the impeachment complaint was drafted at the Palace. And the President, who likes to be called Pinoy, formally thanked the congressmen for their “help.”
In urging the congressmen to sign an unread document in exchange for certain tangible gifts, Pinoy may have unduly risked his public reputation for being transparently incorrupt. Critics accuse him now of having become the first corruptor of Congress.
In their view, he has made himself impeachable in the very act of impeaching the Chief Justice. He, rather than Corona, should be the one impeached for culpable violation of the Constitution, bribery, corruption, betrayal of public trust and other high crimes. He should be the one tried and removed from office.
These are strong words, but nothing more than words. Having full control of the House, Pinoy is in no danger of ever getting impeached, whatever wrong he does. But he has provoked a constitutional crisis, and strong words and strong passions are the first elements of this crisis.
The Articles of Impeachment, consisting of eight charges, are now in the Senate. The Senate has the sole power to try and decide impeachment cases. All 23 sitting senators have taken their oath to render “impartial justice.” Some of them, however, seem to take a cavalier view of the impeachment process.
They say that impeachment is nothing but a political process, to be decided on the basis of public opinion, not on the basis of the evidence. If that were the case, then the Senate should have no role in it. The case should be put to the people in a referendum, which should tell us what the “public opinion” is, so long as everyone participates and the process is not rigged.
But that is not what the Constitution says. Impeachment is a constitutional process. The Senate tries and decides all impeachment cases, on the basis of the evidence, not on the basis of party line or personal sentiment of the “judges.”
Now, a former assemblyman and former national president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) has asked the Supreme Court to restrain the Senate from hearing the complaint, on the ground that the allegations are all null and void. Atty. Vicente Millora’s petition runs into a few pages. He is the first one; others, including the IBP itself, could follow suit.
What happens then if and when the Court finds the complaint invalid? Would the President recognize and respect such a ruling, given the fact that he seems to believe he is free not to obey what the Court says? Would it not create a crisis so grave that the only possible outcome would be either to completely abolish the Constitution or to remove the President?
Should the case come to trial, Pinoy may have to move heaven and earth to make sure the Chief Justice is convicted. Can he do to the Senate what he did to the House without creating a farce? And supposing he fails, how will it all end? Nobody knows.
In 1991, Cory Aquino, Pinoy’s mother, led a big march to the Senate to pressure the senators to approve the proposed RP-US treaty extending the term of the American bases by another ten years. She thought she could count on their votes, having helped 22 of them get elected in the 1987 senatorial elections. So she sat in the gallery and watched them vote. But the ingrates voted “according to their consciences,” and the treaty lost.
Pinoy could yet repeat his mother’s experience. Should that happen, after he had put his presidency on the line, he may no longer be able to govern. He may have to resign, or else be removed by other means. I don’t want to see that happen to Pinoy.
He deserves a break. He has made enough mistakes. He must redeem himself. He must abandon his zero-sum game and rethink his course. He must choose democracy clearly and irrevocably against any form of dictatorship. And he must do so now.
Pinoy is a democratically elected president, not a revolutionary one. He must act as one. He is presiding over a deeply divided country, in a time of troubled peace, amid so many natural and man-made calamities and other worries. He should show the world he has the will and the skill to unite his people and to mitigate the humanitarian disasters no man is able to prevent.
Senator Joker Arroyo, Cory’s former Executive Secretary and hardly an adversary, chides Pinoy for assuming control of all the three branches of government without proclaiming martial law, and without any of the conditions obtaining which could otherwise justify such a proclamation. Many agree with Senator Arroyo.
In 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law all over the country, in response to the communist rebellion that threatened to take over the government. It was a legitimate response to an actual emergency. By contrast, many see Pinoy’s rush into one-man rule as an attempt to conduct the presidency as a kind of video game, of which he is reputedly a master.
But neither life nor government is a game. Not anywhere, least of all in a constitutional democracy. Would Ninoy Aquino, Pinoy’s father, have approved of it, were he alive today? It is not unfair to ask that question, since Pinoy ran on his parents’ record, lacking one of his own. The best answer that comes to mind is--- maybe yes, maybe no, no one can say.
Filipinos remember Ninoy as the opposition leader whom Marcos jailed during martial law and who was eventually assassinated in 1983 at the Manila international airport while coming home from his medical furlough in Boston. But what most Filipinos do not know is that Ninoy was a most passionate advocate of martial law.
Ninoy liked to tell his friends in the press that should he ever become president, and many thought that would happen one day, the first thing he would do was to declare martial law, exactly as Park Chung Hee did in Korea, to consolidate power and accelerate the country’s economic development. But Marcos beat him to the draw.
Now Pinoy has fulfilled, or is about to fulfill, his late father’s dream without formally proclaiming martial law or national emergency. Is Pinoy simply trying to follow his father’s vision, or is he being egged on by some power or principality?
In its Dec. 23, 2011 issue, the US-based Executive Intelligence Review reports that Ninoy has become a frontline supporter of US President Barack Obama’s “Ring around China” policy, along with Japan’s Nobuteru Ishihara, governor of Tokyo and secretary general of LDP. EIR is not the least passionate when writing about Mr. Obama, but it was light years ahead of everybody else in predicting the collapse of the US housing bubble and the euro, and the continuing meltdown of the trans-Atlantic economies.
EIR says that during Obama’s recent Asia tour, Pinoy insisted that the US denounce China as an aggressor in the South China Sea. EIR then cites Pinoy’s recent speech calling on the Armed Forces to prepare for external challenges, not just internal ones. At the same time it sees more US warships being dispatched to the area close to the Spratlys.
Is President Obama the cartilege that has stiffened Pinoy’s back and made him believe he could take over the entire government without provoking resistance or hostility? Supported by the US, Pinoy could be tempted to believe he could do anything without risking his office. After all, the Filipino poor have remained docile until now, the remnants of the communist left that were a threat to Marcos are now his allies, the elite look only after their own, and the Americans will go after any dictator anywhere, except when he is their own.
Still history is full of strongmen whom the US had coddled for years and then dumped as soon as they were no longer useful to them. Pinoy would do well to learn from their experience, including from his own father’s. Ninoy himself may have narrated his own story to his wife and children.
In 1957, during the so-called Permesta revolt in Indonesia, Ninoy undertook secret operations for the CIA, according to the book “Subversion as Foreign Policy” by Audrey Kahin and George Mc T Kahin, quoting the late Senator Jose Wright Diokno as its source.
According to that story, Ninoy set up a clandestine radio station in Indonesia for the rebels, shipped them guns from a third country, and opened up Hacienda Luisita as a training ground for the rebel pilots. But when the Americans saw they could not topple President Sukarno, they promptly pulled out without telling Ninoy, leaving him in the dark and holding the proverbial empty bag.
It is not known how that affected Ninoy’s relations with the CIA. But in 1978, when Ninoy ran from his detention cell for the interim Batasang Pambansa, then Defense Secretary (now Senate president) Juan Ponce Enrile accused him of being a CIA agent. He did not deny it. His only reply was that he worked “with the CIA”, but “not for the CIA.” And nothing more was heard about it.
Twenty-eight years after Ninoy’s assassination, and no mastermind has been identified, conspiracy theorists have started saying that NInoy was terminally ill when he came home from Boston in 1983, and had agreed to be sacrificed in a foreign intelligence operation specifically intended to bring down Marcos, make Cory president, and restore the primacy of US interests in the Philippines.
I do not buy that theory. But others may. Pinoy has to intervene. He has to unlock the mystery about his father’s death, to end all speculation, once and for all. But he must, at the outset, make an irrevocable commitment to our constitutional democracy, respect the separation of powers, act more the statesman he is supposed to be, and make his countrymen, not any power or principality, the sovereign masters in their own country.
 The author was Senate Majority Leader during the 2000-2001 impeachment trial of then President Joseph Ejercito Estrada. His book, A Nation on Fire: the Unmaking of Joseph Ejercito Estrada and the Remaking of Democracy in the Philippines, is by far the most authoritative documentation of the trial and ouster of Estrada.