Will PNoy have the numbers in the Senate?
By: Harvey S. Keh
It is no longer the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) or the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) that is perceived to be the most corrupt government institution in our country. The Pulse Asia Survey released this week shows that 48.9% of Filipinos perceive the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as the most corrupt government institution in our country. This is not surprising given the extensive media coverage that has been given to the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearings that have probed into the ill gotten wealth of former military leaders, Carlos Garcia and Jacinto Ligot.
One major reason why graft and corruption has thrived and still continues to thrive in our government is the fact that the wheels of justice has been very slow in watching up with perpetuators like Garcia and Ligot. It is supposed to be the duty of our Ombudsman to ensure the swift prosecution of government officials that are found to be engaging in unscrupulous acts but we can clearly see that the present Ombudsman only moves at a fast pace when it concerns cases which are filed against the allies of President Noynoy Aquino. Cases of government officials that are supportive of the previous Arroyo administration are often left unattended or are dismissed altogether. No wonder surveys have also shown that majority of Filipinos have grown frustrated with our Ombudsman and are now clamoring for her resignation. This was clearly seen when the House of Representatives despite much pressure exerted by leaders of the Iglesia ni Cristo, voted overwhelmingly to impeach our Ombudsman.
Now the ball is in the Senate’s court as they will begin to convene themselves into an impeachment court with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile serving as the main presiding officer while the other senators will serve as the judges. Unlike in the House of Representatives where the impeachment was easily passed, it is expected that the allies of President Aquino will find it harder to convict Ombudsman Merceditas Guttierez since they will need to convince 16 Senators to support the impeachment complaint. Let us look at the current numbers in the Senate and see if PNoy will have enough support to finally oust the Ombudsman from her post.
Looking at the present composition of the Senate, we can most likely expect 8 sure votes for the conviction of the Ombudsman. This will come from the Liberal Party’s Franklin Drilon, Teofisto Guingona III, Francis Pangilinan and Ralph Recto. Another four votes are expected from well-known close allies of President Aquino namely, Francis Escudero, Serge Osmeña, Antonio Trillanes and Ping Lacson, who has resurfaced this week.
Allies of the Ombudsman
Perceived to be on the side of Ombudsman Guttierez are well-known allies of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo namely, Joker Arroyo, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Lito Lapid and Bong Revilla. I hope that Senator Arroyo will eventually have a change of heart so he can finally live up to his campaign promise (“Kung Bad Ka, Lagot ka!) of fighting for justice and what is right in our society. Senator Defensor-Santiago has always been known to be independent minded so even if she is always associated with the past administration, I wouldn’t be so sure of her vote until it is finally cast. Senator Revilla is currently the President of LAKAS-Kampi so it would be safe to assume that he vote in support of the Ombudsman.
APECO will be key
With this situation, the swing votes would clearly come from three other factions in the Senate. The first group is the Angara wing which is comprised of Senators Edgardo Angara, Juan Miguel Zubiri and Loren Legarda. The main interest of this group is the highly contested Aurora Pacific Economic Zone which up until now is being alleged as an Angara family cash cow by several church and civil society groups. These groups have also said that APECO has not done proper consultation among the different stakeholders in the area. President Aquino has not been warm to the proposal of supporting APECO and this may be one of the bargaining chips that this group will be using during this impeachment trial. For Zubiri and Legarda who will undoubtedly be running for re-election this coming 2013, they know the importance of this impeachment proceeding in bolstering their chances to win. If they see that the sentiment of the majority continues to be against the Ombudsman then this may ultimately sway them to vote against her. This is the reason why I believe that public pressure will be very important in determining the outcome of this landmark event in our nation’s history.
Villar and the Nacionalista Party
The next faction is the Villar-led Nacionalista Party group which is comprised of Senator Manny Villar, Senator Bongbong Marcos, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano and Senator Pia Cayetano. This is a very influential group in this impeachment trial since if this group decides to side with the perceived allies of the Ombudsman, it will already be impossible for the allies of President Aquino to muster the needed 16 votes. Like Zubiri, a factor here would be the upcoming 2013 elections wherein Senator Alan Peter Cayetano would be running for re-election. Cayetano has always positioned himself as an anti-Arroyo crusader and he knows too well that if he votes in the wrong way in this impeachment trial, he may as well kiss his chances of re-election goodbye.
Finally, we have the group associated closely with former President Erap Estrada which is comprised of Enrile, Senator Tito Sotto, Senator Jinggoy Estrada and Senator Gringo Honasan. This is also the group which holds the leadership in the Senate. Senator Enrile will only be allowed to vote in cases where there is a tie. Unlike the previous two factions, this group will most likely side with the allies of President Aquino in this impeachment trial. Estrada has always been an anti-Arroyo critic in the Senate and was in fact one of the more active participants in the recent Senate hearings which probed anomalies in the AFP. Meanwhile, Honasan is also finishing his term in 2013 and will no doubt want to ensure that he will be re-elected.
Looking at this short analysis and with the 2013 elections clearly on the horizon, I believe that the key in this impeachment trial will be the general public. This will become a public relations war between the two camps because the group of Ombudsman Guttierez fully know that if public pressure against her keeps up then like what happened in the House of Representatives, her chances of keeping her post will be next to nil. After all, as we have always heard during the hearings at the House of Representatives, an impeachment is a democratic political process where the rule of majority whether perceived to be fair or not is what wins out.
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