Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 25 January 2014

 

Barely into the New Year, the first salvos for the 2016 election have been fired. Presidential candidates are already being attacked and, of course, the President himself is not immune (belying the “lame duck” label).

Take the accusations by Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., which could shoot two birds with one stone—P-Noy (President) and Mar Roxas (presidential candidate).

In front of a packed crowd that included his wheelchair-bound father (who was reportedly emotional during his son’s speech), Revilla made his third privilege speech since 2004 (this information courtesy of the Inquirer). The other two were in 2004 (calling for the death penalty for illegal loggers) and 2009 (against Hayden Kho regarding the video of a sexual dalliance put on the Internet).

His charge: Here’s the “daang  matuwid” President asking him as a  balato  to vote for the conviction of Renato Corona, and here’s “Boy Pickup” facilitating the exchange, in a cloak-and-dagger manner. So, Revilla asks: If the President could do this to the chief justice, he could also influence the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan to rule against us (those charged with plunder in the pork barrel case). Roxas is collateral damage, made to look not only like a gofer for the President, but a  trapo  to boot.

Revilla’s purported answer to the President was right out of a screen play: “Mr. President, I will do what is right. I believe we should fight for what is right, and I will do what is right for the country.”  Wow. Violins, please.

I have some questions for Senator Revilla:

(1) If he was shocked and thought that the President was “dictating” to him, why did he bring this out a year and a half later? (2) Was there or was there not a quid pro quo that the President was offering for his vote? Budget Secretary Butch Abad, who was apparently at the meeting, apparently said, “Let’s help each other, Senator.”

Revilla did not mention what the “help” was in his exposé, unlike Jinggoy Estrada. But columnist Bobi Tiglao has a table (source: DBM website) showing that Revilla received P86 million just before the May 29 vote, and another P14 million during the next three months.

Now let’s turn to P-Noy’s version of the incident. He is unrepentant. He volunteers the information that he met not only with Revilla but others as well, at different times: Jinggoy Estrada, Ralph Recto and TG Guingona. And his recollection of what transpired differs from Revilla’s. He did not ask Revilla to vote to convict Corona, but to vote on the merits of the case. The President’s actions were in response, he says, to lobbying by the other side.

I ask the same questions of the President: Why does he volunteer the information on lobby groups in favor of Corona only now?  Why Recto and Guingona, who are with the Liberal Party? Why was he in doubt as to whether senators would vote other than on the merits of the case? And to clarify matters as far as giving monetary rewards to senators who toed the line: Was there a difference in the pork barrel funds given to Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Bongbong Marcos, and Joker Arroyo, who all voted against conviction?  Tiglao’s column did not give that information.

Now we turn to the larger question: Was P-Noy in error when he “meddled” in the issue or tried to convince senators either to vote according to their conscience or vote against Corona (depending on whose version you accept)? The answer has to depend on the nature of an impeachment process. It is both a political and a legal process. How much is politics and how much is law depend on those involved. There are apparently no rules.

Just think: CJ Corona was impeached by a House whose members had not even read the articles of impeachment (the time line makes that pretty evident). The senators, who were to judge Corona, in turn acted like prosecutors, or defense attorneys, making no attempt to disguise their preferences. The House managers were “bringing the case to the people,” not observing rules on  sub  judice, and obviously not relying on the people’s ability to judge for themselves. So why should the President be any different? He wanted Corona convicted, he went for the jugular.

There is only one case in the entire 235-year history of the United States where an associate justice of the Supreme Court was impeached, and we can learn from it. The US president at the time, Thomas Jefferson, was squarely behind the move to impeach. Former US Chief Justice William Rehnquist, in his book “Grand Inquests: The Historic Impeachments of Justice Samuel Chase and President Andrew Johnson,” says this: “As the impeachment trial of Chase approached, Jefferson suddenly became very attentive to his outgoing vice president (Aaron Burr; in the United States, the VP also acts as president of the Senate—SCM). Burr’s stepson, his brother-in-law, and his good friend … were appointed to three important offices…. Burr himself was repeatedly invited to dine with Jefferson at the President’s house. Senator William Giles, who was a leading supporter of the movement to impeach Chase, circulated a petition … requesting that the indictment against Burr for murder be dropped, and secured the signatures of a large number of Republican senators.”

So politics was being played. Big time. But Chase was acquitted. Burr was not to be bought. It was “statesmanship of a high order” which motivated the Republican Senate (Jefferson’s party), to break party lines. They thought of country. They thought of the people. They didn’t think of themselves.

Can we do the same?