Monday, August 29, 2005

Are they serious?

By Sec. Rigoberto D. Tiglao

ARE the opposition congressmen really serious in their move to include the amended complaint as part of an impeachment trial against the President? Only if they think the Senate will be willing to be tied down for a year-even years-of impeachment trial.

The amended complaint constitutes seven different charges against the President. Of course, Marcos lawyer Oliver Lozano's 13 charges will have to be included as well.

What will happen in the trial?

For starters, take one of the amended complaint's charges: alleged "human rights violations," obviously a complaint designed to get the Left on board the impeachment. (Fifteen out of the 47 impeachment signatories are party-list representatives, 10 from the Left.) The complaint claims that the President "acquiesced in and provided impunity to the killing of political dissenters or infringed their freedoms of expression and assembly."

The complaints' specifics? Totally based on a report of Karapatan, an NGO: "411 assassinations, summary executions and (cases of) indiscriminate firing, 130 victims of involuntary disappearance, 245 tortured, and 1,563 illegally arrested." That's a total of 2,349 people, all of them alleged victims of human rights violations.

The accused here is not only President Macapagal-Arroyo, but the Armed Forces of the Philippines which, the complaint alleges, was the main perpetrator of these crimes.

How will the Senate deliberate this charge? Investigate, of course, every single one of these incidents. Can you imagine the number of witnesses and documents necessary to prove each and every one of these 2,349 instances of human rights violations? I've seen a PNP report on the Hacienda Luisita incident. It contains the affidavits of 43 policemen and laborers.

Assume that it would take the Senate one day to evaluate each case. That would take them 2,349 days, or six years. OK, there could be a proposal to take just a sample of, say, just 10 cases. But could the Left and the President's lawyers come to an agreement as to which cases to include in the sample? Would the Left give up should, after the 1,000th case, no human rights violation be established?

Another charge in the amended complaint: The President did not implement Piatco's Naia III contract. It took the Supreme Court a year and a half to study and decide that the Piatco contract with the government was anomalous. It took roughly a year for the Office of the President to go through the roomful of documents to get to the bottom of the case. Would all the top men of the transport and communications departments under three administrations be summoned as witnesses? Would the Senate call to the witness stand Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada, since the former first approved it and the latter amended it?

Another charge in the amended complaint: The President approved the North Rail project, even though it was overpriced and the interest rate on the Chinese loan for the project was high. This would require going through a procedure similar to the one used in connection with the Piatco contract-and that would include studying or reviewing the voluminous documents pertinent to the case.

Who would be the witnesses here? House Speaker Jose de Venecia, who convinced the Chinese government to finance it? The governor of the Export-Import Bank of China, who signed the loan agreement? Chinese President Hu Jintao, who witnessed the signing ceremonies? And the Chinese ambassador to Manila, who has publicly stated that the contract is "above-board, we have nothing to hide"?

Another charge which could have an interesting twist: The President used the Road Users' Tax projects to promote her candidacy. Would all the congressmen-including those in the opposition-who were partners in road maintenance projects be called to the witness stand? How about the thousands who were employed in these projects?

We'll be seeing of, course, a replay of the hearings on the jueteng and wiretap controversies, which lasted nearly four months (two months for Sen. Manuel Villar's committee and two months for the congressional committee). No, not just a replay, but many, many more episodes.

Contrast the shotgun, scatty approach of this impeachment move to the focused, reasonable charges in other impeachment cases. The one against Nixon involved not the Watergate break-in, but only the specific instances when the US president asked officials to cover up its links with the White House. The case against Clinton involved not his alleged sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky but perjury (on Aug. 17, 1998 before a federal grand jury) and obstruction of justice (six specific instances). The case against Estrada involved the charges of getting jueteng money and part of the tobacco excise tax proceeds through Chavit Singson.

Read the charges in the amended complaint, and visualize how they will be deliberated by the Senate-then, Fr. Joaquin Bernas' theory that there is only one impeachment proceeding with an extended bill of particulars isn't convincing. There will be entirely new proceedings-entirely different sets of documents, entirely different groups of witnesses-for the fraud charges, the Piatco issue, the human rights violations charges, etc.

The Senate isn't exactly just a debating club. To operate, the chamber costs taxpayers about P1.3 billion a year, or P7 million each session day. With the plethora of different charges in the opposition's complaint, the Senate would probably work as an impeachment court-and forget its law-making work-for an entire year or even more.

Through the many, many months of an impeachment trial, live television and radio will day after day be broadcasting-and newspapers will be publishing-the charges against the President again and again. That's exactly what the Gloria Ibagsak crowd wants out of this impeachment move. With this daily-even hour-by-hour barrage (courtesy of cable TV), the anti-GMA forces hope to see the President buckle under pressure, and resign.

That kind of harassment against the President is exactly what the framers of the Constitution feared, and sought to prevent with the constitutional provision mandating that only one impeachment complaint-with substance-may be attended to within a year.

Give the President her day in court, the opposition and NGO types keep repeating. What they really want is to tie her down in court for years.

Well, yes, the opposition is serious in having the amended complaint in the impeachment trial-but for a rather different reason.