Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Why the Opposition Lost

by Sec. Ricardo Saludo

The opposition and their civil society allies depict their failure to get 79 votes for impeachment as an unjust defeat for the outnumbered forces of truth. The real story is not so black and white. Back in June, the self-proclaimed apostles of truth were not interested in it. They wanted a democratically elected head of state to relinquish her constitutional mandate without the benefit of a full investigation and a fair trial of the charges against her. Even their latest attempt to unite their fractious ranks, Bukluran para sa Katotohanan, has one aim: “President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo must go.”

The opposition’s obsession with resignation led to multiple blunders on the way to defeat. For starters, they ignored a suggestion from Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. back in June to file an impeachment complaint before anyone else did. They feared it would weaken their push for the President to step down without due process.

Only when the people clearly rejected the call for People Power did the opposition file the Amended Complaint on July 22 —weeks after not just one, but two complaints had been initiated. They knew the late filing could be barred by the constitutional limit of one impeachment proceeding against the same official in a year. So they crafted their petition as amendments to the Lozano Complaint filed first on June 27.

Then came Opposition Blunders 2 and 3. The Lozano Complaint lacked specific acts underpinning the charge of election fraud. But instead of just addressing that deficiency, the opposition added other accusations. The Amended Complaint was so different from Lozano’s that it amounted to a new petition altogether. Moreover, while the new charges won support from the Liberals and party-list groups, they made it harder for other congressmen to sign up.

If one saw poor evidence for some allegations, he might not endorse the whole lot. There were other problems. The mountain of charges made the Amended Complaint look like an instrument to launch months of propaganda against the Administration, right into the year before the 2007 elections. “Impeachment is a tool against the incumbent,” said Davao Oriental Rep. Joel Mayo Almario.

The jueteng accusations might have incensed the House, having tarred some leading congressmen. Allegations of human rights abuses antagonized the military and its lawmaker friends. The charge of anomalous contracts threatened projects benefiting a good number of congressional districts.

In sum, the Amended Complaint was even harder for congressmen to support than the Lozano Complaint. To that Blunder No. 2 the opposition added No. 3: Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano opposed rules proposed by the majority which would have allowed complaints to be amended and amalgamated. Thus, the Lozano and Amended Complaints were deemed separate petitions initiated on different days which could not be combined. The opposition also insisted that complaints need not mention evidence. Result: they could be dismissed with no evidence presented.

As if these legal and tactical blunders weren’t enough, the opposition committed the biggest no-no in selling anything, be it insurance or impeachment: insulting the buyer. The opposition declared in so many words that congressmen who did not endorse the Amended Complaint were bribe-taking, unprincipled Malacañang stooges hiding the truth. “They called us sordid names,” bristled Ilocos Sur Rep. Salacnib Baterina.

Even some who voted with the opposition saw its mistake. Batangas Rep. Hermilando Mandanas said: “No one here has a monopoly on truth. No one here is the final arbiter of justice. And no one can judge the motives of any of us.” For his part, Teddy Boy Locsin wondered days before the plenary deliberations: “How can you ask them to vote for the truth after you have called all of them liars?”

More than opposition miscues, however, it is the lack of a clear, hopeful post-impeachment program of action which doomed the anti-Arroyo campaign. Yes, people want truth, but not if they have to leap blind into a dark, dodgy future.

The factions targeting Malacañang cannot agree on one post-Arroyo scenario. Corazon Aquino, some resigned Cabinet members, and many Liberals favor Vice-President Noli de Castro’s takeover. The Erap-Susan camp disputes Kabayan’s election victory. Sen. Panfilo Lacson wants snap elections, while rightist ex-generals and leftist militants demand a transitional revolutionary regime. (Moreover, some of these factions are discredited in the nation’s eyes.)

With no definite plan for post-Arroyo rule, let alone a full program of government to address economic, energy, security, poverty, and corruption challenges, Gloria-resign forces offer no path to a better tomorrow. Sulu Rep. Hussin Amin feared a fight for power among opposition factions if the President goes.

Many of his colleagues worried about impeachment itself. “Our country cannot continue to be hostage to this political crisis,” fretted Alipio Cirilo Badelles. “Debating endlessly will not help my people in Lanao del Norte.” Jose Salceda of Albay, Negros Oriental’s Herminio Teves and Rodolfo Valencia of Oriental Mindoro all believe impeachment would hurt the nation, especially the economy.

The nation and the great majority of its lawmakers now hope to give more sorely needed attention, time and effort to addressing everyday concerns about rising prices, job creation, terrorist threats, and better health services and education. “People are suffering because we don’t respond to their needs,” laments Sulu’s Amin. Speaking toward the end of the House plenary, Parañaque Rep. Eduardo Zialcita said the 158-51-6 vote meant: “Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is our president . . . and we must all work together as a team.”

Conciliatory final statements by administration stalwart Rolando Andaya of Camarines Sur and his regionmate from Sorsogon, Minority Floor Leader Francis Escudero, bode well for advocates of national unity and advancement. The entire republic can only hope that all sides in the political arena will indeed heed the dictum, salus populi est suprema lex (“the people’s welfare is the supreme law”), and march together toward a brighter tomorrow for all.