(ISANG PAG-LULUKSA SA KAMATAYAN NG PAGHAHANAP NG KATOTOHANAN)
Impeachment dead but still no closure Arroyo wins; fight on with two widowsFirst posted 00:39am (Mla time) Sept 07, 2005 By TJ Burgonio, Norman BordadoraInquirer News Service Editor's Note: Published on page A1 of the Sept. 7, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
THE MARATHON SESSION OF the House of Representatives yesterday ended in a rout of the opposition attempt to impeach President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo but presaged a continuing political crisis, even another "people power" revolt.
The 236-member House in plenary session upheld -- by a vote of 158 in favor and 52 against -- the committee on justice report dismissing all three impeachment complaints alleging that Ms Arroyo rigged the 2004 election, was involved in corruption and condoned human rights violations.
Six abstained and 20 did not vote.
At over 23 hours, the session that started on Monday was one of the longest in the post-war history of the Philippine Congress.
"It is time to put behind us this divisive episode of impeaching the President. It is time to embrace a period of healing and reconciliation for the nation," Speaker Jose de Venecia said after Bukidnon Representative Jose Miguel Zubiri explained the 158th "yes" vote for Committee Report No. 1012.
San Juan Representative Ronaldo Zamora, the lead impeachment lawyer, said he and his colleagues might consider the option of taking the fight to the Supreme Court. He said, however, the opposition had yet to discuss its next moves.
"I'm distressed that we will end up this way by killing the one impeachment complaint that contains a truly substantial case and its evidence, killing a complaint that the President should answer and the public wants her to answer," Zamora said.
He said peaceful protest action in the streets was likewise an option.
"We will also give our evidence to Bukluran [Para sa Katotohanan] to see what they can do with it. Our effort of gathering evidence for three months will just go to waste if it won't achieve anything," Zamora added in reference to the newly formed coalition led by former President Corazon Aquino and Susan Roces, widow of movie idol and 2004 opposition standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr.
Ms Arroyo, who reportedly closely followed the debate all night Monday, issued a statement thanking her family, her political allies and the Filipino people "who have stayed the course of responsible democracy."
"Let us move on to a brighter tomorrow with the grace of God, ever grateful for His guidance and His blessings," she said.
Malacañang was apparently expecting a victory for the President as the statement was marked: "Embargo until the final voting results are known."
"The Filipino people mark a glorious day in history, when instead of forcing a President out of office through 'people power,' they chose to keep a President through voting in the halls of constitutional democracy," Ms Arroyo said, adding:
"The opposition put up a good fight and I now offer my hand in reconciliation for the national interest."
House Minority Leader Francis Escudero, however, said: "We respect and honor the decision. But it does not mean we approve of it."
And Bayan Muna party-list Representative Satur Ocampo said: "The people's hope for truth and change has inexorably passed from Congress to the parliament of the streets."
Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Manuel Roxas II observed that while the pro-Arroyo lawmakers followed the legislative process, they failed to put to rest the questions raised against Ms Arroyo, including the legitimacy of her presidency.
Said Enrile: "Yes, it went through according to form and substance. There was debate, acrimony, theatrics. There was too much verbiage, and finally ... a voting process. So the process was attained.
"...But to say that [the issue] has been totally resolved, no. The problem lingers on. It will affect you and me, everybody else, the entire country."
Added Roxas: "While the system may have worked procedurally, it possibly did not work because the issues remain outstanding and in fact will find expression in other venues."
Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan predicted that senators would seek an inquiry into the House's "unfinished business," or the "allegations against President Arroyo that were not addressed in the impeachment process."
The 39-page committee report dismissed the betrayal of public trust charges filed by lawyer Oliver Lozano on June 27 and by lawyer Jose Lopez on June 30.
It also dismissed the amended Lozano complaint filed by the minority on July 25 for culpable violation of the Constitution, bribery, graft and corruption, and betrayal of public trust.
"[The Lopez and amended complaints] are prohibited complaints which are barred by the complaint filed by ... Lozano pursuant to [the constitutional provision barring multiple impeachment complaints from being filed against one official within a year of each other]," read the report signed by 37 members of the justice committee.
The Lozano complaint, on the other hand, was dismissed for insufficiency of substance. The committee pointed out that the complaint alleged electoral fraud committed before Ms Arroyo's current presidential term.
House Majority Leader Prospero Nograles said the session that started at 4 p.m. on Monday and ended at 3:40 p.m. yesterday could easily be the longest and "silliest" in Philippine history.
According to House records, the session was the longest since 1987, when Congress was reopened after being padlocked by martial law in 1972.
"Imagine debating on the number of times the gavel was banged" during the referral of the three impeachment complaints to the justice committee," he said.
Nograles was referring to Escudero's questioning of Camarines Sur Representative Luis Villafuerte, who defended the committee report on the floor from 2 a.m. to around 3:35 a.m. yesterday.
The debate involving the banging of the gavel actually dwelt on whether the original Lozano complaint, the Lopez complaint and the amended Lozano complaint were referred to the committee with just one bang of the gavel or with three bangs (one after the referral of each complaint).
Escudero argued that the three complaints were referred to the committee at the same time and with just one bang of the gavel.
But Villafuerte said the gavel was banged once after each complaint was referred.
'A sad day'
"It's a sad day because effectively we have told the world, our children, [and] our people that it's OK to do something wrong because you can just sweep it under the rug," said Senator Pia Cayetano.
The senator, only sister of Taguig-Pateros Representative Alan Peter Cayetano, spokesperson of the pro-impeachment lawmakers, lamented the failure of certain people to see the wisdom of seeking the truth on allegations of electoral fraud and graft and corruption.
"We're telling everybody that it's OK to stop searching for the truth, it's OK not to explain why one person who had a lot to do with this problem is missing ... That's the kind of message we're sending," she said.
Senate President Franklin Drilon said the dismissal of the impeachment complaints did not constitute closure: "While the impeachment has been killed, that would not solve the political crisis. There are still protests in the streets."
He also warned of "the more serious economic crisis that should be coming when the full impact of oil price increases will come to us and the VAT (expanded value-added tax) will become effective."
Senator Rodolfo Biazon cautioned Ms Arroyo's allies in Congress against celebrating early.
"The public's judgment has yet to come," he said. "The public was given a glimpse of what probably is the truth, but Congress failed to provide a conclusive resolution to the issues..."
But Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Ms Arroyo's staunch ally, urged the pro-impeachment lawmakers to accept defeat with grace.
"It's an equally attractive virtue of the opposition to be gracious in defeat ... at least to indicate they're willing to obey the decision of the House. After all, this is the decision of the people," she said.
At the same time, Santiago said, this would be a good time for the President to reiterate her invitation to the opposition to join her Cabinet.
Asked how the President intended to go about her reconciliation offer to the opposition, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said: "I don't think there will be any recriminations. The President is open to reconciliation on a principled basis."
Bunye said the House vote showed the "will" and "voice" of the people. "And as we say, the voice of the people is the voice of God," he said.
For Presidential Management Staff chief Rigoberto Tiglao, the House vote was "a shining moment for Congress: reason over rabble rousing, sobriety over sophistry."
"If our congressmen can channel the passion and energy they displayed in this episode, we can become a developed country in our lifetime," he said.
Bunye also told reporters that while there was no "100-percent acceptance" of the committee report, the vote would "tone down the political noise."
He did not comment on claims by the opposition that the marathon session merely proved that the House majority voted for Ms Arroyo's political survival.
Bunye said that when the President agreed that the allegations against her should be brought to Congress, "she only expected that the [impeachment] process would be strictly observed and that the voting would be free."
"And that is what happened," he said. "The House committee on justice gave everybody a fair chance to ventilate their opinion on the matter. We are quite satisfied with the results and the process. We all saw how the lawmakers worked hard and how long they went without sleep discussing the matter." With reports from Christine O. Avendaño and Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.