POSTSCRIPT / November 19, 2000 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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How senators are likely to vote on impeachment

WE do not normally spend time on materials from readers using secondary addresses not issued by their Internet Service Providers, because the authorship is difficult to trace.

But here’s one item sent all over the media by a certain Darth Nader (obviously a fictitious name) claiming to be a senator, portions of which we want to share with readers. We do this knowing that Postscript readers are discerning enough to sift intelligently through the materials.

Nader claims there is a five-point strategy being carried out by the administration to help Estrada ride out the crisis. He said it was put together with the help of the Zamora brothers, Danding Cojuangco, Ernie Maceda, and a US-based political PR specialist.

The five stages of the strategy are allegedly: (1) Discredit the accuser (Luis Singson) and his allies, (2) Discredit the potential of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as an alternative leader (through jueteng links and accommodation with the Left), (3) Restrict the process to impeachment, (4) Control the Senate through the Coconut Levy Funds, and (5) Acquittal.

* * *

NADER says that the conclusion of Sen. Miriam Santiago that the Senate would acquit the President is flawed, because:

“It assumes that the votes given to Sen. Aquilino Pimentel (as new Senate president) would translate into a vote aligned behind the President. The calculation is static and ignores the volatility of political alignments springing from a crisis in which loyalties shift rapidly from day to day.

“The issues over the replacement of (erstwhile Senate President Franklin) Drilon are different from the issues of impeachment. Some of those who voted for Pimentel instead of for Sen. Teofisto Guingona, nominated by Drilon, did so for reasons (some personal) that had little to do with impeachment.”

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NADER categorizes the senators into what he sees are their inclinations on the impeachment question:

Pro-Impeachment (9): Flavier, Legarda, Guingona, Cayetano, Barbers, Roco, Magsaysay, Drilon, and Biazon.

Pro-Estrada (5): Santiago, J. Osmeña, Oreta, Tatad, and Sotto.

Swing Votes (8): Enrile, Honasan, S. Osmeña, Revilla, Jaworski, Coseteng, Ople, and Pimentel.

* * *

HE gave these reasons for why eight senators could swing to the Pro-Impeachment side, despite conventional wisdom:

Enrile and Honasan — Both have known what it’s like to be heroes in 1986. They would jump at a chance to redeem themselves and be heroes again and be judged in a favorable light by history. In addition, they’re reelectionists who can’t afford to be reviled and condemned by the electorate. However, both feel that former President Aquino and Cardinal Sin might reject or abandon them again. These fears have to be allayed for them to return to the fold.

Serge Osmeña — He is independent-minded and unpredictable. Furthermore, he has first-hand experience of the horrors and excesses of a regime that subverts the will of the people. Therefore, we can rely on him to vote with his conscience. However, he has problems with the United Opposition. Differences in the past have strained relations with Lakas and Arroyo. This should be addressed to get him to realize that there is a win-win situation for all concerned here.

Revilla — Because this is his last term, I have gathered that he is considering his place in history. I have been informed that he wants to leave a legacy of good. As such, his family and his wives have been urging to do what is right and to vote for Estrada’s impeachment. More people should reinforce this to get him to do the right thing.

Jaworski — Although he is basically a decent man, he is also vain because of decades as a superstar. He needs a shining, defining moment, such as Manny Villar’s, for him to lift his mediocre political career to greater heights beyond 2004. The man, however, is in deep financial trouble. He borrowed P300 million in 1997 for an unsuccessful barging business. His debt has now ballooned to P800 million! Recently, Estrada turned down a loan request to help him restructure his debts. Thus, bankers and financial institutions could provide him some relief and assistance to bring him over to the Pro-Impeachment column.

Coseteng — She is on her last term. She keenly listens to public opinion so that she can explore her post-Senate political options. She definitely is considering running for another political office. The main consideration for her in this issue is to be with the winning side. The public should exert more pressure on her for her to vote for Estrada’s impeachment.

Ople — He is up for reelection. Like Enrile and Honasan, he can’t afford to be reviled by the electorate. Second, he has been traumatized by the thankless and futile role he played for Marcos in 1986. Despite these, he has an outstanding GSIS housing loan that needs to be addressed. People should appeal to his sense of statesmanship to convince him to swing to the Pro-Impeachment side.

Pimentel — Admittedly, his family has benefited, too, from his links with Estrada. However, not unlike Serge Osmeña, the man is a maverick, independent-minded, and unpredictable. More important, he has a messianic complex to save the nation because of his years as a human rights lawyer and as a Marcos foe. Logically, the public should appeal to him to save the nation.

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AS for the Pro-Estrada senators (Santiago, J. Osmeña, Oreta, Tatad, Sotto), Nader says: “They are much too beholden with Estrada for us to waste any time and effort on them. The impeachment issue has rendered them politically dead. The people should stress to them that staying their course is political suicide. That, at least, could urge some of them to vote with their conscience and not to abstain as per the Palace game plan.”

On the Pro-Impeachment senators, he says: “We should not be too confident that all of them will stay in the column. We, therefore, should be vigilant that not one of them could be induced by Estrada and his lackeys to play the fifth column by voting time. We should guard their ranks and increase their fold.”

* * *

WE’RE not comfortable with the idea that President Estrada may choose not to appear personally if called as a witness before the Senate constituted as a court trying impeachment charges against him.

We understand Rule VII, and have no objection to it, that the President may just send to the Senate his initial response and plea (whether guilty or not guilty) in writing or by attorney. But when called as a witness, we think he has to show up.

Although it is bad form, the President may even choose not to make an initial response and appearance to enter a plea. In this case, his refusal/failure to respond or that of his counsel may be deemed as a plea of not guilty and the trial proceeds.

* * *

HIS lawyers are expected to prevent his personally testifying at the hearing, but if and when the prosecution wants to put direct questions to him, we feel the man should be compelled to personally face the serious four articles of impeachment.

It would be wimpish and cowardly for an Erap Estrada to hide in his Palace and respond to questions only in writing, by attorney or via electronic media. Dapat harapin niya ang mga tanong ng mamamayan!

A Palace factotum has told us that they are afraid Erap might fumble under intense interrogation. That may be his problem, but why should the truth be distorted just because of his problem?

* * *

HIS sympathizers point out that US President Bill Clinton did not have to appear before the US Senate when he had to answer impeachment charges two years ago.

But why do we have to do as Americans do? If many Americans, for instance, choose to eat their dinner wearing baseball caps or put their feet, shoes and all, on their host’s mesita when they sit to relax, we do not have to be as crude.

* * *

THEY have suggested that the President could just reply to questions via electronic media, meaning probably that cameras would be set up to capture the President and the interrogator live and the exchange conducted electronically.

We think that’s cheating. The fate of this country should not be left to camera tricks.

While the camera zooms in on the acting (not Acting!) President, the viewers – meaning the whole world – could be unaware that the man is propped up by a battery of idiot boards, script writers, directors, makeup artists and such technical staff that would ensure a successful subversion of the truth.

That’s not fair!

* * *

The Senate courtroom and the viewing public beyond it should be able to see and evaluate the demeanor of the President as he responds to questions.

Using the boob tube may be appropriate in Erap Estrada’s case when it’s showbiz time, but definitely not when something as formal and serious as an impeachment hearing is in the process.

Erap Estrada and his lawyers should not be afraid to face the truth — if indeed he is innocent as he claims to be.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 19, 2000)

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