POSTSCRIPT / October 22, 2000 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Opposition actually fell into impeachment trap?

THOSE who want to maneuver Erap Estrada out of the presidency may have unwittingly fallen into a trap when they were lured into filing impeachment charges against the President.

President Estrada cannot be removed by impeachment, a highly partisan game where he enjoys the undue advantage of numbers. And while the impeachment process drags on before a public notorious for its short span of attention, the more tricky option of forcing him to resign is put on hold.

Impeachment will fail. Resignation is out of the question. And neither will Erap oblige Vice President Gloria Arroyo and the opposition by passing away while Congress talks impeachment.

As we see it, with impeachment and resignation ruled out, there is no other viable option left for removing Erap Estrada before 2004.

* * *

WHAT about snap presidential elections? How can that be when there is no vacancy? Last time we glanced at the presidential table, Erap Estrada is still there piling up chips.

Unless Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, author of the bill calling for special polls, knows something we don’t know — like maybe President Estrada is seriously considering resignation or harakiri. Remember, Enrile said he talked with the President before he filed the measure.

But even if President Estrada resigns — which appears unlikely — there’s no need for an election since there is a Vice President mandated by the Constitution to “become the President” to serve the unexpired term.

For snap polls to be feasible constitutionally, both the President and the Vice President must resign, or agree to die simultaneously or serially, or suddenly become permanently incapacitated. (This is stretching it too far, we know, but those are the scenarios listed in the charter for the calling of special presidential polls.)

* * *

IN the unlikely event that both the offices of the President and the Vice President become vacant, there is actually no need for a law to convene Congress to act on the emergency. The legislature is mandated to convene automatically.

The Constitution, despite its shortcomings in many areas, has taken care of that eventuality under Section 10 of Article VII, which says:

“The Congress shall, at 10 o’clock in the morning of the third day after the vacancy in the offices of the President and Vice President occurs, convene in accordance with its rules without need of a call and within seven days enact a law calling for a special election to elect a President and a Vice President to be held not earlier than 45 days nor later than 60 days from the time of such call… Appropriation for the special election shall be charged against any current appropriations and shall be exempt from the requirements of paragraph 4, Section 25, Article VI of this Constitution. The convening of Congress cannot be suspended nor the special election postponed. No special election shall be called if the vacancy occurs within 18 months before the date of the next presidential election.”

Under Section 8, while preparations are being made for a special election and until a new President is elected and qualified, the Senate President or, in case of his inability, the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall “act as President.”

* * *

WE laymen will find it interesting to learn why, under certain circumstances already cited above, the Vice President shall “become” the President, while the Senate President or the House Speaker, if called upon to do so, shall only “act as President.”

There are also scenarios when the Vice President does not “become” the president but merely “acts” as President. Then there is the other situation of somebody “assuming” the presidency.

A clear and concise discussion of these terms in layman’s language at this time will be enlightening to newspaper readers. Somebody should do it.

* * *

ASIDE from impeachment and resignation, former President Cory Aquino has suggested a third option — that is, for the President to go on leave — to arrest the deterioration of the situation.

She cited as basis Article VII, Section 11, which she referred to as “7-11” so Erap Estrada would find it easier to remember.

That “7-11” provision says that when the President declares in writing to the Senate President and the House Speaker his inability to “discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

Note that Section 11 uses the terms “assume (the powers and duties)” and “Acting President.” The section does not say that the Vice President shall “become” the President, but calls him/her “Acting President.”

* * *

AS we said at the outset, waiting for Erap to resign or for the impeachment proceedings to find him guilty of the serious charges against him appears to be a futile exercise.

But while Erap is clinging on, the opposition and others who want to oust him appear bent on increasing the pressure on him. It’s the classic impasse of an immovable object meeting an irresistible force. (Pardon the exaggeration.)

The result is a nation going to pieces. Or to borrow his political metaphor, Erap’s jeepney is careening toward the cliff with all of us on board.

* * *

WHILE Erap is fumbling and angrily fighting back, the opposition and the usual anarchists are busy working to bring him down. Erap said he would not step down, while the other side vows it would not stop either.

What do we do? Erap is taking the whole country down with him!

The peso is down to P49 to the dollar and still dropping, while interest rates have soared beyond 20 percent. Those who secured huge dollar-denominated loans when the exchange rate was still below P40:$1 will be wiped out. Those who got loans with automatic interest adjustment clauses will lose their homes, businesses or whatever they bought via bank loans!

* * *

DESPITE government claims to the contrary, prices of essential items have been going up. Rising costs are eroding real wages belatedly padded by token raises. Around 350,000 workers lose their jobs every quarter.

Crimes against property are on the rise. Malls are full — not with shoppers but with people just milling around. Housewives postpone buying things, but soon discover that price increases had wiped out their supposed savings.

Radio stations have stopped playing early Christmas carols, and have shifted to airing live coverage of rowdy protest rallies, Senate investigations and taped phone conversations of the characters caught in the jueteng payola scandal.

* * *

WE must see drastic action or a dramatic denouement very soon. Otherwise this badly battered country will go through the death throes reminiscent of the waning years of the tottering Marcos dictatorship.

Impeachment cannot be the answer, because it will not happen in the present Congress many of whose members are not truly the people’s representatives but political mercenaries of Malacañang or whoever can afford them.

* * *

FOR a political change to take place, it is not enough that the sins of Erap Estrada are catching up on him. With all the props in place, the actor is still able to turn on his charisma on a good number of his constituents, the masa.

It is not enough that Erap falters every now and then. It is equally important that the opposition is able to unite behind a rallying figure.

While Vice President Arroyo is constitutionally the heir apparent and enjoys an edge over other pretenders to the presidency, she is still unable to do what she vowed to do upon her return from her recent trip: To unite and lead the opposition.

While she may be the opposition’s logical answer to Erap at this point, she is still unable to validate this assumption. The opposition — nay, the people — are looking for a credible figure to unite and lead them.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 22, 2000)

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