POSTSCRIPT / February 12, 2002 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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GMA leaves Alvarezes to fend for themselves?

TODAY IS THE DAY: Today is Judgment Day for Transportation Secretary Pantaleon “Bebot” Alvarez, one of two Alvarezes in the Cabinet (the other one being Heherson “Sonny” Alvarez of Environment and Natural Resources) who are sailing through rough seas in the Commission on Appointments.

The CA transportation committee headed by Rep. Rafael Nantes of Quezon is scheduled to hear today charges against Bebot that conflict of interests, among other misconduct, renders him unfit for a Cabinet post.

Despite Nantes’ known closeness to Alvarez, some committee members have served notice that the controversial secretary shall not pass.

One accusation against him is that he was biased in his handling of the government’s controversial contract with the Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc. for the building and operation of Terminal-3 of the international airport, because his family’s firm Wintrack Builders is/was a sub-contractor of PIATCO.

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GMA IS HANDS-0FF?: A good gauge of the standing of the two Alvarezes is the deafening silence from President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who has gone out of her way to publicly defend and campaign for the confirmation of Finance Secretary Jose Isidro Camacho, but has not said a word of endorsement of the Alvarezes.

When the Congress recessed before the yearend without acting on the long-pending nominations of the Alvarezes — in effect bypassing them together with other Cabinet nominees whose cases were not taken up — President Arroyo promptly nominated again all those bypassed except the two Alvarezes.

When asked about the unusual oversight, Presidential spokesman Rigoberto Tiglao mumbled something about their nominations probably getting snagged along the way (while those of the others were not?) enroute to the CA. Really?

After a palpable delay, and presumably some frantic pakiusapan, the President resubmitted their nominations. Palace sources said that the controversial duo was nominated again on condition that they, and not the President, would follow up their own confirmation.

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CASH ADVANCES USED: While Bebot Alvarez was waiting for his case to be called, copies of his 2001 sworn statement of assets and liabilities circulated at the CA showing among other things that he just bought a house and lot in Magallanes Village worth, he claimed, P15 million.

His SAL showed that he used “cash advances” to acquire the property, one of several assets with a total value of P36,880,000. (With a P8.5-million bank loan as his only liability, his net worth reflected in his SAL is P28,380,000.)

Aside from checking where Bebot got the “cash advances,” some CA members are looking into reports that the Magallanes property is worth much more and that it is Wintrack that’s building it.

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WHEN TO START COUNTING: In the House of Representatives, the debate over the start of the counting of the one-year-period within which no succeeding impeachment complaints may be filed against the same official may work against the integrity of House rules themselves.

Section 3(5), Article XI, of the Constitution says: “No impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within a period of one year.”

With the preponderance of evidence in the minutes of the Constitutional Commission that the reckoning of the one-year ban starts with the filing of the verified complaint — and not the promulgation of a committee report or the plenary action of the chamber — focus is now on the House rules of procedure governing impeachment.

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WHAT THE RULES SAY: House rules do not jibe exactly with this view as expressed by ConCom delegates, the latest being Regalado Maaombong, that the impeachment complaint is deemed “initiated” with the filing of the verified complaint regardless of the committee or plenary action.

Section 16 of House Rule V says in part: “…impeachment proceedings against such official are deemed initiated on the day the Committee on Justice finds that the verified complaint and/or resolution against such official, as the case may be, is sufficient in substance or on the date the House votes to overturn or affirm the finding of the said Committee that the verified complaint and/or resolution, as the case may be, is not sufficient in substance.”

The same section continues: “In cases where a verified complaint or a resolution of impeachment is filed or endorsed, as the case may be, by at least one-third of the Members of the House, impeachment proceedings are deemed initiated at the time of the filing of such verified complaint or resolution of impeachment with the Secretary General.”

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CONTRARY HOUSE RULES: Under the House rules cited above, the first impeachment complaint filed in November last year against Ombudsman Aniano Desierto is not yet considered “initiated” for purposes of reckoning the one-year ban on multiple complaints against the same official.

Under those rules, the complaint is deemed initiated only (1) when the Committee on Justice rules that the complaint is sufficient in substance, or (2) when the entire House overturns by a vote of one-third of all its members a finding of the committee that the complaint is not sufficient in form.

Since the first complaint against Desierto has not been declared sufficient in substance, under the House rule, it is not deemed to have been initiated. Therefore, there is as yet no ban against the filing of another complaint against Desierto.

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MAJOR SKIRMISH AT S.C.: It appears at this point that if Desierto wants to stop the gathering of at least 73 signatures (one-third of House members) to overturn the committee report throwing out the impeachment complaint, he may have to go to the Supreme Court to ask that the House rule be declared unconstitutional.

Rep. Augusto Syjuco Jr. of Iloilo earlier tried this route, but the Supreme Court rejected his petition questioning the House rules. Telling the solon that the high tribunal is the wrong venue for such action, Syjuco was advised to go to the Regional Trial Court.

Being the party directly affected, Desierto can question before the Supreme Court the constitutionality of the House rules if the chamber uses them to affirm or endorse the impeachment complaint for trial before the Senate.

But such a major legal skirmish before the high court may be avoided if the campaign to muster at least 73 signatures dies in the chamber.

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COMPLAINANT LOSING HIS COOL?: With more and more congressmen reportedly growing tired of the chamber being used for petty harassment, it appears that lawyer Ernesto Francisco who filed the complaints against Desierto is getting desperate.

Earlier, he flew off the handle and accused Speaker Jose de Venecia of being partial in favor of the Ombudsman. Such a delicate charge, a most difficult thing to prove, is a public relations disaster.

The complainant violated the basic rule that one should not open more than one warfront than he can handle. In his desperation, the complainant shut out his possibly getting at least the sympathy of the Speaker, who wields power and influence in the chamber.

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STUPID ANTIC: Francisco is now shooting wildly in the dark. Sunday evening, he called by cellphone media personality Ben Evardone (who was then watching with his kids the PBA opening games at the Araneta Coliseum) with the warning: “Binabalaan kita. Mag-ingat ka. Several people told me you are behind the vilification campaign of the Ombudsman against me.”

If it is true he did this, it was a stupid antic. Evardone, who is co-host of a daily public affairs program over dzAR with Conrad Banal and lawyer Noli Eala, is not the type who could be scared just like that. Besides, he flatly denied the accusation that he was behind a vilification campaign against Francisco, assuming there’s one.

A former political columnist of Malaya and The Manila Times, Evardone said he did not know what Francisco was talking about. This veteran political reporter and former Malacañang assistant executive secretary said he knew the Ombudsman but denied helping him in his impeachment case.

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LINGGOY OR JINGGOY?: Another media figure we mentioned last time, Linggoy Alcuaz, must be wondering why we identified him last Sunday as Jinggoy Alcuaz. We offer our apology, not excuses, for the error, but we really wish Linggoy would make clear his political color so we would be less prone to mislabeling him.

Some friends said that Jinggoy Estrada should be the one to complain about being identified with Linggoy. Btw, while we heard that Jinggoy has shed some pounds, Linggoy still has several cellphones stuck under his belt — to keep his pants from falling.

He had wanted to wear suspenders, but Larry Henares, who is trying hard to be mistaken for a local clone of Larry King of CNN, has beaten him to this fashion detail. And there’s also former Solicitor General Frank Chavez who sports suspenders when he’s not packing a mean weapon instead of a cellphone under his belt.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 12, 2002)

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