POSTSCRIPT / August 30, 2007 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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'Hello, Garci' tape: Beating a dead horse

INQUISITION: Our senators know that their former colleague Kit Tatad was right when he said they cannot legally subject the President, a co-equal of the Congress, to another inquisition in the guise of an inquiry in aid of legislation.

What some senators really want to do is to stage a public trial of President Gloria Arroyo. These gentlemen probably think it smart to gain points at the lady’s expense.

The problem, as Kit pointed out, is that the Senate has no president to try since there is no impeachment charge formally initiated in, much less transmitted from, the House of Representatives.

A dubious fallback is the usual legislative inquiry, which is admittedly also useful as a trial… by publicity. But that is something else.

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DIRTY DEED: The senators also know that Sen. Miriam Santiago was correct in saying that the taping of alleged telephone conversations of President Arroyo and former elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano was illegal.

They also know that she was correct in saying that playing and using the so-called “Hello, Garci” tapes would violate the Anti-Wire Tapping Law of 1965. Illegal tapes may not be used anywhere for any purpose without breaking the law.

In a privilege speech Tuesday, Miriam also said that former military spy Vidal Doble, who did the illegal wiretap and who Sen. Ping Lacson wants to testify on the tape, was criminally liable.

Doble himself has confirmed his dirty deed, but as Miriam noted, the man’s extended family needs may be pushing him to do unusual things to earn extra money.

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POLITICAL MILEAGE: Ping Lacson and other presidential wannabes like Senate President Manuel Villar need not knock Ms Arroyo to gain political mileage.

They will grow in the esteem of their constituents if they focused more on their job as highly paid lawmakers rather than playing amateur cops and robbers.

Anyway, President Arroyo is set to step down when her term ends in 2010. The presidential aspirants in the Senate need not bludgeon her to force her exit.

If for some fortuitous event, Ms Arroyo prematurely vacates the presidency, Vice President Noli de Castro will act as president. Is that what they want?

But if their obstructionism ebbs and President Arroyo is able to improve our situation, then the people and the next president come 2010 — who might come from the Senate — will have an easier time.

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LEGAL TUSSLE: If the would-be inquisitors want blood, they will have to content themselves with summoning lower Executive officials.

They can flog these presidential subalterns all they want, with the hope that the lashes would show on the back of the President with the help of media.

They might just take this route to force the President to resurrect her Executive Order 464 prohibiting subordinates from testifying before Congress — and thereby put her on a collision course with the Supreme Court that had struck down EO 464.

A legal tussle at the High Court would stir up a tripartite brawl, but it will not be in the magnitude of a “constitutional crisis” as Kit described it. In this society infested with lawyers, we are used to worse legal imbroglios.

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GAME PLAN: Some Palace partisans have threatened to file charges against Noble, should he testify on his “Hello, Garci” tape.

I doubt if they would, or should. Once indicted, Noble could have reason to ask the court to summon persons and documents whose content or intent may not be flattering to Ms Arroyo. That would fan the fire unnecessarily.

The President should be wary of attempts to lure her into coming out fighting. Legally she is off the hook anyway. She can just continue attending to her job, and leave the firefighting to her allies.

Lacson et al. know that legally they cannot touch the President yet. The game plan, I think, is not really to convict the President (it cannot be done), but to embarrass and hound her out of Malacanang.

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BASES DEBATE: With the connivance of the Philippine government, the United States is using semantics to justify its stepped-up military presence in Muslim Mindanao.

Denying that the US is building a military base down South, the American embassy in Manila said it was just putting up “temporary” structures (worth at least $14.4 million) for “medical, logistical and administrative services” for US soldiers.

“(The) US has no bases in the Philippines and is not building any,” said Lee McClenny, US Embassy counselor for public affairs.

Karen Schinnerer, deputy press attaché, said the facilities being built would be used by American servicemen “on a temporary basis for them to eat, sleep, and work in.”

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OLD STORY: Technically, both of them are right. But their statements do not tell the whole story.

At the center of the debate is Section 25 of Article XVIII (Transitory Provisions) of the Constitution, which says: “After the expiration in 1991 of the Agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America concerning military bases, foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.”

This is a recurring debate over the nature of those foreign facilities and if they are allowed under Section 25. For lack of space now, we will take this up in a future column.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 30, 2007)

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