The consensus I am hearing right now (specially over at Filipino Voices) is to let Gloria Arroyo finish her term in 2010. The reasons for this consensus includes: all legal efforts to put her accountable have failed (read: squashed), and she has less than 3 years left in her term. Is this consensus sound? I disagree on the account that it is not to her best interest for Arroyo to step down. She can expect several criminal cases being filed against her, and she cannot afford them. She will be asked to explain everything that she have tried (and still trying) so hard to avoid for the past 3 years.
Granting that those will be her motivation not to step down, what would she do to make sure her future is secure (by at least making sure at the least that she would step down in peace, unmolested by cases upon cases)? Unfortunately, time is on her side, and some of the pieces necessary for her plans are in place already.
One option is Charter change or Chacha. This option has been explored since 2005, back when the Hello Garci scandal broke out and Arroyo almost lost the presidency (which was not hers in the first place, as some groups contend), only to be thwarted by the Senate (for disagreeing with the Constituent Assembly or ConAss route) and the Supreme Court (for putting Singaw, este, Sigaw ng Bayan, in its proper place, effectively killing people’s initiative). The Chacha via ConAss option is the most viable, and will be explored further later.
Another option is the imposition of some sort of emergency rule or martial law. She was close to declaring one back in 2006; according to sources unknown, the US had put its foot down, and then Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz disagreed with the idea. The scenario was ideal for the situation: a state of rebellion was declared February 24, 2006 (ostensibly because there was supposed to be a coup) to prevent another EDSA Dos, and then the Philippine Marines had their affair at Fort Bonifacio two days later. Proclamation 1017, which placed the country under a state of rebellion, was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
The second option, the military one, is prolly her last card, to be put in play when losing is very much possible. Of course, it will depend on a very loyal chain of command, where she needs to court military officials. This can be expensive, and reliability of officers is an issue.
That leaves her with Chacha via ConAss. From the very beginning, the Senate has been the stumbling block in the ConAss plans, first because the opposition has the numbers (though this is actually superficial), and second, it is insistent on the separate voting rule. Now this is where the Supreme Court enters.
The bone of contention, ladies and gentlemen, is Article XVII, Section 1 of the Constitution:
Section 1. Any amendment to, or revision of, this Constitution may be proposed by:
(1) The Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members; or
(2) A constitutional convention.
Look closely at item 1. Amendments or revisions may be proposed by The Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members. This is the provision that the House of Representatives wants to use to force ConAss into the nation’s ass, and which the Senate is resisting. This piece of sloppy writing will have to be decided by the Supreme Court; specifically, whether the Constitution says that the vote is 3/4 of all members of The Congress (meaning, both houses voting combined), or 3/4 of members of each House (voting separately). Some quarters think that Section 1 is clear enough, which is true at cursory reading. The Supreme Court will have to ascertain the intent of the framers of the Charter to decide on this matter.
In an ideal situation, that’s how the Supreme Court should handle the case. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world.
Newsbreaks has a series of articles about the current Supreme Court, and it is instructive. This passage is most instructive and apropos to what I want to convey:
Data show that the three justices who dissented on PP 1017 case, namely Justices Corona, Tinga and Velasco, have consistently been voting as a bloc in other critical and tight cases.
For instance, the three justices voted as one in the closely-decided initiative petition filed by the Raul Lambino which challenged the Commission on Elections’ refusal to hold a plebiscite to amend the Constitution. The SC, by a vote of 8-7 on Oct. 2006, ruled to junk the petition. Joining the three magistrates in the minority were Puno, Leonardo Quisumbing, Minita-Chico-Nazario and the now retired Cancio Garcia.
Corona, Tinga and Velasco also voted as a group in rejecting the motion to quash, filed by San Juan Mayor JV Ejercito, the subpoena issued to Export and Import Bank and Equitable-PCI bank to produce certain bank documents. Nine justices denied Ejercito’s petition, three dissented and three took no part.
In the executive privilege case of former socio-economic planning secretary Romulo Neri, the three beefed up the majority, 9-6, who upheld the invocation of secrecy. Corona, Tinga and Velasco were also with the seven minority in the Moro ancestral domain case.
The latest case where the three justices took a similar stance was the Moro ancestral domain case. They were joined by four others to form the minority.
Next year, 5 justices will retire, 2 of them in the first quarter. All she needs to do is to appoint friendlies and loyalists to the Supreme Court. All she needs is a convincing majority to legitimize her attempts to prolong her stay at the Fortress. And that is what her closet supporters need to give her their tacit support.
You might be saying this is bullshit. Newsbreak has the bad news for you:
One of the basic principles, as adopted by the United Nations, is that the independence of the judiciary “shall be guaranteed by the State and enshrined in the Constitution…It is the duty of all governmental and other institutions to respect and observe the independence of the judiciary.”
Moreover, the basic principles state that “the judiciary shall decide matters before them impartially, on the basis of facts and in accordance with the law, without any restrictions, improper influences, inducements, pressures, threats or interferences, direct or indirect, from any quarter or for any reason.”
Ideally, this should be the case. But as a Court of Appeal justice observed, in a politically charged environment like in the Philippines, other factors, such as justices’ beliefs, inclinations and aspirations play a crucial role on how laws and rules are interpreted.
To convince you further that the ConAss route is the most viable option for Arroyo (via the Supreme Court), Newsbreak has been kind enough to post the voting pattern of the current justices of the Supreme Court. Read and weep.
And weep more, as the first salvo heralding the use of this option has been fired: SC asked to decide on constitutionality of House rule on Cha-cha.
The road to 2010 is clear.