ANA MARIE PAMINTUAN: LESSONS FROM A CRISIS

MANILA, NOVEMBER 12,  2003  (STAR) SKETCHES By Ana Marie Pamintuan - Now can we all get back to business? Air traffic controllers at the NAIA are being fed better, insulating them from desperate madmen bearing food as gifts. That should keep the planes flying on time.

Over at the House of Representatives, Speaker Jose de Venecia improvised a solution to the impeachment impasse, thus ending the crisis – for now. After that impressive performance at the House, De Venecia may manage to persuade skeptics to support him in his advocacy for constitutional amendments.

Before another crisis erupts as a result of his improvisation, De Venecia and his allies should move quickly to clarify gray areas in existing laws, fine-tune House rules on impeachment, and work out with the executive and judiciary a clearer delineation of powers and functions of the three co-equal branches of government.

The nation has to make the best of a bad situation by learning the lessons well and instituting the necessary reforms.

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De Venecia’s improvisation would not have been required if the anti-impeachment camp had confidence that the Senate would throw out an unconstitutional complaint. But one look at Senate President Franklin Drilon and you knew he was deeply worried he might not have the numbers – not only to junk the complaint, but also to keep his Senate post. De Venecia is bound to use this crisis to push for a unicameral parliament.

And Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., insisting on the independence of the judiciary, adamantly refused to agree to President Arroyo’s "covenant" or "win-win solution" or whatever it was Malacańang wanted to call it.

What’s a Speaker to do?

So De Venecia shrugged off moves for his ouster and did what he could. Unlike Drilon, De Venecia has the numbers and has a firmer hold on his position. But this could spell the end of the alliance between his Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats and the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC). There goes the campaign funding from billionaire businessman Eduardo Cojuangco Jr.

Then again, our politicians are pragmatic, and the two parties may continue their marriage of convenience.

In improvising a solution to the crisis in the face of NPC intransigence, the House majority has just set a precedent that I hope no one will regret when Filipinos feel like kicking out of office a corrupt, inept or dictatorial president, Ombudsman or member of the Commission on Elections. Especially when the corrupt, inept or dictatorial president controls the House and can pull strings in the Supreme Court.

It is probably just as well that the process of impeachment is rendered more circuitous. That way there will be less impetus to boot out elected officials, particularly those with a clear and overwhelming mandate. And officials who are doing their job need not worry about being impeached based on politically motivated harassment cases.

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This crisis was surely followed closely by every Filipino eyeing high public office. Now they know how not to be impeached, and how to deal with the so-called parliament of the streets.

No one emerged unscathed from this crisis, but some good may still come out of this mess.

Congress must review the Constitution and amend House rules on impeachment to make sure the rules comply with the spirit and intent of the pertinent Charter provisions. Congressmen can’t keep improvising from one crisis to another. Lawmaking is supposed to be their forte; they should lay down clear-cut rules on the process of kicking out an impeachable official.

As for Davide, he’s unbowed, but he has also been wounded. He should find someone who can make his case for innocence heard louder. His supporters have stood by him and will always believe that he can do no wrong. But even with the impeachment impasse resolved, seeds of doubt continue to be sown by disgruntled court employees, who also know how to take their case to the public.

Yesterday I heard these disgruntled workers saying in interviews that they were unhappy with the outcome of their case. They were worried that their complaints about fund misuse and their allowances would be forgotten.

So there’s another thing the House, which has the power of the purse, can tackle. Congress can review the extent of judicial independence when it comes to funding, especially when the money comes from the pockets of Juan de la Cruz.

A law should be crafted if Congress wants jurisdiction over the Judiciary Development Fund. The JDF was created by virtue of a presidential decree, and it’s time to review and possibly amend that PD.

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Didn’t everyone bet that in this latest crisis, the nation would muddle through? That’s exactly what we did. The nation was bloodied. But unlike the unhinged Panfilo Villaruel Jr., whose brain was splattered all over the NAIA control tower, the nation survived.

The crisis could have been handled better, in a less messy way. But a strong republic upholds the rule of law. A weak republic, with compromised institutions, improvises.

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ERAPTIONS, PART 2: Jokes similar to the "Eraptions" of Joseph Estrada are once again proliferating, this time sneering at action king Fernando Poe Jr.’s capability to govern.

The jokes appear to be increasing amid reports that Poe is almost sure of running for president in 2004, with Sen. Loren Legarda as his running mate. The tandem will be backed by the opposition Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino and of course FPJ’s bosom buddy Erap and his supporters. Cojuangco and his NPC are still a question mark. Poe’s announcement, according to his rah-rah boys, is expected soon.

Before he rose to the presidency by a landslide, Erap often confided to reporters that he encouraged the spread of those jokes to endear him to the masses. So whose camp is spreading the jokes about Poe? A number of them are too mean to be funny. But if the jokes persist, we might see another movie star winning the presidency by a landslide.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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