Sunday, October 15, 2006

'Probable cause' for a failing Philippine state

A pro-Arroyo and lawyer-sounding commenter in the blogsite of Filipino top political blogger mlq3 has made the following post: GMA appears to have said “I’m sorry” for a phone conversation that she should not have participated in. What is wrong with that? Did she admit “cheating” or is that a figment of (one’s) imagination?

The phone conversation between President Arroyo and Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Commissioner Garciliano captured in the infamous “Garci tapes” may not constitute an “admission” of cheating in the legal sense but remaining unexplained save for Arroyo’s “I’m sorry” piece, it is proof sufficient to establish a “probable cause” for the impeachable offense of “betrayal of public trust” and enough to indict (impeach) Arroyo and send her to face impeachment trial before the Senate.

Probable cause is not “proof beyond reasonable doubt” but only a reasonable ground for belief that an offense has been committed and that the person to be charged for the commission of the offense may have committed it.

The President talking by telephone to a COMELEC commissioner during the relevant election period in a manner suggestive, based on the entire context of the conversation, that she wanted about a million votes by which to win convincingly in the presidential election is unquestionably a probable cause for “betrayal of public trust.”

In the same manner, a 10 to 5 Supreme Court decision in the Infotech case finding that the resolution of the Commission on Election awarding a billion-peso contract to Mega Pacific (to automate the Philippine election system) to be “in clear violation of law and jurisprudence,” and “in reckless disregard of its own bidding rules and procedure” is clearly a probable cause for “graft and corruption” and/or for serious misconduct in office amounting to “betrayal of public trust” at least for the purpose of initiating impeachment against the commissioners.

In the failed impeachments of Arroyo, the anti-impeachment members of the House betrayed and renounced their role as “representatives of the people,” the overwhelming majority of whom by some credible and reliable surveys would want Arroyo to explain herself in a full-dress impeachment trial and resolve the issue of legitimacy once and for all. In the failure to prosecute those whom the Supreme Court has found to have acted illegally, fraudulently and unconscionably in the Infotech case, the Ombudsman and her Deputies, by choosing to defy the Court’s finding, betrayed and renounced their constitutionally mandated role as “protectors of the people” (tanodbayan).

Marcos’ dictatorship, like Hitler’s, has destroyed not only long-established institutions in the Philippines such as the Senate and the Supreme Court theretofore commonly regarded for their independence but also well-meaning Filipinos and national leaders theretofore generally respected for their integrity.

Today, in consequence of a state losing its political nerve because of misuse of its power system by different dysfunctional agencies and personalities, Arroyo as the one at the wheel is running roughshod with impunity, much like Marcos or Hitler, even without formally proclaiming martial law or Nazism.

The extra-judicial killings of journalists, activists and militants as well as the capricious disregard of the freedom of speech and the wanton curtailment of the right of peaceful assembly, which are revealing tell-tale signs of a failing state, still strike awe. There are nevertheless acts or omissions by state agents that are equally polity-shattering but seem to not inspire dread anymore possibly owing to the relentless desensitization of the public mind to what ought to be respectable standards of official conduct.

For example, press secretary and presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye in a Senate budget hearing, seemingly caught off guard, cavalierly admitted spending taxpayers’ money to propagate the so-called people’s initiative. But then Bunye unabashedly stuck to his script in a subsequent press release and provided the lame excuse for the expenditure by stressing that “it is the inherent right of the people to be informed on matters of vital importance to their future,” and therefore “there is nothing wrong with the government information agencies working to disseminate information and educate the masses on the true meaning of People’s Initiative (PI) for Charter change.” These statements were given with unfortunate temerity as official talking points.

As Bunye may very well know, there is a case pending before the Supreme Court wherein squarely presented for resolution is the question: Whether the Charter change initiative is truly of the people’s pursuant to Section 2, Article XVII of the Constitution, or in fact in the private interests of some enterprising politicians’ like House Speaker De Venecia (who would want to be the head of government without running for the office of the president) or Arroyo herself (who may be personally interested to extend her term of office beyond the current constitutional limits).

Just as the “Garci tapes” are a probable cause for the impeachable offense of betrayal of public trust on the part of President Arroyo and the Supreme Court’s finding of unconscionable and glaring illegality is a probable cause for graft and corruption on the part of the COMELEC commissioners and their cohorts, so are the Bunye statements a probable cause for a criminal misappropriation of public funds. Why are we not hearing anything about the Ombudsman investigating on its own such an admission by Bunye, a public officer, which appears to be “illegal, unjust, improper or inefficient”?

The institutional cost of Arroyo clinging to power, come hail and high water to the republic, amidst the “Garci tapes” scandal has become extremely prohibitive. Aside from the prostitution of the electoral body and Philippine military during the last presidential election as indicated in the tapes and testified to by high-ranking military officers of solid or daring scruples, the other obvious casualty of course has been the built-in checks-and-balances mechanism of impeachment when the pro-Arroyo members of the House opted to hide behind the narrow reading or misreading of the law or the brutal application of technicality. But the Catholic Church hierarchy has not been far behind; under the humiliating shadow of Palace payola to some bishops, the hierarchy has joined the chorus to bury the tapes for the “common good” while ignoring the clamor of the flock. The middling Filipino, on the other hand, which like the Church was once at the core of two great upheavals, has cast its lot with the “let’s move on” bandwagon choosing to sweep the tapes under the rug or let the matter melt into thin air as if it were a “figment of one’s imagination.” The first uprising was the birth pangs of a people-powered Charter of individual and collective rights among which is the people’s initiative. The fruition of people’s initiative as an institution is under extreme duress today by the reckless pursuit of self-interest by people in high office who do not blush in public anymore even as they lie, cheat or deceive the people.

Now, Ombudsman Merciditas Gutierez, whose constitutional office has likewise yet to emerge as a veritable institution in the judicial system, is willing to shame her authority both as the Ombudsman and as an officer of the court by feigning an unconventional definition of probable cause in the callous manner the House has dealt with the “Garci tapes.” Yet, it may be conceded here that under normal circumstances the Ombudsman’s decision whether or not to prosecute in a given case is a final resolution, which may not subject be to judicial review. Given however that the Supreme Court had made a prior prima facie finding of illegality and fraud that does not appear to be merely whimsical but carefully and logically reasoned, the dismissal by the Ombudsman of the case against the COMELEC commissioners and the other respondents in defiance of such finding by the Court misses the whole point: in the final analysis what is at stake at this juncture is the public perception of the integrity of the Philippine judicial system with the Highest Court of the land being at the helm. Had the case been promptly elevated for trial instead of being dismissed supposedly for lack of probable cause, the respondents (as Arroyo in the impeachment cases) would still have a full day in court. What then is the motivation of the Ombudsman other than to spite the Supreme Court?

On the other hand, what is the actuation of official sounding board Ignacio Bunye a probable cause for in the overall scheme of things? By many accounts Bunye is symptomatic of this creeping realization: “Absolute power corrupts and power corrupts absolutely.”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm an expat and have always been concerned of the goings on in the Philippines. A lot of Filipinos have given up on any hope for the country. I think I'm beginning to lose hope too and will join their group. The Filipinos as a people are innately dishonest, immoral, unethical and unconscionable. There are of course a few exceptions and you are one of them. But you and I are fighting a losing battle. Rizal and all those heroes--they died in vain.

October 16, 2006 10:27 AM  
Blogger pinoy said...

to anonymous,

in as much as i would not want to pick a fight here, i do take offense with your statement "The Filipinos as a people are innately dishonest, immoral, unethical and unconscionable." I do have my own battle for my country but I don't see it as a losing one. This will take time.

October 16, 2006 10:59 AM  
Blogger HILLBLOGGER & Hillblogger Jr said...

Anonymous went out of bounds with his generalization.

It is never the right thing to say that a people as a whole are innately dishonest, immoral, etc.

There's never such a thing as a people INNATELY dishonest, immoral, unethical, etc.

It's like saying that foreign expats in the Philippines are innately vulture-like, uncouth, abusive, arrogant, etc.

October 26, 2006 2:02 PM  
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