April 14, 2011

Impeachment trial: The people’s stake

The upcoming impeachment trial of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez should bestir everyone who wishes to hold Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to account for all the harm and wrongdoing that she was responsible for during her nine long years of de facto rule. It is a circuitous but necessary route since Mrs. Gutierrez has used the Ombudsman's office to fend off, sabotage and quash all suits against her benefactress, GMA, the latter’s family members and other partners-in-crime.

All other previous attempts to run after GMA and cohorts appear to have floundered and gone nowhere. President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino’s election promise to go after the massive graft and corruption perpetrated at the highest levels during his predecessor’s term had run aground when the much-ballyhooed Truth Commission he created was adjudged unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

(Some say the Truth Commission was doomed from the start lacking the kind of political and legal mandate that only a revolutionary government with sweeping powers would have. Others say it was immediately undercut by a Supreme Court packed with Mrs. Arroyo’s political appointees. Of course it didn’t help that Mr. Aquino had appointed former Chief Justice Davide, an Arroyo man, to head the Commission nor that the president’s lawyers are reputedly not the most savvy hereabouts.)

It is only recently that Mr. Aquino has started to use the vast powers of the Executive, such as the Tax Bureau, to flush out one of the Arroyo children’s hidden wealth. We have yet to see him utilize the Justice Department to undertake case build up in some of the most notorious graft and corruption cases that hounded the Arroyo regime. We note that a complaint had already been filed by the party list Bayan Muna with the DOJ on the NBN-ZTE scam but has not been acted upon in deference to Mr. Aquino’s pronouncements regarding the Truth Commission.

This is in sense a proxy fight. People are waiting to seeing GMA get her just deserts. The fight to remove Gutierrez as an obstacle implanted by Mrs. Arroyo precisely to forestall attempts to hold her to account is one step removed from nailing the GMA cabal. It requires extra effort at information and education to rouse the people to mobilize on the Gutierrez impeachment trial.

We must all be clear on this: Ombudsman Gutierrez’ conviction should pave the way for GMA and her cohorts’ arrest, prosecution and punishment for plunder and other crimes against the people.

Herein is a question of justice, of restitution, and of serving a long overdue lesson to all abusive, corrupt and anti-people leaders who think they can get away with their crimes. Truly, it constitutes a blow against impunity of the worst type because it is impunity by persons in the highest levels of authority. They have used their powerful positions, not just to commit crimes but to cover these up and evade punishment. They in turn use their ill-gotten riches to further enrich themselves, advance their political careers, deodorize their public image and remove any social stigma that rightfully has been attached to their names.

The end goal is GMA’s comeuppance not just that of Merceditas Gutierrez even though the latter is a party to the cover-up of a long list of crimes by public officials under GMA and likely has been amply rewarded for her efforts.

If this objective is not firmly grasped and pursued, then whatever will be achieved by the successful conviction of Gutierrez will fall far short of what is needed to achieve the ends of justice, the fight against impunity, and ultimately, the fight against entrenched corruption and other forms of malgovernance.

If this objective is not conveyed to the people and constantly brought to their attention, the campaign to remove Mrs. Gutierrez and thereafter appoint a new Ombudsman who will prosecute GMA to the full extent of the law, will fail to garner the kind of strong, extensive and sustained public support required to overcome remaining obstacles.

The political complexion of the Senate and the numbers required to get a conviction (sixteen to convict; eight to absolve) are formidable considerations.

There are articulate and seasoned GMA allies, as well as those left-over from the Lakas-NUCD heyday in the Senate.

There are those who have, chameleon-like, switched sides to be pro-Aquino, but given their track record of opportunism, will go where their political nest will be feathered to the maximum.

The erstwhile anti-GMA camp is now a motley crowd: several have exhibited only a flabby commitment to pursuing GMA’s wrongdoing due to various so-called pragmatic and perhaps less than principled reasons.

Since the Liberal Party has thrown their full support behind Pres. Aquino’s campaign to impeach Gutierrez in the Lower House and then convict her in the Senate, it stands to reason that it will be the Liberal Party stalwarts such as Senators Drilon, Pangilinan and Osmeña who will be working hard to get the numbers to convict Mrs. Gutierrez.

In their minds, Mr. Aquino must not be put to shame by a defeat in the Senate. His party mates know only too well that should such a thing happen, his store of political capital can quickly be dissipated. For whatever else does he have to show for all the rhetoric about ending corruption to end poverty?

The quid-pro-quos between Malacañang and the senators for their votes against Mrs. Gutierrez will indeed undergo hard bargaining, wily maneuvering and will be impacted by the ups and downs of the trial itself and how the vested interests in mass media will work public opinion in one way or the other.

How can the people ensure that the desired outcome of the impeachment trial – Gutierrez’s conviction and removal from office, the appointment of a new Ombudsman who will straightaway file the cases that Gutierrez never did against GMA and her ilk – will indeed be achieved regardless of the inevitable horse trading and backroom deals?

We have a wealth of lessons learned from the Estrada impeachment trial more than 10 years ago. The most important of these is that the outcome of the trial cannot be left in the hands of the Senate alone. The public and private prosecutors will need all the support they can get as do the witnesses who step forward to speak the truth, emboldened by the knowledge that with the people behind them, they have no reason to fear reprisal.

People’s organizations, reform groups and other concerned citizens must exert every effort to transform the people’s cries for justice into a powerful political storm that will convince all and sundry, the Senators first of all, that there can be no other just verdict but conviction and removal from office of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. #

Published in Business World
15-16 April 2011


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