Battle of impeachments

SKETCHES By Ana Marie Pamintuan

Going by the numbers, Vice President Leni Robredo has a greater chance of being impeached than President Duterte by the super majority coalition in the House of Representatives.

The Senate, although also dominated by the President’s allies, is less predictable. Most of its members behave like independent republics, and we’ve seen how tenuous their political loyalties can be.

The Senate will try an impeached official, with Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno – no Du30 fan, as far as we know – presiding. For sure, any trial will be covered live by the major networks, and TV is a cruel medium; the senators can’t all behave like Manny Pacquiao. They can’t afford to kick out the Vice President just because Malacañang has sent word that Du30 wants her out.

House impeachment of the Vice President would be the easy part. If Robredo is impeached, her Senate trial must be credible, or the administration risks turning her into a rallying point for public disaffection with the Duterte presidency.

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Even the House super majority, however, also needs a credible explanation if it pushes through with the unprecedented impeachment of a vice president.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who issued the threat last Friday, said the move was still being reviewed. Volunteer lawyers are reportedly assisting in the review, which would focus on Robredo’s videotaped address to a United Nations session on human rights, extrajudicial killings and the war on illegal drugs.

Reports over the weekend said an indictment for economic sabotage – normally a non-bailable offense – was being eyed against Robredo. Proving this can be a bit of a stretch, however, so prosecutors may stick with a complaint for sedition or a related offense.

I watched the video, uploaded on YouTube, to see which part of Robredo’s message might constitute an impeachable offense. One portion that may be open to divergent and creative interpretations, influenced by one’s political alliances, is near the end, where she asks Filipinos “to defy brazen incursions of their rights.”

“Our people have fought long for our rights and freedom. The Filipino nation has come so far since our country’s darkest days. We are not about to back down now,” she said.

The entire message is a blistering critique of the presidency, whose airing at a United Nations gathering on human rights last week coincided with the filing of the impeachment complaint against Duterte by a party-list group identified with the opposition.

Robredo’s camp said the video was pre-taped shortly after the commemoration last month of the 31st anniversary of the people power revolt, and its airing at the UN on the same day that the impeachment complaint was filed against Du30 was mere coincidence. A line in the message may bear out its pre-taping in late February. Less clear is whether the VP’s camp knew it would be aired on the day the impeachment complaint would be filed.

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The Vice President has been a hesitant leader of the opposition, which is weak and disorganized at this point.

Like Du30, Robredo was a reluctant candidate. She was coaxed to run by Noynoy Aquino at the last minute after coalition efforts between the Liberal Party’s Mar Roxas and independent candidate Grace Poe collapsed over failure to agree on who would slide down to the VP race, plus a smear campaign about Poe’s citizenship that she reportedly suspected was orchestrated by Roxas and his LP team.

Robredo herself seems wary of fully embracing the LP or replacing anyone as party leader. Perhaps she still remembers how her late husband Jesse was sidelined as interior secretary by certain members of Noynoy Aquino’s inner circle.

Palace denizens say long-time Duterte supporters consider the VP to be two-faced, wanting a Cabinet appointment but criticizing the President once she’s outside Malacañang.

The VP automatically succeeds in case the president is incapacitated or is ousted. Since the VP is the direct beneficiary of a leadership change, previous vice presidents after the 1986 revolt (except the late Salvador Laurel, dismissed by Cory Aquino as a bangaw or giant fly) have been more circumspect in criticizing the president.

Unlike her predecessors, Robredo has been freely firing away at the President. And then she seemed surprised when Du30 kicked her out of his Cabinet.

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In her video, the Veep didn’t really say anything that others haven’t already said since Dirty Rody launched his bloody war on illegal drugs.

But for the reasons already mentioned, and because her message was directed at the UN and coincided with the filing of the impeachment complaint against Du30, the administration suspects her of involvement in a brewing destabilization.

Robredo has often said she continues to support the President while at the same time offering constructive criticism – something that sycophants and diehard supporters cannot give to their boss. 

The Veep doesn’t seem to relish being seen as the leader of the opposition, but she could become a rallying point for those disgruntled with the administration.

Ironically, it’s the administration that can make this possible. Unless officials dig up a mountain of dirt against Robredo as they have done to Du30’s bête noire Leila de Lima, they risk turning Robredo into a beacon for the hopeless, distressed and oppressed by the government. She could be turned into a martyr by the administration.

As recent history has shown, martyrs in this country can perform miracles from the grave.

 

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