Number tricks in RP politics

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc -
Pick a number from 2 to 10, multiply it by 9, add up the resulting digits. The sum will always be 9. Odd, huh? Give me a three-digit integer, and multiply it by 1001. The result will always be the integer written twice.

Politicians share our fascination with numbers. Gloria Arroyo waited three long weeks, from the day her spokesman came out with two CD versions, to talk on the Gloria-gate wiretap. All that time the version with election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano’s voice multiplied by the thousands. The Opposition held those 21 days of silence to mean guilt, and branded it an impeachable betrayal of public trust.

They took to the streets, vowing a million-strong for Arroyo’s ouster to match EDSA-2 that toppled her predecessor. The first march in Makati mustered only 15,000, though, and 15 of them complained about not being paid the promised fee. In three more demonstrations, they grew by clumps of 15,000, to 30,000 in the second, 45,000 in the third, and finally 60,000 on the day of Arroyo’s State of the Nation. The vaunted million never came, despite the popular Susan Roces’s famous tirade that Arroyo "stole the Presidency not once but twice."

The Administration sent its own forces to Luneta one weekend, with a forecast 600,000. By best estimates, though, pro-Arroyo marchers reached only 300,000. Still, it got the Opposition recalculating its mobilization checkbook and shifting to the impeachment route. After all, surveys had it that, while 82 percent of Filipinos want Arroyo out, 65 percent prefer she be impeached first.

Impeachment is itself a numbers trick. The Constitution requires but one citizen to file a complaint, and but one congressman to endorse it, for the House committee on justice to evaluate. The committee has 60 session days for a majority of its 90 members to submit findings to the plenary. One-third of House members, or 79 of 236, may then dispatch the case to the Senate for trial. Senators may convict the impeached officer by two-thirds vote.

The Opposition counted its chances: 28 original members of the Minority, 10 Leftist party-list reps, 30 of the 34-strong Liberal Party which had bolted the Administration, 10 of 15 Nacionalista Party members, plus four disgruntled Majority congressmen. The 82 total would be more than the 79 required to begin a Senate trial. To this day, however, the Opposition counts only 47 impeachers.

Speaker Joe de Venecia crunched his own numbers, proclaiming that Arroyo had 189 solid votes to thwart indictment. Allies admonished against his simplistic arithmetic of "236 members minus 47 impeachers equals 189 thwarters." Another headcount assured Arroyo of 170 congressmen, at best, staying loyal – enough to keep the other side below 79.

The rules also involve numbers. The Administration Majority had drafted rules for this 13th Congress to disallow "creeping impeachment". A proviso would prevent a repeat of Nov. 2000 when, under 11th Congress rules, then-Speaker Manny Villar dispatched Joseph Estrada’s impeachment forthwith to the Senate upon reaching the required number of endorsers, without waiting for the foot-dragging justice body’s report. The Opposition Minority cried for adoption of the old rules, arguing that what’s good for the gander Estrada must be good for the goose Arroyo. The Majority relented, and the old rules passed unanimously.

But wait a minute, Rep. Salacnib Baterina of the Majority pointed out, the discarded 13th Congress draft would have allowed complaint amendments, unlike the 11th Congress rules that are silent on such. This raises another numbers problem. The Constitution limits cases against impeachable officials to only one per year. To date, three have been filed against Arroyo: the first, by Atty. Oliver Lozano on June 27; the second, by Atty. Jose Lopez two days later; the third, an amendment of Lozano’s complaint, principally by Minority Leader Francis Escudero on July 25. During the 12th Congress, when attempts were made to impeach Chief Justice Hilario Davide, the Supreme Court deemed a complaint to have been filed – and the one-case-a-year limit begins to tick – upon plenary referral to the justice committee. It so happened that, on the morning of July 25, the plenary referred Lozano’s case first, followed by Lopez’s and Escudero’s. The justice body thus may throw out the latter two and deal solely with the Lozano document that the Opposition had derided as toilet paper.

As the impeachment appears stuck, de Venecia exhorts Congress to consider instead amending the Constitution for a new form of government. He is undaunted by the numbers. Although seven out of ten respondents in a recent survey disfavored changes, 73 percent admitted they knew little or nothing about the Constitution or its flaws to begin with. Can de Venecia turn the odds through an information drive?

Politics is addition. Political crisis is subtraction. A July 2-14 poll, coinciding with the Gloria-gate and jueteng scandals, shows the approval ratings of the five highest officials declining: Arroyo, from 25 to 19 percent; VP Noli de Castro, from 58 to 44; Senate President Frank Drilon, who led the LP breakaway, from 51 to 39; de Venecia, whose Lakas stood by Arroyo, from 40 to 31; and Davide, 41 to 31. As Pulse Asia explained the numbers, "people think all politicians are rotten." So much for Forbes ranking Arroyo as the world’s 4th most powerful woman.

The economy took a beating too. With a bureaucracy distracted by crisis, the BIR missed its July tax collection target by a hefty 20 percent. And the peso, which earlier this year had appreciated to P54 to a dollar, is back down to P56.

Now pick a number from 5,999 to 6,000. That’s how many doctors are enrolled in nursing schools, hoping to find jobs abroad. Multiply them by 10. That’s the number of Filipinos who leave each day for overseas work. Put seven zeroes after 8. That’s the number of hard-luck ones stuck home.
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