Road to impeachment
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - March 17, 2017 - 12:00am

Impeachment is a numbers game, as everyone knows in this country where a president, chief justice and ombudsman have been impeached.

Right now, President Duterte still has the numbers – 267 members out of 292 – in the House of Representatives, where all impeachment efforts are initiated. And the House super majority, consisting overwhelmingly of balimbings whose chief concern is self-preservation, isn’t about to impeach this President. At least not while he remains immensely popular, as indicated in surveys.

The only sure consequence of the complaint filed yesterday by party-list Rep. Gary Alejano, Sen. Antonio Trillanes’ brethren in the Magdalo, is the inoculation of Du30 for a year from further impeachment efforts.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez accurately summed up the fate of Alejano’s impeachment complaint: “Everybody is entitled to his own stupidity.”

True enough, though mean – but it’s the mean season in our country.

*      *      *

At this point the only thing that might alter balimbing support is if lawmakers’ personal or family interests are threatened, or if there is a lobby as persuasive as the one that prompted the House ways and means committee to pass with impressive haste the bill imposing a two-tier excise tax on cigarettes.

No such factors are present in the impeachment complaint against Duterte.

Also, it’s early days yet – no longer a honeymoon period for a new president, but still too early for regime change, especially for someone who obtained a clear mandate in free elections.

Du30 hasn’t even fully repaid yet the political debts he incurred during the elections. Cabinet seats and other government posts await his allies who lost in the polls when the one-year prohibition on their appointment to public office lapses.

Except for the extrajudicial killings linked to Oplan Tokhang and Double Barrel (the original, not the reloaded version), the offenses cited in the impeachment complaint are enhanced versions of the accusations hurled against presidential candidate Duterte during last year’s vicious campaign.

Extrajudicial killings have always been raised against him, but candidate Duterte actually used the EJK issue as a campaign platform. He publicly and unequivocally promised to kill, kill, kill, using the same reasoning that he still invokes to explain the continuing deaths related to his war on illegal drugs.

Candidate Du30 was more incensed about the accusations of corruption, P2 billion in bank transactions and lying about his wealth. This is one of the issues cited in the impeachment complaint. His family members led by partner Cielito “Honeylet” Avanceña have been accused of questionable bank transactions.

Apart from the impeachment complaint, a new issue raised by Du30’s opponents is the Chinese incursion in Benham Rise in the Pacific Ocean, which the President indicated was mentioned if not cleared with him by his Chinese friends.

From the reactions of administration officials, it’s clear that the Chinese “research trip” in the Benham continental shelf, where the Philippines has sovereign rights recognized since 2012 by the United Nations, was not cleared with the defense or foreign affairs departments.

There is grumbling in the military / defense establishment in particular that Benham is shaping up to be the next Panatag or Scarborough Shoal, occupied and never relinquished by the Chinese even after the UN-backed Permanent Arbitration Court declared it a common fishing ground where no country can keep others away.

In Zambales and even Pangasinan, residents are lamenting that Panatag has been their traditional fishing ground for centuries.

Du30 can pass off as an oversight his failure to inform at least his defense chief about any agreement for a Chinese visit in Benham Rise. But he will still have some explaining to do in case inquiries on the Benham incident, planned in both chambers of Congress, push through.

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Although Du30 enjoys a firm hold on the House, it would be prudent for him to consider how quickly political winds can change direction in this country.

He cannot afford to disregard the turbulence that has buffeted his administration so early in his term.

His daughter’s kumpareng sarado Joseph Estrada, now the godfather of Du30’s newest grandson Stonefish, can personally attest that reversal of political fortunes in this country can be brutally swift.

It’s useful to remember that Erap also won the presidency by a landslide, despite everything including the kitchen sink hurled at him during the bruising 1998 campaign.

There were stories, mostly accurate, about Erap’s extended family and his predilection for pricey Petrus wine, women, late-night carousing and high-stakes gambling. He was linked to the still unsolved disappearance of a PAGCOR employee who reportedly leaked a video showing Erap playing in a VIP casino pit accompanied by the redoubtable (up to now) gambling aficionado Atong Ang.

And yet Erap won, and enjoyed high ratings in the surveys for at least a year and a half. Pinoys, however, can only tolerate so much. Scandal after scandal chipped away at the popularity of the former movie superstar. In the end, Erap failed to serve even half of his term.

Dirty Rody seems to have keener survival instincts than “Erap para sa mahirap.” But if the ongoing turbulence, now including active destabilization (according to Du30 and some of his officials), doesn’t kick him out of office, it can make governance of this ungovernable land even more complicated.

Public service then suffers; business confidence is shaken and jobs and the economy are affected. Already, the employment picture this year isn’t encouraging.

Any sign of weakening public support for the President and his notoriously fickle super majority will smell blood.

That’s the time an impeachment effort will prosper.


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