Flipping, then flopping
The remnants of the pro-Aquino faction in the Senate first backed their fellow traveler on the Daang Matuwid, Senator Risa Hontiveros, in her call for Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II to resign. Then yesterday, they took back their statement—only to take that last statement back again later in the day.
What is going on here? Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, nominal leader of the Senate minority, explained that an “internal miscommunication” caused the retraction of the retraction, allegedly the fault of a staff member who “prematurely” released the first denial.
“We apologize for the inconvenience,” Pangilinan said, after totally confusing everybody. “We commit to avoiding similar lapses in the future.”
I think there was no clerical error in the waffling, as Pangilinan seems to imply. What appears to have happened was a serious internal debate amongst the minority – made up of Pangilinan, Hontiveros and their fellow Yellow Senators Franklin Drilon, Bam Aquino, Leila de Lima and Antonio Trillanes—over the possible legal repercussions of the original statement supporting Hontiveros.
Hontiveros’ demand for Aguirre to resign, made in a privilege speech she delivered on Monday, was based on a photograph taken of the justice chief reading text messages on his smartphone. The messages show him exchanging texts with a certain “Cong. Jing,” purportedly former Negros Oriental Rep. Jacinto Paras and a member of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, with a view to “expediting” charges against the senator.
The senator’s speech was quickly followed by a statement from her Yellow colleagues declaring their support for her call, which is really to be expected.
But Aguirre, in reaction to Hontiveros’ demand, denounced the senator’s action of publicly exposing his private conversation as an infringement of his right to privacy. In particular, Aguirre accused Hontiveros of violating Republic Act 4200, also known as the Anti-Wiretapping Law, which he said punishes the action of eavesdropping on a private conversation and making it public without his or Paras’ consent.
(Paras has denied any knowledge of exchanging messages with Aguirre. He said he receives and sends a lot of texts every day and deletes them at day’s end.)
My own belief is that some of the members of the minority were so spooked by Hontiveros’ apparent violation of the law that they prevailed on Pangilinan to withdraw his retraction yesterday, after they unthinkingly supported the error-prone Hontiveros right after she gave her speech. After all, Hontiveros had only recently been skating on very thin legal ice when she took personal custody of several underage witnesses to the killing of alleged extra-judicial victim Kian Loyd delos Santos without the permission of their parents.
Hontiveros’ unusual move had laid her open to the charge of alleged kidnapping. It also recalled Trillanes’ own strategy of taking supposed Davao Death Squad whistle-blower Edgar Matobato in his own custody after the Senate invited several witnesses who were about to confront Matobato about his fantastic— and later, largely debunked —claims about the DDS.
But in the end, Pangilinan was prevailed upon yet again by his colleagues, I think, who urged him to retract his retraction, which led to yesterday’s fiasco.
It doesn’t surprise me that the damn-the-torpedoes sub-faction in the minority won out over the more sober and law-abiding members in that group. After all, any organization that counts not just Hontiveros but also the acclaimed tale-weaver Trillanes among its members will not let a small thing like an illegal act get in the way of the overall strategy to throw as much mud as it can on the Duterte administration, just to see what will stick.
Of course, the minority is no stranger to looking like mindless, baseless founts of unlimited criticism, just as long as its members see a small opening in their bid to bring down President Rodrigo Duterte. Their guiding principle, after all, was laid down by one of the more prominent Yellows, who once famously said that what they say doesn’t have to be true—it just has to appear that way.
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Today, the House of Representatives will begin hearings on the two verified and separately-endorsed impeachment complaints against Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. But while the House deliberates on the form and substance of these complaints, I can’t help but wonder if the similar (and similarly-endorsed) charges filed against Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista have been placed on the back burner by the chamber.
I definitely have no love lost for Sereno, whose elevation to the position of chief magistrate was only intended to protect the person who appointed her, Noynoy Aquino, from being haled to court for his misdeeds during his presidency. Sereno’s own failings were the direct result of her ill-conceived appointment by a president did not even realize that by putting her in that post, he had actually set in motion a reprise of his own removal of Sereno’s predecessor, the late Renato Corona.
But I still believe that the more important (and stronger) impeachment case is the one against Bautista. And if Congress can dispose of Sereno’s case with dispatch, perhaps we’ll finally get to the weightier case of Bautista, which has farther-reaching consequences.