“It has been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first.”
That famous quote from the late US President Ronald Reagan can’t be more appropriate for the House of Representatives, which has become or been forced to become a body providing, with the appropriate fee, not only extra service to, but going all the way for, President Aquino and his consuming project to take out Chief Justice Renato Corona.
At the impeachment trial on Monday, Rep. Tobias Tiangco, a neophyte congressman, painted a vivid, scandalous picture of how Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, the House appropriations committee chair Rep. Jose Emilio Abaya, and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad got the congressmen to railroad within a day Corona’s impeachment through threats of withholding their pork barrel if they refused to sign the complaint. The joint’s bouncer, Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, immediately pounced on the rebel congressman, threatening to expel him from the House if he testified at the trial.
A despicable group in this herd has been Congress’ Left parties led by Bayan Muna, which joined this plot to take out a Chief Justice who practically fought with their comrades to liberate from the decades-old clutches of Aquino’s clan Hacienda Luisita, where many of its cadres have been killed by the plantation’s security force.
This entire impeachment saga reminds one of that biblical insight of ravening wolves in sheep’s clothing, or even of the Antichrist as the Prince of Deception. Rather than a noble crusade against corruption, the campaign to take out Corona is greed-driven for three goals: terrorize the Supreme Court to order P10 billion paid to the Cojuangcos for Hacienda Luisita; browbeat the Presidential Electoral Tribunal—the high court’s other persona—to replace Jejomar Binay with Liberal Party president Mar Roxas as the republic’s vice president through the latter’s ongoing electoral protest; and get the founder of The Firm—now the most powerful and richest legal firm in the country—to become chief justice.
Tiangco, who was with the political opposition during President Arroyo’s term, testified under oath that Belmonte told the congressman in that hurriedly called meeting that Corona must be impeached “as he is a protégé of GMA (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo).” As if lecturing to school children, Belmonte declared that no questions will be entertained, that the impeachment complaint is still being written, and that they should just line up to sign a paper attesting to their agreement to the move.
According to Tiangco’s testimony, the impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez was a dry run to take out Corona. It was in this episode when Abaya circulated a text message that congressmen who will not support the move to impeach Gutierrez will get “zero as in zero” PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Funds, or the pork barrel released for the projects of each congressman in his district). True enough, because of Tiangco’s refusal to sign Gutierrez’s impeachment complaint, his pork barrel was withheld, and released only after he publicly raised hell on the injustice. Abad had texted him that it was Mr. Aquino who orders the release of pork barrel for each congressman.
Talk of the media as a weapon. What was a banner story in this paper with the headline “Pork tied to impeachment” was, in Belmonte’s Philippine Star, Abad’s press release published nearly in toto, denying the congressman’s allegations, and headlined “Tiangco got full pork.” To denigrate the testimony of a heroic Tiangco, the photo in that newspaper was of him with his shoes off and laughing, to falsely portray him as making fun of the trial.
Abad claimed that Tiangco and other legislators who did not vote for Gutierrez’s impeachment all got their 2011 PDAF. What he didn’t say, though, was that these “uncooperative” legislators got their allotments mostly in the last quarter of the year, months after Gutierrez was forced to resign in April. Cooperating congressmen, on the other hand, got theirs early in the year, and after the anomaly was exposed in the media.
Delays in PDAF releases are crucial. Funds intended for scholarships become unusable after classes begin, while infrastructure projects have to be put off because of rains that start in June. No pork barrel has been released yet for this year.
All presidents have used the pork barrel—except, of course, by Marcos during martial law, when Congress was closed down—for maintaining and expanding their political base in Congress, and to get Congress to pass their priority bills, mainly the national budget.
But never before has taxpayer money been brazenly used for political warfare against a sitting President’s perceived enemies. Never before has it been used to push Congress to attack a coequal branch of government that is the bedrock of the rule of law. Never before has it been used to rouse a lynch mob, and to provide a venue where, as a senior Liberal Party senator put it, “he would strip naked and humiliate the Chief Justice in public, and with his family too.”
After 29 days of trial, though, the political prostitution of the House has resulted only in a half-aborted, dying abomination, as the charges have all but collapsed in the clear light of facts, and as the prosecutors have ended up running with their tails between their legs, having to drop the five other articles of impeachment. For the House’s principal customer, there won’t be a happy ending.