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FLEA MARKET OF IDEAS

Impeachment is not a numbers game

It’s an integrity game. It’s a test of morals and ethics. It’s a probe on conscience. It’s a gauge of character. And ultimately, it’s a measure of love of country.

All of the above describe the true nature of impeachment power as enshrined by our people in the Constitution. It is not a mere instrument of judgment against our highest officials. It is equally an instrument of judgment to unravel the honor and dignity (or lack of both) of those who are vested with the power to use it.

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One-third of the House of Representatives has the power to initiate an impeachment complaint, while two-thirds of the Senate has the power to convict, under our Charter.

There are recent calls for the impeachment of President Duterte because of his revelation that he made a verbal agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping allowing Chinese fishermen to exploit our exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The revelation was made after a Chinese vessel rammed the boat of 22 Filipino fishermen inside our country’s EEZ, and abandoned the crew floating in open sea. Our Constitution expressly reserves fishing within our EEZ exclusively for Filipinos.

In spite of the noble nature of the power of impeachment, a chorus of politicians is singing a common tune—that impeachment is merely a numbers game. A refrain is being drilled in our minds that impeachment is a simple inventory of amoral men and women in Congress.

The dismissive statement of presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo exemplifies the ruling administration’s mantra: “How can a President be scared of an impeachment? An impeachment is a numbers game. We have a supermajority in Congress. It will not even pass the committee on justice.”

The President’s allies are in a taunting mood. No matter how grave the impeachment accusations are, it will not matter because Congress will favor the one who wields superior powers, most importantly the power to dispense pork barrel privileges.

Is there a bottom pit on the gravity of the impeachment grounds that will make Congress say, “Enough is enough!”? Will there be a level of humiliation that will compel our politicians to finally stop being bootlickers?

There’s none, apparently. We are at a wretched era where the kind of politicians that we have will not look at the merits of the charges, and will not give a damn no matter how tattered the Constitution will become. Our politicians will only bow to a superior power who will guarantee their own hold on power and their continuing access to its benefits.

Four of our successive presidents faced impeachment complaints: Joseph Estrada for the Jose Velarde account; Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for the “Hello Garci” controversy; Benigno Aquino III for the presidential pork barrel scandal; and now, Rodrigo Duterte for permitting Chinese encroachment in our EEZ.

The charges against Arroyo, Aquino and Duterte were/are as serious as those lodged against Estrada, but only the impeachment complaint against Estrada hurdled the Lower House and went to the Senate for trial.

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Power was fast slipping from Estrada’s hands in the face of restive people asserting their sovereign power. It was this shift in power that congresspersons saw and that prompted them to defy Estrada and give the go signal for the latter’s impeachment.

In our present setting, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Sen. Richard Gordon and even De La Salle professor Antonio Contreras — erstwhile staunch supporters of the President — are suddenly raising voices of defiance against Mr. Duterte’s go signal for Chinese exploitation of our EEZ. Are these indications of bigger restiveness among the people?

We have seen in the past that the gravity of an impeachment ground will not spell success on its own. But it can serve to spark anger among the people at decibels of protest that will prompt politicians to fear that they themselves will lose power.

Impeachment is not a numbers game — but only if our politicians hear the reverberating voices of a defiant people.

Comments to [email protected]

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TAGS: EEZ, Flea Market of Ideas, impeachment, Joel Butuyan, Maritime Dispute, PH-China relations, Rodrigo Duterte
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