Impeachment and accountability
The Marcos administration may yet be the Filipino people’s best hope for addressing, rectifying, and even prosecuting the sins and excesses of the previous administration.
Already, there have been corrections to the misguided policies of the past under the current Chief Executive, from rejecting a policy of extrajudicial killings in drug-related cases, to reigning in the excesses in government spending and borrowing, and realigning our foreign policy away from an impenitent bully to a trusted ally.
And though his hand wasn’t that evident, there is little doubt that President Marcos had allowed the release of politically persecuted former senator Leila de Lima after nearly seven years’ detention by not throwing the full weight of the state to oppose the move to grant her bail.
But one proposed move that, on the surface, looks aligned with all these perceived reforms, is potentially ill-timed.
Recently, talk has been rife of moves to impeach Vice President Sara Duterte amid what looks like a growing rift between the camp of Mr. Marcos—most notably with his influential House Speaker Martin Romualdez—on one hand, and the camp of Duterte and former president and Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on the other.
In addition to drawing attacks because of her previous insistence on having massive confidential intelligence funds that she refused to account for, the Vice President has become a proxy target for those wanting to hit back at her father, former president Rodrigo Duterte, as well as her political godmother, Arroyo, in the country’s rough and tumble political arena.
Having an impeachment at this point is not a wise move. To be sure, impeachment is a valid move to take against public officials when normal legal methods fail or fall short of delivering justice. But it is relatively early days in the Marcos administration when its policies and programs of government could use the full, undivided support of the legislative branch.
To his credit, the President has tamped down talk of impeachment, saying that the Vice President does not deserve to be impeached, an unequivocal statement that she still has his trust. The Speaker has chimed in himself, denying that there are any moves in the lower chamber to remove Duterte from office.
The country certainly does not need that kind of distraction right now.
What it needs at this point in its history is for all stakeholders to come together and focus their efforts and energy toward rebuilding the country, whose economy has been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
We need all stakeholders, both from the public and private sector, to pool their resources into building the physical infrastructure that the Philippines needs for development, to rebuild those crumbling from long neglect, and to build up the human capital needed to secure our nation’s future for our children.
By all means, Duterte should be held accountable for the public funds that had been entrusted to her office. Lawmakers should also make sure that future fund allocations to the Office of the Vice President and the Department of Education, which Duterte heads, are scrutinized thoroughly to minimize the misallocation of precious resources—like confidential funds—where they are not needed. Already defanged by the House which stripped her of P650 million in confidential funds, another way to rein in Duterte’s actions is for the case challenging the constitutionality of secret funds in the Supreme Court to progress.
By all means, Duterte’s father should also be held accountable for wayward policies during his bloody six-year reign, even if it means active cooperation with the International Criminal Court.
The former president should also be admonished and censured for fueling rumors about military unrest where there is none, in an apparent bid to distract the current leadership from moves meant to make his daughter account for her offices’ huge unspecified funds.
Unfortunately, impeachment has become a shortcut of sorts in this country that seems to favor quick fixes to its longstanding problems. Based on the country’s previous experience, impeachment proceedings have always been followed by political upheavals with unintended consequences that extend long into the future.
There is no doubt that impeachment moves can only succeed with the explicit support of Malacañang and the Speaker, since it will always be a numbers game.
Right now, the best course of action for the Marcos administration is to continue correcting the erroneous path that the previous leadership had forced the country to trudge.
But the long walk back to the right path must be deliberate, each step carefully considered. There is little room for distractions, like the political circus that an untimely impeachment moves might unleash. Time is essential and Mr. Marcos only has four and a half years left in his term to correct the misdeeds of the past and he needs to handle them with laser-like intensity and focus.