'Tipping point' of impeach bid reached
Michael Lim Ubac
Inquirer News Service
A BATTLE royale among members of the ruling House coalition this week will determine the fate of the impeachment complaint against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, lawmakers said yesterday.
Two lawmakers told the Inquirer that the endorsement of the complaint on Tuesday by four Arroyo allies who called themselves "young guns" was the "tipping point."
It meant that the move to impeach Ms Arroyo for allegedly rigging last year's presidential election had transcended party lines, said the two lawmakers, who asked not to be named.
The two were referring to Representatives Robert Ace Barbers (Surigao del Norte), Edmund Reyes (Marinduque), Robert Jaworski Jr. (Pasig City) and Gilbert Remulla (Cavite).
In a phone interview, Reyes confirmed this, saying: "For us four, it's our own personal tipping points. When we saw that they were about to kill the complaint, we made our decision."
He said the country was "coming to a crossroad."
"For weeks, the minority failed to produce the magic 79 signatures to automatically transmit the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate for trial," said one lawmaker.
He lamented the seeming "disarray" within the opposition that continued to hamper efforts to get a third of the House membership of 236 needed to impeach Ms Arroyo.
So far, only 48 House members have signed the impeachment complaint.
Another administration lawmaker disclosed that the young guns' decision was the "signal" that 33 other congressmen, who had earlier pledged to support the complaint, would officially sign up this week.
"The majority is now making the rounds to gather signatures," said the lawmaker.
To get the nod of the 33 lawmakers, three conditions must be met: There must be a direction -- clear succession -- once Ms Arroyo is impeached; they don't need to join the opposition, and the proceedings should end soon so that the country can move forward.
San Juan Representative Ronaldo Zamora, lead impeachment prosecutor who earlier said Vice President Noli de Castro would be recognized as the rightful successor, said the opposition only needed "a few" signatures.
Asked to elaborate, impeachment spokesperson Taguig-Pateros Representative Alan Peter Cayetano said: "We're looking at a single digit. The numbers look encouraging." Cayetano said six to 10 lawmakers would sign the impeachment complaint today.
Reyes had a message to his colleagues who were having second thoughts about supporting the impeachment complaint because of the latest release of pork barrel allocations, including funds purportedly from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.
"If ever you receive money for projects, take it and use it for your districts. It's not the President's money or her allies. It's the money of the Filipino people. But vote according to your conscience. Don't feel beholden to the administration," said Reyes.
But Lakas stalwart Surigao del Sur Representative Prospero Pichay downplayed this, saying: "Silent waters run deep. But the fact that the opposition lawmakers are noisy about numbers only means that they don't have the numbers."
Three of the 18 members of the so-called conscience bloc within the Lakas-CMD-led administration coalition had already signed the complaint -- Barbers, Reyes and Jaworski -- and four from the 18-member Nacionalista Party -- Remulla, Cayetano, Laguna Representative Justin Chipeco and Cibac party-list Representative Joel Villanueva.
The NP lawmakers will play a pivotal role in this crisis since Remulla and NP president Senator Manuel Villar head the lead committees in both chambers of Congress which conducted investigations of the wiretapped conversations alleging ballot fixing in 2004 and the "jueteng" scandal, respectively.
The rest of the signatures should come from the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino led by Representatives Juan Edgardo Angara (Aurora) and Jacinto Paras (Negros Oriental), and the Liberal Party, possibly led by Bataan Representative Antonino Roman.
The progressive bloc led by Anakpawis party-list Representative Rafael Mariano expects the tide to turn in the opposition's favor this week.
"The administration is out to kill the impeachment complaint this week before the President leaves for New York. But we are not moved. We expect a swing vote this week."
Malacañang was, in fact, seeking ways of speeding up proceedings in the House justice committee.
Romulo Macalintal, Ms Arroyo's impeachment spokesperson, said yesterday that instead of engaging in too much debate, the committee could require the congressmen to submit position papers.
"This will expedite proceedings and save precious time," Macalintal said.
Anti-Arroyo forces yesterday said they would mount protests at the Batasang Pambansa starting tomorrow.
The Bagong Alyansang Makayan said it would muster 5,000 members of the leftwing Bayan and the centrist White Ribbon Movement.
"This could very well be do-or-die for the amended impeachment complaint. It is therefore imperative for the people to come out in their numbers and thwart attempts at suppressing the truth," Fr. Jose Dizon, convenor of the Gloria Step Down Movement, said in a statement yesterday.
"The administration has tied a noose around the impeachment complaint and it is getting tighter by the day. Ms Arroyo was emboldened to quash the impeachment when there was a lull in street protests. Now it's time to regain the initiative," Dizon said.
Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes said the President was "pulling all the stops to kill the impeachment."
He also scored Ms Arroyo's call for reconciliation and national unity amid the oil crisis while her allies were busy fighting the impeachment complaint in Congress.
"Killing the impeachment is a declaration of all-out war against the people. It again contradicts Ms Arroyo's call for reconciliation," he said.