Saving a Sinking Ship

Administration congressmen finally agreed June 30 to play the CD containing the wiretapped conversations between the President and a top election official suggesting electoral fraud last year. More and more legislators believe Macapagal-Arroyo will be judged not in Congress but in the streets.

BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
Bulatlat.com

The protracted debate over whether to play the controversial wiretapped conversations between President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Commission on Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano ended late evening June 30 with the majority of congressmen voting to play it in a hearing that lasted until midnight.

House members listened to the tape over pop corn, potato chips and softdrinks. The hearing, which began June 21, is conducted jointly by the committees on national defense, public information, public order and safety, suffrage and electoral reforms and information and communications technology (ICT).

In an interview with Bulatlat the following day, party-list Bayan Muna (people first) Rep. Teodoro Casiño said the calculated move by the administration solons was not intended to know the truth but only to save the President from further criticism. The young congressman said Macapagal-Arroyo’s allies in the House had “no legal way to stop the playing of the tape” in the first especially after legal luminaries and the House legal department had said there is no legal impediment to playing the tape in a House hearing.

Days before the controversial tape was played, administration congressmen had warned that the House could be violating the Constitution and Republic Act 4200 (Anti-Wiretapping Act) if they played the tape in public.

This came up as witness Allan Paguia, who gave the House a 32-minute compact disc copy of the tape, admitted that the conversations were actually wiretapped during the canvassing of the May 2004 election returns. The CD, Paguia said, was spliced from the original three-hour tape that he still keeps. The witness, who is a lawyer, refused to identify his source for security reasons.

On June 29, Dean Pacifico Agabin of the Lyceum University’s College of Law said that the President’s right to privacy must be balanced with the people’s right to information on matters of public concern.

“Now that the President has authenticated the tape, it is imperative to tell the public what the President told the Comelec official and what the reply was,” Agabin told the House. He was referring to the Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo’s public apology on June 27 where she admitted to having talked to a Comelec official after the votes had been counted purportedly to protect her lead over closest rival, actor-turned-politician Fernando Poe Jr.

Poe, together wit his vice-presidential bet former Sen. Loren Legarda, filed a protest with the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) but the Supreme Court ruled against their petition. Meantime, the actor died December last year.

Both Agabin and Dean Amado Valdez of the Far Eastern University’s College of Law agreed that playing the tape in session was not unconstitutional and that it would be in aid of legislation. The House legal department said the same.

Casiño said the President’s allies in the House should face reality. “If they would use technicalities to block the playing of the tape, it would be too blatant that they were protecting the president,” he said.

In turn, he said, this would further fuel the protest against Macapagal-Arroyo.

The Bayan Muna congressman added the administration congressman seemed to have learned their lesson from the Estrada impeachment of 2000-2001 particularly the controversial “second envelope” containing an alleged proof of jueteng (illegal numbers game) payola against then President Joseph Estrada. The “second envelope” controversy triggered the second Edsa people’s uprising that led to Estrada’s ouster. Estrada followed the footsteps of Ferdinand Marcos who was swept out of power in 1986.

Before the committee secretariat could finish the tallying of votes, congressmen allied with the President began clapping their hands and were heard shouting “Play it, play it!”

“They made it appear that they were the ones who were eager to have the CD played but in fact were just doing an act of self-preservation,” Casiño said. “They could not afford a ‘second envelope’ scenario, so to speak.”

A weakening majority

Some members of the majority bloc in the House disagree with its “maneuverings,” however. Rep. Clavel Martinez (2nd District, Cebu) said in an earlier interview with Bulatlat that her colleagues are trying to suppress evidence.

“It leaves a bad taste in the mouth,” Martinez told Bulatlat. “I don’t feel good about the whole situation. They are trying to apply all the technicalities in trying to avoid playing the tapes and having a confrontation with the truth.”

She qualified however that she is still with the majority.

In the hearings last week, Martinez said she was sorry to have campaigned for Macapagal-Arroyo. She admitted though that she had talked to the President twice but the latter, she said, gave no specific reaction except to say, “I will pray for you.”

Martinez could not give a categorical answer when asked if Macapagal-Arroyo won fair and square in Cebu as what the other administration congressmen from Cebu had claimed last week.

“That is something which we have to find other proofs about,” she said referring to the question raised about flying voters in Cebu City particularly in the district of Rep. Antonio Cuenco.

Martinez also said it was not remote that Government Service Insurance Service (GSIS) funds were used to campaign for the President in the May 2004 elections. GSIS employees have charged their president and chief executive officer (CEO) Winston Garcia for laundering the agency’s funds.

Garcia comes from an influential clan in Cebu that is also allied with the President. He was appointed to the GSIS post by Macapagal-Arroyo and has kept his position despite mounting calls for his resignation last year.

Meanwhile, on June 29, another congressman left the administration bloc and declared himself an independent. Rep. Roilo Golez of Parañaque tendered his irrevocable resignation from the President’s coalition party Kampi and as chair of the House defense committee. He also called for her resignation.

People will decide

Martinez agreed with Casiño that the House hearings were only a venue for articulating the people’s sentiments over the alleged election fraud committed by the President

While calling the House proceedings “a circus” and saying that this is leading to “almost nothing,” Martinez said, “It’s going to be the public that’s going to be the judge and everything lies in their hands. Because if you count on the way Congress is doing it business, it is monkey business.”

On the other hand, Casiño said the opposition does not have an illusion that Congress could oust the President from power. “Ang magtatakda n’yan ay ang kalsada” (It will be decided in the streets), he said.

Losing presidential candidate and religious leader Bro. Eddie Villanueva echoed the same sentiments in a rally in Makati City July 1. Villanueva publicly announced his alignment with groups calling for the President’s resignation. “Arroyo’s presidency is illegitimate, it is a by-product of a stolen election,” he told crowd of about 20,000.

The Makati rally was the third held in a week to call for the President’s ouster. The first rally held June 24 at the Welcome Rotunda Manila drew 20,000 demonstrators, and the second was on June 30 in Plaza Miranda, Manila.

Militant groups and anti-Arroyo opposition parties have declared a countdown for the President’s ouster as they vowed to hold daily rallies before her state-of-the-nation address on July 25. Bulatlat
Bulatlat.com

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