Siling Labuyo: A clear and present danger

Democracy is under the gun in the Philippines. There is an insidious attack against the judiciary, independent bodies, and the very democratic government formed under the 1987 Constitution. This sinister plot points to clearing the path for an authoritarian or dictatorial rule that poses a clear and present danger to Philippine democracy. The attack on the judiciary appears to be a part of a grand plan to neutralize the chief justice who happened to be an appointee of the previous president. The impeachment hearing being conducted by the House Justice Committee is clearly being railroaded to ensure the impeachment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. Impeachment is supposed to be a last resort to remove an impeachable officer but in this instance, it appears that the ruling majority is marching to the drums of the man who would be king – President Rodrigo Duterte. The Justice Committee’s job is to determine the form and substance of the complaints. The list of alleged offenses proffered by Atty. Lorenzo Gadon – a Duterte supporter, Marcos loyalist, and one of Gloria Macapagal lawyers are hearsays at best or even if accepted as valid, do not rise to the level of proof needed for an impeachment. Instead of the complaints being dismissed for lacking in substance, the committee chairman Rep. Reynaldo Umali saw it fit to convene the committee as an impeachment court and invited resource people including four Supreme Court justices (one retired) to testify regarding the administrative deliberations by the Supreme Court for the expressed purpose of establishing probable cause. This is clearly not the job of the committee because if the complaints have been verified lacking substance, then it should have been dismissed outright. But alas, there is manifest attempt to prolong the shaming of the Chief Justice by bringing all these witnesses and extracting information that could add legitimacy to what the committee is doing. The term that comes to mind is fishing for evidence. “Everything stops the moment she resigns,” said Umali and echoed by the Speaker himself, Pantaleon Alvarez. If that is not intimidation, I don’t know what is. This Atty. Gadon is clearly a wildcard and unafraid of the consequences of his actions which raise great suspicions he will be protected by someone way up there in the food chain. By stating under oath that that he had personal knowledge that Supreme Court Justice Teresita de Castro was the source of a Supreme Court document he submitted based on the say so of his source, a journalist who when summoned by the committee denied Gadon’s assertion that De Castro was the source. When confronted, Gadon all of a sudden developed temporary dementia and could no longer remember who it was who gave him the document. Now, his perjured testimony warrants some form of sanction from the committee but that remains to be seen. Gadon dropped another “bombshell” that a rich oligarch is out to finance the acquittal of the Chief Justice at the senate trial by bribing them P200 million each. Now he is being asked by Umali albeit pro forma, to explain in five days why he should not cited for contempt of Congress. His mere excuse was that this is what he was hearing out there from people who keep whispering to him these things. Either Gadon needs a psychiatric evaluation or he does not understand the professional part of his being a lawyer. Either way, he is making a mockery of the impeachment process but wala lang (nothing). The ongoing campaign already claimed the COMELEC chairman Andy Bautista who was pressured to resign amidst allegations of corruption from his estranged wife. It does not take rocket science to figure out who was behind her exposes given her proximity to powers that be such as the Marcoses and by extension, Duterte. Next in the crosshairs is Ombudsman Conchita Morales who welcomes any impeachment complaints. But there are corollary events taking place like the extension of Martial Law in Mindanao and tagging the New People’s Army (NPA) as a terrorist group and therefore has now become enemy of the state. This develops after years (and months under Duterte) of peace negotiations. The underlying objective here could be citing the NPA’s armed rebellion or revolution and remnants of the Islamic State failed rebellion in Marawi to trigger what Duterte’s supporters are calling RevGov or the establishment of a Revolutionary Government. There is no Constitutional justification for a RevGov except an ongoing revolution. But there is one problem, and that is the military are not for RevGov. But, on the other hand, the Secretary of Defense Delfin Lorenzana is proposing a break with the traditional holiday ceasefire and to continue with their armed pursuit of the enemies. Thus on the one hand the military is opposing RevGov but wittingly or unwittingly aiding the Duterte plan of perhaps using the NPAs and Muslim rebels as predicates for launching a revolutionary government. Finally, a recent ruling by the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) gave Vice President Leni Robredo’s camp some good news with the denial of former senator Bongbong Marcos’ motion to include three other provinces in Mindanao for the initial ballot test count. Her lawyer beamed that this ruling will make Marcos’ electoral protest more difficult to sustain. Recall that in July this year, the PET also ruled in favor of the VP when the court upheld the integrity of the Automated Election System (AES). In his electoral protest, Marcos identified three courses of actions to prove that he won the vice presidency: the validity of the AES, traditional modes of cheating, and the alleged unauthorized introduction by Smartmatic of a new hash code into the transparency server. The recent PET ruling touches a bit on the second cause of action by denying the technical examination of all the ballots in Lanao del Sur, Basilan and Maguindanao. Marcos wanted these ballots nullified. Thus, to show traditional modes of cheating, Marcos is now banking on the ballots boxes from Camarines Sur, Iloilo, at Negros Oriental that would show the irregularities that he alleged happened in these provinces given the alleged statistical improbability of the results. Of course the introduction of the “enye” (ñ) – a hash code – into the transparency server is his last recourse if the counting does not support his claim. While on the surface it would appear that VP Robredo is on a roll and has reasons to be optimistic, I would not hold my breath on that just as yet and do hope that the VP camp will not lower their guard on this because for all we know that this could be a ruse. To understand the undercurrents behind this assertion one must consider the recent rulings of the Supreme Court particularly in the case of Senator Leila De Lima. Her case should have been thrown out longtime ago but a highly questionable ruling of the high court is keeping her in jail. Duterte wants her jailed and the government machinery has ensured that indeed she stays jailed. The Supreme Court justices sit as the PET with Chief Justice Sereno chairing it. It would still be months before Marcos’ second and third course of actions are decided and by then Sereno could already be impeached. Not that her vote can stop the majority decision of the court that is already packed with Duterte and Arroyo appointees, but removing her would be the exclamation point.