A dime a dozen; that Porsche, again

HIS EYES moist with tears of joy, Red party Akbayan Rep. Teodoro Casiño said that the House of Representative’s 212 yes votes on March 22 to impeach Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez represented “overwhelming public sentiment” against her.

Casiño though was mum whether the resolution, two days later, of 204 of his colleagues to bury Akbayan’s arch hate-figure Ferdinand Marcos also represented overwhelming public sentiment to finally honor the dictator.  We also haven’t heard from Casiño whether the 191 votes to postpone the elections for officials of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao—which he claimed would be a travesty of justice—represent overwhelming public sentiment.

The lynch mob against Gutierrez has exploited the public’s unfamiliarity (actually even that of journalists who have not been Congress reporters) with the workings of the legislature to portray a bandwagon against her, which the Senate, they claim, cannot ignore. This of course is part of that old trick, now passé, to depict a popular groundswell against a  target  so that he or she will be so psychologically overwhelmed to just resign.

This is the strategy which successfully took out Estrada in 2001, but in bungling hands was unsuccessfully used by the Hyatt 10 conspirators in 2005 and by succeeding anti-Arroyo cabals.  Included in that strategy would be the statements of the Makati Business Club and the Management Association of the Philippines against the target in order to depict supposedly economic leaders’ imprimatur of the “people’s voice,” and of course, the very timely surveys of Pulse Asia, controlled by relatives of President Aquino, which would confirm the alleged people’s consensus.

The 212 votes against Gutierrez hardly represent “overwhelming public opinion” if one is familiar with the dynamics and nature of Congress.  The truth of the matter is that it has been routine for the House of Representatives to vote “overwhelmingly” for bills and resolutions presented to the House as a whole, called the plenary session.  For instance, the controversial proclamation to extend amnesty to military rebels was approved by 213 yeas to just 7 nays.  The recent House bill prescribing a fixed term of office for the Armed Forces chief of staff passed with 226 votes—no nays or abstentions at all.  I have yet to find a bill voted on by the plenary which was not “overwhelmingly approved.”

Why are House votes routinely “overwhelming”? It would be indeed unkind to dismiss the House’s “overwhelming votes” as a dime a dozen. The Filipino translation for that term is “dalawa singko” (two for five centavos), although the more appropriate term for the recent House votes would seem to be tatlo singko (three for five centavos) for this package: the 22 March 212 votes to impeach the ombudsman; the 24 March resolution of 204 congressmen to give Marcos a hero’s burial; and the 25 March vote of 191 to postpone the ARMM elections.

Probably 95 percent of the debates on a bill are undertaken at the committee level.  If there’s some sense to the bill, it goes through first, second and third “readings” in which every member can point out what he thinks about the proposed law.  But when the bill passes the third reading, a congressman is expected to vote yes, since after all, he had all the chance to convince his colleagues not to support the bill if he thinks it shouldn’t be passed.

There are other reasons for the overwhelming yes votes: horse-trading (e.g., you vote against the ombudsman, I’ll agree to the Marcos resolution); the House as a club that transcends partisan affiliations; the anonymity of votes in a chamber of 280 members (in contrast to the 23 in the Senate); and of course the largesse, pork barrel just being one of these, from the Speaker to a “team player.”

Congressmen also can sleep soundly with their vote, no matter what it is:  after all, it will be the Senate which will still have to agree to enact the law, or in this case, take out the ombudsman. “I’m just one insignificant vote among 212,” a congressman told me.

And the Senate? It’s the opposite: each member always strives to transcend party lines and to decide on his or her own on the merits of an issue.  In fact, the last time when an Aquino—this President’s mother Cory—tried to brow beat the Senate was in 1991 when she led a demonstration at the Senate itself to convince the senators not to boot out the US military bases in the Philippines.  The vote was 12 to 11 against the bases, with even her brother-in- law Agapito and administration stalwarts such as Jovito Salonga defying her.

The Senate almost always votes with much less than a 2/3 result, or 16 votes, which is the number required to take out the ombudsman.  Even on such an urgent bill like the General Appropriations Act for 2011, only 12 voted for it, with three nays, two from Mr. Aquino’s allies.

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The President’s P8-million Porsche 911 turbo has resurfaced as an issue, with a survey saying that 48 percent of Filipinos see it as a bad example for a leader of a poor country.  What I find also disconcerting is the way the President totally ignores the media’s request, made more two months ago, to release, for transparency’s sake, the Porsche’s deed of sale and its certificate of registration.

It’s not an unreasonable request, as we have to be assured that the Porsche wasn’t a gift from some businessman (persistent reports claim it was from Porsche distributor Robert Coyuito), which would be a violation of the anti-graft law, which in turn, using the fashionable term now, is a “culpable violation of the Constitution.”   He also claims he sold his “old” BMW to fund his Porsche purchase.  To whom?

I do hope Malacañang reporters, who usually represent the best reporters in a news organization, haven’t lost their zeal in asking questions the President doesn’t like.
From the Philippine Daily Inquirer