by Fel V. Maragay
from Manila Standard Today
Two powerful and controversial women, whose fates are intertwined with the other’s, are on public trial.
As expected, detractors of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo started filing a slew of graft and plunder charges against her with the Office of the Ombudsman soon after her term expired on June 30. Likewise, cause-oriented groups and individual complainants revived the impeachment charges against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez for acts that allegedly constitute betrayal of public trust President Benigno Aquino III appears bent on making Arroyo pay for her alleged offenses. He wants Gutierrez to resign for sitting on corruption cases against his immediate predecessor and her cohorts. But since Gutierrez refuses to do so, he is willing to wait, deferring to the constitutional process of unseating her through impeachment.
Meanwhile, Mr. Aquino created the Truth and Transparency Commission to unearth the corrupt transactions that took place during the nine-year Arroyo administration. The independent commission, chaired by retired Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., was given up to Dec. 31, 2012 to complete its probe and submit its findings and recommendations
Included in the scope of investigation of the Commission are anomalies already exhaustively investigated by Congress such as the cancelled $329 million national broadband network-ZTE deal and the P728 million fertilizer fund scam.
The creation of the Truth Commission has received positive reaction from the public. But certain quarters are apprehensive that the entry of the fact-finding Commission may only delay the judicial action on the cases against Mrs. Arroyo and her co-respondents in cases that are already filed with or in the process of being investigated by the Department of Justice and Office of the Ombudsman. Such apprehension partly stems from the impression that justice officials and state prosecutors should wait for the submission of the final report by the Truth Commission before recommending judicial action on the cases.
For this reason, it may be advisable for Malacañang to clarify that the filing of appropriate charges against the culprits behind the fraudulent deals need not wait for the findings and recommendations of the Truth Commission. For if the preliminary investigation conducted by the DoJ and the Office of the Ombudsman shows that there is sufficient evidence to warrant the prosecution of the respondents, the normal judicial process should be followed by elevating the cases to the Sandiganbayan.
With her characteristic shrewdness and instinct for survival, Mrs. Arroyo literally moved heaven and earth, resorting to all available means and tricks to save herself.
She ran for congressman in the second district of Pampanga even if, in the words of former President Fidel V. Ramos, it was demeaning to her political stature.
Her motive for running for a lower office was obvious. She thought being a member of the House of Representatives would clothe her with some kind of parliamentary immunity. But under the Constitution, a senator or congressman cannot be arrested within the premises of Congress only for criminal offenses punishable by a six-year imprisonment. Such immunity does not apply to severe offenses like plunder, murder and rape Initially, there was a lot of talk that Mrs. Arroyo would aspire for the House speakership. And this went with the speculation that she would spearhead the revival of the shift to a parliamentary system, where she can run for prime minister. This talk did not sound empty to many. For when this plan was hatched, she was the leader of thebiggest political party, the Lakas-Kampi-CMD.
During her last remaining weeks in Malacañang, Mrs. Arroyo went through the traumatic experience of seeing herself become a political lameduck from being the most powerful leader. Her wish to become Speaker was nothing more than an illusion.
The last elections saw the Lakas-Kampi congressmen jumping ship and joining the exodus to the Liberal Party, Nacionalista Party and other parties. And when the dust of the political battle had settled, we saw how the once mightiest political party had been reduced to an emasculated, minority party.
Mrs. Arroyo also thought that the bigger House would serve as some kind of a protective haven or refuge where she would find a peace of mind. But contrary to her expectations, she found out, to her horror, that the House is a hostile territory. Everytime she walked inside the session hall, she must feel like she is entering a lion’s den.
In fact, she was the object of a stinging remark by Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden Bello when she attended the House’s session for the first time a week ago. Bello ranted on the floor that “corruption was the signature” of the Arroyo administration.
The ex-president stayed away from the July 26 opening session of Congress to save herself from embarrassment and pain. She may have felt her world being torn apart when President Aquino gave a preview of his State-of-the-Nation Address before Palace newsmen. He said that specific instances of abuse of power and misuse of funds during the time of his immediate predecessor would highlight his Sona. Mrs. Arroyo filed for a week-long sick leave, flying, together with former
Gentleman Mike Arroyo, to Hong Kong purportedly to undergo medical treatment.
Since assuming office as congressman, Mrs. Arroyo has shunned media interviews. No amount of prodding by persistent journalists could make her respond even to insults or use of unparliamentary language by her political foes within the hall of the legislature. Her media aloofness betrays her lack of confidence to defend herself or her inability to come up with a credible self-defense.
Cynical legal and judicial observers believe that the cases against Mrs. Arroyo will be frozen as long as Ombudsman Gutierrez remains in office. As for the impeachment case against Gutierrez, it will take several months before the House can hold the hearings and decide on it.
But regardless of the length of time it will take to finish the impeachment process, one thing is certain. Gutierrez could no longer rely on the support of a majority of congressmen just like last year when the first impeachment case against her was dismissed by the House “for insufficiency of evidence.” The House is now controlled by President Aquino’s legislative allies, including former Lakas-Kampi congressmen who defected to the Liberal Party. Gutierrez is also facing an unsympathetic Senate which will act as the impeachment court that will try the case and render the final judgment.
Faced with a likely no-win situation, should Gutierrez hang tough, continue to cling to her post and fight off the impeachment case until the logical end? Or would it be wiser for her to take another option—that of resigning?
Resignation may be too painful and unacceptable to the beleaguered Ombudsman. But it is a practical way of getting out of this predicament specially in the light of undeniable fact that she does not have the trust of the President, as well as the citizenry. It will spare the subject of the impeachment case of the agony of hearing the details of litany of her alleged offenses. It will also spare Congress and the nation of the ugly and bloody confrontation between her defenders and accusers.