2008: A controversial year for the House

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE 2008 has been a highly controversial year for the House of Representatives where big events have been witnessed such as a leadership change, dismissal of the impeachment complaint against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, intensive debates of lawmakers on Charter change (Cha-cha) and agrarian reform, passage of important pieces of legislation and deaths of four of its members.

OUSTER

FORMER Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. could have learned perfectly that there are no permanent friends in politics but only vested interests after he was democratically unseated on February 5, 2008 as the leader of the House of Representatives.

De Venecia blamed his ouster after he had a falling out with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2007 when his son, Jose “Joey” de Venecia III, linked First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo to the alleged irregularities in the botched $329.48-million National Broadband Network (NBN) deal with China ‘s Zhong Xing Telecommunications Equipment Corp. (ZTE).

Joey, co-owner of Amsterdam Holdings Inc. (AHI), was a losing bidder in the NBN deal and reportedly eyeing a Senate seat in the 2010 presidential elections.

After holding the post for 13 years which is the country’s fourth highest position, De Venecia, a five-time Speaker, was unseated largely after his longtime friends and allies in the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (CMD) abandoned him and voted on a motion to declare his seat vacant.

The move to unseat De Venecia began at about 4:32 in the afternoon of February 4 when Palawan Rep. Abraham Mitra moved to declare the Speaker’s seat vacant which was seconded by Sorsogon Rep. Jose Solis.

At least 174 House members voted to declare the post of De Venecia vacant. Of the 90 House Lakas members, only 25 voted in De Venecia’s favor along with 10 non-Lakas members, including those from the opposition.

With his ouster, De Venecia nominated Speaker Prospero “Boy” Nograles Jr. who took his oath 1:15 in the morning of February 5.

“It’s time to change the image of the House. I will never make promises that I can’t keep. The issue is finally settled. Now, its time to get back to work,” said Nograles.

He was also ousted as president of Lakas-CMD, the country’s ruling political party.

But before he lost his post, De Venecia delivered a very emotional speech where he hinted to tell the truth at the proper forum about alleged attempts to manipulate the 2004 presidential elections.

“I know there were attempts to tamper the elections in 2004 and I shall speak on this greater length on some other opportunity,” said De Venecia, referring to the allegation that has been complained by the group of the late Fernando Poe Jr., losing standard-bearer of opposition group Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP), against President Arroyo.

De Venecia, who also complained about threats in his life, added: “The time has now come for us to speak out and put an end to abuse of power and arrogance.”

De Venecia even recalled every major favor that he has given to President Arroyo, including the latter’s plea to pick her as his running-mate when he ran for president in 1998 as standard-bearer of Lakas-CMD.

The Pangasinan lawmaker said he stayed with President Arroyo during hard times and all throughout the crises from the yearly impeachment complaints against President Arroyo and the several coup attempts.

IMPEACHMENT

THE filing of the impeachment complaint against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has virtually become a losing proposition because the House of Representatives is controlled heavily by Malacañang allies.

The biggest surprise in the 2008 impeachment complaint — the fourth time since 2005 — was the endorsement of former Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. who was the perennial and principal defender of President Arroyo in the previous similar political exercise.

Last December 3, the plenary of the House of Representatives voted 183-21 with three abstentions to finally bury the 97-page impeachment complaint against President Arroyo filed by the group of Joey de Venecia III last October 13 for lack of substance.

Aside from De Venecia III, others complainants were Iloilo Vice Gov. Rolex Suplico, Editha Burgos, Erlinda Cadapan, Josefina Lichauco, Harry Roque, Renato Constantino Jr., Henri Kahn, Francisco Alcuaz, Rez Cortez, Virgilio Eustaquio, Jose Luis Alcuaz, Leah Navarro, Danilo Ramos, Concepcion Empeño, Elmer Labog, Armando Albarillo, Roneo Clamor and Bebu Bulchand.

The complainants cited betrayal of public trust, culpable violation of the Constitution, bribery, graft and corruption and other high crimes as grounds in pushing for the impeachment.

It based the complaint on seven issues which include the controversial $329 million national broadband network (NBN) deal with China ’s ZTE, north rail project, human rights violations, Mt. Diwalwal project or the alleged selling of gold reserves to ZTE company, fertilizer fund scam, bribery of members of Congress in Malacanang for the hasty referral of the Atty. Roel Pulido impeachment complaint in 2007 and electoral fraud in the 2004 presidential elections.

The plenary also upheld on December 3 the decision last November 19 by the House committee on justice headed by Quezon City Rep. Matias Defensor dismissing for lack of jurisdiction the complaint submitted by Atty. Guillermo Sotto on October 23 and the complaints-in-intervention separately filed by the group of historian-columnist Manuel “Manolo” Quezon III on Nov. 12 and Atty. Oliver Lozano on Nov. 17.

Before this, the justice panel on Nov. 26 voted 42 against 8 junking the impeachment of de Venecia III for being “insufficient in substance.”

During the committee deliberation, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, lead presenter of the anti-impeachment lawmakers and vice chairman of the House committee on justice, moved to declare that the complaint is insufficient in substance after he and House Minority Leader and San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora delivered their respective summary of arguments.

In his summation, Zamora appealed to the committee to declare the complaint as sufficient in substance since the recital of facts have been narrated adequately.

“Let us remind ourselves that sufficient in substance is met if there is recital of facts constituting the offense charged and determinative of the jurisdiction of the committee,” said Zamora.

But Lagman argued that the complaint should be dismissed since most of the charges alleged were recycled and rehashed impeachable or already barred by res judicata or prior judgments in previous impeachment cases.

“The hearse of exhumed carcasses must be led back to the graveyard,” Lagman said.

“The purported impeachable offenses in the De Venecia III, et al. impeachment complaint can be classified into two groups for practical and judicious disposition: first, recycled grounds and second, new alleged causes of action,” Lagman said.

Despite the expected survival of President Arroyo from the impeachment complaint, her critics were not tired of filing it apparently because of wide, free and good media mileage.

Political observers claimed that the impeachment process could make members of the House of Representatives as future senators.

Since the process is a good vehicle to those ambitioning for a Senate seat, observers said it is no longer surprising if another impeachment complaint will be filed against President Arroyo this 2009 even if elections are nearing.

“If the complainants and endorsers did not have any illusion from the start that they would prevail, why in the first place did they even file and endorse the complaint? Some may mock the complainants and endorsers for appearing like masochists who enjoy being beaten,” said Lagman.

“Not a few may aver that they are just media-hungry and crave for exposure mileage. Some may allege that they are simply politicking in aid of the forthcoming elections because impeachment attempts may not oust the President but they certainly make senators,” he said.

CHARTER CHANGE

THE House of Representatives has revived the controversial and divisive Cha-cha proposals this year but shelved until January 2009 after vehement opposition from various sectors.

The 2009 will be a make-or-break to push the Cha-cha initiative under the Arroyo administration.

Despite repeated clarifications, particularly from Speaker Prospero “Boy” Nograles Jr. that it has nothing to do with extending the term of elected officials, including President Arroyo, critics have expressed strong belief that it is a way to allegedly allow the Chief Executive to perpetuate in power beyond June 2010.

The senators unanimously have expressed in a resolution that it is unconstitutional for the House of Representatives to push Cha-cha through the Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) without their participation using the three-fourths votes of lawmakers.

On December 16, 2008, the House committee on constitutional amendments deferred its deliberations on the planned amendments to the Constitution until January 27, 2009.

The committee chaired by La Union Rep. Victor Ortega terminated its hearing without discussing or approving House Resolution (HR) No. 737 filed by Nograles following the interfaith rally by Cha-cha critics in Makati City last December 12.