Deals, pork behind impeach votes
By driving a hard bargain with vulnerable solons, the Speaker helped the Palace double the original impeachment vote
MANILA, Philippines—The number of votes originally secured by the administration to impeach Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez almost doubled by the end of the eight-hour plenary session early Tuesday (March 22) morning, with Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. carrying the show for the ruling party.
From having 120 sure votes that both the majority and the minority acknowledged was there as of Monday morning, the articles of impeachment against Gutierrez was approved past midnight with 212 votes.
What happened in the backroom?
Belmonte drove a hard bargain with vulnerable congressmen, according to sources from both the House leadership and the opposition. It was an offensive that not many in the LP were involved in or even aware of.
Some congressmen who are respondents to election protest cases before the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal were reportedly approached. The subtext of the talks was, if they voted against the impeachment, the HRET could decide against them and boot them out of Congress.
Still some legislators were given assurances that their pending cases with the Ombudsman would be dismissed once Gutierrez is replaced as ombudsman.
The solons who each exchanged several text messages with us shortly after the session adjourned were not clear if Belmonte took up these matters with congressmen only on Monday, before or during the eight-hour-long plenary session, or if talks were initiated early on and commitments were clinched only on voting day.
A minority solon also quoted their colleagues from the majority as saying that Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad “talked to them” about funding “needs” in their districts.
We earlier reported that Belmonte was said to have talked to congressmen who commanded bloc votes from the regions, like Zamboanga del Norte Rep. Romeo Jalosjos, who belongs to the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC). The congressman had been sounding off Malacañang for hundreds of millions in additional funding for building facilities in time for the Palarong Pambansa in Dapitan City in May.
At the end of the House’s voting on the impeachment, sources from the minority said that it was not only Jalosjos and his bloc of five congressmen from Zamboanga whom the House leadership tried to win over. The NPC as whole was targeted not only for its considerable membership (30 congressmen) and their known tendency to vote as a bloc.
The administration felt that, compared to other parties, the NPC was more open to aligning with the LP because NPC’s founder, business Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, supported President Aquino, his nephew from the erstwhile estranged branch of the family, in the last election.
Another opposition congressman was more blunt with what happened. “Tinakot ng Palasyo ang marami (The Palace threatened many [of those who were planning to abstain]),” the congressman said.
Another congressman explained that many of them were “afraid of [a repeat] of the GMA experience” where those who went against the Palace’s wishes under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo “got zero” pork barrel.
The LP was believed to have resorted to the same carrot-and-stick approach when a text message, supposedly from appropriations committee chair Joseph Abaya (LP, Cavite), was forwarded by Zamboanga City Rep. Isabelle Climaco to congressmen last Saturday. It threatened to withhold the pork barrel of those who would vote “no” or abstain. Abaya denied that the message came from him.
In an analysis posted earlier on Monday, Newsbreak pointed out that the impeachment verdict would be not so much on the Ombudsman but on the real power that the new ruling party now wields in the House of Representatives. (Read: Today’s vote will be about LP’s rule, not Merci)
We pointed out that the composition of the 120 sure votes at that time showed that:
- LP was in an unstable position as the ruling party because a big percentage of that would be provided by party-list representatives and by “perennial absentees” who were vulnerable to threats of disciplinary action by the House leadership, and from among “flexible” congressmen who were being enticed with promises of SAROs or release of funds.
- LP was unable to forge a broader coalition with the other political parties with considerable memberships, because congressmen from these parties had earlier intended to vote against the impeachment or to abstain.
The failure to consolidate votes from a broader base was due to the fact that the LP “didn’t have a point man” in the negotiations, according to some lawmakers.
Individual LP congressmen tried to project their own importance and influence, while it appeared that Speaker Belmonte was the only one exercising the power of his office more astutely. The rest, congressmen added, were “kanya-kanyang pasikatan.”
By virtue of his position, Belmonte—a long-time leader of Lakas party until he transferred to the LP in time for the elections last year—almost single-handedly carried out the work for LP in the House in relation to impeaching the Ombudsman.
Originally, about half of the chamber intended to either vote against the impeachment or abstain, owing to what they said was a weak case against Gutierrez. The perceived weakness of the case stems from the fact that the complaints are basically about the Ombudsman’s supposed dismal performance. It’s an argument that may not exactly hold against a “betrayal of public trust” charge in a quasi-judicial proceeding, solons with legal background said.
“If non-performance is an impeachable offense, dapat pati si P-Noy puwede naming i-impeach (then we can also impeach President Aquino),” the congressman said.
With the vote ballooning to 212, which surprised even many in the party, has LP finally strengthened its grip on the House?
Sources from among the House leadership and the minority are not about to concede that yet. “It was Sonny Belmonte who carried the show. LP can’t rule without him,” one congressman said. - Newsbreak
TAGS: , Gutierrez Impeachment