Why impeach?

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The unspoken question framed by sympathizers of Malacañang seems to be: “If President Noynoy Aquino cannot be impeached, why go through the trouble at all?”

 

But the question presumes not only that it is impossible to impeach Aquino. It also assumes that no good will come out of filing and supporting impeachment complaints, which certainly does not follow, even if you grant that no impeachment will succeed.

The chief spokesman of President Noynoy Aquino, Herminio Coloma, has offered this confident assessment of the chances of any impeachment complaint against his boss prospering in the palace-controlled House of Representatives: “It is undeniable that numbers are important here, because at the end, congressmen will vote if they will approve the complaint or not.”

Coloma’s confidence is not without basis. This is the House, after all, that Aquino himself implied was squarely behind him if the Supreme Court really wanted some mano a mano with Malacañang after the tribunal declared Aquino’s Disbursement Acceleration Program illegal.

And it is the same House that, soon after the court issued its DAP ruling, suddenly revived its call to take away the Judiciary Development Fund from the high court’s supervision and give it to the national treasury. It really looks as if Congress, as they say, has Noynoy’s back.

If that’s the case, then it would certainly appear that the complaints filed in the House to oust Aquino are doomed from the start. But perhaps Malacañang should temper its swagger with some history - specifically, how Joseph Estrada was impeached 14 years ago and how he was forced to step down at the height of the trial of the impeachment case against him in the Senate.

The administration assumes that neither of the two valid impeachment complaints filed against Aquino in the Batasan this week will get anywhere because the endorsers, who belong to the so-called “progressive” left-leaning bloc, will not be able to gather the required signatures from other, presumably pro-Aquino legislators. But what they aren’t telling people is that the House doesn’t even need a simple majority to indict Aquino and start the process for his trial in the Senate.

Estrada was impeached by the House in November 2000 after then Speaker Manuel Villar declared that the constitutional requirement of the signatures of one-third of the chamber had been gathered, or 73 of what was then a 218-member legislature. After leading the opening prayer, Villar suddenly declared that Estrada had been impeached and ordered the transmission of the President’s indictment to the Senate.

What Coloma and the pro-Aquino media are not saying is that impeachment is not as hard as it sounds, even under an immensely popular President (like Erap was) who is also perceived to have the majority of the House in his pocket (which Erap did). Besides, Estrada’s spokesmen in 2000 were also supremely confident that the President could block any impeachment complaint - and they were very much mistaken.

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There are now 290 members of the House, meaning it would require almost 100 congressmen to sign the complaints against Aquino for them to “automatically” be endorsed to the Senate for trial. That is still a formidable number, given the stranglehold of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and other Aquino supporters on the membership.

But even if the groups calling for Aquino’s impeachment never make it, does that mean that the President will not be hurt by the proceedings? I don’t think so.

This is a critical time in Aquino’s term, when he has less than two years left in office and when his popularity is at an all-time low. Because the DAP controversy (and the pork barrel scam behind it) shows no signs at all of abating, Aquino could spend the remaining 700 or so days left in his term fending off both his impeachment and attempting to shore up his increasingly tattered reputation.

Instead of cementing his legacy, Aquino is in dire danger of leaving the palace in a welter of accusations that could very reasonably end with him in jail, as soon as he leaves office in 2016. And even if the current cases against him are thrown out, new ones could still be filed (as they will be even during this week), which will leave him with his hands full defending himself until the end of his term, severely restricting his plans to get any more work done.

But impeachment proceedings will force Aquino to finally tell all about DAP and quite possibly about the pork barrel scandal, as well, after months and months of stonewalling and refusing to be forthright about both. And forcing Aquino to come clean (instead of just accepting that he is) is the best reason to continue with the proceedings, whether or not he is impeached and regardless of the chances of conviction.

It’s merely ironic that Aquino has to be threatened with impeachment and conviction before he tells his “bosses” the whole truth and mends his ways -  say, by firing Budget Secretary Florencio Abad - especially since he has used the weapon of impeachment in the past to remove a sitting Ombudsman and an incumbent Chief Justice. If only because of this, yes, the impeachment of Noynoy Aquino must proceed.