All-out war for Arroyo, De Venecia

By Leila Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:53:00 10/26/2008

MANILA, Philippines—Former Speaker Jose de Venecia has abandoned his initial stand and decided to endorse the latest impeachment complaint against President Macapagal-Arroyo, his former friend and ally.

At a press conference held Saturday in his Makati home, De Venecia announced that he would testify in the impeachment hearings at the House of Representatives and spare no one in revealing the truth.

The Pangasinan lawmaker also said his endorsement of the complaint, filed by his son Jose “Joey” de Venecia III and several others, was without reservation and in line with his call for moral revolution. (He had earlier said he would not endorse the complaint out of delicadeza, or propriety, in light of his son’s involvement.)

“This fight is not my son’s fight alone; the complainants represent a wide segment of national society. Their fight is part of the nation’s search for truth and justice. And we must restore to public office the virtues of openness, accountability, integrity and good governance—all of which the Arroyo administration vhas cast aside,” De Venecia said, reading from a prepared statement.

But in Beijing, where she is attending the 7th Asia-Europe Meeting, the President does not appear to be taking notice.

According to Press Secretary Jesus Dureza, the issue is “under the radar” of Ms Arroyo, especially now that she is helping find solutions to the global financial crisis.

“Let’s leave them to their own antics,” Dureza told reporters at a briefing, referring to the group that had filed the fourth impeachment complaint against Ms Arroyo.

He said that with Ms Arroyo nearing the homestretch of her term, she was more concerned with “preparing the country so that when the next president comes, it will be in good shape.”

‘No matter who gets hurt’

De Venecia said he would not hesitate to answer questions about the deals that the Arroyo administration had forged, including the scuttled $329-million National Broadband Network (NBN) deal with China’s ZTE Corp. and the Northrail project, in which he is implicated.

“I am prepared to testify at the witness stand if called by the House. I will answer all questions no matter who gets hurt,” he said.

De Venecia said the impeachment complaint would also serve a good purpose—to delay purported attempts to amend the Constitution to extend Ms Arroyo’s stay in power.

He said his earlier push for Charter change had stemmed from a noble and pure purpose, but “the motive now may not be so pure.”

De Venecia called on his fellow lawmakers to vote on the impeachment case on its merits and not on party affiliations. But he said he did not want to campaign to them to support the complaint because it was their duty to listen to their conscience.

He added that it was too early to declare the death of the complaint, and dismissed comments that it would not fly because 2010 was just around the corner.

“One week is a long time in politics, according to Winston Churchill,” he said.

The new complaint accuses Ms Arroyo of betrayal of public trust, culpable violation of the Constitution, bribery, graft and corruption, and other high crimes.

Minority lawmakers have endorsed it but conceded that they lacked the 80 votes needed to get it through the administration-dominated House.

Role model

Joey de Venecia said he hoped that his father would serve as a role model for other lawmakers so that they would be convinced of the need to support the impeachment complaint.

Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño, an endorser of the complaint, said De Venecia’s change of heart would help sway other lawmakers to back it.

But the President’s allies belittled the former Speaker’s stand.

“Truthfully, I think that the anti- and pro-impeachment ‘numbers’ have not changed in the House despite the JDV endorsement and support,” Speaker Prospero Nograles said in a text message.

He said he was able to assess the majority sentiment—that the impeachment complaint was ill-timed—from consultations with party leaders.

In a separate statement, Nograles called on the House committee on justice to act “swiftly and judiciously” on the complaint so that lawmakers could focus on the economy.

Rep. Abraham Mitra said De Venecia’s endorsement was “lightweight” because his friends in the House were more loyal to Ms Arroyo.

Mitra also said De Venecia was not a credible endorser because it was apparent that his action was for the benefit of his son, and not the country.

Rep. Rodito Albano likewise said De Venecia’s vote was immaterial, and accused the latter of just wanting to get back at the administration for unseating him from the speakership.

National interest

De Venecia said he had decided to endorse the complaint because he could not abandon the national interest and ignore the gravity of Ms Arroyo’s purported sins.

“For me not to endorse such grave allegations—and to prevent them from being heard by a competent political court—would in itself constitute a crime against the Filipino people,” he said.

He also said that after he announced his initial stand, leaders of the Catholic Church and of civil society tried to persuade him to change his mind.

Among these leaders were Archbishop Oscar Cruz, Eddie Villanueva of the Jesus is Lord Movement and retired general Fortunato Abat, he said.

Asked what he thought were the tactics that the administration would use to kill the impeachment complaint, De Venecia cited former President Joseph Estrada’s purported claim that Malacañang could make money flow in the House.

But he refused to comment when asked if he agreed with Estrada.

De Venecia also railed at fresh attempts to persecute him and his son, which he said had reached “ridiculous heights.”

He said the justice department had recommended that his son be criminally charged for the scuttled NBN deal even though it was the latter who had pointed out the purported irregularities surrounding the project.

He lamented that the President’s husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, and former Commission on Elections Chair Benjamin Abalos were spared despite being “most prominently connected to the NBN scandal.”

“By prosecuting and persecuting the innocent and protecting the guilty, the Arroyo administration has made a mockery of the justice system and forfeited the popular trust,” De Venecia said.

Sheer numbers

Dureza admitted that Ms Arroyo would have to deal with the legal process of impeachment no matter how frequently such a complaint had been filed against her.

But Malacañang is leaving it to Congress to decide on the fate of the new complaint, he said.

Given the present composition of the House, which will decide if the case is to be transmitted to the Senate, Ms Arroyo can afford to be optimistic, even confident.

Her allies comprise the majority of the 238-member House, as was the case when the three previous complaints were all crushed by the sheer strength of numbers.

Gabriel Claudio, Ms Arroyo’s adviser on political affairs, voiced the Palace’s stance in a text message:

“JDV or no JDV, the administration is confident of being able to defend itself and the President from any issue raised in the impeachment complaint.”

Claudio said De Venecia’s announcement did not come as a surprise.

“I guess he has to do what he has to do. After all, Joey is his son,” Claudio said.

He reiterated that the complaint would not prosper. “[Its] chances of success as well as the utter inappropriateness and destructiveness of its timing in light of the current global economic tempest remain the same,” he said. With reports from Christian V. Esguerra in Beijing and TJ Burgonio in Manila

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