Lawmakers could switch sides if pressured

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 June, 2006, 12:00am

The chances of impeaching Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo remain remote for now, but her critics remain hopeful that her solid support in Congress will crack if the process drags on.

Randolph David, a University of the Philippines sociology professor and a lead endorser in the impeachment complaint, said he held no illusions that Mrs Arroyo would be impeached.

'But if we can persuade our people in time, they could pressure lawmakers into backing the impeachment,' he said at a pro-impeachment forum held last week.

At least 79 signatures in the 236-member lower house are needed to impeach Mrs Arroyo. Last year, her impeachment failed because only 51 congressmen voted for it.

Analysing afterwards why the opposition failed, one of Mrs Arroyo's top aides, Ricardo Saludo, said it was because 'the factions targeting Malacanang [the presidential palace] cannot agree on one post-Arroyo scenario'.

Last year, impeachment was the only constitutional option available to those opposing her. Beginning this year, though, a fresh set of options for removing her from power has opened up.

Besides impeachment, there are next year's mid-term polls for all congressmen, 12 senators and all local government officials. At the moment, Mrs Arroyo's political allies control the lower house and the local governments. If the elections loosen her grip on these two levers of power, an opposition Congress could easily amend the constitution to allow for snap elections, similar to the one called in 1986 by Ferdinand Marcos.

This year's impeachment process would also be heavily coloured by next year's election period, opposition Senator Panfilo Lacson said. He said the congressmen could switch sides depending on the sentiments of their constituents.

When the first impeachment complaint was filed against Mrs Arroyo last year, among the loudest voices supporting her were the anti-crime groups and the wealthy ethnic Chinese community.

This time, though, these groups might switch sides. Dante Jimenez, of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, said they were angry with Mrs Arroyo for pushing the abolition of the death penalty.

Still, the opposition conceded they faced an uphill battle. Even before the impeachment complaint reached Congress yesterday, it was already caught in a tangle of legal technicalities as Mrs Arroyo's lawyer, Romulo Makalintal, claimed a second complaint could not be filed yet as the first one was still pending before the Supreme Court.