Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Villar's intransigence

This is my column today.

There are always many sides to an issue and it is a given that the proponents or advocates of one side of an issue would insist vociferously that their side is the correct one. In fact, very often in this country, proponents are not happy with just claiming to be correct, they insist on being the only correct one.

We are in a democracy and everyone is entitled to espouse and defend a point of view regardless of how illogical, improbable, or even incomprehensible that point of view may be to others.

Thus, we often find ourselves arguing and debating the finer points of a sticky issue until everyone gets tired of it, or until something providential happens such as when another issue of greater importance or urgency comes along. At which point, the issues are conveniently dropped in favor of the new issues.

In fact, I have this sneaking suspicion that in certain instances, that’s exactly the game plan at play—people simply stick to their guns and quibble endlessly in the hope that something bigger, something more explosive will eventually come along anyway and they don’t need to concede their respective points of views. And this is why many issues in this country do not really get resolved at all. Unfortunately, unresolved issues do tend to resurface later on and sometimes in uglier forms.

The allegations of unethical conduct leveled against Senator Manny Villar has been festering under the surface for quite some time now. The issue was sidetracked by a number of other seemingly more urgent issues—such as the sex video scandals—but perhaps as an indicator of the gravity of the accusations or the tenacity of the senators pushing the issue, the issue is back in the headlines.

As I said, there are many sides to an issue. If we are to believe the accusers— Senators Jajajajamby Madrigal and Ping Lacson—Villar is culpable of a number of violations of ethical conduct as senator. The gist of the accusations is simply that Villar used his influence and stature as senator for personal or business gains.

Villar and his defenders, on the other hand, insist that the charges are politically motivated. They insist that the fact that Villar’s accusers are his rivals for the Presidency in 2010 should be enough ground to dismiss the issues.

As can be expected, a number of people have already weighed in with their own takes on the issues, either for or against. I won’t go into what I think are the merits or demerits of the various arguments already presented. Quite frankly, I want to keep an open mind on the matter and would therefore be interested in a more detailed, perhaps less emotional, and therefore more logical presentation and rebuttal of the accusations, preferably presented in a duly constituted forum or authority. Given the fact that Villar is bent on becoming the next President of the Republic of the Philippines, settling the issues in a court of law is no longer a viable option. The case would drag on for years and he can’t be tried in court anyway in the event that he wins as president. But I think the issues are relevant today precisely because the man is gunning for the highest seat in the land. The issues are a clear test of the man’s integrity and credibility.

The Senate has finally convened itself as committee of the whole after a series of acrimonious debates on technicalities, legalities, and propriety—the last one of which become very personal and unpleasant. Senator Madrigal presented her case against Villar and showed various documents and evidence supporting her accusations last Monday.

It would have been a good opportunity for Villar to debunk Madrigal’s accusations. Based on what I’ve read from whatever transcripts that were readily available, and based on what I heard on radio and seen on television, the accusations are not as airtight as originally presumed or claimed to be. The evidence seemed credible but only because Madrigal acted with more conviction than warranted. But if we really come down to it, all those supposed pieces of evidence could easily be refuted; it would have boiled down to a case of one document simply debunking another document.

In interviews conducted after the hearing, Villar pretty much said the same thing. All those documents presented could be easily debunked by documents that he had in his possession. He even went as far as to ridicule Madrigal’s penchant for being victimized by kuryente (bum steer). Simple, huh? Then why the heck doesn’t he present them?

Unfortunately, Villar and the minority senators supporting him have been boycotting the hearings. It is their contention that the Senate hearings are a farce and that the senators comprising the majority faction have already made up their minds to convict Villar anyway. They have expressed their belief that Villar cannot expect a fair trial in the Senate – the very same institution that Villar is a part of and whose role in Philippine society he extolled to high heaves just a few months ago when he was still Senate President. In short, they cast doubts on the capability of the other senators to become impartial and objective.

In plain English: They are insulting the other senators and the whole Senate as an institution.
The Senate, particularly during Villar’s term as Senate President, is renowned for its hard-line stance against people who do not cooperate in the various hearings that it has convened. The Senate has detained a number of people for refusing to testify. And now, you have a senator himself openly defying the senate as an institution. If Villar is allowed to do this, what does it say of the Senate as an institution? That it affords an entirely different set of privileges to senators compared to ordinary citizens?

Villar’s allegation that the other senators are not capable of impartiality in this particular case is not an excuse because he is being selective in the application of his bias. He cannot praise his fellow senators in the exercise of other functions that he stands to benefit from and then turn around and condemn them when the odds are stacked against him. Besides, openly accusing other senators of impartiality smacks of unparliamentary behavior and he, more than anyone else should be in a position to know this having been Speaker of the House and Senate President in the past.

Besides, it is not as if Villar does not have the resources to defend himself. He is the richest man in both houses of Congress, for crying out loud. He can hire the best lawyers. If he can afford those slick television ads that run several times a day including at primetime, he can very well afford a public relations campaign to exculpate himself.

By deliberately ignoring the Senate proceedings and choosing instead to go straight to the press; by not answering the charges, or refuting the accusations directly at the Senate where he is being tried and where he is a member in good standing, Villar is sending mixed messages. People cannot be faulted for entertaining thoughts that Villar is a coward who can’t face his peers and look them straight in the eye while he defends himself; or that he is a man who thinks he deserves to be measured against a different set of rules and standards not readily available to ordinary people.

1 comment:

jesus said...

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