YESTERDAY, THE 10th anniversary of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s oath-taking at EDSA came and went virtually unnoticed.
I’m not fond of conspiracy theories to explain historical events. So when I say that EDSA 2 was deliberately engineered, all I mean is that though the public outrage was genuine and not staged or faked, it was fostered by events that were deliberately calculated to provoke such outpouring of indignation.
Consider this. Had the impeachment trial been allowed to take its course, it was clear that—given the political alignments in the Senate then—President Joseph Estrada would have remained in power. The constitutional threshold of two-thirds of the senators needed to convict Erap was quite formidable; in other words, assuming a full Senate line-up of 24 senators, a minority of nine votes can effectively veto an impeachment. Erap knew that already in November 2000 when he gave his allies in Congress the go-signal to send the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate. Let the case go to trial, let the impeachment charges be heard fully, and let Erap be acquitted in a proper proceeding. That way, Erap remains in power completely in accordance with law. Stated otherwise, once Erap is acquitted, it will be too late to oust him through People Power.
In order to unseat Erap, it was therefore imperative not to let the trial be completed. People Power must take place before the impeachment court adjourns. In other words, the anti-Erap forces desperately needed a trigger to abort the trial and shift the arena from the proverbial court of law to the court of public opinion. Providentially for them, the pro-Erap senators furnished that trigger on a silver platter: the now famous “second envelope” that 11 senators voted to suppress. The evidence was supposed to show that Erap was the owner of the questionable “Jose Velarde” bank account. (Ironically, when the envelope was eventually opened, its owner was not Erap.)
This was the perfect moment to incite rebellion. One, it was a legal issue clothed with moral overtones. The pro-Erap Senators insisted on bank secrecy laws. The anti-Erap senators deprecated that as mere legal technicality (remember the term “legal gobbledygook”?) that shouldn’t hinder the search for the truth. Two, this logic, once embraced by the public, is the same logic by which they can countenance another EDSA. In other words, if you can sell this idea to the public, namely, that moral imperatives trump legal niceties, then you have laid the rational groundwork for a repeat of People Power that relies precisely on that reasoning.And three, appealing to the pragmatic side of the Pinoy, if Erap can get 11 senators to suppress the second envelope, that is a preview of how they will vote at the end of the trial. Why wait till then when you already know how they will vote?
There was a second reason it was important to provoke EDSA 2 when it happened. If the EDSA logic was indispensable that we must read the rules liberally so that the law will not stand in the way of the truth, that logic would soon begin working in Erap’s favor by the next stage of the trial. That logic worked against Erap only during the first stage of the proceedings, namely, the presentation of evidence by the prosecution. The next stage would have been the presentation of evidence by the defense, which should have transpired sometime around February 2001. All of a sudden it would be Erap’s turn to claim to cast off technicality so that he can tell his story. The shoe is then on the other foot. That would’ve placed the Erap haters in a moral quandary when Erap takes his turn to invoke all the lofty principles invoked by the prosecution. In other words, if as I assume EDSA was a rational event, the flip-flopping between rules and truth-seeking will actually expose the anti-Erap crowd’s partisan side that was hidden in their lofty rhetoric of accountability and anticorruption.
Foreign observers couldn’t explain EDSA 2. Was it impatience on our part, they asked? But we are otherwise a patient people, they said. Was it part of a morality tale? Probably, they answered, given the presence of Cory Aquino and Cardinal Sin. But the “more disturbing, albeit most plausible, theory … involves a conspiracy. …. Was this a revolution of the Filipino people-or of a few hundred thousand Filipinos prompted by a few hundred powerful individuals?”
In May 2001, I noted in the Supreme Court Centenary Lecture Series the “constitutionalawkwardness of EDSA 2” that “had barely, pushed People Power within the pale of constitutional legitimacy.” Commentators abroad were more condemnatory: It was either “mob rule or mob rule as a cover for a well-planned coup [b]ut either way, it’s not democracy.’’ Others agonized that the end, namely, the restoration of public accountability—was betrayed by the means, namely, the weakening of legal institutions. That seemed like a Faustian bargain even then, and much worse today. Would the “hooting throng” have gathered at EDSA 2 had they known what Arroyo would wreak upon our country?