The public was in for a shock today when President-elect Rodrigo Duterte asked Mark Villar to become DPWH secretary [Rappler].
Mark is the son of real estate mogul Manny Villar and Senator Cynthia Villar, the de facto leaders of the Nacionalista Party. While generally considered to be “quiet” politicians in the past several years, the Villars were entangled in the the C-5 Road Extension Scandal [Philstar] during Manny’s senatorial stint. Thus, netizens find the title “DPWH Secretary Villlar” oxymoronic.
However, after some research, it appears that logic necessitates a DPWH Secretary Mar Villar.
The “Missions” of the Duterte Presidency
First, one of the main pillars of Duterte’s campaign platform is the fight on drugs and criminality, where he actually promises to significantly suppress crime in three to six months [Rappler]. we think this is possible via by-the-letter law enforcement, some camps fear that such a short time-frame will necessitate the use of extrajudicial (i.e. unconstitutional) methods [ABSCBN].
Second, another main pillar of Duterte’s platform is the criminalization of contractualization [Philstar]. Of course, ending contractualization means drawing the ire of business tycoons who most probably have strong political links.
Third, Duterte also promised to suppress government corruption, something that will ruffle more than a few feathers, to say the least. Duterte is currently silent with respect to calls to pursue graft and/or plunder cases against Binay and Aquino but he never said that he won’t do it. Remember that we have a lawyer-president right now: we should judge him more by what he doesn’t say than by what he actually utters.
There are three down-sides to these three promises, which are:
- Duterte’s crimefighting timeframe makes it easier for his opponents to sue him.
- Duterte’s anti-contractualization stance can serve as an incentive for big business to kick him out.
- Duterte’s anti-corruption “plans” gives his political rivals incentive to kick him out too.
Let’s set these aside for now. We need to talk about one more thing.
The Realness of Liberal Party’s Plan B
At the rate things are going, it seems that Liberal Party VP bet Leni Robredo might actually win. Yes, there have been allegations of electoral fraud and Robredo’s winning margin is thinner than Grace Poe’s resume, but we have reason to believe that the Liberal Party will make sure that Robredo will indeed become VP. Sobrang inutil naman ng LP kung VP na lang, hindi pa nila kayang “diskartehan”.
That is, regardless of what’s fair and just, we foresee a Robredo vice-presidency, adding fuel to Liberal Party’s Plan B.
Plan B refers to the Liberal Party’s alleged plans to oust Duterte via impeachment should Robredo win.
Adding what we have discussed in the previous section, the Liberal Party will now the have the basic ingredients to impeach Duterte:
First: Duterte can be charged with culpable violation of the constitution [LawPhil] via cases that may arise from the 3-6 month crimefighting timeframe (e.g. extrajudicial killings whether trumped-up or not).
Second: Anger from the business sector (stemming from anti-contractualization) that can be used to reinforce the legitimacy of the first point.
Third: Robredo serves as a suitable replacement in the event of a “successful” Duterte impeachment trial.
Fourth, a majority of House Representatives in the incoming 17th Congress are from the Liberal Party [TheDiplomat], with LP snatching around 115 seats out of the no more than 300 available. Dividing 300 by three, the House of Representatives needs at the most 100 congressmen (probably fewer) to transmit an impeachment complaint to the Senate.
Despite potential defections [DailyGuardian], LP’s remaining members can serve as the core of the pro-impeachment bloc. If the core block doesn’t reach critical mass, LP can just wait for Duterte to start his anti-corruption drive and LP can expect more congressmen to rejoin their fold.
Basically, 100 pro-impeachment votes in a group of 300 isn’t too difficult to obtain.
Given these four, the Liberal Party needs one last ingredient: a two-thirds vote from the Senate to convict Duterte.
Earlier this month, Albay Governor Joey Salceda attempted to quash Plan B rumors when he said, “Impeachment is improbable, also therefore Plan B is cute but fictional.” [Politiko]
He substantiated his claim by citing ten senators who are more likely to vote against Duterte’s impeachment. The first eight senators belong to the NPC-Poe bloc while the last two are known Duterte allies. In particular, these senators are:
- Poe (NPC-Poe bloc)
- Escudero (NPC-Poe bloc)
- Trillanes (NPC-Poe bloc)
- Legarda (NPC-Poe bloc)
- Sotto (NPC-Poe bloc)
- Gatchalian (NPC-Poe bloc)
- Gordon (NPC-Poe bloc)
- Zubiri (NPC-Poe bloc)
- Pimentel (PDP Laban)
- Cayetano (IND)
We agree with most of the names Salceda mentioned, except Antonio Trillanes, who obviously is itching to kick Duterte out of Malacañang. Some camps may argue that he will be forced to vote along party lines (NPC-Poe bloc) but we have reason to believe that money is more than enough to prevent him from doing so [Inquirer]. Some may also argue that Pacquiao will be pro-Duterte, but the fact he aligned with Binay says a lot about where his loyalties lie.
And there’s a wildcard: Senator Poe herself, who may vote against Duterte in an impeachment trial.
Hence, we are left with only 9 anti-impeachment senators at best.
Now, there are 24 senators in the incoming 17th Congress, so a two-thirds vote equals 16. In short, Duterte has just about enough votes to avoid conviction, as 24 – 9 = 15 votes is one short of a two-thirds majority.
But there’s a problem: Alan Peter Cayetano and Grace Poe
The Curious Case of Cayetano and Poe
The reader is reminded that Duterte is keen on making Senator Alan Peter Cayetano a part of his cabinet. That is, we can expect the senator to resign from the senate and become a cabinet secretary by June 2017. He can even take a sabbatical from the Senate right away and work for Duterte as a de facto secretary with an acting head serving as a placeholder (Yasay).
With that said, the nine anti-impeachment senators lose one member, and the number goes down to eight. The same story goes for Poe, who was also offered a cabinet position [Inquirer]. This brings down the number to seven.
Now, you may recall that JV Ejercito is currently facing serious graft charges [Philstar], so he can suffer the same fate as Revilla, Enrile, and his half-brother Jinggoy.
- 7 anti-impeachment
- 14 pro-impeachment
In short, Cayetano-Poe resignation plus an Ejercito arrest implies a two-thirds pro-impeachment senate majority, as two-thirds of 21 senators is 14. That is, it is essential for a President Duterte to get another anti-impeachment senator so that the pro-impeachment bloc becomes 13.
Now, let’s evaluate the 14 remaining senators who don’t belong to the group-of-eight:
- 7 are from LP or LP-aligned (Aquino, Villanueva, Drilon, Hontiveros, De Lima, Recto, Pangilinan)
- 4 are from UNA (Binay, Honasan, Gordon, Pacquiao) Ejercito is assumed arrested.
- 1 is NPC-Poe bloc rogue member Trillanes
- 1 is the independent Lacson, who doesn’t approve of Duterte [Inquirer]
- 1 is Nacionalista’s Cynthia Villar
Francis Tolentino (Duterte-aligned) is 13th place in the count, but with 12th placer de Lima’s 1.3 million lead over Tolentino and less than 4% of votes to be counted, Tolentino has virtually lost the senate race.
Here’s the problem:
- LP is Duterte’s enemy, so Duterte can’t get anyone from them.
- Duterte’s anti-corruption drive will most likely hit Jejomar Binay, thus antagonizing the UNA bloc, so Duterte can’t count on UNA either.
- Trillanes is surely pro-impeachment, while Lacson is too idealistic, so he can’t count on either.
So we have one senator left: Cynthia Villar.
Of the 14 remaining senators, Sen. Cynthia Villar will be the easiest to convince to align with the Duterte camp, especially since husband Manny not-so-subtly endorsed Duterte during the campaign period [Politiko].
However, just like what TP said months ago, political power play is about quid pro quo. That is, the Villars won’t pledge support without gaining anything in return.
And that’s where DPWH Secretary Mark Villar comes in.
With a sure no-vote from Cynthia Villar, Duterte can be assured that he will not be impeached, at least until 2019. That is, Cynthia Villar will serve as Cayetano’s replacement in the anti-impeachment clique, after Cayetano resigns from the Senate.
Evaluating Political Options
Personally, we are neutral-to-negative about the Villars. However, given the Liberal Party’s desperation for power, not having nine anti-impeachment senators will almost certainly encourage the LP to do whatever it takes to impeach the Davaoeño.
That is, we, the Filipino people, are faced with two mutually exclusive possibilities:
- A potentially suboptimal choice for DPWH head in exchange for Duterte’s security of tenure
- Another LP presidency in or before 2019.
Surely, I didn’t support Duterte just for him to be unseated so soon. After all, Duterte can just fire hte Villar boy when he messes up.
To put it simply:
- Villar = Duterte remains president for the next 3 years.
- No Villar = Duterte is impeached.
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