Monday, May 18, 2009

Villar goes forum shopping

First, Sen, Ping Lacson, as the new chair of the Committee on Ethics, announced the names of the Senate majority who would be members of the committee. Twice he asked the new minority membership to submit their nominees for membership. They refused. Minority Leader Nene Pimentel told Lacson, “Pasensya ka na, but that is the decision of our group”.

Having been so mandated by the Senate plenary, Lacson’s committee proceeded with their task. Sometime in March, they had the rules published in the Official Gazette. After the lapse of proper time, the Senate Ethics committee scheduled a meeting to dispose of cases pending before it. There was a case filed by ex-QC congressman Dante Liban against Senator Dick Gordon, for accepting chairmanship of the Red Cross, and likewise a case filed by Miriam Santiago against Antonio Trillanes, for participation in the November 29, 2007 “mischief” at the Manila Peninsula. And another that wanted to inquire about Sen. Joker Arroyo’s “invitation” of Budget Secretary Nonoy Andaya to participate in an executive session of the Blue Ribbon where Romy Neri eventually “gagged” himself. And there was the celebrated ethics complaint of Sen, Jamby Madrigal against Sen. Manuel Villar for taking undue advantage of his position in order to profit immensely from a public works project the funds of which he himself provided for in various appropriations acts he authored.

Again, the minority refused to participate, and when a draft decision prepared by the committee’s general counsel, finding sufficiency in form and substance to the Madrigal complaint was passed around the day before it was to be promulgated, Villar’s chief acolyte, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano went to town calling it a “pre-judgment”, even a “political rub-out”. Lacson delieverd a privilege speech the following Monday to dispute Pimentel and Cayetano’s criticisms of the conduct of his committee, and Manny Villar, in a rare display of verbal daring, also took to the floor and declared that he would never submit himself to the Ethics Committee, claiming that it was composed of “presidentiables” who wanted to bury political hatchets on his cranium. “But I am willing to answer these on the floor”, he repeated twice in his speech.

Whereupon, the next Monday, Lacson stood on the floor and suggested that since Villar would not submit to the committee he chaired, “but was willing to answer the accusations against him on the floor”, it would be best that the Senate Committee of the Whole, that is, the entire Senate, be the one to investigate Madrigal’s allegations against Villar. He likewise moved that the Committee of the Whole be chaired by the Senate President in order to obviate perceptions of partiality Villar et al tarred him with. And he further moved that the rules of the ethics committee be adopted as the same rules of the Committee of the Whole. By a vote of 10-0-5, the motions were carried. Zero because no one objected, and the five were the faithful of Villar, who was not in the hall, namely, the Cayetano siblings, plus Joker Arroyo, Kiko Pangilinan and Nene Pimentel, who all abstained. Asked to react, Villar called the Committee of the Whole “a bigger kangaroo court”. And “free” media did not protest.

When Senate President Enrile convened the Committee of the Whole, Pimentel, Arroyo and Cayetano questioned the fairness of the rules, yet even if the Senate in plenary had already approved the rules set by the Ethics committee, Enrile allowed the minority to propose revisions to the rules. Some four of their proposed amendments were voted favorably upon, and Enrile thought that the debate was over. He scheduled the preliminary inquiry last Thursday, May 14. Pimentel and Cayetano still made last ditch efforts to question the rules, but Enrile had had enough of the duo’s dilatory tactics, and ruled that the discussion was over, and the rules had been disposed of by the Committee of the Whole. He bade the general counsel to proceed with his stipulation and evidentiary trail of the Madrigal complaint. If the Committee found “probable cause”, as in a fiscal’s investigation, that the complaint was supported by ample evidence, then the adjudicatory process – the trial, could commence. If the charges were unfounded, then the Committee could very well throw away the complaint against one of their own. Fair is fair. The two members of the minority who were present walked out, the other four --- Villar himself, Arroyo, the Cayetano sister, and Kiko Pangilinan, opted not to attend even.

Thus did the general counsel, Atty. Johnmuel Mendoza, ask the private lawyer of complainant Madrigal to present their case. Atty. Ernesto Francisco took the floor, where he charged, among others, that Villar had violated the Constitution by initiating and appropriating funds therefore, as Chair of the Senate Finance Committee and later as Senate President, a road project called the C-5 Extension between SLEX and the Coastal Road.

That Villar caused the transfer of the road’s location from one which passed properties of Multinational Village and Amvel Properties of Bro. Mike Velarde, into a nearby location between San Dionisio in Paranaque and Pulang Lupa in Las Pinas. That as a result of which, the road right-of-way payments already paid for by government to the tune of 1.8 billion pesos were wasted, and another round of payments were made.

That of the 36 lots traversed by the new location of the C-5, thirteen lots belonged to corporations owned by the spouses Manny and Cynthia Villar.

That road right-of-way payments made to the Villar corporations amounted to 13, 300 pesos per square meter, while adjacent lot-owners were compensated a mere 1,000 to 4,000 pesos per square meter.

And that through the years 2003 to 2008, Villar had caused the appropriation of monies for the DPWH to construct the said C-5 road passing through is properties, ”including road right-of-way-payments”.

And, I hope I heard right --- that the titles ceded and sold by the Villars to DPWH were annotated by encumbrances, having been foreclosed earlier by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas! Oh my God!

Madrigal’s lawyer presented a map, purportedly from NAMRIA, the government mapping agency, and super-imposed the loci of the two roads, the original route which was abandoned, and the other which has been constructed and opened. The portion from SLEX to Sucat is yet on the drawing board. The new C-5 extension from Sucat to Quirino National Road in Las Pinas is complete, and the distance from the original route in San Dionisio, Paranaque, facing the Amvel property and El Shaddai pyramid is about a kilometer, more or less. After the hearing was suspended, Enrile in an interview described the accusations as “grave”.

Yet right after, out came Alan Peter Cayetano with a different google map, and presented the same before media. “Horrified” that even maps would be tampered with, Madrigal came out on the same network which covered the hearing live, and wondered how google could be out-googled by her colleague. Oh well.

And about an hour or so later, Manuel Villar called for a press conference, where he denied the accusations of wrong-doing leveled by Madrigal.

There is no constitutional bar to owning properties, he claimed, and there is no need to divest. (The constitutional injunction is not on ownership, Mr. Senator; rather, it is in passing a law, and the budget IS a law, where you are directly or indirectly benefited as a result of the passage of that law).

Those are two different roads, he avers. The road that passed through Bro. Mike’s property is a toll road, while his C-5 is free for road users to utilize. (Ah, so! Then how come you did not tell the Committee of the Whole so? And, just wonder what cretins in the DPWH would entice private BOT investors to put up a toll road facility, while less than a kilometer or so away, there is a free six-lane highway? Sinong gago ang dadaan sa toll road at magbabayad? And another wonder --- the C-5 is free from SLEX to Diliman. Why would westward of SLEX, towards the bay, be a toll facility? Doesn’t make sense.)

And finally, Villar said he was willing to bet he would be found guilty, that the Committee of the Whole had already prejudged him. That all these were about the presidential ambitions of his competitors.

In any case, whatever Villar’s arguments in his defense were or would be, why could he not muster the courage to present the same to his peers, “on the floor”, as he once harrumphed? Why did he choose to ventilate the same before the media? Just as he spends hundreds of millions on “paid media” to entice voters to his presidential quest, he now uses “free” media to press his case?

The wonder of it all comes the day after. Lo and behold! Villar’s forum shopping paid off! A particular broadsheet, for one, presented only Villar’s side as gleaned from his press conference, and no mention was made of the official hearing and Madrigal’s presentation of her list of accusations, other than the walk-out of Pimentel and Cayetano. Breathtaking! My, if only the lady who founded that paper were yet alive. But then again, I guess it pays to advertise Camella. And it pays to choose your forum.

Eventually, Villar will run out of media, paid or free, to cry his woes about. As it is, Senate Pres. Juan Ponce Enrile lashed back at him for “denigrating the very institution to which he belongs”. “My God, what does he think of us who are not presidential aspirants, that we are robots? That we are paid hacks of these presidentiables?”

Now let me tell you a story. One senator who “belongs” to the majority who is always absent in every hearing of consequence surprised everyone by his presence. He had a role to play, and that was, to suggest to the Whole, after listening to the accusations of Madrigal’s lawyer, to “just bring the case to the Ombudsman”. But something went awry with his “script”. When Pimentel and Cayetano left the hall, all of Villar’s staff also left the hall, and left the lone senator (their double-agent) to his own mental devices (which are not prodigious), as to when and how to spring his suggestion. He, he, he, natahimik tuloy.

Even the Tribune could not get Villar’s “style of defense”, which is “no different from Gloria and her Malacanang, whenever a Senate probe is focused on her and her husband’s alleged criminal acts. They refuse to heed the Senate summons and refuse to attend hearings (or allow cabinet members to attend), but they hold press conferences to answer the charges. But everyone knows that answering charges via the media sorely lacks one thing: the person, in this case Villar, cannot be challenged on what he says by the panel, or in this case, the Senate.”

Manuel Villar is forum shopping, to borrow from the language of lawyers. But forum shopping, which is not permitted by Philippine judicial rules, is the practice of litigants and their lawyers to get their case heard in the court thought most likely to provide them “fair judgment”. And while media, “paid or free” is not a judicial forum, nor a venue for peer judgment as in the Senate acting as a Committee of the Whole, evidently Manuel Villar and/or his lawyers deem it a more convenient forum. And the Senate to which he belongs, having been duly elected and re-elected to that rarefied circle of two dozen, is an “inconvenient forum”.

When one goes shopping, at least in a Pilipino sense, one looks for bargains. But maybe the supra-affluent Villars do not really shop when they go forum-shopping. They bid, as in an auction. In choosing media as one’s forum, or so wags say, you bargain upwards, as in bidding at an auction. Forum shopping becomes a seller’s market.

Tumatabo, as media wags say. Anyway, there’s more where it came from.


manuelbuencamino said...

Mismo! At isang magandang side-effect ng kaso laban kay Villar ay lumabas ang tunay na pagkatao ni Alan Peter Cayetano. Mabuting nabisto ng maaga kung anong klaseng tao siya kesa sa tumagal oa at madami pa siyang maloko. I'm truly disappointed with that boy. I thought he was for real but now all those stories about where he got his funding for the last election don't seem false anymore.