Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Under Watch

At Large : Citizens' Impeachment Watch

Rina Jimenez-David
Inquirer News Service

EVEN as Congress debates the many complicated rules and convoluted processes for hearing the impeachment complaint filed against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, citizens' groups have been formed to monitor the progress (or lack of it) made in determining the validity of the charges raised against Ms Arroyo and the appreciation of the evidence presented.

One of these groups is the Citizens' Impeachment Watch, which claims as its main reason for being the need to "generate the support of the middle class," of groups like professionals, business organizations, and even students, "to steer them toward political action." Founders of Citizens' Impeachment Watch say they are also determined to ensure that "the impeachment case against Ms Arroyo prospers to pave the way for truth and justice"; as well as to "guard the impeachment process by actively lobbying in both Houses of Congress to encourage the legislators to vote according to their conscience and make sure that the process is transparent and will not be soiled by partisan politics."

Citizens' Impeachment Watch, it seems, is born of the puzzling and frustrating indifference of the public to the controversies now swirling about the President. While public opinion polls indicate the majority of the citizenry believes President Arroyo cheated her way to victory in the 2004 polls, we have yet to see an explosion of spontaneous public anger as we did in 1986 and 2001.

Part of the reason is what Impeachment Watch says are the conflicts within the political opposition itself, with "each group ... pushing its own agenda and selling its own formula for political change." There is also widespread skepticism that an impeachment charge will ever prosper in the House of Representatives, what with the majority allied with the President's party.

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"CAUGHT in the political crossfire are the so-called middle forces," says Citizens' Impeachment Watch. "Though silent at the moment, majority of them believe that Mrs. Arroyo has lost all moral authority to govern this nation because of allegations of systematic electoral fraud. Although they want Mrs. Arroyo to step down, the middle forces are wary of the discredited group of traditional oppositionists. They view these people as opportunists. They are also cold to the idea of extra-constitutional means for change because such a path might result [in] violence and chaos.

"The Citizens' Impeachment Watch is one avenue wherein the middle forces can exercise their democratic right to participate in the process of change. It can be one vehicle for the mobilization of the middle forces to act now and break their long silence."

Among the activities both ongoing and planned of Citizens' Impeachment Watch are: organizing and establishing links with the middle forces (business, academe, professionals), organizing symposia and fora around the country, lobbying in Congress through letter-writing campaigns and personal meetings with legislators during the impeachment process, putting up "impeachment watchboards" in strategic locations in various parts of the country "to let the public know the status of the impeachment case," including in schools and public markets, and building an online information network, possibly through a website, e-mail alerts and online petitions.

Some 50 people's organizations and non-government organizations compose the Citizens' Impeachment Watch, including the National Peace Conference (NPC), Pascres, Pilipina, the student group Akma, the labor group Piglas, and Bantay ICT.

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EVER since it got caught up in "Gloriagate" -- the maelstrom swirling around the hearings on the "jueteng" illegal lottery, in which witnesses have linked people around the President to the illegal numbers game, the wiretapped conversations that indicate the President had conspired to cheat during the last elections, and now the filing of impeachment charges -- Congress has all but abandoned its main line of work, which is to introduce and study legislation.

One of the measures waylaid by recent events was the Responsible Parenthood and Population Management Act with Rep. Edcel Lagman as main sponsor, which was already reported out of committee and had been set for floor deliberations. This proposed law is actually but the latest version of measures that have been filed in past congresses seeking to enshrine in law a national population policy and guaranteeing reproductive rights to all citizens regardless of the current occupant in MalacaƱang.

But while Congress dithers on this issue, the province of Aurora has gone ahead and passed a provincial ordinance providing for the "Aurora Reproductive Health Care Code of 2005."

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IT'S really no mystery why Aurora should be showing the way, since the incumbent governor is Bellaflor Angara-Castillo, who during her term as a representative in Congress led many initiatives, including sponsoring very controversial bills ranging from reproductive health rights, divorce, rights of sexual minorities and rights of battered women.

"It is so simply worded and easy to replicate," says Angara-Castillo of the Aurora ordinance, adding that other local governments could easily adapt the measure to their own realities and circumstances by adding or removing certain provisions.

Making the unanimous passage of this groundbreaking ordinance truly astounding is that half of the provincial board members do not even belong to the same party as the governor. So conscious was she about accusations of railroading that the governor kept away from the debates, leaving the steering to Vice Governor Annabel Tangson.

As the governor noted during the ordinance's launch: "With political will, it can be done!"