Just exactly why did Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo file her Certificate of Candidacy to run for a congressional seat in her home province of Pampanga?
Her political opponents and press pundits speculate that she did so as a first step to seek and win the post of Speaker of the next Congress, a position from which she can then move to change the constitution to a parliamentary form where she can then become Prime Minister. Others argue that stepping down to a congressional seat was simply a clever means for her to avoid future prosecution by securing parliamentary immunity.
The first claim never did make much sense. If Pres. Arroyo couldn’t secure a change to a parliamentary form of government (with con-ass and cha-cha) when she had all the vast powers of the presidency at her command and all the funding means at her disposal (pork barrel allocations, fertilizer funds), I just do not see how she can get it done as just one of 250 members of the House.
But the second contention may actually have merit. Those who dismiss it argue that being a member of Congress did not save Rep. Romeo Jalosjos from imprisonment and it won’t save Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Jalosjos was elected to the Philippine Congress in May of 1995 to represent the First District of Zamboanga Del Norte. Jalosjos, previously married to the late movie actress Nida Blanca, was a family man with a dark secret: he was a pedophile. His secret was exposed in 1996 when 11-year old Rosilyn Delantar accused him of repeatedly raping her.
Jalosjos was arrested, charged with two counts of statutory rape, and convicted by the Regional Trial Court of Makati. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in the Bilibid National Penitentiary. While his case was on appeal and while serving his sentence on a non-bailable offense, Jalosjos ran for reelection in 1998 and was resoundingly reelected.
Jalosjos then filed a motion for release with the Philippine Supreme Court asking the Court to allow him to “fully discharge the duties of a Congressman”.
The case presented the Supreme Court with the “first impression” issue of whether membership in Congress would “exempt an accused from statutes and rules which apply to validly incarcerated persons in general”.
Jalosjos argued that his reelection to his congressional seat was an “expression of popular will… which should not be rendered inutile by the police powers of the state” and that depriving his constituents of their elected representative would amount to “taxation without representation”.
The Supreme Court weighed the competing principles of election as the “expression of the sovereign power of the people” with the “incontestable proposition that all top officials of Government… are subject to the majesty of law.”
In the end, the Supreme Court unanimously denied the petition of Jalosjos but on the narrow “equal protection” ground that other “validly incarcerated persons” who are not elected officials would be treated differently and that would not be fair.
When GMA is elected to Congress in May of 2010 (she has no significant opponent) and corruption charges are filed against her, there may be moves to remove her from office while those charges are pending. (Given the slow snail pace of the legal process in the Philippines, it will take years before there would be a resolution of the charges against her.) Under the Jalosjos decision, unless and until GMA is actually incarcerated, she can not be removed from office.
But there is another ominous unanimous Supreme Court decision that GMA may rely on for the legal proposition that she cannot be removed from office for any acts she did as president prior to being elected to Congress. This is the Aguinaldo decision.
Along with Col. Rolando Abadilla, Col. Rodolfo Aguinaldo was among the worst violators of human rights during the Marcos dictatorship. But of course Aguinaldo was never charged for the murder and torture of his many countless victims. After the fall of Marcos, Aguinaldo joined the RAM renegade forces of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Gringo Honasan and attempted to topple the government of Pres. Cory Aquino in 1989 (after six previous failed attempts).
Prio to his involvement in the coup attempt, Aguinaldo ran for governor of Cagayan province in January of 1988. In a New York Times article about his candidacy that was published just before the elections (“Renegade Officer Seeks Philippine Governorship” January 18, 1988), Aguinaldo told the Times reporter what he would do to anyone who tries to disarm his 1,400 renegade troops:
''They just start trying to disarm my men and I hit their houses and I wipe them out. At a given signal, we chop off the heads of anybody who is foolish. We will send them straight to hell, from the grandfather to the grandson.''
Needless to say, no one disarmed Aguinaldo’s men and he was easily elected to a 4-year term as governor.
Because of his active involvement in the December 1989 coup attempt, Aquino’s brave Secretary of Local Government Luis Santos issued an order removing Aguinaldo from his post as Cagayan governor. Aguinaldo appealed the ruling and while the appeal was pending, he ran for reelection in May of 1992 and easily won again. He then filed a motion to dismiss the charges against him on the basis of his reelection.
In August of 1992, in the case of Aguinaldo v. Santos, the Philippine Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Aguinaldo stating that:
“The Court should never remove a public officer for acts done prior to his present term of office. To do otherwise would be to deprive the people of their right to elect their officers. When a people have elected a man to office, it must be assumed that they did this with the knowledge of his life and character, and that they disregarded or forgave his fault or misconduct, if he had been guilty of any. It is not for the Court, by reason of such fault or misconduct, to practically overrule the will of the people.”