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(Opening Statement of Rep. Edcel C. Lagman at the “Prospects for the Philippines” forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP)

on 19 January 2012 at the Mandarin Oriental, Makati City)


For some time now the entire nation is focused on the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona, particularly on the current trial before the Senate.


It is the daily fare of tri-media as well as of social networking sites. It is the preoccupation of the time, the flavor of the season. Its intensity continues to escalate.


There should be no debate that impeachment is a recognized constitutional process to uphold public accountability and sanction the excesses of high government officials like the President, Vice President, Justices of the Supreme Court, Members of the Constitutional Commissions and the Ombudsman.


It is also settled that more than a judicial proceeding, impeachment is a political exercise.


Consequently, the Congress of the Philippines, indubitably a political department, plays the stellar role in impeachment proceedings. The House of Representatives impeaches and prosecutes, and the Senate of the Philippines tries the respondent and decides to acquit or convict after trial.


However, the other political department, the Executive Branch headed by the President of the Republic, has no constitutional role. In fact, the Constitution bars the President from extending clemency or pardon to convicted respondents in impeachment cases.


Nonetheless, the rule of law, not the importuning of the mob or the obsession of one man, must be ascendant in all the phases of the impeachment process. It is a political undertaking circumscribed by due process and the tenets of fair play.


Consequently, the Senate as the impeachment court should have conducted a preliminary hearing to determine whether the “verification” of 188 complainants was compliant as a component of due process or was a shameless sham because it was physically impossible for 188 Representatives to have individually and personally “read and understood” in a couple of hours the 57-page complaint as required by the Constitution and the House Rules on Impeachment Proceedings. A valid verification is a condition precedent to impeachment and trial. The purported verification of 1/3 of the Members of the House was the speed vehicle which conveyed with alacrity the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate. Perforce, a preliminary hearing on the alleged fatal verification was in order.


The Senate should have motu proprio prohibited and sanctioned print media for publishing self-serving full-page paid advertisements which tend to influence Senator-Judges and calculated to sway public opinion on which some Senator-Judges announced they would base their decision.


We commend the Senate for warning the prosecutors and defense counsel not to present and advertise their evidence before the public. Indeed, the only proper forum to adduce evidence is before the Senate as the impeachment court.


We also welcome the ruling of the Senate denying the prosecution’s request to subpoena the kin of the Chief Justice. The majority of the Senator-Judges saw through the malevolent scheme of involving the family of the Chief Justice to inordinately hurt and harass him in order to force him to resign.


Like the impeachment of the Chief Justice, the controversial reproductive health bill has also been regular media fodder. It has consistently received media mileage – both negative and constructive – and partisans from both sides are still enthusiastically airing their opinions on an issue that will affect the health and lives of millions of women and children.


Again, like the ongoing impeachment trial, there seems to be no lukewarm or ambivalent reaction to the issues on reproductive health, responsible parenthood and population and development.


One either strongly believes that the impeachment is a farce, a travesty of the rule of law and a direct assault on the Judiciary or that the days of impunity of errant magistrates are over.


The same is true with the reproductive health bill. Critics of the measure have labeled it an instrument of the devil and claim that it would signal the demise of the Filipino family and race. On the other hand, supporters of the bill readily maintain that an RH law would guarantee the right to health of mothers and children and will be instrumental to achieving sustainable human development.


Certainly, passions have run high in both the impeachment trial and the passage of the RH bill. Some quarters may even go as far as claiming that both the current trial of the Chief Justice and the campaign to pass a reproductive health law are so divisive and conflict-ridden that they have struck a discordant note in the Filipino public’s nerve and have polarized the country.


But the striking contrasts between the impeachment proceedings and the RH advocacy are gravely important to underscore.


The impeachment agenda, however noble, has a limited impact on the lives of people, particularly of the poor, marginalized and disadvantaged who care more about the eradication of petty graft like those committed by kotong cops, market collectors and small-time bureaucrats which bedevil their daily existence. On the other hand, the RH advocacy will save and uplift the multitude of women and children as maternal health is improved and infant mortality decreased, consistent with the Millennium Development Goals.


It is in this context that the President must employ the same, if not more, zeal and determination in having the RH bill enacted as he did and is doing to have the impeachment prosper.


He has the vast arsenal of power to convince his allies in Congress to fast track the enactment of a long-delayed legislation for the good of the greater number.


The President has prioritized the RH bill before the LEDAC and the Congress. But “prioritization” is not enough. Perforce, he must assure its immediate enactment by marshalling the resources and forces of his office.


While the impeachment of the Chief Justice is viewed by many as an insidious assault on the independence of the judiciary as a democratic institution, the passage of the RH bill will enhance human institutions, alleviate poverty and make sustainable human development achievable.


The impeachment process against the Chief Justice may result to a collateral damage to legislation and governance.


It appears that legislation, including the enactment of the RH bill, may be put in the back burner as congressional attention and energies are concentrated on the impeachment process.


Likewise, the implementation of national policies may be further stalled or temporized as the Aquino administration is consumed by an inordinate obsession to remove and replace the Chief Justice.


I hope it is not true that the Aquino administration is contriving to use “People Power” to the hilt to oust the Chief Justice in the event he is acquitted by the Senate. Governance should not be forfeited to the rabble.


In contrast, the enactment of the RH bill optimizes governance as the government will be liberated from spreading too thinly limited resources to a ballooning population which may soon hit the 100 million mark.


The enactment of a comprehensive RH law, with adequate funding and willful implementation, will assure that important human development factors like quality education, adequate health care, full employment, stable food security, responsive mass housing and a robust environment will not remain impossible dreams.


Let the impeachment proceedings continue and end as warranted, but we must enact the RH bill with alacrity because it will have more positive far-reaching and long range benefits to the Filipino nation.


Finally, I assure all of you that whatever is the result of the minority intramurals in the House, I am ever ready to defend to the utmost the RH bill which is one of my principal advocacies and shepherd it to eventual passage.


Thank you.


  • (Speech delivered by Rep. Edcel C. Lagman during the Launching
  • of the Primer on Legal Issues in Reproductive Health
  • at the UP Law Center on 09 December 2011)


           The variations of the RH bill have been stalled in the legislative gauntlet for over 12 years now since the first comprehensive bill was filed in 1999 during the 11th Congress.


            The travails of the RH bill continue despite favorable and enabling indicators like:


            1)          Survey after survey --nationwide, regional and local--document the peoples’ vast and continuing support for the measure with (a) 71% of the respondents saying nationwide that it must be enacted without further delay (with higher percentages registered in areas where the Congressmen are opposed to the bill, like 86% in Manila, 89% in Parañaque and 88% in Cebu); (b) 68% responding that the government has authority to use public funds for family planning, including the procurement and distribution of contraceptives to voluntary acceptors (64% in Manila, 70% in Parañaque and 75% in Cebu); (c) voters prefer candidates who have an agenda on family planning; and (d) the vast majority of the respondents are Catholics.


           2)           The Philippines is a signatory to relevant international conventions promoting and protecting reproductive health, like: (a) the Tehran Convention on Human Rights which upholds the right of parents to freely and responsibly determine the number and spacing of their children; (b) the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action; (c) Convention on the Rights of the Child; (d) Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); (e) Universal Declaration of Human Rights; (f) International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICECSR); and (g) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).


               3)          President Aquino has endorsed to the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) and to the Congress the enactment of the RH bill as a priority administration measure.


               In this connection, it is pertinent to ask whether the President is doing enough to assure the passage of the RH bill? Maybe prioritization is not sufficient. The President has to do more to convince his congressional allies that the enactment of the RH bill is imperative as an indispensable tool to achieve sustainable human development.


              The arsenal of the Presidency to rally support for a measure or agenda is legendary. This time, the weaponry of power can be used by the President for the good of the greatest number—the multitude of the marginalized and disadvantaged, particularly women and children who are the direct and immediate beneficiaries of the RH bill.


              The challenges to the RH bill are not cerebral. They are mundane and parochial. They cannot even be elevated to “challenges”. They are just plain “obstructions”, like the following:


              1)  Problem of quorum;

              2)  Repetitive questions or recidivist interpellations and absentee interpelators;

              3)  Political equation; and

              4)  Fear factor


              Quorum – It is a truism that the act of legislation is a numbers game. The numbers could be herded, mob-like, unthinking, ambivalent or sparse. But they are numbers just the same. Numbers are needed to enact. And lack of numbers is useful to delay legislation.


              The lack of a quorum is a convenient excuse to stall legislation. The absence of a quorum can even be contrived or intentional.


              It is for this reason that we have continuously reminded RH authors and advocates to be present at all times. But even they could not subscribe to this strict discipline.


              The solution is for the leadership of the House to take the bold initiative and enforce the rules, including sanctions for absenteeism. Leniency must be jettisoned. It is a bane to policy-making.


              Recidivist Interpellations After 12 years of debate inside and outside the Halls of Congress, all relevant and irrelevant questions have been asked about the RH bill. There is absolutely no new argument or novel misconception.


              Questions are asked repeatedly not to debate or inform but to cause delay.


              Many registered themselves as interpellators but when their time comes to confront the sponsors, they either conveniently absent themselves or feign not being prepared.


              We call again on the leadership of the House of Representatives to adopt, issue and enforce the rules of engagement which ban repetitive questions and limit the interpellator’s time to not more than one (1) hour in order to foreclose inordinate delay.


              Political Equation – Politics is addition. To a politician, every vote counts, even the vote of the devil. Hence, a politician reaches out to all. Although there is no Catholic vote, an ordinary politician, as much as possible, will not dare displease his Bishop or get the ire of the Church. Consequently, he usually defers or succumbs to the importuning of the clergy.


              The solution is a strong political will and steadfast commitment to a cause. This should be buttressed by a full realization that the RH advocacy is supported by the people and there is popular rejection of the undue interference of the Church hierarchy in secular affairs.


             Fear Factor - The macabre instruments of torture and terror employed for ages by despots and ecclesiastics are merely secondary to the pervasive and malevolent instigation of fear to secure blind adherence and break principled resistance.


             The Catholic Church has long perfected the policy and practice of instilling fear in both the faithful and prospective converts.


            The fear of sin has been conceptualized and propagated by clerics in order to make their ministry continually relevant as they intercede on behalf of sinners for God’s pardon and mercy. The fear of eternal damnation and hellfire has coerced or frightened people to obey Church dogma and has subdued crusading dissenters against the teachings of the faith.


             Nowhere in recent years has the Church’s mastery of the fear factor been put to much exploitative use than in the current debates on the reproductive health bill – fear of contraceptives, fear of a demographic winter and fear of promiscuity, among others.


            The Catholic Church peddles the fear and lie that contraceptives like pills, IUDs and injectables induce abortions or are abortifacients, and will definitely lead to cancer; a demographic winter, which is a scare tactic, will lead to the decimation of the Filipino race; and sexuality education will create a breed of sex maniacs.


             The solution to fear is to foster the truth. Those who capitalize on fear are bankrupt in reason. They cannot compete in the free market of ideas. Fear has to be confronted and dismantled because it is the antithesis of truth and free choice.


            These “challenges”, more appropriately “obstructions”, are not insuperable. They are feeble posturing and mainly dilatory tactics. But delay is not victory. It just temporizes the eventual and certain triumph of a progressive and much-needed RH law.


            In our inevitable victory, we truly count on the unwavering support of the NGO community which prominently includes the ReproCen, and the steadfast advocacy of the academe like the UP College of Law, UP Institute of Human Rights, UP Institute of International Legal Studies and Center for International Law.


             This Primer on Legal Issues in Reproductive Health is a welcome addition to the increasing positive literature on reproductive health. And more importantly, it will be our veritable ammunition when we venture to the next battlefield—the judicial forum where the opponents of RH vow to contest the constitutionality of the RH law.


             Let me underscore that the detractors of the RH bill are the ones going to the Supreme Court. This means that they have conceded that eventually there will be a Reproductive Health Law, whose constitutionality they will challenge, albeit vainly and perfunctorily.


             Whether these “challenges” are real or contrived, your RH advocates inside and outside the Congress are always ready to confront and vanquish the oppositors, now in the Congress and subsequently in the Supreme Court.


       Notwithstanding the full recognition of the fiscal autonomy of the Supreme Court and constitutional bodies with the return to said agencies of their respective funding for unfilled positions with only a reportorial  requirement prescribed, and the grant of P5,000,000.00 for the publication of the Philippine Collegian, the students’ newspaper of the University of the Philippines, I nonetheless cast a dissenting vote because the appropriations for the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) and for Public Private Partnerships (PPP) are inordinately overstated and excessively funded, which budgets could have been reduced to augment the appropriations for education, SUCs, health and infrastructure.

  • (Privilege Speech delivered by Minority Leader Edcel C. Lagman
  • on 21 November 2011)


             Mr. Speaker and distinguished colleagues:

             The malevolent game plan of the Aquino administration is to defy the Supreme Court at all cost in order to fully realize its all-consuming obsession to persecute and incarcerate former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The administration’s newly invented mantra is if the Executive can implement the law, it has likewise the option not to implement the law.

             The Aquino administration is ready to impair, and has even trampled upon, civil liberties like the constitutional right to travel, presumption of innocence and freedom from arrest except upon independent finding of probable cause by the judge after due process.

            There was only one primary purpose for the (1) defiance of the Supreme Court’s TRO allowing GMA to leave for medical treatment abroad; (2) bullet train resolution by the Joint DOJ-COMELEC Panel for the filing of the electoral sabotage case against GMA despite the pending petition in the SC challenging the constitutionality and jurisdiction of the Joint Panel; and (3) the issuance with precipitate alacrity of the warrant of arrest against GMA by the Regional Trial Court of Pasay City, and the singular purpose is to prevent GMA from exercising her constitutional right to travel and detain her in the country, albeit arbitrarily and illegally.

           We should not forget that adjudications of the Supreme Court and all inferior courts must be based on real facts and legal verities, and not on imagined fears and partisan speculations.

           In the case of the right to travel of the former President, the real facts are: (a) at the time she was barred from travelling on the night of November 15, 2011, there were no pending cases filed against her in any court of law; (b) there is no hold departure order (HDO) issued against her by any competent court; and (c) former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is suffering from a rare ailment necessitating her treatment abroad.

            The legal verities are:  (a) the liberty to travel is guaranteed under the Bill of Rights; (b) the right to travel cannot be impaired except in the interest of national security, public safety or public health as provided by law, not one of which obtains relative to the projected travel of the former President, even as the Congress has not yet enacted the implementing law pursuant to the directive of the Constitution; (c) the watchlist orders issued by Justice Secretary Leila De Lima are not equivalent to an HDO; (d) the Supreme Court has issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) upholding GMA’s right to travel and restraining the enforcement of the DOJ Circular No. 41 and the WLOs issued by Secretary De Lima; and (e) the Supreme Court has junked the Government’s motion for reconsideration even as it is entrenched in our jurisprudence that a motion for reconsideration cannot stay a TRO.

            These factual and legal realities cannot be overlooked or supplanted by the Aquino administration’s mere imagined fears and baseless speculations that the former President is a flight risk and would seek political asylum abroad. There is no single credible and competent evidence presented by the Aquino administration to substantiate its fears and speculations.

            The propensity of this arbitrary and despotic agenda feeds on two perceptions: (1) the former President is unpopular so much so that the bastardization of her rights will not incense the people and may even get popular approval; and (2) the uniformed forces – the military and the police – are supportive of the administration.

            The foregoing constitutes feeble anchorage for supplanting the Constitution and the rule of law.

            The issue of justice, fair play and constitutionality are not to be determined by opinion polls or the public pulse. These are justiciable issues for adjudication by the judicial forum, more particularly the Supreme Court.

            Moreover, it is a condescending assault on the people’s ultimate judgment on arrogance of power, which is no different from a cacique’s insulting the intelligence of his unlettered tenant.

            History is replete with the people’s mass protests and resolve against rulers who have bludgeoned the rule of law. The EDSA People Power Revolution is not too distant as to be forgotten.

            The military and police officials and men are sworn to uphold the supremacy of the Constitution. While the President is Commander-in-Chief, he detaches himself from the chain of command when he impairs the Constitution. An unlawful order or unconstitutional command is not a mandate to be followed.

            Again, history is replete with heads of State cast in isolation and oblivion for flaunting the Constitution and denigrating the rule of law.

            I beseech the distinguished Members of this Chamber to shed off their partisan loyalties and uphold fealty to the Constitution and support the Supreme Court as the final arbiter of justiciable issues.

            I defer to the High Tribunal the resolution of the legal and constitutional issues on the raging controversy. And I earnestly hope that once the Supreme Court has ruled, the political departments would obey and follow its ruling.

            Thank you, Mr. Speaker and distinguished colleagues.