As a Filipino observer, it was a painfully envious drool-inducing American democratic political theater. It was a wishful scenario marred by the reality that it is our Philippine Congress rendering us totally incapable of ascending heights of political development. In the United States, it is their Congress that is proving and preserving the strength of her democracy. I was sincerely jealous that our electoral masses are not being afforded, could not be regaled, informed and be simultaneously educated about what a vibrant democracy can and ought to be. Our reality is that the political dispensation we are still unable to successfully thwart deprives the nation of the opportunities for political maturity.
Need I say that one such existential deprivation is press freedom? But I digress.
I am speaking of the all-day (Wednesday, Feb 25) televised US Congressional Oversight Committee hearing of the testimony of Michael Cohen, US President Trump’s long-time former personal lawyer and fixer. It was US political history in real time. Cohen was summoned under the auspices of the Democratic Party, now the majority in the US House of Representatives. I sat for the telecast from breakfast until just before dinnertime.
For catch-up, here is some thumbnail info. Cohen has pleaded guilty to 8 criminal charges and will soon be serving three years in a Federal prison. Among the charges are: making false statements, tax evasion and unlawful campaign contributions, on behalf of his employer and client—Donald J.Trump.
The “unlawful campaign contribution” is unavoidably salacious. It is directly connected to the use of funds ($130,000.00) Cohen advanced (and later reimbursed) to hush up an extra-marital relationship of Trump with a porn star, the public knowledge of which, at pre-election time, would have been damaging to the then candidate for the US Presidency. One of the 11 check payments/reimbursements to Cohen was a check for $35,000.00 which bore the signature of Donald Trump! It was an exhibit to this testimony.
That televised spectacle is now generally accepted as the prelude and predicate for the US Congress’ ability to subpoena the tax returns of citizen Trump which he has tenaciously kept away from public knowledge, and of course, from critical scrutiny. Presidential candidates in the US for the past 40 years have volunteered such openness, but not Trump. Naggingly reminded of the saying “There is nothing to fear if there is nothing to hide,” it becomes inevitable that my thoughts veered toward President Duterte’s refusal to sign a waiver that will expose the truth behind his Bank of the Philippine Islands deposit accounts.
It would have been in the exercise of Philippine Congress’ constitutional oversight obligation to pry open the many dark secrets of Mr. Duterte. Just as what the US Congress has began to undertake. In passing, it would be well to remember that on the day Rodrigo R. Duterte won the elections legitimately, he had less than a handful of his own party mates who won Congressional seats. Put another way, a vast majority (in fact, 60%) of the electorate did not vote for him. By sheer plurality, he is indeed, a minority President. Yet, overnight, he had control of Congress. Why? How? I bet your answer will be as good as mine
It was not just last Wednesday’s Oversight Committee hearings that looms in heralding doom for the Trump Presidency. There were closed-door hearings, as well. Tuesday was for the Senate Intelligence Committee while Thursday was the House’s counterpart. Wednesday’s historic event was limited in scope because Cohen was inhibited from responding to queries on subjects which are being currently covered by two other independent legal searches for the truth which are, in fact, criminal investigations.
There is the nearly 2 years old Special Counsel (former FBI Director Bob Mueller) investigation centering on Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential elections. However, what the more informed circles regard as the most threatening and most potent is the other investigation. This one is by the US Attorney of the Southern District of New York. They are now delving into the possibly felonious nature of Trump’s past business operations, as well as funds misuse with regards to funds contributed to Trump’s inaugural committee, an unprecedented $106 million.
Such American practice of independence in the justiciable search for truth is unimaginable in the Philippines. That be would akin to our Department of Justice, the Office of Solicitor General and the National Bureau of Investigation fearlessly probing into Duterte’s misconduct. Not in a million years!
Sadly, the stunted, immature and cowed polity we labor under, (with sycophant operators such as characters like Menardo I. Guevarra, Jose C. Calida and Dante Gierran probing Duterte) will be an interminable legacy the Philippines will be heir to. Unless, ……!
In the US, however, Pres. Donald J. Trump is cornered and hemmed in, with the noose tightening. In a House that is not beholden to and not under the control of their President, you can be sure that impeachment is in the horizon. That of course is a justified political act.
But a criminal indictment? It could perhaps be negotiated with the principal element of a voluntary action ala Nixon, which means an exit from imminent impeachment via resignation. That indeed could be the easier way out for Mr. Trump. However, depending on the severity of his criminal culpability, an indictment while still on office is highly possible. It is no trick at all. Simply, the unhampered application of the rule of law, such as what the Philippines has proven to be incapable of. (As I write, news has just flashed: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been indicted by the country’s Attorney General for three counts of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Are we, Filipinos, ever more green-eyed envious?)
By the way, in both the American and Philippine Constitutions, there is nothing that prevents indicting a sitting President. What the US has is their Department of Justice policy that mandates sealing an indictment and opening it after the accused President shall have served his term. But that can change. With bated breath, the whole world awaits the Special Counsel’s Report and the conclusions of the Southern District of New York. The US Congress awaits as well, for more fodder further justifying impeachment.
Will the Philippines find in the American handling of Trump’s skullduggeries a teachable moment and from it, derive profound learning? I am not holding my breath. Unless, …..
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.
In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.
During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.
After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.
He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.
His e-mail is: [email protected]
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.