MANILA, Philippines—The camp of Vice President Jejomar Binay finally lets the cat out of the bag: A vote to acquit Chief Justice Renato Corona is a vote of support for Binay in 2016.
How the senators vote in the impeachment case against the Chief Justice will impact on the political fate of Binay, who has all but declared his plans to run for president in 2016, said former Sen. Ernesto Maceda, a known Binay ally.
Corona’s conviction will bolster support for President Aquino and his “anointed candidate” for president while an acquittal would boost the stock of the opposition candidate, which could very well be Binay, he said.
“This is the Binay factor. If you’re for Binay for president for 2016, you’ll probably vote for acquittal. Why? First of all, if Corona is convicted, that strengthens Noynoy and a stronger Noynoy means stronger support for his [chosen] candidate,” Maceda told a press forum at Annabel’s Quezon City on Saturday.
“If Corona is acquitted, in the words of [Inquirer columnist Amando] Doronila, that will be the start of the downturn of Noynoy Aquino’s popularity. He becomes ‘weaker’ and his candidate becomes weaker,” he said.
Ahead of the 2013 senatorial elections, Binay’s Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) has forged a coalition with former President Joseph Estrada’s Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) to form the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).
(Maceda was the general campaign manager of Estrada’s PMP in the 2010 presidential elections, and has said he intends to seek a Senate seat in 2013 under Binay’s new coalition.)
While he ran as Estrada’s vice-presidential running mate in 2010, Binay also capitalized on his strong ties with the Aquinos—particularly the President’s late mother, former President Corazon Aquino—and their vaunted “yellow army.” A big factor in his victory was the peeling off of a large segment of this yellow vote from Mr. Aquino’s running mate, now Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas, to go over to Binay.
Last week, Binay caused a stir when he invited allies of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and critics of the Aquino administration, including Maceda and Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay, to join the UNA senatorial lineup.
Confronted by Mr. Aquino’s partymates, Binay declared full support for the President, and squelched speculations that he was cozying up to Arroyo. Tellingly, however, he did not state his position on Corona, whose impeachment and ongoing trial is the linchpin of the Aquino administration’s anticorruption policy.
Maceda, who has been monitoring and writing about the trial in his newspaper column, has predicted that at least seven of Mr. Aquino’s political allies would vote for Corona’s conviction, while at least five senators would go for acquittal.
How senators might vote
He identified the seven as Senators Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, Ralph Recto and Teofisto Guingona III, all members of Mr. Aquino’s Liberal Party; and Panfilo Lacson, Sergio Osmeña III and Antonio Trillanes IV.
A possible eighth may be Sen. Edgardo Angara, who is building the Aurora economic development zone in his home province and “needs the financial support that only the President can provide,” Maceda said.
“He’ll be inclined toward conviction,” he said of Angara.
Those who might be expected to vote for acquittal are Senators Joker Arroyo, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Loren Legarda and Manuel Villar Jr., if their questions, statements and vote to respect the Supreme Court temporary restraining order against the examination of Corona’s dollar accounts were to be used as a gauge, Maceda said.
This is why he believes it would be easier for the defense to muster nine votes (only eight are needed) to acquit Corona than for the prosecutors to get the 16 votes to convict.
Political affiliation matters
Tranquil Salvador III, one of Corona’s lawyers and a spokesperson for the defense panel, agreed with Maceda’s assessment that political affiliation will be a factor in the final vote.
“Although objectively the conscience will be the guide of [the senators’] decision, we have to understand that this is a political exercise. And since this is a political exercise, political affiliation and relationship would matter at the end of the day,” Salvador said.
The senators have maintained that they will vote on evidence and according to their conscience.
“In matters pertaining to my role as senator judge, I am accountable to the people and not to the President or to the party. I will vote based on the evidence and what I believe to be best for the nation,” Pangilinan said.
“Anyone is free to make his predictions. You can too,” Recto said.
The Inquirer repeatedly tried but failed to reach Angara for comment on Maceda’s statements.