MANILA, Philippines?The signs are all there.
There is no stopping the Senate?led by ?hardcore? rivals of Sen. Manuel Villar?from expelling him from the august chamber.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago Friday called on all the presidential aspirants to voluntarily inhibit themselves from the case ?to avoid public suspicion that the case is driven, not by ethics, but by politics.?
One of the 17-member majority, Santiago has refrained from commenting on the merits of the ethics complaint lodged by Sen. Ana Consuelo ?Jamby? Madrigal against Villar for his alleged culpability in the C-5 extension project, a road link which, when completed, will run from Sucat, Parañaque City up to the Coastal Road in Las Piñas City.
Asked what was the gameplan of the majority, Santiago said: ?The signs toward expulsion are manifest. The normal procedure for the ethics committee is to allow complaints against senators to languish. As a rule, senators are averse to judging their own colleagues.?
By contrast, she said that in the Villar case, the Senate turned itself into a committee of the whole.
The Senate can suspend or dismiss any of its members by a two-thirds vote, so the majority needs only 16 senators.
The minority?Senators Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Alan Peter and Pia Cayetano, Francis Pangilinan and Joker Arroyo (all lawyers)?has thrown its support behind Villar.
Santiago painted two scenarios if the majority strips Villar of his membership in the Senate.
?If the majority votes to expel, the minority will run to the Supreme Court. There are two possibilities. One, the court will dismiss the petition on grounds of repeated Supreme Court rulings that it will not scrutinize internal decisions of the legislative branch.
?The other possibility is that the court will commute the penalty, citing the constitutional provision that gives the Supreme Court power to adjudicate all cases involving grave abuse of discretion,? she said.
?If Sen. Villar is expelled, there is a real possibility that there will be a backlash of sympathy, based on public perception that his presidential rivals have ganged up on him,? she added.
Santiago said this could be a double-edged sword for Villar who is seeking the presidency in 2010.
Ploy to destroy Villar
In a separate interview, Cayetano said he believes it was possible the other presidential aspirants in the Senate could decide against suspending or expelling Villar.
?What they want is to get the majority vote on a guilty verdict since their political machinery will go around, saying ?don?t vote for Villar because he?s guilty,?? he said.
?It?s just a ploy to destroy Villar,? Cayetano said, adding that the minority would no longer participate when the committee of the whole reconvenes on Monday
In a separate interview by INQUIRER.net, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile stood solidly behind the members of the majority, that have formed themselves as a committee of the whole to investigate Villar.
?My god! What does Villar think of us who are not presidentiables? That we?re robots? That we?re paid hacks of the presidential aspirants?? Enrile said.
Besides Villar, Senators Panfilo Lacson, Loren Legarda, Manuel ?Mar? Roxas II, Francis Escudero and Richard Gordon have indicated their desire to seek the presidency next year.
He should defend himself
Meanwhile, Lacson, who was in Bacolod City, warned that it would be dangerous for Villar to continue refusing to defend himself at a Senate investigation.
?It is well and good if Villar wants to bring his case before the people,? Lacson said Friday.
However, he noted that Villar?s non-participation in the Senate investigation would imply that he would be ?waiving his right to defend himself.?
Lacson explained that if Villar continued to do this, the Senate committee of the whole would only rely on the evidence presented by the complainant or the prosecution. With reports from Carla P. Gomez, Inquirer Visayas