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Political Railroading

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Greg B. Macabenta

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We’ve seen how politicians in power get the things they want and to hell with the law or due process. The arrest of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV is what is called in Tagalog, santong paspasan or barasuhan. It’s also called railroading.

President Rodrigo Duterte “voided” the amnesty granted to Trillanes by then President Benigno Aquino III and ordered Trillanes’ arrest, the Makati court issued an arrest warrant that forced Trillanes out of his Senate sanctuary, he filed an urgent appeal with the Supreme Court for a temporary restraining order to prevent the serving of the warrant, the high court demurred, stating that, anyway, the senator would have his day in court. Thus Trillanes was arrested and booked. He then posted a P200,000 bail and was released.

That was “due process,” as defined by the Supreme Court. But that only cosmeticized the raw use of power that Duterte resorted to in order to punish a political pain in the neck. That defied the concept of due process. It was railroading.

I sympathize with Trillanes and I stand with him in his campaign to unmask the corruption in the Duterte government. I must point out, however, that Trillanes wasn’t exactly inclined to accord due process to people that he bullied and bamboozled in Senate inquiries that he conducted when he was still on the side of the folks in power.




Recall how Trillanes, while accusing former Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes of corruption at a Senate inquiry, arrogantly told the latter that he “had no reputation to protect” and how, while accusing then Vice-President Jejomar Binay of owning a hacienda and an airconditioned piggery in the province, Trillanes refused to take back his allegations despite their being proven false.

Reyes subsequently committed suicide. Binay lost his presidential bid.

What has happened to Trillanes may be described in American idiom as “what goes around comes around.” The Buddhists call it karma.

Duterte and Solicitor-General Jose Calida, who did most of the dirty work against Trillanes, may experience karma too when their time comes. To repeat: what goes around comes around.

This is a lesson that President Donald Trump and the leaders of the Republican Party may soon learn in the forthcoming mid-term elections in the US.

In the Senate and the House of Representatives, both controlled by the Republicans, railroading is the name of the game. The most obvious wielding of raw political power has been in the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court and the clearly farcical confirmation process imposed by the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee.

Kavanaugh is said to be the choice of Trump because of the judge’s conservative ideological leanings and his written opinions that indicate a willingness to allow a sitting president a lot of leniency in the face of possible impeachment or even just being issued a subpoena to appear before a grand jury.

Trump is said to desperately need this in the face of the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller of allegations of conspiracy with the Russians in connection with Trump’s presidential campaign. Corollarily, there are allegations of obstruction of justice and corruption involving Trump, campaign associates and members of his family. It is said that a rope is slowly and inexorably tightening around Trump’s neck, and an ally in the Supreme Court, like Kavanaugh, could be his lifeline.

The Kavanaugh confirmation railroad express was chug-chugging along at a brisk pace, despite the objections of the outgunned Democrats in the Judiciary Committee over procedural short-cuts applied by the Republicans (such as withholding substantial and potentially significant background information on Kavanaugh).

But as if ties on the tracks had unexpectedly become askew, the GOP train rumbled to a stop when allegations of an attempted rape during Kavanaugh’s high school days, some 36 years ago, were slapped on the judge by his alleged intended victim. The Republicans and Trump would have dismissed the accusation outright had it not been for the national uproar that this has caused, particularly among women who make up a major voting bloc. Besides, the accuser wasn’t just an ordinary person but a professor of Psychology at Stanford University, Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford.

Furthermore, two other women, emboldened by Ford, also revealed similar sexual incidents involving Kavanaugh when he was a Yale law student. One of the women alleged that, at a drinking party, Kavanaugh thrust his penis at her, causing her to push him away and to inadvertently touch his organ. The other woman alleged that Yale students had spiked the drinks of girls at drinking parties and had raped them. She said that Kavanaugh was among the students.

The GOP train was not exactly derailed by these. After pretending to allow Dr. Ford an “opportunity” to recount her ordeal to the Judiciary Committee, and allowing Kavanaugh to vehemently declare his denial, the Republican majority prepared to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination, as expected.

But what was not expected was the entry of two women who confronted maverick Republican Senator Jeff Flake (a Trump critic) in a Senate elevator. Flake had earlier been iffy on his vote for Kavanaugh but had subsequently acceded to party pressure and had announced his decision to vote aye. But at that elevator confrontation with the women, who had also experienced sexual abuse, Flake did a U-turn.

Flake announced that he would only vote for Kavanaugh if the allegations against the judge were investigated by the FBI. This was a virtual derailment of the Republican express train.

The involvement of the FBI had been demanded by the Democrats and by the public but had been rejected by Trump and the committee. But with the prospect of losing Flake’s pivotal vote staring them in the face, the committee chairman had no choice but to agree to an FBI inquiry. Similarly Trump also had to do an about-face.

An FBI investigation, limited to one week, has been ordered by Trump and is underway.

You can almost hear Trump and the Republicans mutter, “Curses. Foiled again!”

But, apparently, they don’t intend to be foiled for long. Trump and the Republicans have reportedly conspired to limit the scope of the FBI inquiry and will not even allow questions about Kavanaugh’s heavy drinking and tendency to become belligerent or to pass out. Throughout the proceedings before the Judiciary committee, Kavanaugh had ducked questions about his heavy drinking in high school and in college, which could have supported allegations of belligerency and aggressiveness towards women.

There are no high expectations about the FBI investigation. It will likely be superficial and inconclusive.

It is generally conceded that, at the end of this farcical exercise, Kavanaugh will be confirmed for the Supreme Court by the Republican-controlled Senate. As expected.

But what may not be expected are the possible nay votes of two Republican women senators who may be so scandalized or conscience-stricken by the farce that they will not toe the party line. Flake may also vote nay if he is not satisfied that a credible investigation has been conducted.

But that may not be the end of this political railroading. The Republican express train may end up being derailed in the mid-term elections. Early polling indicates that the Democrats could wrest control of the House. The Senate contest is still too close to call. But the Democrats could win.

When — and if — that happens, karma will befall the GOP. What goes around comes around.

 

Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.

gregmacabenta@hotmail.com