The Senate voting as a Committee of the Whole voted 12-0 to proceed with the investigation of the ethics complaint against Senator Manuel Villar. The Villar camp and some senators either boycotted or did not participate in the voting. In a press conference, Senator Villar charged that presidentiable politics intervened in the process with the refusal of other senators with presidential ambition to inhibit.
Is there politics in the ethics complaint against Senator Villar? Undoubtedly, the present political context of the case is the heated presidential contest. Whether we like it or not, it is already a fact that presidential aspirants have been maneuvering and campaigning since last year. At the moment, the prize at stake is getting the three or four slots available for serious contestants.
The Villar case will definitely affect his chances and may even lead to his dropping out from the race. The strategy he adopted–defining his own public forum and shunning the Senate process–is very risky and opens the possibility of reinforcing the public opinion against him. At this time, the prevailing public opinion is basically open-minded and tolerant but this may change if he continually avoids the Senate process.
The more politically prudent move is to recognize the institutional process, bring the public and media in to observe the proceedings and establish his innocence in the public mind. In this way, any political maneuver or persecution by other presidentiables (or other senators) will be exposed. Becoming an underdog, he may even win sympathy.
Avoiding the Senate process–and worse, intimating that the institution is incapable of handling its own problems and has failed rules–is counterproductive and lends easily to a guilty verdict in the public mind. If this happens, it will be the surest way to a failed presidential bid.
However, the case has its own weight. If there is a critical mass of evidence, it is also possible that it may also endanger, if not derail, Villar’s presidential bid. On the other hand, if he is cleared by the probe, it will considerably boost his chances. Either way, the Villar ethics probe may have a decisive impact on his quest for presidency.