Leader of Filipino opposition ousted from parliament
Aquilino Pimentel, a leading opposition member of the Philippine parliament, was conspicuously absent when the National Assembly resumed its regular session Monday after a month-long recess.
That day was to be the start of Mr. Pimentel's ouster from parliament because he allegedly tampered with election ballots in his province in southern Philippines, Cagayan de Oro.
Pimentel's removal, and his colleagues' reaction to it, raises the question of the assembly's effectiveness. Many people think that parliament is becoming politically irrelevant. But others say it will make the opposition more aggressive.
Pimentel's case is without precedent. Last week, the Commission on Elections declared his victory null and void and proclaimed his opponent from the ruling KBL party, Pedro Roa, the legitimate winner. Pimentel had been actively serving in the legislature for five months.
''This is part of a grand design of the Marcos dictatorship to silence the opposition,'' Pimentel charged.
The mayor of Cagayan de Oro City is used to ugly surprises in his political career. For the past 14 years, Pimentel has been arrested thrice and detained twice - once behind bars, and once in the confines of his home. Subversion charges are pending against him for allegedly aiding the communists.
Many see the hand of President Ferdinand Marcos in Pimentel's ouster. He is perceived as a threat to the presidency.
Pimentel heads the Pilipino Democratic Party-Laban, which has a nationwide, grass-roots following. He is one of the most prominent opposition leaders in both the assembly and the ''parliament of the streets.''
While this government move is gaining him publicity, his followers believe that he must get back in the assembly. ''He is not in a hurry to do so. But to be out of the assembly for more than three months will do more harm than good,'' Linggoy Alcuaz, a party official, says.
Pimentel has brought the case to the Supreme Court, which decided that he and Mr. Roa should temporarily refrain from discharging their duties at the parliament. In what many say is an unusual move, the court opted for an actual recounting of votes.
Opposition members say the issue will not deter them from fighting Marcos in parliament. ''We have become more galvanized,'' lawyer Augustosanc Hez says.
But so far, the assembly's opposition has reacted sedately to Pimentel's ouster. A group wanted to walk out on the first day of the session's resumption. More cautious members prevailed, saying the most they could do was deliver ''privilege'' speeches condemning the move.
Observers say, therefore, that the thunder is being stolen from the legislature by the ''parliament of the streets,'' where all the drama is taking place.
When the nation was reacting to the reports of the panel investigating the assassination of opposition leader Benigno S. Aquino Jr., the assembly was in recess.
Immediately after the release of the reports, a rally was staged in Makati, the country's financial district. Demonstrators demanded the resignation of President Marcos and the armed forces chief of staff, Gen. Fabian C. Ver. The rally was violently dispersed by the military.
General Ver was named by the majority in the panel as the highest official involved in the murder.
The rally came at a time when the assembly was still plodding through its investigation of protest actions that were similarly dispersed. No report is ready as yet; no recommendations are, at this time, available.