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House panel gives full okay to impeach raps vs Ombudsman

September 7, 2010 12:35pm
(Updated 9:34 p.m.) The House justice committee on Tuesday found the two impeachment complaints filed against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez to be sufficient in substance.

Forty-one member of the committee voted for the sufficiency in substance of the complaint filed by former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros while 14 voted against it.

At the same time, 41 voted for the sufficiency of substance of another complaint filed by various progressive groups, with 16 voting against it. Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez abstained from voting since he does not recognize the second complaint.


It marked the first time since the Arroyo administration that the House panel approved an impeachment complaint based on its substance.

During the past nine years, all impeachment complaints, particularly those filed against former President and incumbent Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, were junked for their supposed lack of substance.

Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas, committee chairman, ordered the secretariat to furnish Gutierrez copies of the two complaints.

The committee gave the Ombudsman 10 days to give her reply on the complaints. After receiving the reply, the complainants will be given three days to submit a counter affidavit. Gutierrez then will be given another three days to file her rejoinder.

The justice panel will resume its hearing on September 21.

Minority bloc

Earlier, members of the House minority bloc tried to delay the proceedings by raising various issues such as the alleged failure to furnish them copies of the complaint; presence of the two complaints which, they claimed, is not allowed; as well as the publication of the rules a day after the first hearing.

It turned out that the offices of the minority congressmen were given the documents they needed as stated in the acknowledgment receipt signed by their respective staff.

Even the approval of minutes of the previous hearing was debated lengthily as Davao del Sur Rep. Marc Douglas Cagas objected to it, saying the panel has yet to resolve the issue on the inhibition of Tupas and the presence of the two complaints.

Tupas told Cagas that the committee has already ruled on the inhibition issue with finality and the panel has also took cognizance of the two complaints.

Coming to Tupas's defense, Cavite Rep. Jesus Crispin Remulla said the minutes of the meeting was just a recital of facts and not a judgement on what transpired.

Camiguin Rep. Pedro Romualdo then said the committee should do things rightly because the integrity of the proceedings is at stake.

Aside from this, Romualdo also questioned the alleged belated publishing of the rules of impeachment proceedings on September 2, a day after the first hearing. He said the panel should wait for 15 days after the publication of the rules before it could resume the proceedings.

House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said there is no need to wait for 15 days because that requirement only applies on the rules for inquiry in aid of legislation. He also said the Constitution does not require the publication of the impeachment rules.

“It doesn't matter if we publish the rules on impeachment or not because it was only publish upon the generosity of the committee chairman. With regard to the publications of rules on impeachment, the Constitution does require it," he said.

Maguindanao Rep. Simeon Datumanong also tried to block the voting by insisting that the second complaint is barred in light of the constitutional requirement that only one complaint can be filed against an impeachable official in a year.

“There were violations made to some provisions of the Constitution, especially the one year bar rule," he said.

He said the majority bloc should have allowed debates before the panel proceeded to determine if the complaint is sufficient in substance.

Gonzales said the Constitution mentions one impeachment proceedings and not one impeachment complaint. He added the two impeachment complaints can be consolidated since they were referred simultaneously last August 11.

“The intention was to refer it at the same time. The point that should be considered is not the time of filing but the time of the referral and that’s when the one year ban starts," said Gonzales.

Datumanong insisted that there could be no simultaneous referral as one of the complaints have to be read first before the other.

To this, Gonzales said somebody has yet to invent a manner by which the two complaints can be read at the same time. He reiterated that the complaints were referred to the justice committee simultaneously at 4:47 in the afternoon of August 11.

Railroading the proceedings

The minority bloc accused the panel of railroading the proceedings.

“To summarize the proceedings this morning, it was railroaded by the majority because of their numbers and hurriedly approved (the sufficiency in substance) without the benefit of a debate," Datumanong said.

Tupas denied this, saying they gave the minority bloc the opportunity to raise their issues. “As a chairman, I make it a point to give all the opportunity to the minority. Walang railroad dito, we follow the process, nakita naman na we are clear to the procedure," he said.

On Monday, Gutierrez filed a motion for reconsideration before the justice committee but the latter did not recognize it as the panel had yet to vote on the sufficiency in substance of the complaints at the.

“Hindi pwede yun (That's not allowed), no legal personality ang motion filed ng lawyer nila. Dapat ang motion ang nagfile e yung one of the members of the majority under the rules. That is out of order, kaya hindi namin nirecognize. We have no jurisdiction over that," Tupas said.

Welcome

The complainants welcomed the result of the voting.

“We are glad that we have hurdled the second round of the impeachment process. The next round will be more difficult as this deals with the sufficiency of the grounds of the impeachment. We are pleased with the support given by the majority to the case so far and we are dismayed by the repeated delaying tactics employed by the minority," Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr said.

Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello believed it was good day for the country’s constitutional processes as they were able to get a positive vote on the substance of the complaint.

The complaint filed by the group of Hontiveros accused Gutierrez of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the 1987 Constitution. The complainants alleged that Gutierrez failed to be the "protector of the people," and instead became "gatekeeper of the corrupt".

Among the grounds of the complaint were the dismal conviction rate of the Office of the Ombudsman since 2008, which indicate a "criminal" level of incompetence amounting to grave dereliction of duty.

The complaint also alleged that Gutierrez

  • failed to act promptly on cases filed against former President Arroyo, her husband Jose Miguel Arroyo, and other public officials involved in the NBN-ZTE deal;

  • incurred inexcusable delay in the investigation on the death of Ensign Philip Pestaño, a case which the United Nations itself rapped the Ombudsman for failure to probe the case;

  • issued a decision to uphold the legality of the arrest and involuntary detention of Hontiveros by the Philippine National Police at the height of the 'Hello Garci' controversy;

  • failed to investigate the P1-million dinner for the presidential party at the Le Cirque restaurant in New York;

  • repeatedly failed to take prompt action on various cases involving Mrs. Arroyo such as the Mega-Pacific scam, among others; and

  • refused to grant ready access to public records such as the Statement of Assets, Net Worth and Liabilities of former Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo.

    In the 30-page complaint filed by Renato Reyes of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan; Sister Mary John Mananzan of PAGBABAGO; Danilo Ramos of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas; lawyer Edre Olalia of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL); Ferdinand Gaite of COURAGE; and James Terry Ridon of the League of Filipino Students, one of the issues brought up was Gutierrez’s alleged failure to act on the P728-million fertilizer fund scam.

    The fund intended for poor farmers was allegedly diverted in the 2004 elections by then candidate President Arroyo.

    They said Gutierrez should also be held liable for her refusal to prosecute then police Director Eliseo de la Paz for his illegal act of not declaring before Customs officials the more than $10,000 he brought out of the country despite his public admission under oath that he committed the illegal act.

    The complainants said Gutierrez also failed to take action on the poll automation contract awarded to the Mega Pacific Consortium that was declared anomalous and voided by the Supreme Court in 2004.

    Impeachment proceedings

    Based on Article X of the 1987 Constitution, the Ombudsman may be removed from office through impeachment on the grounds of culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.

    The impeachment proceedings start at the House of Representatives where a complaint can be filed by any House member or any private citizen and endorsed by any House member.

    The complaint will then be included in the Order of Business within 10 session days and referred to the House committee on justice within three session days.

    The committee will then hear the complaint and determine its sufficiency in form and substance and submit its report and resolution, approved by majority of its members, within 60 session days.

    The report and resolution shall be calendared for consideration of the House as a whole within 10 session days.

    A vote of at least one-third of all the members of the House is needed to either affirm or junk the findings of the committee.

    Once affirmed, the complaint will be filed and will constitute the Articles of Impeachment and will be sent to the Senate for trial proper. The Senate has to sole power to try and decide the impeachment case.

    If the case against the Ombudsman will prosper, the Senate President will preside over the proceedings. However, if the President is the one on trial, it is the Supreme Court Chief Justice who will preside.

    The concurrence of two-thirds of all the members of the Senate is needed to convict the accused.

    Judgment in impeachment cases should not be more than removal from office and disqualification to any government post but the convicted party can still be held liable and subjected to criminal prosecution, trial and punishment.

    Only one impeachment proceeding can be initiated against the same official within a period of one year. — RSJ/KBK, GMANews.TV
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