Plenary voting on Merci impeachment to be quick
By Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) Updated March 14, 2011 12:00 AM Comments (12)
MANILA, Philippines - The plenary voting on the articles of impeachment against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez would be relatively quick, as the lengthy – and often grandstanding – explanations of lawmakers of their votes would be set for another time, a House leader said yesterday.
This developed as the initial draft of the articles of impeachment came out yesterday which some members of the House committee on justice described as “tight” and “strong” enough to convict Gutierrez in the event she undergoes trial in the Senate.
Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, senior vice chairman of the justice committee, said that unlike in the past, the voting would be relatively swift since under the new rules, lawmakers would first cast their votes.
After the votes have been counted and the results have been announced, another session would be held to allow congressmen who want to explain their votes to take the floor.
He said if all congressmen, numbering over 280, would be allowed to explain themselves when they cast their votes, the voting process would take over 12 hours and session starts at 4 p.m.
He said the chamber only needs one-third of the votes of its total membership but it would be better if all members have studied the document. He said he is confident many will vote for the impeachment of Gutierrez.
Fariñas and Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said they believe the articles of impeachment are strong enough to secure Gutierrez’s conviction for betrayal of public trust.
“Considering the very short time to prepare it, the articles of impeachment is tight that basically states that she has failed to act on complaints or file the necessary cases in major corruption scandals in violation of her constitutional duty,” Colmenares said. Deputy Speaker and Northern Samar Rep. Raul Daza, also a member of the justice committee, however said the 33-page draft signed by chairman Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. is too long and must be trimmed.
“If you’re going to liken it to a woman’s dress, it (articles) should be short enough to reveal what is most interesting and long enough to cover the essential ones,” Daza said.
Fariñas said the members would meet at 2 p.m. today to refine the draft as some lawmakers were debating on the exact form of the document to be submitted to the plenary.
“Tomorrow, the document – if finalized – would be referred to the committee on rules that would calendar the articles for plenary voting,” he said.
“Some are insisting that we should immediately go and rush the voting in plenary on Tuesday or Wednesday but I do not agree,” he said in a telephone interview. “I prefer that we do that next week because everybody (lawmakers) must be informed about this articles of impeachment.”
“This is historic because this is the first time we’re doing this so we better do this right,” Fariñas added.
Several lawmakers earlier questioned the apparent railroading of the impeachment proceedings by the justice committee and accused the panel of not only trampling the rights of Gutierrez but also insulting the Supreme Court.
Litany of accusations
In the draft articles of impeachment, Gutierrez is accused of having a low conviction rate; failure to act on complaints against former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on the NBN-ZTE broadband corruption scandal; failure to conduct an investigation into the wrongful death of Ensign Philip Pestaño; inaction in the matter of the P728-million fertilizer fund scam; sitting on calls to investigate the Mega Pacific deal; and inaction on the so-called “Euro generals” case.
The draft also cited her refusal to participate in the impeachment proceedings.
The document defended the move of Tupas to continue to preside over the impeachment proceedings despite calls for him to inhibit.
His father, former Iloilo governor Niel Tupas Sr., has been charged by the Ombudsman before the Sandiganbayan, and he himself is the subject of an investigation being conducted by the Ombudsman.
The document said Tupas did not vote but merely presided over the impeachment proceedings.
Judge, jury, executioner
Meanwhile, the partial report of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee may have placed the Senate in jeopardy, according to Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.
Enrile advised Blue Ribbon chairman Sen. Teofisto Guingona III to revise his partial committee report on the plea bargaining agreement with former Armed Forces’ comptroller Gen. Carlos Garcia and the special prosecutors to avoid dragging the entire Senate in a controversy.
“The case of the Ombudsman ought to be set aside in the meantime from the report because of the impending impeachment trial that will reach the Senate. At that point that might crop up,” the Senate president said.
Guingona said he will bring to the plenary today the 65-page report, which found Gutierrez, Special State Prosecutor Wendell Barreras-Sulit and her deputies guilty of betrayal of public trust when they entered a plea bargain deal with Garcia. The report also found the plea bargaining agreement “null and void.”
Enrile said he will recommend to his colleagues that the issues pertaining to the plea bargain deal be the only ones discussed before plenary, adding that the issue regarding the Ombudsman should not be included so as not to cast doubt on the Senate as an impeachment court.
The Senate president, a lawyer, said he thinks it was not proper for the committee to even discuss the impeachment issue on Gutierrez in the partial report because of the pending impeachment ongoing at the House of Representatives.
Although he said he has not read the entire 65-page report, Enrile thinks that the portion of the report that tackled the plea bargaining agreement with Garcia as well as the possible culpability of the special state prosecutors is acceptable.
Last Friday, Sen. Joker Arroyo, also a veteran lawyer and former Blue Ribbon chairman, said the partial report was useless unless it gets a majority qualified vote.
He said the fact that nine out of 14 senators signed with reservations on Gutierrez’s impeachment made the report somewhat invalid because it lacked qualified majority votes.
Since 14 senators already signed the committee report, Enrile said “there’s a presumption already that they have discussed the issue that’s why they signed it.”
Gutierrez has rights
The Senate president also reiterated that the impeachment case against Gutierrez should be based on justice not a political exercise.
He said even the worst criminals have rights, and that Gutierrez “must be treated with all the protection and all the privileges and all the available rights given to her by law.”
On reports that the impeachment case is a test on President Aquino’s political clout in Congress, Enrile said the government is governed by the rule of law, and not of man.
“You know with due respect to the President, we respect him but that is no the process done by a country that follows the rule of law... both procedural and substantive due process. The rule of decent, orderly and just society,” he said. – With Christina Mendez
Reposted From Paolo Romero and Christina Mendez of Philippine Star